Every country that suffers from a dearth of winter daylight and an overabundance of ice has a favorite hot and alcoholic drink to get its residents through to warmer months. The Swedish have Glogg, the English mulled wine, and I’m sure somebody else has something (who gets the hot toddy?). In Germany, no December is complete without a few too many mugs of Glühwein clutched in a gloved hand and tightly held against the jostle of the Christmas market crowd.
On that note, no December in Berlin is complete without multiple visits to each of the different markets, effused with the scent of candied almonds and grilled bratwursts spitting fat. Each has its own character – Gendarmenmarkt is always overly packed, but you’ve got that post-Christmas-shopping vibe inspiring you to purchase just another bag of Baumkuchen bites. The market at Schloss Charlottenburg is expansive and twisting, filled with people selling suckling pig and potato pancakes, custom jewelry and chocolate-covered fruit. There, the Glühwein bar is a giant wooden windmill, one of those classic German Christmas decorations where the heat of candles sends the manger scene spinning.
Rixdorf feels like a neighborhood market where your friends are selling arts and crafts, while the market at Alexanderplatz is full of bored-looking vendors pouring just another glass of swill to the tourists who’ll be charmed by anything. This year, I even made it to the market in Braunschweig, where the Glühwein is served with a shot of Mumme, a thick malt extract that tempers the sugar.
This year, I made Glühwein at home for the first time – and wondered why I’d never done it before. There’s something so wonderful about a pot of hot beverage perfuming the kitchen with spice while you stand at the counter rolling out dough for Zimtsterne – German Christmas cookies rich with cinnamon and almond and glazed with meringue – then taking your Glühwein to the living room and stretching out on the carpet in front of the little, live tree to write Christmas cards, even though you said you weren’t going to write any this year. And in spite of feeling like Christmas has snuck up on you, it’s hard not to feel like it’s a perfect little moment. You may even put on Mariah.
I’m currently on a plane heading home for the holidays, where there may not be any Glühwein, but there will be a fireplace in front of which I’ll do nothing more than read the last Game of Thrones book and paint my nails. At home, there are other Christmas traditions to look forward to – raclette night and frosted sugar cookies, graved lax from the most incredible smoker on the East Coast, family movie night, mother-daughter spa day, Christmas morning brunch and picking one present to open on Christmas Eve, singing carols, playing music, running in the icy park. And maybe having a mug of hot chocolate.
Merry Christmas, Internet Family!
One benefit to making your own Glühwein is that you can control the level of sweetness. I find that Christmas market Glühwein is usually much too sweet, but some people are into that. Choose a dry red wine as your base. Good ones include a French Côtes du Rhone or Vin de Pays, Italian merlot, Spanish tinto, or German Dornfelder or Trollinger.
1 bottle dry red wine
1 orange with peel, cut into rounds
½ lemon with peel, cut into rounds
2 tbsp. honey
3 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans
3 cardamom pods
Malt extract (optional)
Amaretto or rum (optional)
Bring all ingredients (except malt extract and amaretto/rum) to a gentle simmer in a large pot. Be sure the wine doesn’t boil, or you’ll cook off the alcohol. Once the wine has begun to simmer, remove from heat and allow to steep for one hour.
Strain and return to pot. Rewarm before serving, being careful to avoid boiling.
Optionally, you can serve it with a shot of malt extract, amaretto, or rum. At the market, this is called a Glühwein “mit Schuss.”