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This information was written in 2003, but many of the markets named are still operating (with new dates).

October 27, 2003 -- Blame Germany for the Victorian concept of Christmas, which has so heavily influenced our own thinking about how to celebrate. (Prince Albert, it is said, introduced the Christmas tree, originally a pagan custom, to England when he came over to be Victoria's consort in the early 1800s.) So, if you like the traditional Christmas, and have the opportunity to visit Europe this winter, you must take in one of Germany's traditional Christmas markets.

This year, for the first time, you can look at a new Christmas market in Berlin, adding to more than a dozen already in operation. From November 24 through Christmas Eve, 2003, an "Old World" market has been recreated in the Gendarmenmarkt, with red-canvas-covered booths decked out in early 18th-century style. Other Christmas Markets in Berlin include the Spandau featuring over 450 booths, Alexanderplatz with its ferris wheel and carousels, Opernpalais selling traditional toys, Memorial Church for gifts and Lucia with an ice rink. All of the markets are open from November 24-28 through December 21-28 this year.

If you hang around until New Year's, there's an open-air new years party at Brandenburg Gate, where more than one million Berliners and visitors turn the street into a festival with live music, dancing and fireworks starting on December 31.

For more information, visit the Berlin tourist home page at www.berlin-tourist-information.com or phone the German National Tourist Office in New York City at 212/661-7200.

The German National Tourist Office has just released a pretty brochure called "Christmas-Time," full of information on the country's famous and less-known markets, their specialties, regional distinctions and events. The markets are not just miniature houses, twinkling lights, wooden toys, wreaths and the smell of lebkucken (gingerbread) or gluhwein (mulled hot wine).

  • There are five Christmas markets in Cologne, one at the marvelous Gothic cathedral (www.koelntourismus.de).
  • In Dresden, you can visit Germany's oldest Christmas Market dating from 1434, with a rotating stepped pyramid in the center (www.dresden-tourist.de).
  • The Leipzig market, with 260 booths, is one of the nation's largest, with the added advantage of singing by Bach's famous St. Thomas Choir on Fridays and Saturdays (www.leipzig.de).
  • Up in Lubeck, you can revel in crafts from Scandinavia, the Baltic region and Germany itself at their Christmas Market (www.lubeck.de).
  • If you like Baroque, go to Ludwisburg, where models of 80 Christmas churches from the Baroque period to the present are exhibited in the regional church history museum (www.ludwigsburg.de).
  • Stuttgart market highlights include collections of antiques, several concerts, and open-air ice skating in front of the Neue Schloss (www.stuttgart-tourist.de).
  • Finally, another of just seven examples among many markets and cities, consider Prien am Chiemsee, where you can cruise to the Christkindl Market on the small island of Fraueninsel in the lake. The trip makes for half the fun. See www.prien.chiemsee.de.

For more information, visit www.cometogermany.com.