The British pub crawl is a much maligned thing. Probably because the word “crawl” implies that the participants are unable to walk between pubs, the pub crawl is generally interpreted by British people as an excuse to get absolutely hammered, and is therefore associated by our European neighbors with nothing more than drunkenness and debauchery of the worse, most British kind.
Yet as Brit living in Germany, I can point to a shining example of how the British Pub Crawl can actually contribute to rather than irreparably damage relations between my fair home country and our long-suffering continental neighbors. How do I manage this amazing feat of social integration? What glue do I use to make this diametrically opposed… er, thing stick? Well, it’s a mixture of mulled wine, cinnamon-flavored goodies and the Spirit of Yuletide itself.
That’s right: I yoke the British pub crawl with the German Christmas market – giving a Christmas Market Crawl, a tradition I introduced to Hamburg last year and will be continuing this weekend.
Essentially, the Christmas Market Crawl works well here because the Weihnachtsmärtke, as they are called, are evenly spread across the city – mostly within stumbling distance of another. This stands in stark contrast to, say, Nuremberg or Dortmund, whose huge markets are all concentrated on one focal point in the city, but I like it. Just like British people sometimes get bored of just sitting in one pub getting drunk, Germans too must get tired of just standing in one spot letting the biting cold of a Teutonic winter creep up their legs – so the Christkindlmarkt Crawl really is a winner.
In Hamburg, I like to start off at Rathausmarkt outside the Town Hall, which is the largest of the markets and the one where it is as well to be on your best behavior (it wouldn’t do for the Mayor to see you a few Glühweine worse for wear, really…). Once you’ve seen the perilously-perched Saint Nick model sled “fly” through the air, you can move on down to Jungfernstieg, which has a long, straight corridor of stalls along Hamburg’s picturesque Alster lake: and if you stop at each Glühweinstand you come across, then you’ll be nicely set up for the short walk to Gänsemarkt by the time you reach the western end of this charming yuletide destination.
The third stop on our crawl, Gänsemarkt, is a great market to get settled into. Whilst Rathausmarkt and Jungfernstieg are, due to their aesthetically pleasing surroundings, usually very full – not to mention popular with the tourists - Gänsemarkt is a little unlikely-looking by comparison and thus tends to be a little emptier. Many of the people who go there are Hamburgers on the run from the crowds, and so it has a nicely clubby atmosphere and makes you feel like part of the in-crowd. It’s also more protected from any large gusts of icy winter wind and is the perfect springboard to the last stop on the Christmas Market Crawl.
It’s a slightly longer way to the final Weihnachtsmarkt on our list, so you might want to take a taxi, or indeed the bus or underground to St. Pauli. Do make sure you’re slightly tipsy though, however you travel, because the Christmas market on the Reeperbahn has had the typical red-light-district treatment and is selling saucy “Mrs Claus” outfits and leather straps that don’t necessarily look like they’ve been designed just for reindeer… It’s all part of the fun, though, along with the large stage where Christmassy music is blasted out and, quite frequently, sung live in the inimitable St. Pauli style.
And if anyone says they think that British people are too obsessed with pub crawls and getting drunk, at least you’re, surrounded by the clubs and pubs of the Reeperbahn, in a strong position to point out that Germans, too, are fond of the odd drop… Just doing my bit for cross-cultural understanding, you realize: and there’s no better time for it than Christmas.