Certain things have a language which best suits them: rock songs are English, opera is Italian, assembling furniture is Swedish and Christmas in German. Come to think of it, Tannenbaum might have been the first word I learned in German when for the yearly kindergarden event, which had just gone from celebrating socialist ‘winter holidays’ to celebrating proper old Christmas, we were taught the verses in the original, to the lachrymose pride of our parents. Though of course O, Tannenbaum could have been socialist approved too, since the tree was always fine, just don’t mention Jesus and the rest of the story. Which actually had nothing to do with the tree, for the tree is Germanic and pagan and forever green in the cold heart of winter, thus offering the hope of redemption. Like baby Jesus, so here we are making the full circle.
O, Tannenbaum was then followed by Stille Nacht, which for some reason I also remember best in the original, though I must have sang it more frequently in Hungarian- it never became really popular in Romanian which is naturally inclined towards more Byzantine tunes. It was much later (and incidentally in Vienna) that I realized that the exotic name my grandfather used for the traditional Christmas candy which we hang on our trees, kriszkindli, is actually German as well, Christ Kindl, of course, with Hungarian objecting a bit to that consonant overkill in the middle.
It was into this already very Germanic broader picture that the Vienna Christmas fair made its triumphant entry. Such fairs are pretty ubiquitous these days, and Budapest has some really fine ones but nothing can quite parallel the Viennese one for me, where the wine is the spiciest, the punch the strongest, the baubles the most outlandish, the sausage fumes the thickest and the yodels the scariest.
I also end up visiting the same ones most of the time: my favourite would probably be the one in front of Karlskirche, which is somewhat artsier (or, khm, hipsterer) than the rest, with the occasional souvenir which is almost a good idea- this is where I also stock up on the compulsory Advent market mug, because I obviously do not have enough mugs, and don’t let my other five dozen of them tell you otherwise. The Karlskirche market is also less crowded than the one next to the Town Hall and the one in Maria Theresia square, which are strategically situated in the thick of the city’s tourist maze and therefore you sadly run the risk of your beverage being violently removed from your hands by stray selfie sticks. The markets of Stephansplatz and Am Hof are also basically unavoidable if you are in the centre, but might actually feel a bit breezier as the crowds split between the market stalls and the rest of the area’s attractions.
Stephansplatz is also a great vantage point for ogling some of the city’s best Christmas lights- there’s the giant chandeliers running down on the Graben continued with the curtain of lights on Kohlmarkt, the red spheres on Rotenturmstrasse and many other random delights on the smaller streets. This also means that there’s a spot of congestion come evening, also known as 3:30 PM these days, so the best tip of this whole piece is to perhaps plan your Vienna visit onto a weekday in December- in case your point of departure is Budapest, you pretty much have no choice anymore, as all the weekend trains are fully booked until Christmas, as the rude lady in the MÁV ticket office rudely informed me. So I went to Vienna on a Friday and met decidedly nice people. Good hot wine does that to you.