As a Segway zips past, I almost choke on my roasted chestnuts when I realise who’s behind the wheel.
Wearing a red hat and a bushy beard, it’s Father Christmas, who appears to have left his sleigh and reindeer at home this year.
I’m in Hamburg in December and, as I’m quickly discovering, they don’t celebrate the festive season quietly here.
Trees twinkle with lights, markets bustle and there are more than a few cups of gluhwein going round to keep shoppers happy.
Nuremberg, Cologne and Dresden may be the shining stars of Germany’s Christmas markets, but Hamburg offers the same dose of festive fun, only with fewer tourists.
There are nine main markets to choose from (most open daily from November 25 – although merriment begins with the Hamburg Winterdom on November 8), and a few shorter, charming markets to enjoy if you time your visit for the correct weekend.
My base for the weekend is the beautiful four-star Movenpick Hotel, a converted water tower brimming with character and located in the Sternschanzenpark area of town.
The view from my bedroom stretches as far as the eye can see, and I’m almost blinded by the sparkling Christmas lights.
I certainly have a serious amount of Christmas shopping to do!
I head to the Hamburger Dom, North Germany’s biggest funfair, which has been dressed up for Christmas.
Teenage boys try to impress girls by jumping on white-knuckle rides, adults browse the stalls, and little ones look bemused by the odd choice of festive decorations – a series of oversized scarecrows.
But in Hamburg, I’m quickly realising, people like to do things differently.Nearby, on the Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s own version of Soho), I find the rather unusual Santa Pauli, an ‘adult’ Christmas market selling a selection of erotic gifts.
The next day I visit Hamburger Weinachtsmarkt, the biggest market in the city, located in front of the beautiful town hall. Divided into alleys, the stalls are categorised by the types of products on offer.
On Handwerksgasse (craftsman alley), expect to find woodcarvers and silversmiths, while Naschgasse (the nibble alley) specialises in edible gifts, and handmade wooden playthings can be found in the Spielzeuggasse (toy alley). Carried away by the upbeat atmosphere, I leave having purchased far more than I intended.
From Weinachtsmarkt, I make my way through to the other city centre markets; each one leads into another. I head to St. Petri Church for more peaceful sales, then end up at the Spitalerstrasse, where most shoppers come to recover with a hot drink.
With so many markets to visit, I know I won’t have time to see them all. I take advice from the locals and visit the Gansemarkt, an upmarket foodie affair.
I still find time for a hot chocolate back at the Movenpick hotel. As I look out of the windows at the snowflakes falling on the surrounding woodland, I almost break into a festive ditty.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who whispers to the very hospitable Hamburg, ‘Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night’.
For 2013 Hamburg Christmas market opening times, visit www.hamburg.de Double rooms at the Movenpick Hotel Hamburg (www.moevenpick-hotels.com) start from £115 per night (based on two sharing). EasyJet (www.easyJet.com) flies to Hamburg from London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester and Edinburgh. Flight prices start from £55 return (including taxes).