The Christmas Markets of Hamburg

Perhaps surprisingly, Hamburg’s Weihnachtsmarkt at the Rathaus in the center of Hamburg is a relative newcomer to the world of Christmas Markets in Germany.

Several years ago the city fathers decided to look for a new concept for its holiday market, and found a creative partner in Bernhard Paul, director of Roncalli’s Circus. With its colorful circus-themed market stalls and entertainment, including a nostalgic carousel and historic fairground organ, the Christmas market at the Rathausmarkt opened for only its eighth year in 2007. In that short time, however, it has become one of the most popular markets in northern Germany, with nearly three million visitors each year.


About 80 dealers from all over Germany gather to sell their handicrafts and food specialties. Shoppers enjoy the smell of roasted almonds, Lebkuchen and Gluhwein as they stroll through the rows of vendors, who are grouped according to their wares.

One row is filled with toys, including model trains. Handcrafters such as glassblowers, makers of hats or lanterns and amber jewelry are in another aisle. There is a food specialties area that includes cheese from Tirol, Christstollen from Dresden, Lebkuchen from Nurnberg and candy makers in action. Tired shoppers can enjoy genuine German refreshments indoors at the colorful Art Nouveau Viennese café at the market.

Three times each day Santa Claus, in his sleigh pulled by reindeer, flies high over the market to the sound of American Christmas carols –is that Bing Crosby I hear? Standing in a basket suspended under the moving sleigh is the Christkind (Christmas angel who delivers gifts to the children), waving at the crowd in the market below.

A city as large as Hamburg will, of course, have more than one Christmas market to attract visitors.

Of the 12—that’s correct, 12—Hamburg Christmas markets, one of the trendiest is Weihnachtsmarkt Jungfernstieg, which overlooks the beautiful Inner Alster Lake. White is the theme color of this market:
white lights highlight the vendor booths, which are covered by soaring white roofs, and are topped with white star-lit peaks. Open for only its second season in 2007, this unique market boasts an ice-skating rink and an open-air lounge, which supplies warm blankets to customers. Shoppers can find clothes and jewelry along with traditional nutcrackers and food specialties.


If rainy weather limits your time at the outdoor Christmas Markets, take advantage of some of the many attractions that Hamburg has to offer. Miniatur Wunderland is the world’s largest model railway and is housed next to the Elbe River in Hamburg’s warehouse district. The trains run on several different levels of the building, and a full-time paid staff monitors the miniature world.

Allow several hours to enjoy the more than 700 model trains, which run through scenery modeled after Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and even the Western United States. See a circus in action, cars driving on highways and ships sailing the ocean. See fires break out and emergency trucks speed to the rescue. And then there are the trains—they are everywhere—and they are of every kind, all running as if they were on prototype railroads. And every half hour, daylight becomes nighttime inside this miniature HO scale world. There is an admission, and a nice gift shop.

It will be hard to pull kids away; perhaps dads won’t want to leave, either! Check out this fascinating world at


Hamburg’s BallinStadt Museum offers an amazing and detailed look at the history of emigration to America via the port of Hamburg.

The museum is named after Albert Ballin, director of the HAPAG shipping company, who had a 30-building departure city built between 1901 and 1907 for emigrants. The museum is located on this site and housed in three reconstructed Housing Pavilions.

A model constructed beneath the floor and viewed from above through glass, shows the layout of the original departure city. Interactive exhibits tell the emigrants’ stories, and show what daily life was like as they awaited their journey to America. A family research center at the museum offers the opportunity to access Hamburg passenger lists from 1850 to 1934.

Easily reached by public transportation, the BallinStadt Museum shows how the Port of Hamburg became known as the emigrant’s gateway to the world.

If you’re ready for more shopping, and weather is still dampening the outdoor markets, try indoor shopping at the Europa Passage. Architect Hadi Teherani designed this structure with a glass ceiling and 21 arches, which connects five floors filled with 130 shops and restaurants. Located with a view of the Inner Alster, (one of Hamburg’s lakes), the mall offers modern, upscale shopping in light-filled arcades.

For accommodations within walking distance from the Europa Passage, the Rathausmarkt, and the Christmas market Jungfernstieg, try the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski. First opened in 1909, this luxury hotel next to the Outer Alster served passengers awaiting their departure on ocean liners. Now it is a local landmark, recognized from afar by its white-lit rooftop globe and ladies emblem, which was used in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

A sumptuous breakfast buffet and beautifully appointed lobby with tea service, offer the traveler warmth and welcome after a full day of rewarding Hamburg experiences.

For more information about Hamburg, visit their website at

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