Originally I thought Christmas Markets were going to be all about small handicrafts and ornaments, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and this thing called Gluhwein or mulled wine.
Being not much of a drinker I was curious to try it out but we didn't have great expectations of many more than just one as sweet and wine weren't our favourite combination. Wrong again! I think I had about 6! Not all at once...D was totally surprised with my response and his own too.
So the biergarten culture switches over to gatherings around the numerous gluhwein stands throughout the city. What fun it was! After lunch, after work, we saw loads of people just taking their time, talking to others, standing and leaning on the stands, watching the crowds and passing time. Though our German wasn't so great, we smiled and nodded and raised our mugs with others. Universal.
At first we drank the stuff too fast (a warm drink outdoors on a cool day is so good!) until we kinda learned to slow down and savour it. Because the wine isn't boiled, the alcohol stays in and for a lightweight like me, you can get tipsy!
The recipes differed from stand to stand and so did the mugs. They were often custom to the stand and people could keep them as a yearly memento. We brought home 2 different ones. Part of the price included a deposit for the mug so if you turn it in at the end, you get it back. Costs varied depending upon the style of the mug. My mug deposit was 5.50 Euro whereas the one D kept was 3 Euro. The gluhwein itself ranged from 2 Euro - 4 Euro.
The incentive was there to go from stand to stand to try out the different brews. We quickly learned which flavours of the hot stuff we preferred (the more citrus and spicy ones) and looked forward to our daily dose of enjoyment. The different stands were so creatively decorated with custom signs, we wished we were able to understand them all. So we resorted to the simple method of ordering things we didn't recognize and it served us well.