Tourism in Vienna has long gone international: most museums and other institutions have added English (and often other languages) to their displays and audioguides. But the Christmas markets remain traditionally Viennese. While you find English appearing ever more often on signs and menu displays, German still dominates.
So if you wish to avoid any nasty surprises, keep your dictionary or smartphone to hand. The following explanations of common terms in context should help, too…
One market, several words
The fun begins with the words used to mean “Christmas market”. The German for Christmas is Weihnachten and the word for market is Markt. So a Weihnachtsmarkt is a Christmas market.
But other terms might make an appearance, too. Christkindlmarkt, for example. Though, in Vienna, some people use this to refer specifically to the city’s biggest market on the Rathausplatz square.
(The Christkind, Christkindl or Christ child does Santa’s job in Austria: the traditional bringer of presents for children.)
You might also come across two other terms for Christmas market, but both still refer to the same concept: Weihnachtsdorf (literally “Christmas village”) or Adventmarkt (I’ll let you work that one out).
A little later in the year, you’ll see references to a Neujahrsmarkt or Silvestermarkt (both mean New Year market).
Key market delights
Certain elements appear on stalls across all markets, beginning with:
Punsch and Häferl
The mainstay of any Christmas market in Vienna is the Punschstand (punch booth), which serves piping hot Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch).
The precise content of this drink remain a mystery to me. I fully intended to research the issue in 2020, but Vienna closed all the booths because of COVID.
Punsch’s main components are fruit and alcohol (I know, not helpful). A couple of important variations are:
- Kinderpunsch (children’s punch): punch that contains no alcohol, which may also be described as alkoholfrei (alcohol free).
- Glühwein (similar to the British concept of mulled wine).
Boards above and around the Punschstand list the various varieties for sale. As with most aspects of modern life, we’re no longer content with a handful of basic options and the market air carries the aroma of dozens of punch varieties, mostly based around some kind of fruit (Obst) and berries (Beeren). Common examples are:
- Erdbeerpunsch: strawberry
- Himbeerpunsch: raspberry
- Orangenpunsch: no prizes for guessing
- Apfel and Zimt: apple and cinnamon
Your punch comes in a Häferl (mug) and you may be required to pay an Einsatz (returnable deposit). The mugs often serve as collectible souvenirs.
If you need to experience the sugary snack side of life, then the markets offer many such opportunities. Traditional market treats include:
- Lebkuchen: a gingerbread-like food that also comes in bullet-proof forms
- Schaumrolle: a cream puffed pastry, with the emphasis very much on the cream-like filling
- Krapfen: jam doughnuts (usually features either apricot jam or a nougat filling)
- Brezel: pretzels, though normally sold in a number of soft varieties
- Schokofrüchte: a skewer of fruit coated in chocolate
- Zuckerwatte: candy floss
- Bratapfel: toffee apple
- Gebrannte Nüsse: roasted and caramelised nuts with Mandel (almonds) the most popular option
- Baumkuchen: a special batter baked on a spit to form a series of rings
Special mention goes to the Maronistand: a small standalone stand featuring an oven that sells Maroni (roast chestnuts) but usually also potato snacks like Wedges (um, wedges), Bratkartoffel (baked potato slices) and Spiralkartoffel (tornado crisps/fries).
You should also find some stalls selling “proper” food. The possibilities are endless, so I shall simply point you to the articles on Viennese main courses, sausages (always popular at Christmas markets), and pastries and desserts.
Expect to see plenty of Leberkäse (like meatloaf), too, often with varieties that rarely see the light of day, such as Wildschwein (wild boar) Leberkäse. Another popular dish at the markets in recent years has been Suppe in Brot or Suppe in Brotlaibchen (soup served in a hollowed-out small loaf of bread). Another dish largely exclusive to markets is Ofenkartoffel (baked potatoes) with various fillings.
Some of the food is not intended for immediate consumption but for taking home or using as gifts. Look, especially, for prettily-designed jars and bottles of Honig (honey), Marmelade (careful – not marmelade but jam), Senf (mustard), Essig (vinegar), and Schnaps and Edelbrände (schnapps and refined spirits).
Arts and Crafts
Each market also sells the work of artists and artisans. Most of these should be handgemacht or handgefertigt (made by hand). This is where you pick up your Weihnachtsdekorationen (Christmas decorations) and Baumbehang or Baumschmuck (decorations for hanging on the tree). Every market should at least also offer:
- Kerzen: candles
- Krippenfiguren: wooden figurines and other items that form part of a nativity scene
- Schneekugel: snow globes (which were invented in Vienna)
Enjoy yourself! (Or viel Spaß as we say here.)