Hate seeing this riot of color come to an end.
This is the last part of a German Christmas market series. Part 1 (Aachen) can be found here. Part 2 (Monschau) can be found here. Part 3 (Köln) can be found here.
For the final leg of this whirlwind Christmas market tour, I made my way to Nürnberg, home to one of Germany’s oldest and most famous markets.
Nürnberg’s market is known as the Christkindlmarkt (Christ child market), held on the Hauptmarkt square in the old town.
The “Rauschgoldengel” (gold foil angel) is a symbol of Nürnberg’s Christmas market. In one of the legends involving the angel, a father was grieving over the death of his daughter. One night, she visited him in a dream, appearing angelic in a golden dress. When he woke, he crafted a doll made of metal to preserve the memory. It later became tradition for people to place the angel decoration on top of the Christmas tree.
Nürnberg’s market is big on tradition.
The Frauenkirche is where, on the Friday before first Advent, the Christkind delivers her famous prologue that officially opens the market. In the square, there are 180 stalls decorated uniformly with red and white striped awnings, live green garland, and white lights.
There are strict rules about what can be sold here: only traditional food and handcrafted items. Let’s talk about the food first.
Another thing Nürnberg is known for: bratwurst. There are rules about the bratwurst produced here, too. Each sausage link must be between 7-9cm, weigh between 20-25 g, and be made within the city limits to be called Nürnberger bratwurst.
Some more of the sweets found here:
A popular souvenir from the Christkindlmarkt: the prune men. These originated sometime in the 18th century, said to be the creation of a father who wanted a gift for his children but only had some wire and the plum tree in front of their house.
Of the four markets I visited on this trip, I would say Nürnberg offered the best shopping for gifts and traditional souvenirs.
A short walk from the Christkindlmarkt is the imperial castle Kaiserburg, offering lovely panoramic views of the city.
It was good having two days in Nürnberg. A few more would’ve been even better.
One thing I liked about the Christkindlmarkt is that, rather than having multiple markets spread out in different areas, everything is right there in the old town. Walking is easy. No need to look at a map.
Just north of the square, there is the smaller Market of the Sister Cities with two dozen or so stalls offering international goods. Then there is also the really well-done Kinderweihnacht market featuring a beautiful, two-tiered carousel, ferris wheel, and numerous hands-on activities geared to small children.
If you go: in case I didn’t rave strongly enough earlier in this post, the bratwurst and lebkuchen are a MUST. Seriously. No lebkuchen I’ve ever had either in the States or even in Germany compares. It’s that good. As with the printen in Aachen, you can buy the lebkuchen in packages of six, so they’re great to bring home to give as gifts or hoard them all for yourself. :)
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After two days in the beautiful city of Nürnberg, it was time to head home. Four markets in five days…far too short, but the trip still exceeded my expectations. Not only did I enjoy experiencing a variety of markets ranging from cozy and romantic to the mother of all markets and everything in between, but I learned that with Christmas markets, it’s not a case of seen-one-you’ve-seen-’em-all. Each city or town had its own vibe, unique traditions, and culinary specialties.
So, which would be my favorite? Here’s how I’d rank them:
Have you been to any Christmas markets? Which is your favorite?
This is part three of a four-part series on German Christmas markets. Part 1 (Aachen) can be found here. Part 2 (Monschau) can be found here.
Besides being the most difficult German city to pronounce, Köln (let’s just say “Cologne,” shall we?) was a complete MADHOUSE. In the main Christmas market under the Dom, it was wall-to-wall congestion of people when we arrived mid-day, making it nearly impossible to approach any of the stalls. I learned it was especially busy that day because it was one of the few Sundays a year when the city’s regular shops would be open.
I had hoped to climb the Dom and get some bird’s eye photos of the square below, but signs posted indicated the observation deck was closed that day. Bummer.
So, we stayed away from the Dom and opted instead to visit a few of the other six markets, including the Alter Markt, Markt der Engel, and Christmas Avenue, each of which has its own unique atmosphere.
The Alter Markt is a short 5-minute walk from the Dom square. Its theme is “Heimat der Heinzels,” or “Land of the Gnomes.”
After a pit stop at the LEGO store, we moved onto the favorite market of Ivanka’s 6-year-old daughter: Christmas Avenue, the gay and lesbian market known for its bright and shiny decor.
In the early evening, I parted ways with Ivanka’s family and met up with some of my relatives on my mother’s side. We met at the Markt der Engel (Angel’s Market), which is held on the Neumarkt in the heart of Köln’s shopping district.
We enjoyed catching up over waffles and glühwein here before rain arrived, and unfortunately, cut short our time at the markets.
And that was it for my one day in Köln. I most enjoyed the three markets away from the Dom. As breathtaking a backdrop as it is, the crowd there was just unbearable to me.
If you go: to state the obvious, spend more than one day, if possible. With seven diverse markets spread throughout the city, it takes a good 2-3 days to enjoy them all. Be prepared for crowds. Köln’s markets attract nearly two million visitors per year. If I returned, I’d probably try to visit mid-week.
Next (and final) stop: one of Germany’s biggest and most popular markets, Nürnberg
This is part two of a four-part series on German Christmas markets. Part 1 (Aachen) can be found here.
From Aachen, it’s about 20 miles (45-minute drive by car) to Monschau, a small town set in the hills of the Eifel Mountains along the valley of the River Rur, close to the Belgian border. Since parking is limited in Monschau, we opted for one of several available park-and-ride shuttle services (3€ round trip), which depart for Monschau every 10-15 minutes.
Monschau offers one of the smaller markets (note: it’s open only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the four weekends of Advent) but is packed with charm. It’s no wonder tourists flock here year-round. With its half-timbered houses and narrow cobblestone streets that show hardly any change from the past 300 years, Monschau makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time.
As in Aachen, there was a choice: make a serious photography attempt or simply enjoy the experience. Since crowds + tripods ≠ my idea of fun, for me, it was a no-brainer. Later on, when I saw one gentleman struggling to find a bit of space for his tripod, it confirmed my decision to leave mine back at the hotel once again.
On the other hand, there was the matter of glühwein or eierpunsch?
I went with the eierpunsch, an “egg punch” made with eggs, spices, rum, and white wine—similar to egg nog except it’s served warm rather than cold.
At all the markets, hot drinks are served in ceramic mugs, for which you pay a 2-3€ pfand, or deposit. You can return the mug and get your deposit back, or you can keep the mug as a souvenir. Most markets have the name of the town/city and often the year printed on it.
If you go: don’t go for the shopping. It’s not like other markets where there are strict regulations about merchandise quality. There’s not as much of the traditional handcrafted “made in Germany” items here. Go for the food, drink, and ambience as you stroll through the town. It’s the kind of quaint and romantic atmosphere that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Next up: Köln (Cologne)
It’s August, and I’m writing about Christmas. That makes me as bad as Hobby Lobby, where the Christmas trees have been out in full force for at least a month already.
Really, I’m the type of person who wants to hear no parts of a Christmas carol until AFTER Thanksgiving. But this time last year, I was deep in the planning stages of a trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, and I was feeling downright giddy over it.
For good reason.
I still remember the first time I visited a Weihnachtsmarkt in Bremen. It was instant enchantment. Lovely, white lights. The scent of roasted nuts cutting through the chill in the air. Rows of wooden stalls offering sweets, toys, glass-blown ornaments. People warming themselves with glühwein and laughter.
It’s truly a lovely time of year to visit Germany.
But as a teacher, it’s difficult to plan a trip to the markets because the timing doesn’t align well with most public school calendars. Weihnachtsmärkte open at the end of November and typically close on Christmas Eve (or a day or two before). Given the tight time constraints, I arranged a rather compact itinerary of four cities in five days. (Yeah, I’m nuts.) Since I’d only experienced Bremen’s market in the past, I wanted a bit of variety this time—from a small, romantic market to mid-sized to one of the biggest in Germany.
Because there’d be too much to share in a single post, I’m going to break it up into four parts. Part one begins in Aachen.
The westernmost city in Germany is close to the Dutch and Belgian borders, which made it an easy 90 minute train ride from Brussels.
This was my first time visiting Aachen, a city known for its thermal spas, universities, cosmopolitan feel, and Charlemagne.
There I met with Ivanka, a family friend I hadn’t seen in 25 years. We had lunch at the Nobis cafe, and afterward, Ivanka brought me downstairs to the bakery for my first taste of the famous Aachener printen.
If Pablo Neruda were alive, he would write an ode to this bakery and its most heavenly aromas.
What are printen exactly? They are a kind of lebkuchen (gingerbread) that, by law, can only be made in Aachen. Ivanka recommended the weichprinten, which are softer than the traditional printen. They are DEE-licious.
Onto the market. Aachen’s is laid out under the Dom, a cathedral built in the late 8th century by Charlemagne (considered the ¨Father of Europe¨), who was buried there in 814. It later became the church of coronation for every German king and queen for nearly 600 years and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are some Friday afternoon market scenes:
Though it’s enjoyable to stroll the markets during the day, they really become magical at night.
I purposely left my tripod back in my hotel room, which turned out to be a wise move. The Friday night crowds would have made it near impossible to set up anywhere, and then I’d have been stuck lugging it around. Even carrying my camera was a little unsettling in the jostling of the crowd. I ended up using my iPhone a lot more than my DSLR for safety and convenience, and that was true during the entire trip.
Being in the moment took priority over capturing quality images.
On that note, a few more snapshots from the evening:
Aachen’s market has a great vibe: inviting to all ages. Hoppin’ but not overwhelming. Since it’s a border town, it draws international tourists, but it’s definitely a place where the locals meet up throughout the holiday season.
If you go: printen are a must. And leave some space in your suitcase to take some home. Nobis sells 400 g bags for about 8-9€. They’re easy to pack, make terrific gifts (if you can keep your hands off them), and will keep beyond Christmas. Also, have the Rathskeller’s locally-made glühwein—best I’ve ever had!
Next up: Monschau
Although I’m the kind of traveler who likes to do my research and pinpoint possible areas of interest, I always like to leave some wiggle room because it’s true that some of the best travel experiences are unplanned. You might pick up a recommendation from a friendly local or accidentally discover on your own something that wasn’t originally part of your agenda.
That’s what happened when I attended a literacy conference last month in Maine. I met a new friend who’d previously lived for some years in New England, and she advised that, on the drive home, we ought to stop in York, a coastal town about 45 miles south of Portland.
There we would find the iconic Nubble Light (officially Cape Neddick Light Station). Don’t miss it, she said. It’s the most photographed lighthouse in the country. Sold.
As soon as we stepped from the car, we instantly understood its appeal to the estimated half a million visitors per year. How had I never heard of this place before?
Although the lighthouse and island are inaccessible to the public, Sohier Park directly across from it offers spectacular views of the lighthouse and coast. Unlike so many attractions these days, parking is free, and there are benches and restrooms for public use.
First opened in 1879 after five years of construction, Nubble became fully automated in 1987. No one lives on the grounds anymore.
But the Town of York has worked hard to preserve Nubble. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Twice a year, crowds are drawn here for special holiday lighting observances. The first occurs near the end of July for a “Christmas in July” celebration; the second ceremonial lighting takes place on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and remains lit every night through the New Year.
No matter the time of year, if you happen to be in the area, a stop is highly recommended.
With this final, almost-11th-hour post of 2014, Project 52 comes to a close. Whew! I made it!
Thanks for viewing/reading, and Happy New Year to you and yours!