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

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Three: Belvedere

All right, I might be biased. After all it’s right around the corner from my place. Still, in my opinion the ambience of this market is the most romantic in all Vienna, especially after dark. So what? Sue me!

Situated in front of (well, actually behind) Schloss Belvedere, the magnificent baroque palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy – itself well worth a visit –, this is, of course, one of the tourist hot spots of the Viennese winter. You might expect a veritable kitschfest as a result. However, that is not the case at all.

What you get instead is a medium-sized Christmas village with both hot beverages and artisans well represented. There is a carousel and a little train for children. Some of the vendors try to take up the baroque theme and sell tree decorations in that style. Of course, Christmas trees weren’t widespread until much later, so if you are a stickler for historical accuracy, you will find that appalling. On the other hand, the merchandise is quite beautiful. There is one booth with pretty embroidery, doilies, tablecloths and the like, and another one with nice woodcarvings. Almost the only vendor that doesn’t quite fit in is one selling Murano glass and Venetian masks. Yet that is beautiful, too, and I am in a forgiving mood tonight.

The food is quite good, as well, and again they are trying to stay true to the location by offering regional specialities from Savoy, especially several baked dishes with lots of cheese. Savoyard cuisine seems to be a lot like its Swiss cousin. There’s also specialities from Styria and the Tyrol, and, of course, lots of gingerbread and other sweets.

A nice touch on the way out, although it’s easy to miss in the dark, is that it is lined with several Christmas trees, each of which has been decorated by a different primary school.

Size: some 40 booths
Prices: average, hot beverages start at €3.20
Kitsch: surprisingly low
Special offer: the baroque palace, Savoyard specialities