“Punsch” and Play

Where mugs of cheer meet song and dance

On The Town | monatoemboel | December 2012 / January 2013

Glühwein and Punsch keep revellers warm at the Advent markets (Illustration: Paulo Bastos)

Advent in Vienna is a time for candles, cookies and Christkindlmärkte, and for Austrians the experience of this cold time of year wouldn’t be complete without Punsch and its cousin, Glühwein. And in the same way, live entertainment often sweetens the deal with carols, dancers and brass bands.

Originally brought to Europe by the English East India Company in the 17th century, the Indian beverage pāñč (Hindi meaning five, because of its five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices) was avidly absorbed along with the local hot mulled "glowing wine" into Austrian (Christmas) culture, epitomising the festive spirit of the season.

On a cold winter’s evening, there is nothing quite like huddling in groups around small, sticky standing-tables, freezing your toes off, cradling the second cup of steaming, berry-filled, alcoholic deliciousness.

For connoisseurs, the Christmas Village at the Altes AKH is a must. Nestled into the main courtyard of the University campus, craftspeople open their Standln (booths) selling all varieties of hand-made and imported woolens, toys and bric-à-brac. While kids have fun on the merry-go-round or the Lilliput railway train, the more sports-inclined can book the curling track. On weekends, visitors browse the small crafts fair, where they can try their hand at traditional crafts like glass painting, turnery, or gingerbread baking.

Despite the all-too-canned Christmas music generally tumbling from tree-mounted speakers, lucky visitors (arriving between 19:00 and 20:00) will find a costumed brass band poised on a wooden balcony off to one side of the courtyard. Their rich and dramatic music is best enjoyed with a Kiachl (a Tyrolean yeast-risen pastry, topped with jam or Sauerkraut) in one hand and a cup of Apfel-Zimt Punsch (apple and cinnamon punch) in the other.

Another Christmas gem spreads out over the large space in front of the historic Schloss Schönbrunn, concentrating on artisans’ crafts and hand-made tree decorations. But what makes this market special is the live entertainment: Outdoor concerts with Christmas carols, regional and international choirs, brass bands and gospel singers heighten the festive mood next to the hand-carved, larger-than-life manger and gargantuan Christmas tree.

Another musical-punch experience is waiting at the gates of the Karlskirche. Wooden huts are scattered around the fountain and through part of Resselpark. Excited children wait, eager for their turn for a ride around the market. At the centre of the space is the stage, which hosts a wide variety of musical acts, including reggae, soul, classical and jazz, as well as choirs, curiosity shows and acrobats… and that’s just the beginning.

To avoid the traditional Christmas market Kitsch, but still enjoy the time-honoured blur of a 12 per cent mug full, the MuseumsQuartier is your best bet. Here, patrons flock around white, patterned spotlights and ice pavilions, pulsing to DJs hosted by 98.3 Superfly. Gone are the angel decorations, candles, choirs and wooden stands, evoking instead an urban and trendy ambience that some may feel contradicts the Advent season. It is a place where people meet before going clubbing, to have a round of curling, where they dance through the massive courtyard and, inevitably, get happily sloshed on the delicious Mango Punsch. 

It’s an unusual choice, perhaps, but filled with the party spirit of Austrian winter tradition, a possible stop after obligatory Christmas shopping before the festivities continue into the night.

For more coverage of Christmas markets see "Fashion with a Punsch: Design Christmas Markets Open" and  "Christmas Market(ing) Off the Beaten Path" in the Dec 2012/Jan 2013 TVR, and "Es Weihnachtet! Christmas Markets Fill the City" on the TVR website.

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