A German Tradition Takes Root in the U.S.
Gerhard Lippman is from a one-horse, little town in Germany, not far from Frankfurt, called Empfertshausen. If you speak German, you may recognize that the word translates roughly to “one-horse town.”
He is a woodworker who makes magnificent Nativity sets, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and other impressive items from wood found in the forest near his home. Handmade items like these are sold in Christmas markets throughout Europe this time of the year, a time when many woodworkers make the majority of their income for the year.
Germany, of course, is famous for Christmas markets, a tradition that dates back to the 1600s in Nuremberg. Held in town squares beginning the Friday after the first Advent Sunday, the markets are usually timber structures decorated with holly bows and fragrant evergreen. With live musical performances and glühwein, a German Christmas market is a holiday treat to experience. (ChristmasMarkets.com)
But Gerhard Lippman doesn’t work at the Christmas markets of Germany. He instead gets on a plane and heads to America to a little town called Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
With a population of fewer than 1,000 about an hour north of Milwaukee, Elkhart Lake could be considered a one-horse town. It has just one stoplight. It’s a delightful little resort community with more vacation homes than permanent residences, which are filled when the breezes between Lake Michigan and Elkhart Lake blow away the discomfort of summer heat.
But in December, as the lakes freeze over, the summer crowds return to Elkhart Lake for one of the most authentic Christmas markets found in the United States. Located on the grounds of the beautiful Osthoff Resort under a big tent the size of a football field, this Christmas market has just about everything markets in Germany have, including bratwursts and other German sausages, beer and that lovely warm spiced wine known as glühwein.
Gerhard Lippman’s booth is one of the busiest of the 70 under the big tent. He’s been coming to Elkhart Lake for more than 15 years and many returning shoppers simply want to stop in and say hello or purchase an addition to their collection of his work. Although he speaks English, Lippman can be heard mumbling in German as he struggles to keep up with the crowd and the many sales that make his journey to Wisconsin such a profitable one each year.
He is joined by leaders of a knitters’ cooperative in Estonia, lace and linen workers from Belgium and a glass ornament artist from Czech Republic, among others. Glass Christmas ornaments were first made more than 150 years ago in Lauscha, Germany ,just a stone’s throw from Czech Republic.
Of the 70 or so booths at the market, about half of them come from Europe. The remaining booths are filled by carefully vetted artisans in and around Wisconsin known for their skill in hand-crafted treasures.
A visit to the Christmas market is easily a day-long affair. A food court offers up sauerkraut and potato pancake dinners, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and German candies, along with German cheeses and sausages that also make good holiday gifts.
Continue the holiday experience with a full weekend at the Osthoff Resort including breakfast with Santa, cookie decorating classes and sleigh rides around Elkhart Lake while singing Christmas carols.
Or you might up the expectations for holiday dinners by signing up for a class at L’Ecole de la Maison, a cooking school located right inside the Osthoff. During the holidays, the cooking class emphasizes cookies and other festive desserts, such as Yule logs and gingerbread buildings. But if you’re traveling with a group, you can request just about any type of menu that you would like to explore.