Christmas in Germany | Nürnberg

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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.

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From Köln to Nürnberg, it was 3½ hours by train—thankfully, Deutsche Bahn wasn’t striking while I was there!

Nürnberg’s market is known as the Christkindlmarkt (Christ child market), held on the Hauptmarkt square in the old town.

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A “Rauschgoldengel” hangs above the pedestrian zone, welcoming visitors

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.

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The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) overlooking the market

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.

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Lebkuchen herzen (gingerbread hearts) are a staple of any market or carnival, regardless of season. This kind of lebkuchen is for decoration.
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THIS is the kind of lebkuchen you eat, and Nürnberg is said to make the finest. I agree!

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.

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Two thumbs up for quality control! Three served in a bun, as shown here, are known as a “Weckla.”

Some more of the sweets found here:

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Forget your diet. It’s all over.
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Rusty tools? Nope. Chocolate.
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Honey lebkuchen. They look too pretty to eat.
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A carefully decorated candy booth
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More of the traditional lebkuchen

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Feuerzangenbowle (fire tongs punch :) ) is an interesting alternative to your ordinary glühwein.
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To make it, a block of sugar is soaked in rum, suspended over a kettle of mulled wine, and lit on fire.
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Prost!

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.

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Back then, the prune men were eaten, but today, they are for decoration only.

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Of the four markets I visited on this trip, I would say Nürnberg offered the best shopping for gifts and traditional souvenirs.

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Räuchermännchen (incense smokers) are one of my favorite German Christmas traditions.
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This stall had an astounding number of miniatures for dollhouses…

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Some glass ornaments found in the window of a regular shop. Many of the stalls sell ornaments, too, so it’s good to shop around.
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I did most of my shopping here at Käthe Wohlfahrt (dangerous place for me!), namely because they ship purchases home at a reasonable cost. This was a good option for me since I didn’t have that much suitcase space left or enough clothing to cushion so many fragile items. Note: I shopped here on December 8th, but (as warned), my package did not arrive in time for Christmas.

A short walk from the Christkindlmarkt is the imperial castle Kaiserburg, offering lovely panoramic views of the city.

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Sinwell Tower
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My cousin & his family taking in the view

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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.

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Two-tiered carousel

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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:

  1. Aachen—love the vibe here. It’s a city that’s just the right size, so it feels a little cosmopolitan without being so big, it’ll swallow you up. Friendliest crowd. And the printen are something special!
  2. Monschau*—this one narrowly edges out Nürnberg for me. So romantic and charming. The atmosphere is hard to beat. As mentioned in a previous post, it’s like stepping back in time. Silly perhaps, but I had the strongest sensation of déjà vú I’ve ever had in my life here. Something about this place seems to draw me back.
  3. Nürnberg*—I loved the city and the easy layout of the market. I also like how traditional it feels. Though I didn’t travel with children, the kindermarket was impressive.
  4. Köln—Cool city. Requires more than one day to fully appreciate all seven markets, I know. But the crowds were a little too overwhelming for me. The main market disappointed in that it was impassable.

Have you been to any Christmas markets? Which is your favorite?

Christmas in Germany | Köln

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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.

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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.

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Kölner Dom (Cologne’s Cathedral) is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and Germany’s most visited landmark with about 20,000 visitors each day. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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.

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It is a climb of 533 steps to the observation deck on the cathedral’s south tower (Cost: 4€ for adults). On certain days there are even guided rooftop tours for those aged 16 & up with a “head for heights.”

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.

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The Alter Markt is a short 5-minute walk from the Dom square. Its theme is “Heimat der Heinzels,” or “Land of the Gnomes.”

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This theme draws from a bit of Köln folklore. The story goes that the Heinzelmännchen (little house gnomes) would do all the work for the residents of Köln at night, so that the people could relax during the day. They would make sausage for the butcher, sew clothes for the tailor, bake bread, etc. But one night, the tailor’s wife—who was very curious to see these gnomes—put peas all over the floor to make the gnomes slip and fall. Incensed, the gnomes left and never returned, forcing the people to do all their own work from then on.
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The Alter Markt is considered the biggest and most traditional of the Christmas markets in Köln. I loved its rustic style.
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In addition to stalls of food, toys, and gifts, there is a carousel, puppet theater, and an ice rink, making it a great market for kids of all ages.

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.

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Located near Rudolfsplatz (a 20-25 minute walk from the Dom), Christmas Avenue is one of the smaller markets and also the newest. It first opened in 2012.
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The stalls here are decorated in fuchsia, blue, and green aluminum foil. Besides traditional market fare like glühwein, würstchen, and sweets, you can also find unique offerings like the American-themed Betty’s Pulled Pork (not pictured).
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Besides great food, there’s something to be said for respite from the overwhelming crowds of the larger markets.

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.

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From Christmas Avenue to Neumarkt, it was about a 10 minute walk (15 minutes from the Dom).
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The Angel’s Market is the oldest in Köln, featuring enchanting white lights strung atop the stalls and throughout the trees. Once a week, you can see Santa and an angel visiting the market on horseback.

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