We just returned from our trip to Germany where we spent Christmas with our family. If you ever plan a trip to Germany this is the season to go. A lot of traditions like having a Christmas tree were started in Germany so it’s a truly special time. I remember as a kid I was not allowed to see or decorate the Christmas tree. My parents put it up on Christmas eve (in the morning) and our living room door was locked until the evening. On Christmas eve my parents would ring a bell and only then I would be allowed to enter. It was always a magical moment seeing the lit up Christmas tree with sparkling presents below. Of course as a kid I always wanted to decorate the tree, but it made it so much more special to only see it on Christmas Eve. It’s probably the reason why I love decorating my own tree each year so much. 🙂
My favorite activity during this time of the year is visiting the Christmas markets (also known as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt) as they’re unique to each town. When you walk around you smell Gluehwein (hot mulled wine), candied toasted nuts and gingerbread. Mhhhh! The lovingly decorated stalls also offer many regional specialties like honey or chocolate as well as hearty food such as roasted potatoes, fresh fish and of course German Bratwurst.
In addition you will find handcrafted Christmas decoration as glass ornaments or the Herrhut (aka Moravian) stars. A must do (especially if you have a kids) is a walk through the “Maerchenwald” (Fairy tale forest) which displays each story with puppets. Its truly a delight of senses walking around here and something for everyone!
The city where I grew up is Erfurt – which is located right in the center of Germany. It’s the capital of the state Thuringia and is most famous for its 1200-year-old Chatedral and Kraemerbruecke (merchant bridge) – which is the longest bridge in Europe with buildings that are inhabited. There are galleries and Thuringian craftsman stores with ceramics, prints and glass on the bridge – a perfect place to pick up some souvenirs. If you want to have a nice view of the city you should take a short walk up to the Citadel Petersberg. It’s a fortress and you can also do a tour of the underground maze of passageways. Another nice area to discover is the “Lange Bruecke” (long bridge) that is along the Gera and offers several boutiques and coffee shops. As you can see there’s lots to explore in Erfurt.
If you’re looking forward to spend some time in nature check out the Steigerwald forest, adjacent to Erfurt. We did a very nice trail run and hike on another day. Our single track trail run past through the frozen (fairy tale) forest and along white meadows with (very cute) sheep – truly magical!
We also took a trip to Munich – which has become one of my favorite cities in Germany. Our first stop was the BMW Werk / factory. To be honest this was Ulli’s request, and I wasn’t too excited about it at first. However, I was taken by surprise and at the end it was one of my favorite sights in Munich. There are several tours offered: BMW factory, BMW museum and BMW World. The factory was closed during the holidays, so we decided on the BMW World tour. I have to admit it I was pleasantly surprised how interesting this tour was – the architecture alone is worth a visit!
The main purpose of BMW World is to give an experience to BMW customers when they pick up the car. They have about 100-150 cars from buyers all around the world picked up there each day. First the buyers get a tour of the factory to see how their car was manufactured (except the X series), then they get into a special lounge before they walk down a stairway where their brand new car is put in a spotlight and rotated on display. It was nice to see how excited some people got when they saw their car for the first time. Most customers are anxious to take their car out on the Autobahn (esp. if you’re from the US). After your vacation you can drop off your car at any BMW dealer and then they will deliver the car to the buyers home complimentary. I could write more stories about their unique storage in the warehouse or how the Knutschkugel (bubble car) saved BMW from having a Mercedes Benz sign – but you just have to take a tour of your own to find out. 🙂 In the afternoon we drove to downtown Munich. Our first stop was the Hofbraeuhaus – even though we don’t drink beer (or eat meat)- and yes, it’s a touristy stop – it’s a must see after all. We enjoyed the atmosphere and “schunkeln” to Bavarian music. I also got to see how locals store their beer steins at the Hofbrauhaus under lock and key. We explored the different Christmas markets spread out throughout the city – my favorite was at Marienplatz – with the spectacular town hall as a backdrop.
In the afternoon we took a stroll in the English Garden (it’s Munich’s version of Central Park :-)), where they also had a small Christmas market set up by the Chinese tower. For dinner we took a bit of a culinary tour. We started at Viktualienmarkt – which is a famous market for farmers, fresh food and delicatessen. In addition, the Christmas market around here was all about food. We found a delicious stall with “Flammlachs” (Salmon grilled on an open flame) which was seasoned and grilled to perfection. Afterwards we explored “Eataly”- a market building offering individual shops, restaurants all about Italy. We went to another Eataly in New York City so were excited to see it in Munich as well. My two highlights in Eataly where: drinking the best hot chocolate I ever tasted and meeting the real Santa Clause (see picture if you don’t believe me). Munich has really become my favorite city as it offers a great mix of tradition, urban culture, latest technology and international flair with shops and food from all over the world. I need to spend more time on my next trip here as there’s much more to discover!
Even though we didn’t have a “White Christmas”, spending time with our parents and family is what mattered most. The last few days I picked up a cold, and I didn’t feel very well going on a 12 hour flight back to LA. Fortunately (and pumped on medication) we made it back safely to Southern California. Now I’m home with wonderful memories and a fuzzy heart filled with lots of love from our family. This is what Christmas is truly all about.
How did you spend your Christmas? I would love to hear about your stories and season traditions.