Sauerkraut, cider and holiday cheer return for Chicago’s 25th annual Christkindlmarket

By Kristen Gesicki and Bianca Kreusel

Strong smells of chocolate and German baked goods are in the air at downtown Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, which is lit up from vendor booths and surrounding trees. Bianca Kreusel

A crowd of people gathered excitedly outside at Daley Plaza as festive music and bright lights filled the air. Patrons sipped hot cocoa and German apple cider as they celebrated the start of the holiday season.

The Christkindlmarket — an annual event in Chicago inspired by German and European holiday traditions — returned to Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., and Wrigleyville at Gallagher Way, 3635 N. Clark St., on Nov. 19, marking the attraction’s 25th anniversary.

Inspired by the 16th century, first-of-its-kind outdoor market in Nuremburg, Germany, the Christkindlmarket is best known for its holiday charm, along with vendors’ foods, gifts and memorable mugs and novelties for families and friends to share.

“It’s a German tradition,” said Leila Schmidt, the manager of marketing and intercultural communications at German American Events. “We started off with 13 [vendors] in 1996, and now we’re up to 55 different vendors from all around the world — not just Germany. Sixty percent [of vendors] are still German, but you’ll find them from Canada, from Chicago and local areas. We’ve pretty much grown a lot since then.”

Helmut Hamberger, the vendor for the Bavarian Workshop from Munich, Germany, has been a part of the market for 23 years, selling ornaments, masks and other Bavarian wares.

“We’re very happy to be here, especially with what’s going on in Europe right now. They’re facing a lockdown. All the markets are canceled,” Hamberger said. “It’s been very festive. People are happy to be here.”

The Picasso stands proudly in the center of Daley Plaza as people shop. Bianca Kreusel

The Christkindlmarket was only available online last year due to COVID-19, with vendors and customers buying and selling their products virtually. This year, customers can choose to shop in-person or online.

“I feel so happy,” said Sabine Korger, vendor at the Bienes Honighaus Germany booth. “Last year was cancelled, and now we are back, and it feels really, really good.”

Korger has been a vendor at the Christkindlmarket for 13 years, selling self-care items made from honey, including soaps and lotions. She said the market gets her in the holiday spirit.

“I love it,” Korger said. “I love Americans and coming here. People are very lovely and positive, and they are so patient. I love it every year.”

Schmidt said safety is the Christkindlmarket’s number one priority this year due to COVID-19. There are signs throughout the market asking individuals to wear their masks, sanitize and social distance as much as possible.

From apple cider to sauerkraut, the Christkindlmarket is filled with edible delicacies.

The brightly-lit German greeting, “Willkommen to the Christkindlmarket Chicago,” welcomes visitors to the holiday market. Bianca Kreusel

Alicja Hawryl, a first-time visitor to the Christkindlmarket, was intrigued to see the German-inspired market herself.

“I’ve never been here before, and I wanted to check it out,” Hawryl said. “It’s been so far so good. I saw some stuff from Poland where I’m from, so [that makes me] very homesick. We got some apple ciders which are delicious.”

With many different traditions and cultures coming together, the Christkindlmarket is a beloved Chicago event.

“Take in the whole experience. When you come to the market, you want to make sure you’re not in a rush. You really want to enjoy it. You’ll want to stroll around the market, bring your loved ones and get the annual mug,” Schmidt said. “Try out different foods. Stop by the vendor booths, chat with them and see what kind of cool, special gifts you can get for the holidays.”

Visit the Christkindlmarket’s website for its list of 2021 vendors and maps.

The Christkindlmarket runs until Dec. 24 at Daley Plaza and until Dec. 31 in Wrigleyville.