Understanding German Christmas market drinks – a short guide

by Dec 2, 2019Germany

When I was a university student in Heidelberg, having a beverage at a German Christmas market was an easy choice: hot mulled red wine in a paper cup. Spicy, warming, steamy liquid-filled cups held with both hands to accompany a stroll through a market or town. But that was a while back. Now, well, Christmas market drinks in Germany have become big business.

As the menus get longer and choices more exotic, anybody who doesn’t speak German or know the holiday or a region’s customs will find themselves baffled at best in a quest to just have a hot, heart-warming beverage, adult or not.

German Christmas market drinks, options and choices

Glühwein – (“Glue-vine“) A hot mulled wine with varying levels of spices (literally,“glow wine,” since you’ll be glowing pretty quickly). This is the basic, go-to, traditional Christmas market drink. However, today you can find not only the classic red, but also white and often even rosé versions. Plus, there are fruity versions like apple (“Apfel”) or cranberry. I must be honest, though: the fruity ones sound too much to me, and the whites and rosés I’ve tasted just don’t have that yummy, deeply spiced flavor that for me just SAYS Christmas market drink.

What to say: “Ich möchte einen Glühwein, bitte” (“Ikh mookh-tuh eye-nen glue-vine, bit-uh“) for “I’d like a Glühwein, please.”

Weinachstmarkt Celle Glühwein Mugs

HITT Tip: Don’t think the vendor is trying to rip you off when you choose a 3 euro beverage and are charged 5 or 6 euro. These days forget the paper: All drinks come in glass or ceramic mugs, emblazoned with the city or location and some Christmas décor. For this more sustainable tradition, you will pay a deposit (“Pfand,” pronounced as it’s written, saying both the “P” softly and the “F” but if you say “fahnd” quickly no one will know) of 2 or 3 euro. You can walk around with the mugs, finish your drink, and return them to any booth to get back your deposit. On the other hand, you can also keep the souvenir mug for that pretty low price, for yourself of as a gift.

Schuss – (“Shoe-ss“) Next question you’ll hear when you order a glühwein (and some other beverages perhaps): “Mit Schuss?” Literally meaning, “with a shot?” The menu will specify the list of choices. Sometimes it just means a schnapps or maybe rum. But it could also mean for example, amaretto, vodka, or Cointreau. So, if you say, “Ja,” (“yes”) the next question could be what kind. And a Schuss will cost about an extra 50 euro cents to 1 euro. Careful, that added alcohol with the sweet drink can add a real one-two punch!

What you’ll hear: “Mit Schuss?” (“mitt shoe-ss?“)

What to say: “Ja” (or “nein” if you don’t want the extra shot). If yes, name or point to the one you want.

German Christmas Market Drinks Menu

HITT Tip: One choice for a shot or a type of drink will often be “Weinbrand,” which will be a brandy or cognac, i.e. a spirit made from grapes.

Kinderpunsch or Autofahrerpunsch – “Keendur-poonsch” or “ow-toe-far-er-poonsch“) These are the primary non-alcoholic versions of a mulled wine. Literally meaning “Children’s punch” or “Driver’s punch.” (Wouldn’t want your designated driver to slug down hot wine, right?) This doesn’t mean all “punsch” drinks are non-alcoholic. Mais non! Normally they are an even stronger mix of alcohols with fruity additions. We’ve also seen “Teepunsch mit Likör,” (“lee-koer“) meaning a tea-based punch with liqueur.

HITT Tip: In Germany, a Christmas market drink without alcohol will be “alkoholfrei” (“al-ko-haul-fr-eye” or non-alcoholic) so look for that on the menu or ask if you want to enjoy the market beverages but without the kick.

Feuerzangenbowle – (“Foi-ur-zahng-en-bow-luh“)  Traditionally, this winter drink is served as a group affair. Fondue-like pot over fire filled with red wine, traditional spices, plus some lemon and orange peels. Then a metal rod with holes in it is laid across the top of the pot with a sugar cone placed on it. Once the wine is warm, the sugar is thoroughly doused with rum, then lit on fire so the sugary rum drips into the wine below. For the Germany Christmas market drink version, it is usually pre-mixed; however, we have seen some places with single-serve mugs prepared like a group bowl.

Nikolai Viertel Feuerzangen

Feuerzangenbowle is prepared for groups in a large kettle. Note the sugar cones above the kettle in this photo.

Glögg – (“Glug“) Of Scandinavian origins, thank you IKEA. Think of the traditional German Christmas market drink Glühwein, as described above, but add extra vodka or other grain alcohol. Yup, really. Stronger, most definitely, with the spice mix being similar (all those holiday cloves and cinnamon things) but perhaps with some ginger or cardamom.

Lumumba – (“Lou-moom-bah“) A spiked hot chocolate basically. Most frequently spiked with rum, but it could also be amaretto or brandy. Topped with a big glob of whipped cream. For reasons we can’t begin to explain or understand, it could also be called a “Tote Tante” (literally, Dead Aunt, or “Toe-tuh-Tahn-tuh“).

HITT Tip: Usually the prices at one market will be the same but different markets and cities can vary, with smaller and less commercial markets and smaller towns having lower prices. In 2019-20, Glühwein cost about 2.50-4 Euro, without an added shot.

Jägertee or Jagertee – (“Yeah-grrr-teh“) Traditionally a mix of black tea and rum. Translates as “Hunter’s Tea.” Also popular for après-ski at Alpine resorts. Also known as “Hüttentee” (Hut tea).

Eierpunsch – (“eye-ur-poonsch“) Oh, this is a rich, creamy, very sweet drink made from something called “Eierlikör,” which basically is made of eggs, sugar and brandy. The German Christmas market drink version of Eierpunsch will usually add a sweet white wine, more sugar, and even potentially some orange or lemon juice, or even more rum! Yowzaa!

Kakao – (“kah-kow“) This ain’t your momma’s hot chocolate but comes with your choice of shots of hard spirits like rum or vodka, or liqueurs like Bailey’s or “43,” which is a popular Spanish liqueur made only by one family in Cartegena with 31% (!) alcohol and pronounced “Dreye-unt-fear-zig.”

HITT Tip: Every region and even certain vendors will have their own specialties, or perhaps just a local or personal name for drinks. For example, you’ll find Alter Schwede (Old Swede), Kirschzauber or Kirschtraum (Cherry Magic or Cherry Dream).

Dr Whoo And Herr Widderstein Drinking Gluhwein

I have fond memories of those warm paper cups clutched in gloved hands held to my chest and just below my nose as I wandered through glittery stalls selling gingerbread and hot roasted chestnuts. Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to German Christmas market drinks, I’m still a traditional Glühwein drinker despite all these exotic beverages and newer variations. Just plain ol’ hot, steamy, spicy Glühwein for me! Prosit!

Want more German language tips? Refer to our “German language cheat sheet for travelers” to help you say what you need.

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Therese Iknoian

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian now focuses her writing and photography talents on travel. Fluent in German, Therese also runs a translation business (ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. She's a French speaker, and loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication. Therese is an award-winning member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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