Markets mark beginning of holiday season

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- This month, some villages, towns and cities in Germany will begin setting up their traditional Weihnachtsmaerkte, or Christmas markets.

Most markets will open around this time and stay open until shortly before Christmas.

Although every Christmas market has its unique flair and character, they are usually set up in a similar way to feature decorated wooden huts lined up in a popular spot of the town.

Vendors offer a variety of goods, ranging from tree ornaments and decorations to calendars, candles and wooden toys. One can also find handcrafted items, which can be given as holiday gifts.

Historical carrousels are among the highlights for children, and fresh cotton candy may tempt old and young alike.

Some markets have carols and music performed by local choirs and bands. Sankt Nikolaus, the German version of Santa Claus, typically pays a visit to the markets and surprises the children with holiday treats.

A good and possibly hassle-free way to see the Christmas markets with friends or family is by taking the train. The closest train stations to Spangdahlem Air Base are in Erdorf, Wittlich or Speicher. Visit http://www.bahn.de for train information. It is recommended to take a train from Speicher or Erdorf for the Cologne market and take a train from Wittlich for the Koblenz market.

The following are dates and opening times for some Christmas markets in the Eifel region, Germany and bordering countries.

Local markets

Bernkastel hosts its annual Mittelalterlicher Weihnachtsmarkt, or medieval Christmas market. This market offers more than 50 decorated sales huts now through Dec. 18 near the Baerenbrunnen fountain in the town's market square and throughout the pedestrian area. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday to Saturday and 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sunday.

Bitburg's Weihnachtsmarkt takes place Dec. 9-18. The market is open noon - 7 p.m. daily. Stores will be open until 10 p.m. Dec. 16 in the center of Bitburg for late holiday shopping. A German-American choir will perform songs at the market the afternoon of Dec. 2.

Foehren Castle will host a small Christmas market Dec. 9-10. Opening times are from 5 p.m. - midnight Dec. 9 and 11 a.m. - midnight Dec. 10. For more information, visit http://www.schloss-foehren.de.

Mertesdorf will host a medieval Christmas market Dec. 10-11 near the Ruwertal hall featuring magicians, knights, dancers and drummers. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Dec. 11. For more information, visit http://www.forumgaudi.de.

Saarburg will host a Christkindl market now through Dec. 4. Opening times are 5 - 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 1 - 8 p.m. Saturday to Sunday. The market will offer 20 decorated wooden booths. For more information, visit http://www.irsch-saar.de.

Traben-Trarbach/Mosel will host their first underground Wine-Nachts-market, or wine market, inside a wine cellar. The event is from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Dec. 3 to Jan. 8. For more information, visit http://www.mosel-wein-nachts-market.de.

Trier hosts its traditional Weihnachtsmarkt now through Dec. 22 in the Hauptmarkt or main market square. This is a market in the immediate neighborhood of the base, with holiday music and celebrations featured in the market square throughout the entire season. Opening times are 10:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Highlights include a performance by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Brass Band at 6 - 7 p.m. Dec. 13. Music and entertainment is scheduled throughout each weekend.

Wittlich's Christmas market is now through Dec. 18 in the center of town. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. daily. Highlights include regional homemade and handcrafted items, a 30-meter-tall tree and carols every Saturday after 5 p.m.

Markets located outside the local

Aachen, the city where the German Lebkuchen Printen cakes originate from, is hosting a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 in the city's market square. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. More than 100 booths will be set up selling handicraft, art and ornaments.

Augsburg hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 26. The market is open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. Highlights include a Christmas pyramid surrounded by angel figures and Renaissance buildings. The market is more than 500 years old.

Baden-Baden hosts their Weihnachtsmarkt now through Dec. 26 in the historic market square. The market is open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. Highlights include a life-size nativity scene with live sheep.

Bonn will host a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 on Muensterplatz. The market is open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. Bonn also offers a modern ice-skating rink.

Cologne hosts four large markets -- around the Dom Cathedral, Alter Market, Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz. The Cologne medieval market will not take place in 2011. There will be a floating market on board of the MS Wappen von Mainz. The markets are open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. now through Dec. 23.

Dresden hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 24 on Altmarkt. Opening times are from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. The market is open from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dec. 24. This market is known as the most-popular Christmas market in former Eastern Germany. Highlights include a decorated holiday tree, several life-sized holiday figures to include snowmen and a nutcracker man, hand-made decorations, a holiday-countdown calendar, and a fairy-tale castle and forest with more than 100 figures.

Frankfurt's Christmas market is held on the Roemerberg, with about 200 stands and 3 million visitors in previous years, is known to be one of the largest markets in Germany dating back to the year 1393. The wooden stands are set up around the Fountain of Justice, in the shadow of the city's ancient town hall, now through Dec. 22. The market is open 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. The Roemerberg is in the center of the town, near Paul's Church.

Hamburg has a several markets set up throughout the center of town now through Dec. 30 on Gerhart-Hauptmann Platz, around the Petri Church, through Spitalerstrasse, Moenckebergbrunnen, and Jacobikirchhof up to the Saint Petri Church. The market features about 150 booths, many of them looking like half-timbered houses. Markets are open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily, but they will be closed Dec. 25-26. A highlight of the Hamburg market is a 20-meter-high holiday tree with 12,000 lights and ornaments.

Heidelberg hosts a large Weihnachtsmarkt with an ice skating rink now through Dec. 22. The market spreads out to several historical sites, which are the market square and Kornmarkt, located on Hauptstrasse and Universitaetsplatz. A Park and Ride shuttle service is available. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily.

Kaiserslautern hosts a market in the center of town around Stiftskirche with more than 40 wooden booths now through Dec. 30. The market is open from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday.

Koblenz hosts the largest Weihnachtsmarkt in Rheinland-Pfalz now through Dec. 22 in the Altstadt, or old city. Opening times are 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday to Saturday and 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sunday and holidays. This year's highlights include a life-size wooden mansion and horse-drawn wagon rides. Koblenz also offers an ice-skating rink near the market, as well as children's rides.

Leipzig hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 22 around the old city hall in the center of town. The market is open 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. daily. Highlights include the world's largest free-standing holiday-countdown calendar.

Luebeck, the city from where Marzipan originates, is hosting a Christmas market now through Dec. 30 in the market square. The market, which dates back to the year 1648, is among Germany's most-popular markets. It is open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. -10 p.m. Friday to Saturday and 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dec. 24. The market is closed Dec. 25.

Mainz hosts its Weihnachtsmarkt now through Dec. 23 in the historic square in front of the Dom Cathedral. The market is open 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday to Saturday. The market offers 60 decorated booths set up in 10 rows. The highlights include a 36-foot-tall wooden Christmas pyramid and a life-size nativity scene carved out of lime wood. Sankt Nikolaus will visit the market from 5 - 6 p.m. Dec. 6.

Mannheim hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 on Friedrichtsplatz, offering about 200 booths. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. There will be children's rides.

Munich has several Christmas markets. The most-popular market is open now through Dec. 24 at Maerienplatz in front of the city hall in the center of town. The market is open 10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dec. 24. Other smaller markets can be found in Schwabingen, Heidhausen, Chinesischer Turm, Neuhauser, Ramersdorf and Pasing.

Nuernberg's market takes place now through Dec. 24. The opening times are 9:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday to Saturday and 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sunday.

Rothenberg ob der Tauber hosts its Weihnachtsmarkt now through Dec. 23. The market is open 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Friday to Saturday. The medieval town of Rothenburg sells ornaments year-round and has a Christmas museum.

Saarbruecken hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 23. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily in the Saint Johann market square. Close to 100 huts will be set up. Highlights include life-sized figures and renditions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in German each night.

Stuttgart has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, offering more than 200 booths. The market takes place now through Dec. 23 and is open 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sunday. The town also has an ice skating rink.

Wiesbaden hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 in the city center on Schlossplatz. The market is open from 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday and from noon - 9 p.m. Sunday. Among the highlights are the 20-meter-high holiday tree and a life-size wooden mansion. People walk through four wooden mansions before they get to the market.

Wuerzburg hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 in front of the town's gothic Marien chapel and Rokoko-Falkenhaus. Opening times are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The market dates back to the year 1800 and offers about 80 booths.

Markets in bordering countries

Durbuy, a community in Belgium, will host a scenic Christmas market every weekend now through Jan. 9 at the Roi Baudoin Park featuring 100 chalets around a 450-square-meter ice rink in the cobblestone streets of this small community. Opening times are 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily. The market stays open later Saturday and Sunday. There will be a holiday tree in the main square, and the entire town will be illuminated with 1,000 candles Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

Echternach/Luxembourg hosts its market Dec. 9-11 in the historic market square and center of town. Opening times are 5 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily. This market offers holiday-related products to include jewelry and handcrafted items. Entertainment is scheduled daily.

Luxembourg City hosts its annual Christmas market Dec. 1 through Dec. 24 at the Place d'Armes in the center of town. The market is open 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily. About 70 decorated huts will be set up selling holiday items and ornaments. Several concerts are scheduled each day. A special Advent market takes place Dec. 1-24 on Bahnhofsvorplatz. The market opens at 3:45 p.m. Dec. 1 with a festival called "Winterlights." To highlight the festive atmosphere at the end of the year, Luxembourg's capital has been decorated with holiday lights.

Vianden, Luxembourg, will host a Christmas market Dec. 10-11 from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. in the city's castle.

Metz has its annual Christmas market now through Dec. 28 on Place Saint Jacques and other spots throughout the city.

Strasbourg, France, offers a Christmas market now through Dec. 31 at the Muensterplatz, Place Broglie and Petite France. Opening times are 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Thursday and Saturday; from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Dec. 20; from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31; and from 2 - 7 p.m. Dec. 25. This is one of the largest Christmas markets in France, taking place for the 436th time this year. Several hundred vendors will be in place. Highlights include a half-timbered building with holiday shops and a gingerbread bakery.

Valkenburg, near Maastricht, in the Netherlands, hosts a Christmas market now through Dec. 23 in the Valkenburg Velvet Cave, the largest and oldest underground holiday market in Europe. On a tour of the cave, visitors can see mural paintings, sculptures, an 18th-century chapel, market stalls with gifts, ancient trades, foods and beverages.

Zurich hosts its 18th Christmas market now through Dec. 24 inside the city's ShopVille-Rail City train station. Opening times are from 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday to Sunday. The market closes at 4 p.m. Dec. 24. Highlights include one of the largest European indoor-Christmas markets and a large holiday tree with about 6,000 ornaments.