Finishing Christmas by Waterfall

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“This path is neither cleared nor sprinkled by snow and ice. Use at your own risk.”

Few Christmas Markets are open on or after Christmas Eve, but at least one of those that is, is spectacular. Triberg, a small town in the heart of the Black Forest, hosts a market that burns brightly for only a few days from Christmas Day to just before New Year’s Eve.

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Triberg Falls: Highest waterfalls in Germany
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Falls lit up for nightly Christmas performances
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Fire show
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Paths packed with spectators

Triberg is best known as being home to the highest waterfalls in Germany, and its Christmas Market makes them a highlight. Each evening of the market, a fire show – a fire-twirling act set to a circus-y story line – is held on a platform at the colorfully lit falls themselves.

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Market lights and stands
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Glühwein, children’s punch and roasted chestnuts
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Festgoers gather around a bonfire
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Warming up

This fest is also showier than most Christmas Markets in that it has a lineup of live music, including a great mellow cover band called Voice & Boys, plus a fireworks display at closing time. But it retains a folksiness about it, particularly with an area for visitors to huddle around bonfires (it gets chilly up in the mountains!).

Unfortunately or fortunately, the entry roads to even this small town were guarded by armed police for this event. A sign of the heightened security climate just a week after the terror attack at the Berlin Christmas Market. We are always aware of our surroundings but refuse to live in fear, so took the added security presence in stride and enjoyed the market.

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Mini version of the traditional Black Forest hat

To remember what may be our final visit to the Black Forest, we went into town to get ourselves a coo-coo clock and a Christmas ornament version of the traditional ladies’ hat from the Black Forest state of Baden-Württemberg: an ostentatious affair of large pom-poms (red for single ladies).

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Christmas lights among the trees
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All aboard the Christmas Market Express!
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Festive walkways wind through the woods

And so on the final day of the Christmas season, we say Auf Wiedersehen to German Christmas Markets and feel thankful that our last visit was to one of the most remarkable ones!

Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr! / Happy New Year!

To see this Christmas season in review…
1st Sunday of Advent:
A Winter Wonderland in the Erzgebirge
2nd Sunday of Advent: Finding Hygge in Copenhagen
3rd Sunday of Advent:
Traveling Through History by Christmas Market
4th Sunday of Advent:
Once Upon a Christmas Market
Christmas in Paris:
Parisian Signs of the Times

Once Upon a Christmas Market

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Brothers Grimm & fairy tale advent calendar in Hanau

Long, long ago in a land far, far away… or this past week in nearby Hanau and Kassel… there lived two fairy tale Christmas Markets. Each one was both as lively and cozy as the next and drew visitors from far and wide.

Yes – yet again! – we trekked along the German Fairy Tale Route, to two towns where the Brothers Grimm lived and worked. At this time of year, the famous brothers’ former home towns celebrate Christmas in enchanting fairy tale style. Hanau, an early home of the Grimms, turns the building behind the larger-than-life Brothers Grimm statues into an advent calendar, revealing a new story image each day until Christmas Eve.

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Kassel Christmas pyramid

Kassel, where the two story collectors lived and worked for over 30 years, brings fairy tales to life all over the main square and themes the market annually. This year Snow White took precedence among the stands, represented in pictures and figurines. My favorite aspect of this market is the unique Christmas pyramid, whose every level features characters from beloved fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and, of course, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

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Entering the Kassel Christmas Market

For dessert, we went straight for the fairy tale-themed baked apples, which I had remembered well from our first visit to this market a few years ago. I let James get the marzipan-stuffed Snow White apple covered in vanilla sauce this time. Remembering how that story went, I opted for the chocolate-stuffed Rapunzel apple drizzled with eggnog and topped with whipped cream. As you can guess, we are living happily ever after.

Happy 4th Sunday of Advent from the homes of the Brothers Grimm!

Traveling Through History by Christmas Market

Traveling Through History by Christmas Market

This weekend, themed markets and historic cities took Christmas Market nostalgia to a whole new level.

We began in the Middle Ages yesterday, arriving at nearby Bingen’s medieval-themed Christmas Market. Here costumed artisans and merchants toiled beneath the impressive Burg Klopp, once a medieval toll castle and now a city administration building.

Meat on sticks, spit-roasted pig, and Glühwein in clay vessels accompanied the standard festival food fare. Arts and crafts included hand-dyed yarn, hand-smithed metalwork, wooden swords, leather accessories and furs.

A band of minstrels paraded through the streets with an assortment of pipes and drums. My favorite was the hobo-esque guy with a tattered hat who accompanied them wielding some kind of artsy ball.

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Reichsburg Cochem towering over town of Cochem
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Mosel River from the castle

Traveling back further this morning, we found ourselves in the midst of the first Christmas in Bethlehem – told at my favorite castle Reichsburg Cochem along the Mosel River. Whether intended as social commentary or not, a census official reminded Mary and Joseph, in their haste to register before the imminent birth, that “Order takes time.”

Shepherds heeded the Archangel Gabriel who pointed to a bright star (and lo, there it was!) for us all to follow. The angel’s work post was prepared behind the scenes for the day with a thermos of coffee or Glühwein. The children in the group were asked to think of a carol for all to sing to the angel (they chose “O Tannenbaum”) and could even ask for a wish. They were too shy today, but our shepherd guide told us once a child had asked to finally have a baby sister!

From here we encountered the Three Wise Men, who were also following the same bright star. After presenting their gifts to the Christ Child in the manger, they handed out chocolate gold pieces to children and adults alike.

The story ended on a somber and poignant note, reminding us that many children are still born in dire need. Visitors were asked to think of families in and from Aleppo, Syria and also given the opportunity to donate to a local children’s hospital before being ushered into the castle’s merry courtyard Christmas Market.

Porta Nigra in Trier
Porta Nigra in Trier

Finally, we ventured even further into the past to Trier, arguably the oldest city in Germany. Its incredibly well-preserved gate Porta Nigra stands as a reminder to the city’s days of Roman control –after it was taken over from the Celts – not long before the birth of Christ. Presently the gate ushers visitors into Trier’s charming and crowded traditional German Christmas Market.

Happy 3rd Sunday of Advent from the past!

Finding Hygge in Copenhagen

Finding Hygge in Copenhagen
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Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market

Imagine you’re curled up inside in a big blanket sipping a cup of hot chocolate by the fire while a bitter cold, windy winter evening rages outside. Call this feeling what you will – comfort, coziness, zen, Gemütlichkeit the Danish word is hygge. Difficult to translate but easy enough to understand.

Last week we spent a long chilly weekend in Copenhagen in search of hygge, not difficult to find during the Christmas season, the hyggliest (is that a word?) time of the year. Here are the best ways to achieve this warm feeling in the delightful Danish capital:

  • Start your day with a Danish. I’m not actually sure if this is a breakfast food here or more of a dessert, but loading up on one of these sugary choices in the morning proved a sure way to get a happy burst of energy for the day.
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    Jelly & chocolate/marzipan danishes

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    Chocolate danishes & coffee
  • Tour the city by boat or bike. Heated canal boats provide a scenic view of the city complete with interesting guided tour commentary. Or to work up your own heat and hygge, be like most Danes and get around by bike.
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    Nyhavn harbor
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    Bikes galore

    If you’re on foot though, be sure to duck into shops or pubs for hygge along the way. Copenhagen has an extensive pedestrian area perfect for shopping (Black Friday has even migrated here), and is home to many quaint seafaring pubs.

  • Explore Danish history. While the wind whistles outside, you can peacefully enjoy learning about Denmark at the National Museum. Artifacts from the Ice Age to present day tell visitors fascinating stories of life, beliefs, values, and change over an extraordinary number of eras.

    After freezing outside during the noon changing of the guards at Amalienborg Palace, you can also find hygge inside the accompanying museum. Browse recreated studies and royal collections that reveal the history of generations of Danish royalty.

  • Get lost in fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen – author of The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and many other well-known tales – hails from Copenhagen, so it’s only fitting that you should have a chance to interact with these stories here. From the comfort of the H.C. Andersen Fairy Tale House, you can walk through the famous writer’s life story and his works, listening to the tales along the way.

    Tivoli Gardens also has a ride named for the story of The Flying Trunk, where visitors can enjoy flying along in their own magic trunk through some of the most famous stories. Don’t get hung up on the sad endings to most of these stories; focus on the joy of hearing a good childhood tale told.

  • Eat street food on Paper Island. Inside a converted factory, hygge-seekers drink beer from plastic cups and choose grub from an exceptional variety of international street food stands. Groups of convivial food lovers chat around long wooden picnic tables, industrial spools, and even Plexiglas-covered foosball tables. This is one of the cooler places to socialize and eat well.

…and/or…

  • Go out in the Meatpacking District. If you can stand to make it out in the cold at night to the rather isolated old Meatpacking District, it makes the hygge all the more worthwhile. The factory buildings now house a hip array of bars, some even retaining pieces of the old meatpacking equipment, for a cool nightlife scene.

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    Meat packing district
  • Enjoy Gløgg and Aepleskiver at the Christmas Markets. Don’t be distracted by the ice cream stands at the markets: Those are for Scandinavians only! You’re not at that level of winter expertise, so go for hot drinks like the pirate-sounding Gløgg, the Danish equivalent of Glühwein or hot mulled wine, with nuts and raisins added. Aepleskiver, balls of apple dough sprinkled with powdered sugar, are also a popular treat. (For more on Christmas Market drinks in general, see A Toast to Christmas Market Drinks.)

  • Huddle around a bowl of hot embers. While many Christmas Markets can be found in Copenhagen, our favorite was the largest one in Tivoli Gardens, full of good food, carnival rides and games, and general good cheer. Stands of hot coals scattered throughout the pine-scented gardens make for an ideal gathering place to warm up while enjoying the festivities.

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    Warming up over hot coals
  • Be a Danish kid. Kids amble around stiffly at this time of year, bundled up against the cold in insulated snowsuits, boots, and pointy hats. Babies even get zipped into an extra layer of what resembles a fitted sleeping bag.

    Better yet, grow up in Denmark and become an adult. Lifelong acclimation to the Nordic winter apparently means you can walk around in a jean jacket or a sweatshirt. We even saw a middle aged man out for a jog in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts in near-freezing temperatures!

*Travel tip: All of the attractions with entrance fees mentioned here, including canal tours, plus public transportation are free with the purchase of the Copenhagen Card. It’s worth it if you plan to visit at least a few sights per day.

Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent and God Jul from Copenhagen!

A Toast to Christmas Market Drinks

Christmas Market in Basel

It’s that most wonderful time of year again in Germany: Christmas Market season! Bands of friends and family meet day and night this month to stroll through stands of handmade crafts, tasty street food, and, of course, warm seasonal drinks served in decorative ceramic mugs. As the drinks go hand in hand with the warm sense of holiday cheer, this week I break down some typical favorites and a few other interesting ones I’ve encountered at the Christmas Markets.

Glühwein

Glühwein is your standard Christmas Market drink. Hot mulled wine is a good choice to warm up from the inside out on any market visit. Traditionally Glühwein is made with red wine, but variations with white wine or even rosé can also be found. It suits any afternoon or evening that requires a hat and gloves, and goes particularly well with Currywurst and fries or a gingerbread dessert.

Drink menu at Mainz Christmas Market

Eisbrecher, or ice breaker, kicks Glühwein up a notch with a shot of rum. Try this when you’re out late on a Friday or Saturday night looking to chat up other fest-goers and/or unselfconsciously practice your German. Many variations exist with shots of all different kinds of alcohol (mit Schuβ = with shot).

Feuerzangenbowle

Feuerzangenbowle is a rum punch with fruit and wine simmered in a copper cauldron, usually with a rum-soaked sugar cone lit on fire dripping over it. This drink is perfect for especially cold evenings while browsing the stands or chatting with friends after dinner.

Drink stand

Lumumba, hot cocoa with a shot of rum, brings an adult twist to a childhood favorite. It can be served with whipped cream for an added touch of nostalgia. Try this when you need some extra encouragement to ice skate or are simply looking for a substitute for Glühwein. Similar variations substitute a shot of amaretto or Bailey’s or add a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Bombardino

Bombardino is a concoction of eggnog and whiskey topped with whipped cream that I found newly added to this year’s market in Basel, Switzerland. It’s a good way to kick off the weekend or celebrate a special occasion.

Heisse Frosch

Heisse Frosch, or hot frog, is another new creation of the Basel Christmas Market combining green vodka with peppermint tea. I couldn’t bring myself to try this weird mix, but would suggest that you make this your last drink of the night if it sounds appealing to you.

Prost & Frohes Fest!

What are your favorite (or most unusual) Christmas Market drinks?

Twelve Days of Christmas Markets

Christmas pyramid with the Weihnachtsmann
Christmas pyramid with the Weihnachtsmann in Munich
Christmas Market in Prague
Christmas Market in Prague

Days have been short and cold in Germany, but fortunately the tradition of Christmas markets seems to have everything you need to warm the body and soul: fried foods, hot mulled wine, and camaraderie. Over the past month, we’ve visited markets in Mainz, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Rüdesheim, Köln, Würzburg, Munich, Nürnberg, and Bamberg. Not far beyond the borders of Germany we also visited Strasbourg, France; Prague, Czech Republic; and Valkenburg, Holland. While the markets are similar, they’re great fun to visit again and again. Here are a few of my favorite things from the Weihnachtsmärkte (sing to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”):

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the markets gave to me…

12 Chestnuts roasting

As if out of the Christmas song itself, you can smell Heiβe Maronen even before you see them. In my opinion, this is the best part. The chewy texture mixed with a smoky, meaty taste is a little too strange for me.

Roasted chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts

11 Skaters skating

Mainz, Munich, Köln, and a few other markets have small ice skating rinks and skate rentals available. Köln even has additional curling lanes.

10 Bratwursts grilling

While Bratwursts are a staple at any festival, there are many other choices from the grill or oven: steaks, mushrooms, Spätzle (noodles), and Flammkuchen (pizza-like flatbread).

Bratwursts on the grill
Bratwursts on the grill

9 Toys a-clacking

Traditional toys and other crafts at the Christmas Markets are hand-carved works of art. In addition to wooden toys, you can find blown glass ornaments, beeswax candles, and knit sweaters and hats.

Wooden toys and decorations stand
Wooden toys and decorations stand

8 Kartoffeln puffing

Kartoffelpuffer, also known as Reibekuchen = potato pancakes. This is my favorite Christmas Market food made in the greasy deep fryer and served with applesauce.

Potato pancake stand
Potato pancake stand

7 Hearts a-baking

The smell of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) hearts mixes with the equally sweet candied nuts that they usually share a stand with. The hearts are frosted with “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) and sappier messages, or holiday greetings.

Lebkuchen hearts and other treats
Lebkuchen hearts and other treats

6 Krampuses prowling

In Munich and Prague, we encountered this Santa Claus counterpart who is a tradition in parts of Bavaria, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Krampus travels with St. Nick and takes the bad children away in a sack (or at least scares the hell out of them).

Krampus Run in Munich
Krampus Run in Munich

5 GLÜHWEIN MUGS

Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is undoubtedly the highlight of the Christmas Markets. Each market or, in some cases, each area or stand in the market has its own mug that you pay a deposit for. And you don’t have to buy wine to get a mug. You can also order a hot chocolate, coffee, or rum punch in a festive mug.

Goblet from the Munich medieval market, 25th anniversary of Germany unity mug from Frankfurt, boot from the Munich Chriskindl market, light blue mug from Rüdesheim, and gnome mug from Köln
Goblet from the Munich medieval market, 25th anniversary of Germany unity mug from Frankfurt, boot from the Munich Chriskindl market, light blue mug from Rüdesheim, and gnome mug from Köln

4 Chocolate fruits

Apples, bananas, pineapple, grapes… if it’s a fruit, you can buy it covered in chocolate. Usually the fruit is sold in kebab form for easy festival eating, but sometimes it’s arranged in the shape of an animal.

Chocolate covered fruits on a stick
Chocolate covered fruits on a stick

3 French crêpes

Crêpes are usually served with your choice of Nutella, chocolate, or cinnamon and sugar. This year we also discovered Baumstriezel, which are rings of fried dough also available with these toppings.

A fresh crêpe
A fresh crêpe

2 Christmas caves

In addition to a regular Christmas Market, Valkenburg in Holland has two other markets in caves. Besides a slightly muggy atmosphere and a more commercial feel to many of the stands, this was amazing to experience.

Christmas Market in a cave
Christmas Market in a cave

And mistletoe straight from a tree

‘Tis the season for mistletoe to grow like floating orbs in nearly every tree you pass here, and to be found for sale in every market. While mistletoe has a romantic use at Christmas time, it’s actually a parasitic plant that attaches to its host tree. Think about that next you kiss someone under the mistletoe.

Mistletoe

 

Frohes Fest aus dem Weihnachtsmarkt!/Happy Holidays from the Christmas Market!

Christmas Season Countdown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the Christmas season drawing to a close, James and I made the most of the last few pre-Christmas days and visited two new markets.  Yesterday we drove about an hour southeast from our new apartment to the university town of Heidelberg.  The Altstadt (old town) of Heidelberg is paved with cobblestones and nestles between the Neckar River and the mountaintop castle Schloss Heidelberg.  The market itself is actually made up of small market areas located in several close but disconnected town squares.  Unique to this market is an ice skating rink that lies in the shadow of Schloss Heidelberg.  And yes, we happened to park behind Santa Claus.IMG_1642IMG_1645IMG_1648

Today we stopped in Hildesheim, about three hours north of us, a halfway point on our way to visit relatives near Hamburg for Christmas.  Hildesheim’s market is small and pleasantly not as crowded as the other markets we’ve visited.  We tried a local food for dinner called Hildesheimer Rahmfladen.  This is a dark flour-dusted bread topped with a soft cheese and thick crumbles of bacon, baked in an oven, and sprinkled with sliced green onions just before serving.  It was delicious, especially paired with hot chocolate and Amaretto.  I’ve been thinking about what the rest of winter in Germany will be like after the Christmas season… Cold and dark (the sun sets a little after 4 p.m. now) without Christmas markets?!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA