Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Six: Karlsplatz

Years ago, this was my favourite Christmas market in all of Vienna. Since then, little has changed.

And I mean it, literally. Many booths are still in exactly the same place, selling exactly the same stuff that was original and new in maybe 2007. It’s a little like shopping for groceries. Sure, there’s one or two novelties each week, special offers or suchlike, but mostly you know where to find what, and the whole thing reeks of routine.

That said, this market is still in one of the most beautiful locations in the city, right in front of St. Charles’s Church, or Karlskirche. There is a shallow basin in front of the church which in Summer is filled with water, but now stands empty. This is used as the central square of the market and scattered with straw, because there are ponies which children are allowed to ride.

If you’re not a regular visitor, you will also find the merchandise interesting. While the kitsch level is rather high, there are several intriguing little things on offer that you’ll have a hard time finding in any of the other markets. Most remarkable, for me, is that one guy who sells Steampunk design, mostly hats and bags. If you like pens, or pottery, or elaborate glass-, wood- or metalworks, you will also find the perfect vendor, at least as long as you can afford the stuff, because nothing of it comes cheap.

The special highlight of this market is a stage at the very center where you can watch some kind of performance almost every day. This could be a band playing, or just some writer reading from his latest book.

The place is also very easy to get to. Karlsplatz is by far the largest underground station in Vienna, where three lines meet. All of that, and the fact that they have their own ATM – very unusual – makes for a rather crowded market, especially next to the exits where most of the glühwein is sold.

While you’re in the area, don’t forget to have a look at a few other landmarks that mark the borders of the large square: Musikverein is just across the street, so is Künstlerhaus and the University of Technology. The underground station is one of the many Vienna landmarks built by Otto Wagner.

Size: some 70 booths
Prices: high, hot beverages start at €3.50
Kitsch: high
Special offer: ponies, stage performers, unusual merchandise

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Five: WeihnachtsQuartier

The Vienna Museumsquartier is one of the more successful urban development projects of the last two decades. Just like the name suggests, it’s home to several art museums; but it’s also a large public space that serves as a very popular hangout for city people year-round.

Besides the two big museums, the Leopold Museum and the modern arts museum that goes by the name of MUMOK, or Museum Moderner Kunst, there’s also space for the performing arts and a couple of bars and restaurants, as well as a lot of small cultural groups and initiatives which have found a home here. This is the perfect environment for a Christmas market for artists and designers, and that’s exactly what WeihnachtsQuartier (website in German) is.

Unlike most of the markets introduced on this blog the WeihnachtsQuartier is only open for one weekend, usually the first advent weekend, which was at the end of November this year. If you’re in town at the time, it’s definitely worth a visit.

As soon as you enter you find yourself in a whirlwind of all shapes and colours. The artists work with all kinds of materials, like clay, glass, fabric, or metal. You don’t get the usual kitsch there at all. Instead, every piece is created with a brain and a heart, and you can see it.

Not much of the merchandise is Christmas themed, of course. You won’t find any tinsel trees, blinking Santa hats or similar atrocities here. What you can find and even buy, if you have deep enough pockets, is a lot of wonderful presents that surely will make some people really happy. If you love shopping for gifts just for the sake of the joy of it, this is the place to go.

One of the highlights in a fields with very high standards is the stall of a friend of mine, Sissy Staudenmayer, who makes delicious little things from glass, mostly jewellery, in all shapes and colours. Her newest invention are cupcakes that are absolutely free of sugar or calories, which unfortunately doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good for your teeth.

As you would expect, each piece is unique. Sissy is also happy to entertain visitors at her studio and teach them the art of creating fine glass beads.

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Four: Schloss Wilhelminenberg

Don’t let yourself be fooled by dictionaries, which usually translate German “Schloss” as “castle”. Most English speakers, on hearing that word, think of a medieval building with a moat, a drawbridge, and battlements. The German word for that is “Burg”; Schlösser are nothing like that. They are large mansions, usually built in the 17th or 18th century by some count or prince. One of them is Schloss Wilhelminenberg, although the current building only dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.

Like many of its kind, the castle has a rich history which came to an unfortunate climax during the second half of the 20th century, when it was used as a home for girls. In recent years, claims of abuse came up which are currently under investigation.

Anyway, the building, situated in a large park on one of the hills in the west of the city, is now a hotel. I found news of the Christmas market on a website I use a lot (only in German, I’m afraid). There, they advertised the market as a quiet affair in a beautiful location, so I went exploring.

The entire market is indeed not so much familiar as downright tiny, only 10 booths or so, and it would indeed have been quiet, if it hadn’t been for a number of children who were desperately and vociferously trying to get their parents’ attention. The game of Bavarian curling going on on the tiny ice rink didn’t help, either.

As to the view, I’m sure it would have been magnificent in daylight and less foggy weather. As it was, you could at least see a few city lights shimmer through.

The merchandise on offer didn’t catch my eye much. It was about the usual stuff you can get anywhere, only less of it. I don’t think I’m going to bother coming out here again any time soon.

Size: some 10 booths
Prices: low, hot beverages start at €2.70
Kitsch: high
Special offer: view of the city