We have read a lot about Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg, and Frankfurt and their large selection of goodies and entertainment. We’ve also looked at those in medium-sized communities with populations between 40,000 and 250,000 people, thus putting the likes of Flensburg, Kiel, Erfurt, Zwickau, Weimar and the like on the list. For those who don’t like big town settings and would rather narrow it down to more local traditions with a cozy atmosphere, these would be better options, especially if they include castles with their medieval market setting.
Yet smaller communities, namely those with 2,000 to 10,000 people can also surprise visitors with specialties that are homemade and are worth taking with to give to your loved ones. There is one market in particular that represents a classic example of one that offers a wide array of hand-made crafts and homemade goodies- all in one setting; and ironically, all in one castle.
The community of Waldenburg in western Saxony, is located six kilometers northeast of Glauchau along the River Zwickau Mulde. It has over 4400 inhabitants and has a castle that dates back to the 12th century but whose current structure was built during the Renaissance era. The castle overlooks the river valley and parts of the community, yet it is located just down the hill from the town’s historic city center- characterized by its triangular shaped island surrounded by streets and historic buildings and decorated with a fountain. At Christmas time, a pyramid occupies the spot where the fountain is located. The square also has a couple shops and a historic town hall.
Waldenburg’s Christmas market is located at the castle. For one weekend and at a price of two Euros per person, one can enjoy the whole day at the castle, looking at handcrafted items made of ceramics, fabrics, wood, glass, bee’s wax and stone, including incense houses, pyramids, mining set, ceramic money holders, figures from the Nativity set, bowls, dish set and the like. These items are locally made from Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. The examples are many but some examples can be found here as well as in the links at the end of the article. The market is arranged in a way that the front court yard is surrounded with huts arranged in a horseshoe fashion with huts extending along the longer, eastern end going down the hill. At the bottom of the hill where one can see the castle from below, scenes from the fairy tales line up along the path which takes you to the stairs leading to the castle from the river side. Most of the fairytales originate from the Grimm Brothers series. The booths don’t stop at the courtyard. As you walk into the castle, one will find more of them in the basement section on one side. On the other side, there are separate rooms where children can either bake their own cookies or paint a white ceramic product with tutors standing by to help. There’s a chapel where dances and concerts take place. Finally, when leaving the castle, one will not miss the giant, 3.5 meter tall Christmas tree in the entry hall (Halle).
What’s untypical of Waldenburg’s Christmas market are the many kinds of Christmas punch served there, which are non-alcoholic. Normally, alcoholic beverages, including the many types of mulled wine, outnumber the non-alcoholic kind by a margin of 10:1. Here at this market, the ratio is only 2:1. There are many reasons for the wider than usual selection. One is because of no train service going through the community, thus limiting the options to either bike or car. The other is the wide selection of booths that sell their products; all but a couple of them are homemade. There are two types of punch that I would recommend: one with quince (Quitten) and the other with apple and cinnamon. Both are sweet but they keep you warm for awhile. It was a necessity for our visit as the town received a dusting of snow and was at the freezing point for much of the day. For those who cannot get away from the market without a warm drink, Waldenburg definitely has the selection.
Another plus that is worth recommending are foods from France. At the time of our visit, Waldenburg and Noyelles-lès-Vermelles were celebrating their 50th anniversary of their partnership. And what is typical of France are the different types of cheese, wine and even beer. If many consider German beer to be good, they haven’t tried the French beer, like Leffe, Ste. Etienne or Jelain. Especially the Christmas beer as it had a herbal taste to it that was hearty and good with any meat or bread. Also special (but didn’t try it) was the chicoree soup, which is typical of French soups. The partnership has played a big role in Waldenburg’s education system, for the European School is located directly in town and offers classes in German, French and English, along with other languages of Asia and Europe. Students from different nationalities attend this school if they decline to attend the schools in Glauchau or Meerane; the former has the public school system, the latter has the Saxony International School.
If you are not up to hot soups and dishes that are offered at the stands, a snack that is making its popularity at the markets are the potato-tornadoes. They consist of potatoes that are peeled to the middle, like a spiral, and then placed on a stick and fried. The crispiness is on the same level as the Hungarian Langosch but the taste is like potato crisps from Great Britain, especially if they are sprinkled with curry or paprika. It was the first time seeing this at a Christmas market but it will not be the last, especially if the likes of Friweika continue to be innovative and create different kinds of fried potatoes to compete with the likes of any meat roast (or wraps) with red cabbage.
Inspite the positives that the Waldenburg Christmas Market has to offer, there are a pair of critical points to address to make the market much more attractive. As mentioned at the beginning, Waldenburg has around 4400 inhabitants, and its town setting is typical of that in Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse- very close with problems finding parking. With the Waldenburg market, parking is the biggest problem, for even though a parking lot exists across the castle, it is not only filled up almost instantly, the parking spaces along the side streets are filled to a point where it is almost difficult for cars to even drive on the streets. It’s comparable to the Rettungsgasse (Emergency Lane) that can be found on the German Motorway- one lane open and little room to maneuver, yet high risks of an accident if a car blocks your lane. And while one can face hundreds of Euros in fines and receive points in Flensburg for blocking the Rettungsgasse, it’s hard to fine someone if he parks as close to the curb as possible without ruining the tires or smacking a tree, while risking blocking the street for passing cars in general; that is unless there is a parking ordinance in place.
As the Christmas market is on one weekend, there is a risk of overfilling it with people and cars. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the opening of the market, which was 10:00am. By the time we left, five hours later, the place was becoming overfilled. Part of it has to do with the fact that the market closes at 6:00pm on each of the days open. Given the proximity to the likes of Glauchau, Meerane, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Crimmitschau and Werdau, it is understandable to have a Christmas market on one weekend, coordinating it with the neighboring communities to allow local businesses and artists to attend. But sometimes one wonders if one weekend is not enough; especially as Zwickau and Chemnitz have theirs during the entire Advent period and Werdau and Crimmitschau have theirs for only a week. Only Glauchau and Meerane have theirs for one weekend.
But what about if Waldenburg would have theirs for two weekends or even the entire time?
As I reported on Frankenmuth, Michigan, the policy of expansion and marketing by the likes of Bronner and Zehnder not only saved the Franconian community near Lake Huron, it also attracted more visitors every year. Even the Christmas Market, which was introduced in 2005, has become an attraction in the winter time, adding it to the tree with ornaments full of events to do in the community. Waldenburg already has an establishment of having two types of markets during the year: a pottery market and an arts and crafts market. Building off from that one can try and expand the Christmas market in the sense of space and time. For space purposes, it could include the historic old town and even the parking area, but it would come with closing off the area to all traffic and utilizing the open space at the castle grounds next to the river as well as some other parking areas for parking. Wishful thinking would be a shuttle service to the market from Glauchau or Meerane so that one can leave their cars at the respective cities and use the bus, without having to worry about parking. For time purposes, there are two options worth experimenting. The first is having it for 1-2 weeks, as seen in Crimmitschau and Werdau. The second is having it only on Advent weekends. This is practiced at the Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, which has been hosting the markets since 2009. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of traffic and business. Especially for the former, for only main highway passes through the city center enroute to Hohenstein-Ernstthal.
To ensure the passage is cleared so that business can be conducted during the week, it is perhaps not a bad idea to have the markets on multiple weekends. There are three reasons behind expanding the Christmas markets onto weekends only: 1. There’s normally not much business in Waldenburg during the weekend, so the streets could be closed off during that time. 2. It’s more likely to attract visitors visiting the market and the castle on weekends than on weekdays; even if there are non-Christmas events at the castle, there is a chance to share space and time so that people can visit both- hence the expansion of the market to the city center. And lastly 3. There is a chance to coordinate services between Glauchau, Meerane, Crimmitschau and Werdau to encourage people to visit the markets without having to rush to one just because they are open during a weekend. People could visit all these markets during the Advent season while not losing commerce during that time but most importantly, not congesting the streets. To sum up, more space and more possibilities to visit the market in Waldenburg beyond the lone weekend will be beneficial to the community and businesses who would like to sell their products.
According to sources, this is the third time Waldenburg has hosted the Christmas market at the castle. And given the number of people attending the market and its 50+ stands full of local goods and handcrafted products, this will not be the last one that will take place. The market has the potential of attracting many and competing with the neighboring markets. What it takes to succeed however require more than just one weekend to host it. It will requiring cooperation with other Christmas markets in neighboring towns plus a better infrastructure in order to attract more people by not just encouraging them to see all of them during the Advent period.
For a market like Waldenburg, it requires a lot of time to spend there, enjoying the foods, buying local and even doing some crafting for your loved ones. For all ages, the market at Waldenburg is a must-see for Christmas.
Aside from the markets, Waldenburg is also a guest of a Christmas market in Waldenburg/ Hohenlohe. It’s located in the Schwabian Hall district in Baden-Wurttemberg near the conglomerate of Heilbronn. That market is also held for one weekend in a castle and includes businesses from there, Waldenburg in Switzerland and its partner city, Sierck-les-Bains in France.
You can see all the Pictures of Waldenburg’s Christmas Market at the Castle via