Whilst Oxmas celebrations are in full swing, the dreaming spires of Vienna have also been bracing themselves for the onslaught of tourists and locals drawn by the Christmas markets. Also known asWeihnachtsmärkte or Adventsmärkte, these have been popping up all over the city over the last few weeks in some of the city’s most stunning locations…
This means it is now impossible to walk across the city centre without stopping off for some ‘gebratene Mandeln’ (roasted almonds, i.e. heaven in a paper bag) or Punsch, or even ‘Turbo-Punsch’ for that extra kick that only Schnaps can provide.
There’s pretty much Wiener Weihnachtsmarkt for everyone – from charity stalls, to artisan craft markets to the medieval market at the military history museum, featuring a guest appearance by ‘Krampus’, a menacing figure from alpine folklore who makes the Grinch look about as threatening as Tiny Tim.*
And of course there’s the predictable combination of the traditional and touristy, varying from the the tasteful – glass candle holders with the Hundertwasser Haus which give a nice colourful glow- to the tacky – the embracing lovers of Klimt’s Kiss becomes strangely grotesque when made into a bauble…
With so much to tickle the senses, the Christmas markets make a great go-to lunch/Christmas presents/after-work drink stop, but, as I quickly realised, the plummeting temperatures mean that your enjoyment can only really last as long as the sensation in your toes.
‘Doing’ the Christmas markets, it transpires, is a SERIOUS OPERATION which requires some forethought if you want to lap up the ambience for more than 20 minutes before you are forced to beat a hasty retreat or risk losing some toes. After some some initial amateurish forays, this is what I’ve discovered from my baptism of fire (or should that be ice?) into the Adventsmärkte:
1. There’s no such thing as too warm – I thought a thermal top, thick jeans, boots, a coat and a jumper about 5 sizes too big for me (bought for the purpose) would suffice: I was wrong.
2. Grazing is the way to go – there’s some delicious food on offer, but the trick is to find something you can polish off before you freeze mid-mouthful. This means that the €5,50 Schnitzel and potato wedges deal might not be such a no-brainer after all, but luckily there are several types of Bretzl, sausage and goulash served in an edible bready receptacle.
3. Take the tankard away – often all the stalls at one market use the same mugs, or Häferl, meaning that once you’ve paid the Einsatz (a €2-3 deposit), you can wander to your heart’s content and get your mug filled up somewhere else to avoid getting too chilly queuing and re-queuing. This also makes the mug a pretty good value souvenir or even Christmas present…
4. They’re not just for the twee and tawdry: the über-cool Museums Quartier kick-started the Weihnachtsmarkt season in early November with their ‘Winter Opening’, which was a sort of outdoor rave with live band, DJ set and visuals projected onto the Leopold Museum, and a lot of knitwear. Since then there’s been a steady traffic of people lured by the alternative atmosphere, the ice curling rink and the chance of a slightly warmer seat in one of specially erected neon poly-tunnel bars.
*Krampus is Sankt Nikolaus’ demonic counterpart, who, as tradition would have it, punishes children who’ve misbehaved, and even carries off the worst offenders to his lair.