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1996 – When & How it All Started


READ TIME 3 MIN – In exactly 25 weeks from today, the  Christkindlmarket  will open its doors on Daley Plaza to celebrate our 25th Anniversary in-person! Come along with us as we take you on a journey through the past 25 years of Chicago’s most popular winter event and beloved holiday tradition. Join us here for bi-weekly blog entries featuring fun visitor stories, behind the scenes tales and much more. Also be sure to follow us on  Facebook  and  Instagram  to engage with our #25YearsIn25Weeks picture throwback series. 

Ray Lotter at the Christkindlmarket 1997

We start our tale way back when a camera and a phone were two different things and the height of any weekend was a trip to the Blockbuster. Even then, the Christkindlmarket was a twinkle in the eye of a jolly man – no, not Santa – his name was Ray Lotter. Ray had grown up in Germany and loved to share his heritage and traditions with those close to him.  In 1994, Ray began working for the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest in Chicago.  He had the mission of finding a way to help German companies gain market entry into the US.  It was with this idea, and his passion for German culture, that the Christkindlmarket Chicago was born in 1996. 

Partnering with the German city of Nuremberg (the site of one of the oldest Christkindlmarkets in the world, starting around 1610), the brand new Chicago Christmas market displayed its shiny red and white striped huts for the first time on Pioneer Court, in front of the Wrigley Building.  The market featured 13 vendor booths, with a mix of both German and local artisans, delicious food staples (got to have the Bratwursts and Pretzels!) and, of course, introduced Chicagoans to their first sips of Glühwein, hot spiced wine.  (Don’t worry, we will talk all about the mulled wine mugs in a later post!)  

German Vendor Serving Bratwurst at the First Christkindlmarket
Visitors enjoy the first Christkindlmarket Chicago

From the very beginning, the market was a huge success, bringing over 350 thousand people from all over Chicago together to eat, drink and be merry during the holiday season. Was it the smell of roasted nuts? Or the German music and Brass Band? Maybe it really was that twinkle in Ray’s eye that sparked the Chicago/Christkindlmarket love affair that has now lasted a quarter century. Whatever your favorite thing is about the Christkindlmarket, we’d love to hear and share them: Send us an email with your favorite memories and pictures with the subject “25th Anniversary Stories” to Come back to this page every other Friday to read more stories from the past and exciting announcements for the future as we continue this 25th Anniversary Celebration to the opening of Christkindlmarket 2021 together! 

Don’t miss out on the mug design reveal and our Stammtisch Table reservations for this year. Be one of the first to find out about all the Christkindlmarket 25th Anniversary surprises and celebrations by signing up for our  free newsletter.

First Annual Souvenir Mug at the Christkindlmarket Chicago Displayed



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