Christmas market visitors might have heard of it in rumors: a romantic natural market buried deep in the woods outside of Kaiserslautern, Germany, with bonfires and torches blazing under starlight and hot, red wine to warm guests as they tromp down forest trails to the festivities.
Johanniskreuz’s Christmas market, organized by the House of Sustainability, rightfully earned the name Romantische Waldweihnacht, “romantic forest Christmas,” though it is not quite as rustic as the rumors foretold. The market is part holiday spirit and part environmental education effort, located in the Pfälzerwald outside of Kaiserslautern. This year it is set for Dec. 15-16.
The market is no secret. According to Michael Leschnig, head of the House of Sustainability, police estimate between 12,000 and 15,000 revelers attend each year. And it’s hardly buried deep in the woods — drivers won’t miss it off the B48 road on market day.
Still, picture a typical Christmas market city scene. Then, replace the colorful buildings of a German town square with a forest of tall trees. Replace piped-in Christmas tunes with live musicians. Replace brightly bulb-lit vendor booths with bonfires and Schwedenfackel (Swedish torches), stumps of wood cut with a cross pattern that burn from within. Replace the typical spiced red wine called Glühwein offered at most holiday markets with its organic counterpart.
That’s the atmosphere of the Johanniskreuz market. It spreads an environmentally conscious message, yet abounds in German charm and comfort. Warmth radiates from the fest’s blazes as does the spirit of the Pfälzerwald community. The Pfälzerwald is part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, a managed area of forest that stretches south of Kaiserslautern across the French border. Its Christmas market showcases the community’s special connection to the woods.
Take a walk among the market’s vendors — more than 70 of them — to understand the link. Leschnig stressed that the vendors are supported by the forest’s products and by-products. The market supports the vendors by inviting them to sell their goods.
The company Bürstenfabrik Klein, for example, will sell traditional brooms and brushes made from its factory in Ramberg. This tradition, according to Leschnig, is the historical craft of producing brooms from forest trees, passed down by families through generations.
Vendors selling wool products, such as socks and sweaters, are also important, Leschnig said, because sheep breeders in the Pfälzerwald keep sheep in the valleys to sustain the meadows.
Artists, too, use forest products. Traditional glassmakers take a chemical from wood-burned ashes necessary to make glass. Other crafters use oak trees to make ink. Crafter Silka Burst of Kaiserslautern will demonstrate glass molding and will sell her work and jewelry. Astrid Haas of Tulibri, a Kaiserslautern business, will demonstrate calligraphy and sell handmade books.
The market’s food is also special. Chestnut trees grow in the eastern part of the Pfälzerwald, so market-goers can find hot chestnuts, chestnut cream, chestnut sausage and chestnut-flavored Saumagen meat patties. Visitors can buy sheep meat and sheep sausage. Vendors also will sell meat from cattle, horses, wild boar and red deer. For a sweet treat, try the Strauben or Apfelkringel — dough cooked in oil and covered in powered sugar, similar to a funnel cake.
The organic Glühwein comes from vineyards in the Weinstrassse area east of the forest that have partnered with the House of Sustainability.
Leschnig said visitors should enjoy the low-stress setting of the forest at a “market close to nature [that] is different than normal life,” he said.
The Johanniskreuz Christmas market beckons the romantic nature-lover — that part of the rumor is true.
Dates & times
The Johanniskreuz Romantische Waldweihnacht will be open 2-8 p.m. Dec. 15 and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 16.
From Kaiserslautern, follow Trippstadterstrasse (highway L503) and keep left at the fork. Turn onto the B48 highway and follow it to Johanniskreuz. During the market, traffic on the B48 between L503 and Johanniskreuz will go southbound only, allowing parking on the B48. Leave the market by following the detour toward Trippstadt.
Visitors are urged to participate in the environmentally friendly spirit of the market and arrive by bus. A bus labeled “Johannis-kreuz” or “Waldweihnacht” will take visitors from the Kaiserslautern train station to the market.
• Bus tickets: 3.60 euros one-way; 5.50 euros round-trip; 9.60 euros for a ticket covering five people. Entrance to the market is free.
Twenty-nine vendors will sell food local to the Pfälzerwald region, including organic Glühwein, wild boar sausage, venison, chestnut specialties and sweet treats.
• House of Sustainability: (49) (0) 6306-9210130; email firstname.lastname@example.org; website (German only) www.hdn-pfalz.de.
• Bus schedule: Download at www.hdn-pfalz.de/index.php?id=79 under “Veranstaltungsfaltblatt.” the event flyer.
Nina Peacock is a military spouse and journalist living near Kaiserslautern, Germany. She plans to attend as many Christmas markets as she can this year.