Euro Trek 3: The Search for Christmas
By templedf on Dec 21, 2005
I haven't been posting lately because I've been on the road again. My wife and I decided to go back to Germany to find a little Christmas cheer and to say a proper goodbye. (We were so rushed and stressed when we left in September, I'm surprised we even survived it!) If I had to pick only one week to visit Germany, hands down I would pick a week in December, during the Adventszeit. If there's one thing the Germans do better than anyone else, it's Christmas.
One of the things that makes Germany so special at Christmas time is the ubiquitous presence of Christmas markets. Imagine a street market where every booth is selling things for Christmas: ornaments, decorations, gifts, hats and gloves, etc. Now add a sprinkling of stands selling traditional German fair foods, like bratwurst on a roll with sauerkraut, a smattering of Chistmas bakery stands, and a healthy dose of Glühwein stands, and you're getting close. Now decorate everything with evergreen branches and white Christmas lights. Add a choir or a band and a bustling, lightly intoxicated crowd, and turn the clock to after dark. If you can picture that, you have a pretty good idea of what a Christmas market is like. Since this year we made such a point to visit the Christmas markets, I thought it would be good to document which ones my wife and I have seen and what we think of them.
- Christkindlmarkt -- The stereotypical Christmas market. It's not my favorite, but for a quick Glühwein fix, it'll do.
- Lucrezia-Markt -- This is my favorite of the Regensburg Christmas markets. It's fairly small, with not more than 20-30 booths, but the quality of the booths is very high.
- Schloss Thurn und Taxis -- Pronounced "turn oond tacksis," this is the palace of the inventors of the modern postal service. During the Advent season, they have a Christmas market in the courtyard. It's a private market and charges admission, but it's worth it. The crowds are thinner and the quality is much higher.
- Schloss Hexenagger -- This is another private market which charges admission, but it's more than worth it. This is possibly my favorite Christmas market ever! It's only on weekends, so it's always crowded, but if you go after 6pm the tour buses will have left.
- Prague -- Ask anyone; Prague is amazing. At Christmas time, though, it's down-right magical. If anything could top Hexenagger, this would be it.
- Bamberg -- This is a great little city that really comes to life during the Christmas season. I can't say Bamberg should be your first stop, but after you're bought all the Christmas kitch you can afford, drop by to soak up the cuteness and the rauchbier.
- Christkindlesmarkt -- The mother of all Christmas markets. Be prepared for hordes of oggling tourists, but if you've never been, it's a must-see.
- Kinderweihnacht -- A smaller version of the main attraction with a kid-friendly focus. This is where the Christkind has her throne.
- Weihnachtsmarkt der Partnerstädte Nürnbergs -- This is a small market set off from the main Christmas market that we discovered for the first time this year. It has a booth representing each of Nürnberg's partner cities, including Atlanta. For those burned out on Lebkuchen and Glühwein, this is something refreshingly different.
- Striezelmarkt -- Yet another Christmas market. Having lived in Bavaria, though, it was interesting to see Christmas in a different region. The stollens taste very different from the ones in Bavaria, for example. The people were also notably different. I'm told, though, that's because no one there was German. Apparently the Czechs joke that Dresden is the prettiest city in the Czech Republic.
- Advent-Spektakel -- Sorry; couldn't find a web site. This was awesome! It was a combination of a Christmas market and a renaissance faire (Mittelalterfest). It was a private market in the courtyard of a former palace. Made the trip to Dresden worthwhile.
- Passau -- Cute but not terribly noteworthy. I have to say, though, I love Passau. I have a thing for rivers, and Passau sits on the junction of three: the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz. No wonder it floods regularly!
- Straubing -- Again, cute but not noteworthy. Straubing is a beautiful town, though, and home to the Gäubodenvolksfest in the summer -- better than Oktoberfest!
- München -- Munich is a great city, and Christmas is a great time to be there. The Christmas market at the Neuesrathaus is not all that impressive, but the city itself more than makes up for it.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber -- This town was made for Christmas. It's a cute, medieval walled town that's great any time of year. At Christmas time, however, you'd swear you're in a German-speaking Dickens story.
- Salzburg -- Last but not least. I love Salzburg. It's a really beautiful town. The Christmas market is cute, but nothing compared to Prague's. Nevertheless, Salzburg is outstanding at Christmas.
My wife and I were discussing what our top five would be, but it's really hard to make that kind of rating. They're all special. If I had to only pick three that I could ever visit again, I think I would pick Prague, Hexenagger, Nuernberg, and Rothenburg. (I know that's four. I just couldn't decide!) The later two are extrememly well touristed, but they are just so extremely Christmasy, that I have to love them, tourists and all.