Joy. Peace. Magic – or Christmas as it used to be
The Christmas markets in Innsbruck are very much a part of the Christmas I remember as a child. Sadly that’s all past now and it’ll never be like that again. But it’s something I’ll always remember and no-one can take that away from me. My childhood Christmases and Innsbruck’s Advent markets hold a special place in my memory. Today I still love to go there and meet up with friends, and every time I do I find my thoughts drifting back to days gone by… (translated from German)
I like Christmas. The festival of peace and love is a time when I try to reflect and do some soul-searching. Like many others I spend time with those dearest to me, those that I otherwise don’t see often enough – my parents, friends and old acquaintances.
Memories of Christmasses Gone By
With a smile on my face I remember times gone by when I used to light another candle on the advent wreath every Sunday. With every passing day I became more and more excited about Christmas. Every year I wrote a letter to the ‘Christkind’ who brings the gifts to the children here in Austria. I put the letter out on the balcony, and by the next morning it had already been collected. “Dear Christkind,” it began. When we visited the Christmas market we got toffee applies or candy floss. I went every weekend with my mum and dad.
The highlight of the Christmas celebration in Austria is on the evening of 24th December. As a child I could hardly contain my excitement. It was the same ritual on that day every year – we got up, tidied the house, read Christmas stories, watched classic fairytales on TV, ate just a little. I went with my father to Innsbruck Zoo or to the cinema, I watched my mother cook then I went to my room and waited for the little bell to ring in the living room which had been kept locked. Then, full of joy, I would run to the Christmas tree, gaze in awe at the flickering candles, eagerly unwrap my gifts and enjoy the Christmas meal of carp. Every year I ate almost nothing all day in anticipation of that fish!
On 24th December 1818 the assistant priest Joseph Mohr in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, gave a poem to the organist Franz Gruber with the request to set his poem to music. The result was the song ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!’ (Silent Night, Holy Night). Two singing families, Rainer and Strasser, presented the song to the rest of the world, singing it in Leipzig in 1832 and in New York in 1839, before Catholic and Protestant missionaries carried it even further, making it a much loved Christmas carol in every continent.
Today Silent Night is sung in over 300 different languages and dialects all over the world and, for many, Christmas is simply not Christmas without it. It’s a song that never fails to move you, no matter how often you hear it or sing it. It carries a message that everyone can understand with their heart, irrespective of ethnic origin, skin colour or language. The Advent customs and Christmas markets in Innsbruck are also traditions that transcend all boundaries. They offer a reflection of the city’s traditional character and the Tyroleans’ deep sense of rootedness with their homeland. ‘Stille Nacht’ is the motto of ‘Advent in Tyrol’, a province-wide collaboration of Christmas markets devoted to preserving the traditional character of the ‘Christkindlmarkt’ as it is known locally.
The 7 Christmas Markets in Innsbruck
During the run-up to Christmas meeting up in the town’s Advent markets is a ritual for the inhabitants of Innsbruck. Some come alone to enjoy some peace after work. It really is very serene – all that can be heard are the restful tones of a local brass ensemble from the balcony below Innsbruck’s famous Golden Roof. They play old Tyrolean Christmas melodies; here there’s no music blasting out of speakers, and certainly no corny ‘Last Christmas’-style schmaltz.
The air is filled with the smell of roast chestnuts, local specialities such as ‘Kiachln’ and ‘Kasspazln’ and spiced ‘Glühwein’. All the products come from Tyrolean farms – that’s important to the people of Innsbruck. In addition to the food stalls, it’s nearly all Tyrolean handicrafts that are for sale too. This is not the place for visitors just who just want copious amounts of mulled wine!
The stall holders stand behind their wares, wrapped up in hats, scarves and gloves; visitors stand together in small groups; starry-eyed couples stroll along hand in hand. The markets are at their most beautiful when it has snowed and the fresh snow crunches underfoot.
I love the atmosphere here. It feels like the Christmas of my childhood, the Christmas that will never be like it was again, but which holds an important place in my heart. What remains are the memories that return every time I visit the Christmas market. Sometimes I see my childhood feelings in the eyes of others as they wander through the narrow lanes and arcades. They look so content as they enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Innsbruck’s markets against the spectacular mountain backdrop. I see them gaze in awe as if they were standing in front of their childhood Christmas tree. Some even seem close to tears. Advent is a magical time; equally magical are the city’s Christmas markets.
There are 7 different Christmas Markets in different parts of Innsbruck:
- In the Old Town, in front of the Goldenes Dachl
- At Marktplatz, by the river
- On Maria-Theresien-Straße, the ‘main square’
- In Hungerbrug, up above the city
- In St Nikolaus, on the north side of the river Inn
- In Wilten, the hip student area
- At Bergisel, overlooking the city from the other side
1. Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market
Right in front of the Golden Roof and surrounded by mediaeval façades is a very traditional Christmas market. A visit to the viewing platform high above the rooftops of the market huts is a must, as is a walk through ‘Fairytale Alley’ and the ‘Riesengasse’ with its life-size giants. Every day the ‘Turmbläser’ brass ensemble plays in the alcove balcony under Innsbruck’s famous Golden Roof beside the Old Town’s largest Christmas tree.
- Opening times: Daily from 11 am – 9 pm
2. Marktplatz Christmas Market
Built like a cosy, little Tyrolean village and offering a programme of activities for children, this Christmas market is particularly popular with families. Puppet shows, story times, pony rides, a petting zoo and an old-fashioned merry-go-round offer a world of magical fun for little ones. A real eye-catcher is the glittering Swarovski crystal tree that stands over 14 metres high.
- Opening times: Daily from 11 am – 9 pm
3. Christmas Market on Maria-Theresien-Straße, Innbruck’s ‘Main Square’
The Baroque boulevard and its Christmas market dazzle visitors with their illuminated trees of glass and crystal, lending the street an atmosphere of sparkling splendour. The products sold at the stands here are somewhat more international. The Christmas market here remains open until 6th January 2016.
- Opening times: Daily from 11 am – 9 pm
4. The Hungerburg Christmas Market overlooks Innsbruck
Could this perhaps be the highest Christmas market? Whether that’s the case or not, the view is nothing short of magical. And the ride up on the Hungerburgbahn funicular, directly from the city centre, is spectacular in its own right. You can, if you want, even continue your journey upwards to an altitude of 2,256 metres to the Hafelekar – which you can see clearly from the Hungerburg station.
- Opening times: Daily from 1 pm – 7 pm
5. St. Nikolaus Christmas Market
Here visitors can enjoy a Christmas market that radiates peace and calm. Enticing aromas and twinkling lights offer a magical ambience away from the city centre in Innsbruck’s oldest district. If you prefer to avoid the pre-Christmas hubbub and instead savour mellow Christmas music and home-made bakes amidst a tranquil atmosphere, then St. Nikolaus is the place to go.
- Opening times: Daily from 4 pm – 9 pm
6. Wilten Christmas Market
The Christmas market here is particularly serene and romantic. Here you can savour specialities from Sardinia along with organic glühwein and even enjoy a small-scale cultural programme including a puppet theatre and mini concerts.
- Opening times: Mon – Fri from 4 pm – 8 pm, Sat from 2 pm – 8 pm
7. Bergisel Christmas Market
The “Kaiserweihnacht” (Emperor’s Christmas) market at Bergisel is one of Innsbruck’s more special markets, with a focus on genuine local products and traditions, moving away from the commercial side of the holiday season.
Located by the Bergisel ski jump on the south side Innsbruck, it overlooks the city from the opposite direction to Nordkette, affording a spectacular view of the mountains. The Glühwein is also some of the best – certified by Austria’s leading sommelier and European Champagne Ambassador Suwi Zlatic – and made according to the purity law: 95% wine, 5% water, cinnamon bark and cloves. No more and no less.
- Opening times: Friday – Sunday from 11am
For the locals in Innsbruck Christmas is unimaginable without the city’s Advent markets – why don’t you take a look and enjoy them too? Savour the magical atmosphere, take a break from the pre-Christmas mayhem and rediscover the true spirit of Christmas.