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Visiting the Christmas Markets in Europe

December 23, 2017 • By

GERMANY, AUSTRIA & FRANCE

Christkindlmarkt, Christkindlesmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, Les marchés de Noël

 

A Winter Wonderland comes to life throughout Europe.  Celebrate the season with friends and family eating and drinking and sharing stories.  Let the magic of Christmas seep into your heart and soul.

 

GERMANY

Fantasy Aisle, The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Red Fort on the River Tauber

This small and enchanting town is Europe’s most beautiful medieval spot and one of Germany’s most festive Christmas markets. It’s only a few hours from Frankfurt airport so make it a must see on arrival or departure. There are cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs and Christmas is a presence year round. There is plenty to eat and drink and the shops cater to local artisans with knitted fashions and chocolate being some of the favorites.

Special to Rothenburg is the Schneebälle – A snowball-shaped sweet made of shortbread and covered with sugar, cinnamon, and all kinds of chocolate and nuts.

Fantasy Aisle, Dessert pastry made from shortcrust popular Rothenburg

Dessert pastry made from shortcrust popular in Rothenburg

Where I stayed
Glocke Winery and Hotel
Ploenlein 1
91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
(In the heart of the town)

What to see
St. Jakobs Lutheran Church – One of the churches on the pilgrimage route to St. James grave in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It dates back to 1300s.

Käthe Wohlfahrt – Christmas shop and museum all in one.  They have rare ornaments and wreaths for purchase and the museum provides a wonderful history of tree decorating, ornaments and how Christmas evolved over the years.

Fantasy Aisle, The famous Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The famous Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Nuremberg – Nürnberg

The markets date back to 1628 when the tradition of giving children presents started in Germany. There are nearly 200 red and white striped stalls filling the entire old town. This is where I had to tell myself if I can’t beat them, join them in eating grilled sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut. The Christmas concerts in the churches are offered throughout the weekend and in the evening. There are also musicians scattered at the various markets throughout the city.  This is one of Europe’s largest and most attended markets.

Fantasy Aisle, The gold foil armless angel, the signature of Nuremberg

The gold foil armless angel, symbolic of Nuremberg

Special to Nuremberg is the Gold Foil Angel – Legend says a Nuremberg doll maker made it for his sick daughter. The Christkind – Don’t miss a photo opportunity with the symbol of Christmas in Nuremberg. A blond curly haired woman with a golden crown and golden white gown, the winner of this honor can be found wandering around the main square. Authentic Nuremberg Gingerbread – Rows and rows of gingerbread small and large, decorative or to eat can be found at nearly every stall. Under European Union law, gingerbread can only be produced within the city limits of Nuremberg. Drink Glühwein from the largest punch bowl in the world located on the River Pegnitz.

Where I ate
Alstadthof Brewpub –  Specialty beers and beer brandies

What to see
The Imperial Castle in Nuremberg – Great city views and exciting to learn about its importance during the Middle Ages.

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds is one of Germany’s most important museums dedicated to the history of Adolf Hitler’s rise and World War II. It’s also the place where the Nazi Party held rallies. Expect to spend a few hours touring the museum and the grounds.

Albrecht Dürer’s House – A Renaissance artist, he was Germany’s most famous graphic artist, painter, and art theoretician, (1471-1528). The home survived fierce bombings from World War II and is beautifully preserved.

Fantasy Aisle, Red and white striped stalls in Nuremberg, Germany

Red and white striped stalls in Nuremberg, Germany

Heidelberg

There are six different markets spread across the historic old town with the Heidelberg Castle serving as a significant backdrop. It’s a charming university town full of lights, shopping, and restaurants to enjoy.

Special to Heidelberg is the ice skating rink.

Munich – München

In the heart of Bavaria in Southern Germany, Munich offers Christmas markets with all the trimmings. The oldest Christmas market in Germany, it was called Nikolausdult when farmers would come to town and sell their goods in front of churches around St. Nicholas Day. The name was changed to Christkindlmarkt in the 1800s for the Christ Child born on Christmas Day. Munich has several markets spread throughout the city and the streets are crowded with locals and tourists busying themselves with holiday cheer. The department stores decorated windows tell fairytale stories attracting hordes of people gazing at the life-like characters.

Fantasy Aisle, A cauldron of glühwein in the Renaissance Village Christmas Market in Munich

A cauldron of glühwein in the Renaissance Village Christmas Market in Munich

Special to Munich is the Renaissance themed Mittelaltermarkt where vendors are dressed in costume such as jesters, religious monks and paupers. Glühwein is served from cauldrons.

Where I stayed
NH München Deutscher Kaiser
DB Parkhaus Hauptbahnhof
Arnulfstraße 1
80335 München
(Steps away from the train station and convenient to shopping and local markets)

Fantasy Aisle, Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich

Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich

What to see
Medieval designed Mittelaltermarkt

Weihnachtsdorf in Kaiserhof der Residenz offers an intimate environment and traditional elements with a pyramid and musical stage for guests.

Neues Rathaus at Marienplatz – The Christmas market spreads out along all the main streets with the town hall as the focal point. There is plenty of shopping and excitement.

Fantasy Aisle, Düsseldorf markets in the old town

Düsseldorf markets in the old town

Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf was completely destroyed during World War II but it has been restored to a glorious, thriving, bustling city. There are shopping malls and department stores for everyone and Kö Boulevard caters to the rich and famous. The city maintains a large international population. Following World War II, an influx of Japanese immigrants arrived promoting business opportunities and innovation.

Seven Christmas markets cover the narrow streets in the old town butting against the rushing waters of the Rhine River. Canals and quaint bridges add to the illusions of grandeur and romance. There is a giant ferris wheel on Burgplatz and plenty of activities for kids including a puppet theater on Marktplatz. The ice skating rink occupies several city blocks and serves as the center of activity for visitors. During the day, the markets are quiet except for shoppers passing through and parents calming children but once the sun fades, locals swarm the markets and the party begins.

Fantasy Aisle, Old Town of Düsseldorf along Kö Blvd.

Old Town of Düsseldorf along Kö Blvd.

Special to Düsseldorf is “Engelchenmarkt” or Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz. Angels decorated in art nouveau adorn stalls in this section and there is a large pavilion for people to gather, listen to music and eat and drink. The handmade nutcrackers on display and stark white crystal ornaments are worth a look.

Fantasy Aisle, Engelchenmarkt" Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz in Düsseldorf, Germany

Engelchenmarkt” Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz in Düsseldorf, Germany

AUSTRIA

Vienna

Escape the stresses of life and be swept away by the historic landscape of Vienna. The city’s Christkindlmarkts highlight the essence of Christmas by incorporating art and music with traditional elements. All of Austria is on display whether it’s ice skating trails at Rathausplatz or the captivating entertainment and lavishness at Schönbrunn Palace. There are 20 markets across the city making it possible to spend three days in Vienna challenging any diet. Vienna is the place to eat, drink and be merry. There isn’t one dish that won’t drive your taste buds mad. Take a horse carriage ride, explore the present and the past in one of the city’s premier art galleries and make sure to visit the markets by day and night. The illuminated stalls and trees create a sensational yet mysterious glow.

Special to Vienna is the ART Advent Market at Karlsplatz offering all certified organic products. There is a designated area for children to play.

Where I stayed
Hotel Kärntnerhof
1010 Wien, Grashofgasse 4
(Great shopping area and central location)

Where I ate
Zum Basilisken
Café, Restaurant, Bar
Schonlaterngasse 3-5
(Hungarian Goulash – cute atmosphere horrible service)

Beim Czaak
Postgasse 15
(Traditional dishes everyone speaks English. Located in one of the oldest districts in Vienna.

Pfudl
Das Gasthaus
Bäckerstraße 22
(Make a reservation on weekends)

What to see
Schloss Schönbrunn Konzerte – Orangerie Schönbrunn – Enjoy a performance to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss in a palace setting.

The Austrian National Library  – The baroque state hall is one of the most beautiful historic libraries in the world. Commissioned by Emperor Karl Vi (1685-1740) it was built from 1723 to 1726. There are 200,000 books and four of the most gorgeous standing globes.

Schönbrunn Palace – Take a break from the Christmas market and visit the palace: The Grand Tour or Imperial Palace Tour takes about 30 – 50 minutes. The palace is the former imperial summer residence.

Fantasy Aisle, Imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Vienna, Austria

Imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Vienna, Austria

Belvedere Palace – Visit the gardens and museum. Home to the Habsburg dynasty.

Vienna Boys’ Choir – Plan in advance of your trip. There are special afternoon and evening concerts.

Salzburg

Salzburg is my favorite Christmas market. It is small and manageable and possesses charm while epitomizing all the traditions of the season. Dating back to the 15th century, the Christkindlmarkt started as a flea market in front of the main church around the time of Advent and today is one of Europe’s most treasured Christkindlmarkts. While the stalls and merchandise on display resemble other Christmas markets, the landscape of the surrounding mountains and Salzach River captures the beauty of the town. Home to Mozart, music is a way of life in Salzburg. Choral and brass music concerts occur nightly in front of the Cathedral catering to both English and German speaking guests.

Fantasy Aisle, Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who beats people into being nice and not naughty

Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who beats people into being nice and not naughty

Special to Salzburg is the Krampus Run where groups of Krampus figures run and greet each other by rubbing chains. Krampus is a horned figure-half goat, half demon who punishes naughty children. He is the opposite of Saint Nicholas who rewarded the children with gifts of chocolate and fruit. On December 6 in the old town, Saint Nicholas and Krampus appear at the market with gifts for children.

Where I stayed
Gasthof Goldgasse
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Goldgasse 10
Salzburg
(Hotel Restaurant is also very good)

Where I ate
Restaurant Goldener Hirsch is a landmark of Salzburg.  A former blacksmith’s shop, the restaurant is now a favorite of celebrities and tourists.  Offers traditional Austrian dishes.
Getreidegasse 37

Fantasy Aisle, Enjoying Glühwein in Salzburg, Vienna

Enjoying Glühwein in Salzburg, Vienna

What to see
Salzburg Cathedral – A baroque style Catholic Church, it towers over the heart of the old town.  The original church was constructed in 774 but destroyed after a fire.  It was built again in 1614.  During World War II, a bomb fell on the dome damaging much of the church. The interior is stunning.  Check out the crypt and museum.

Residenzplatz – One of the world’s oldest advent markets believed to be started in the 14th Century. In the shadows (literally) of the Salzburg Cathedral, the market offers a picturesque ice skating rink and a Christmas history museum, pretzels, Swiss cheese sandwiches, hats, wood carved platters, ornaments and life size Santa decorations.

Salzburger Weihnachtsmuseum – Christmas Museum with a history of customs in German speaking countries.

FRANCE

Strasbourg, France “Capitale de Noël”

Christkindelsmärik – “Market of the Christ Child”

I fell in love with Strasbourg. It’s a special blend of romance, history and architecture-a quintessential Christmas fairytale. It’s a city where snow and rain add value to the setting. As one of Europe’s oldest markets, it claims the title, “Capital of Christmas” and with 11 markets spread throughout the old town there is something for everyone. The Alsace region is influenced by both German and French language and culture. Stalls offer breads and cakes made with spices like ginger and orange and of course cheese and chocolate feature prominently in every dish. The canals and narrow streets encircle the old town providing a respite from reality allowing visitors to step back in time and chase the magic of Christmas.

Fantasy Aisle, The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France

The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France

Special to Strasbourg is the Great Christmas Tree located in the Place Kléber or pick out your own tree at the lots located throughout the market. This year Strasbourg is showcasing Gutenberg, Iceland where a traditional Icelandic Village has been created. Don’t miss the white glühwein. It’s less tart and sweeter than its red partner.

Where I stayed
Hôtel D
15 Rue du Fossé des Treize,
67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone: +33 3 88 15 13 67

Where I ate
Restaurant Au Pont Corbeau
21 Quai Saint-Nicolas
67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone: +33 3 88 35 60 68

Pain D’Épices – Chef Mireille Oster
Located in Petite-France
14, rue des Dentelles
(Delicious local breads and cookies)

Fantasy Aisle, Lill River - Canals of Strasbourg, France

Ill River – Canals of Strasbourg, France

What to see
The Musée alsacien (Alsatian Museum) – Experience what life used to be like in the 18th and 19th centuries in Alsace. The museum contains preserved furniture, clothing, wedding dresses and other home items.

River Cruises on the River Ill

Night Walks – Guided tours of the Christmas markets to learn about the history of the region and the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Europe, soul searching, Uncategorized

Chasing Christmas

December 20, 2017 • By

It’s Christmas time. The streets are crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and stores swarm with frantic people, Starbucks offers eggnog and gingerbread lattes and red and green bows and decorations adorn entryways as fir trees fill homes and plazas everywhere. As Andy Williams says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” but sometimes it seems like a busy and lonely time for people and we forget the significance of the season.

Fantasy Aisle, Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called "real"

Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called “real”

I discovered the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas movies last fall when I was going through a difficult time personally and professionally. The movies deliver hope, promise, love and happy endings without violence, swearing, sex or drugs although the characters indulge in their share of wine. As I binge watched movie after movie for hours on end, my deepest desires came to the forefront and I was reminded of all the things missing from my life — no kids, no spouse, no cute little home with garland and the perfect Christmas tree shining through the front windows. I cried through the Christmas Blessing and Christmas with Holly and fantasized about the possibilities with a Princess for Christmas but realized I had my shot at moving to Buffalo years ago and much preferred the Palace at Castlebury. I sat on the edge of my seat with Christmas Incorporated only to roll my eyes through a Boyfriend for Christmas. Why couldn’t Douglas Firwood tell the truth?

Determined to work for the Hallmark Channel, I researched the company’s history and went so far as to Google every actor’s biography blurring the lines between reality and make believe. Most of Hallmark’s storylines revolve around a widow or career dominating women who must make an important decision during Christmastime. The characters are named Holly and Nick and scenes take place in New York or Chicago and quaint imaginary villages like Cookie Jar or in the mountains at Snow Valley Lodge. By a stroke of luck, a local do-gooder handsome man interacts with the desperate but dazzling attractive woman, steals her heart and the entire town rejoices in the Miracle of Christmas. The movies always end with a special kiss. What’s not to enjoy?

Fantasy Aisle, Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

I wanted my own Christmas Miracle and I believed if I forced myself out into the world I could find it. The movie—my movie, Chasing Christmas would feature me as the lead actress, the successful career oriented woman who finds happiness and joy through Christmas. I kicked off my journey at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony in New York City with friends and then jumped on a plane to Germany where people celebrate the weeks leading up to Christmas with markets in the center of town or in front of iconic churches and museums.

Fantasy Aisle, The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Christkindlmarkts in Germany offer visitors handmade arts and crafts like glass ornaments or winter gloves and hats, Advent wreaths, gingerbread and other local delicacies like sauerkraut and glühwein (hot mulled wine). Each market embodies its personal story filling colorful wooden decorative stalls with food and gifts representing its history and traditions. I braved the winter elements and wandered my way around medieval towns, large cities and Hallmark worthy villages. The warm glühwein served in keepsake mugs warmed my heart and soul, the schneebälle, a snowball-shaped ball of chocolate filled my belly but the sounds of carolers and people laughing embraced me in a tender hug. I wanted hugs.

Fantasy Aisle, My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

People venture to the markets to spend time with family and friends and the entire community comes together to observe annual rituals, enjoy food and drink specialties and to buy gifts. Couples hold hands and kiss, generations of families gather around hot chocolate and punch stands to talk and share stories. Tourists delight in trying Spätzle, a cheese and egg noodle dish for the first time and Eierpunsch, a thick spiked eggnog liquor. It is a time to believe in magic.

Fantasy Aisle, Checking our my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

Checking out my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

After visiting several markets, I joined my German cousins in Karlsruhe. My family proudly and lovingly showed me around their town square and we toasted the season with glühwein and Nutella crepes. We modeled Santa hats and took pictures smiling and laughing before the cold chased us away. There were fun conversations of politics and catching up on the children’s school and music activities. In Mannheim, I joined forces with my German-American friend Frank who showed me around his hometown forcing me to indulge in Kartoffelpuffer, a type of potato latke with applesauce. Frank provided all the translations I had missed and explained the significance of spices and sugar cookies. He also informed me that gingerbread is more for decoration than eating, which could have spared my teeth in Nuremberg. We also conquered the six markets in the Old Town of Heidelberg and hiked breathlessly to the castle gate before ending the night posing with several Santa impersonators. I met up with my dear friend Annette in her hometown of Flensburg, a picture perfect village on the Baltic Sea near the Danish border. They served hot Bailey’s and Grünkohl, a stewed kale and sausage dish unique to Flensburg. Annette and I celebrated our upcoming birthdays with a special dinner and vowed to make a habit of seeing each other somewhere in the world yearly. Lastly, I reunited with my adorable friend Corinna in Hamburg who ushered me from the train station to her apartment. We visited several of the city’s markets clinking glasses and spilling glühwein onto our gloves and coats while taking selfies and talking about life, love and travel. The City of Hamburg is bold and bright and buzzing with an electric energy.

Fantasy Aisle, Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

The people of Germany are affectionate, spirited and disciplined. That is how I describe myself.   As I talked with Annette and Corinna about why I wanted to see the Christmas markets and why I had this urge to live a Hallmark movie they empathized with my mission. But the more I talked, the more I realized I don’t actually want to compare myself to “Holly and Nick” on television because I never wanted children. Most spouses cause grief at some time or another and if I really wanted a Christmas tree in my house I could pick one up on any street corner and cover its branches with a lifetime of collected ornaments. What I wanted and what I found in Germany was love—not the romantic kind but the fill my heart bring a smile to my face love. The early morning snowfall on the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the surprise serenade by a musician in the Old City of Nuremberg, the rock hard gingerbread treat I nearly lost my tooth biting, the bond between Frank and his mother, the generosity and welcome hugs from my cousins, the conversations and shared experiences between friends who keep in contact despite time changes and long plane rides. This is the magic of Christmas. This is what allows people to be present in life. It’s the connection to people –contact with friends and family.

Fantasy Aisle, Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

I still adore the Hallmark Channel and I am thankful for a Countdown to Christmas to remind me of the meaning of Christmas. It’s about coming to together, delivering hope and determination, experiencing love from the heart, family, tradition and even cookies, and angels.  It’s not about the shopping malls and gifts under the tree.