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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Enchanting Christmas Markets Of Germany (An Experience like something out of a Fairy Tale)





After missing Oktoberfest we decide to visit the Christmas Markets of Germany. Most Christmas Markets start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve or a day or two before. They are usually open every day from 10am to about 8 or 9 pm.

This year (2017) most Christmas Markets are expected to start six days later compared to 2016. This is due to the season of Advent beginning on a different date each year. In 2017 the first Sunday of Advent will be on the 3rd of December 2017.

See videos near end of article!



The oldest markets date back to the 14th and 15th century. The original purpose of these early markets was to stock up for the long winters but during the centuries Christkindlmarkets became a source to buy Christmas presents for children, and an opportunity for local craftsmen and artists to sell their work. 

We arrive in Munich and our guide makes it clear this is Bavaria. Bavarians favor autonomy from Germany and even have their own language. I’ve been here many times but looking through sober eyes now, I find it more vibrant, clean and sophisticated. We spend 2 days with Nancy, an excellent guide who has already emailed me to remain in touch. I have a mini-group of just 26 so this is like a vacation for me. It’s a first time abroad for some and I love to learn from them as they notice things with child-like enthusiasm that I don’t. Strolling through Munich, in the heart of Bavaria, was quite a delight. The Christmas markets are reputedly a uniquely German tradition, nowhere practiced with more enthusiasm than in Bavaria.

Christmas Market, Munich

We stop for hot apple strudel and visit the well known sites. Here is the 100′ Christmas tree with 2500 candles. Our welcome dinner at Hofbrauhaus is a delight with yodeling, alp horns and sausages of everything-wurst. The group toasts their steins of natural beer made only of barley, water and hops.



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It’s time to move on to the enchanting storybook villages. This is a magical time to visit. No country celebrates Christmas with more passion than Germany. As we head to the alps, the morning sky looks like a pale bruise. Soon a blizzard engulfs our coach but we have an experienced driver named Eno who we fell in love with by trips end in 7 days.



We arrive at the Neuschwanstein Castle and ride by horse and carriage up to the famous palace. This castle has appeared prominently in several movies such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Great Escape and serves as the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle and later, similar structures.

Neuschwanstein Castle


 I’ve seen more castles than I can count around the world but this medieval knight’s fortress with gothic spires is spectacular. Built in 1869, it looks brand spanking new with decorated rooms intact. The 388 steps inside are well worth the climb. There’s hardly anyone here whereas summer can draw 5,000 tourists each day. In winter, this fairy tale castle becomes dreamlike surreal. That’s why I enjoy traveling off season.


King Ludwig's bedroom - Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig II designed this worlds largest, most extravagant, expensive and opulent castle for himself. It’s a sad story of a king who lived here only 4 months. The people loved him as much as the German Tourist Board does today. His family however, did not. They sought to declare Ludwig insane and hired a team of psychiatrists to prove such. Although he was prone to depression and insomnia, no doctor could find him mentally unfit. After short rule, his body was found in the lake and the family stated it was suicide. But the body of his psychiatrist was also found so most agree it was murder, particularly since an autopsy was refused.

We stopped in charming Oberammergau, famous for its Passion Plays every 10 years. The wood houses are painted with fairy tales: Hansel & Gretel, Red Riding Hood, etc.



 We then toured Nuremburg with an astute guide who brought the city to life before our eyes from 15th century to its destruction in WWII. Some went off to the Toy Museum or Torture Museum while I set out to explore the world’s largest Christmas market.


Nuremberg

Here you can buy all kinds of Christmas merchandise and gifts, especially traditional things such as crib figurines, toys, wood carvings, marionettes, candles and lambskin shoes to place underneath your traditional Christmas tree. Many are difficult to resist - as will be the glass of delicious mulled wine you are offered and the baked apples that are very welcome on crisp winter days.

Nuremburg Christmas market

With giant lit trees, double carousals, horses with bells, over 400 stalls of food and crafts, this is as festive as it gets! I graze my way through on white chocolate bananas, fruit breads, glazed grapes, dipped pretzels, pink marzipan pigs, licorice angles and all types of roasting sugar coated nuts. Shaped gingerbreads are omnipresent and the aroma of warm sweet Gluh-wine fragrances the air. I’m on a sugar high and head for the crafts. Shopping is a blood sport here through narrow lanes but MasterCard is my armor and I find all my toy treasures. There are giant nutcrackers representing every occupation, unique mangers and 29 trillion ornaments. At dusk the illumination begins. I pause for a dinner of 6 bratwursts, Bavarian cheese and a pyramid of sauerkraut to last me to until next Christmas.



The Christmas Markets of Germany are unique. If you're tired of commercialism taking over this holiday period and would like to get away for a more traditional Christmas you might want to consider heading to Germany where Christmas gifts are not mass-produced but craft work is of high quality.



In Rodenthal we toured the Goebel/Hummel Factory. I anticipated boredom yet became fascinated to learn how precious each piece is. From 1871 to today, 700 artists create these tiny figurines. They are paid per piece and if a mistake is made, it must be broken. The highest paid artists are the delicate “face painters.” I met one woman who has spent 12 years just painting eyebrows, another on lips and a man who has worked 10 years blushing cheeks! The eye strain must be like threading sewing needles for a lifetime and it takes 3 years apprenticeship to graduate to this level. Initially our guide assumed we were a collectors club when in reality we can barely afford a 2” baby Jesus.



 The ambience of a typical German Christmas Market is further enhanced by the aromas of hot chestnuts, grilled sausages and other tasty snacks. Youngsters especially will be attracted to the gingerbread biscuits known as Lebkuchen, marzipan figures and other sweets.


The best of all towns was Rothenberg, population 2300 where our Hotel Prince was located right inside the fortified walls of Old Town. Our guided walk here instantly awakened all my 5 senses and made me want to linger for days. We tend to go over the top each year with our flashy decorations. Among the half timbered homes here on cobbled streets, it is quieter and softer.



One is taken back to the Middle Ages with the pewter ornaments hand crafted and evergreens lit with candles. Afterwards, our guide Claudia invites us all into her home. I go to buy a “snowball” for which this town is renowned. They are piled high like colored softballs in the windows. For over 300 years, these pastries were frugally made from scraps of fresh pie dough. Dipped in chocolate, berries or cinnamon butter, they melt in your mouth.








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