Krampus at the Christmas Market in Munich
Don’t miss the 2019 Krampus run around the Munich Christmas market. If you missed it on December 8, you have another chance on December 22, from 4-5 PM.
Ah, it’s December and the Christmas markets in Bavaria are in full swing. The Alps are shrouded in cool mist and half-timbered houses are decked out in twinkly lights and boughs of mistletoe. Locals are huddled ’round their fires drinking hot glühwein as holiday tunes float through the air.
Suddenly, the sound of synchronized cracking whips break the silence. Groups of Krampus and Perchten, Christmas devils and fur-clad Alpine monsters armed with bundles of twigs, rush into the crowded streets. The fiendish Christmas beasts dance through the crowds chasing rotten children and whipping them with stinging bundles of twigs. Adults laugh and stuff themselves with gingerbread as children run screaming in all directions. Yeah, Christmas in Germany has a bit of an edge.
Apparently, nothing says holiday cheer here like monsters with whips. You can almost hear Rihanna caroling, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.” But seriously, there is a dark side to Germanic Christmas. Dozens of local variations play on the theme. Sometimes, Saint Nicholas is accompanied by a fiendish dwarf or monster. Other times, Saint Nicholas carries the whip himself. In parts of Switzerland, Schmutzli scoops kids up in a big sack and dumps them in the forest. Thomas’ grandmother used to warn him that the Belzmärte would get him if he didn’t behave. Hilariously, that is the word for Santa Claus in his dialect Schwäbisch. Yikes!
The best way for visitors to experience these traditions today is to attend a Krampuslauf, which translates as a “Krampus run”. These events often take place at Christmas markets in Alpine regions of Austria and Bavaria. We took in the amazing Krampuslauf in Munich, which immediately became my favorite event in all of Germany. (Move over Oktoberfest!)
The Krampuslauf is filled with amazing pre-Christian traditions and ancient tribal dancing. Locals dressed as the Krampus or Perchten wear devil masks, elaborate costumes made of goat and sheep skins, and headdresses topped with antlers and ibex horns. But pay attention. In all the chaos, it is easy to lose an eyeball to a hyped-up dancer. And drunken participants occasionally get a little carried away. Check out what happened at the Krampuslauf in Salzburg when some kids ended up in the hospital with broken bones!
But hey, what’s Christmas without a bit of fear and Satan-like imagery, right? If that weren’t enough to convince you, don’t forget the Christmas markets full of lebkuchen (German gingerbread), chocolate-covered fruits, germknödel (steamed dumplings filled with plum mousse), candied apples, glühwein (hot, spiced wine), bratwurst, potato pancakes topped with apple sauce… and every other treat you can imagine.
But while you are munching on flammlachs (fire-roasted salmon) or puzzling over the dessert called Nonnenfürzchen (Nuns’ farts), take a moment to think back over the last year. Were you a good little boy or girl? Remember, in Germany the price for bad behavior is no lump of coal. If you were naughty rather than nice, get ready to run when the Krampus shows up with his bundle of twigs.
Plan Your Trip to Munich
When to Go – Christmas markets in Munich open at the end of November and close on Christmas Eve, at the latest. The Krampuslauf usually happens twice in December with dates and times announced each year on Muenchen.de.
Accommodation – Munich has plenty of options for hotels and guest houses. We recommend searching for great Munich hotels on HotelsCombined.com, a site which finds the best deals for you across numerous top hotel booking sites, including hotels.com and agoda.
If you stay in Munich more than a few days, we recommend booking an apartment through Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before and you click through this link here, you get a credit toward your first stay. The amount varies, but it’s usually between $30 and $40. Not too bad.
Tours – Munich boasts two dozen Christmas markets all over the city including one at the airport for visitors flying in. If you are looking for a guided tour, Viator offers a 2-hour Munich Christmas Markets Tour to soak up the holiday spirit. You will be visiting several Christmas markets and learn about German Christmas traditions. If you prefer a self-guided tour, visit Muenchen.de for a list of Munich Christmas markets.
Guidebooks – We like to travel with Lonely Planet guides. They are great for historical and cultural information, maps, walking tours, highlights, and itineraries. For Munich, we recommend the Lonely Planet Munich, Bavaria & the Black Forest, or the Lonely Planet Germany if you are planning to travel to other parts of Germany. If you prefer a more visual guidebook, we recommend the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Munich & the Bavarian Alps or the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Germany.
More Christmas Markets – If you can’t get enough of the Christmas market spirit, check out our article Christmas Markets in Germany and around the World. There are plenty more Christmas markets to explore.