I know what you’re going to say.
Another Christmas post.
Dangit Saint, it’s the New Year already. Get with it.
But Christmas really isn’t over. The 12 days of Christmas go from Christmas to Epiphany, which is when the Three Wise Men get lost in Italy and bring presents to Spanish kids. Or something like that.
So with that knowledge, I bring to you a golden ring of a blog to bring to your reading and viewing pleasure.
Over December, I went on another epic adventure with my wife and parents. This time, we went on a Christmas Market crawl throughout Germany. We started in Munich, traveled up the Western side along the Rhine, then to Amsterdam, and across Saxony all the way to Dresden, then back down to my home in Prague.
So now I’ll share with you our stops and some quick thoughts on each town. Keep this handy next time you’re thinking of a Teutonic visit to top off your charts.
We stayed in Augsburg. It’s a 45-minute train ride from Munich, and with the Bayern Pass, a family of four can make an all day train bound adventure for only 40 euros. Nearly all the regions of Germany have these daily deals and I can’t stress using them enough.
The Augsburg market underneath the "Rathaus", or city hall
I hadn’t been to Augsburg before. I only knew it from Church history. This was the town where there was a final peace agreement between the Lutherans and the Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. It was important for the Holy Roman Empire to finally make peace with the pesky Protestants as the Ottomans were knocking at their door, on the road to invading Europe. Peace was to be held so that Turks could be quelled.
This was perhaps my favorite Christmas market in Bavaria. It was at the same time huge and cozy, with tons of different hot wines to choose from. It seems every year that we go to a German market, there’s always a larger and larger variety of mulled wine, or Gluhwein. No complaints here.
Munich is the biggest city of Bavaria, and you’d expect it to have a huge Christmas market. We were hoping to make the Krampus parade that day, but as my parents were worn out from their flight from the US, we had to put off our Munchen visit for later that day. As we exited the metro and came up before the towering Rathaus, trumpets were blaring out a fine Baroque hymn as the snow was falling from the sky. It really marked a beautiful moment.
The Christmas market with the Rathaus tower
We only visited the small one outside the Rathaus, though apparently there was a larger one around the corner at the Wittelsbacherplatz. Then, also we didn't realize there’s a huge winter festival at the Theresienwiese fairgrounds, the Tollwood Festival. Which I can only guess is a kind of winter Oktoberfest, complete with roller coasters and music concerts. We didn’t make it though, as we only had that evening, which had to be completed with an obligatory visit to the Hoffbrau Haus.
Christmas lights line the main shopping street
Landsberg am Lech
This one was a bit of an unplanned gem. I really wanted to see the town of Oberammergau in the foothills of the Alps, and chose this village to break up our route. Was it a pleasant surprise! When we parked, we found ourselves on an old medieval road heading up to the top of the hill, which lead us to a tower, city gates, and a wall. Exploring more around, we found a Jesuit university which is now an agricultural university, where a kind of nature trail winds down the hill and takes you right into the old town center.
the main tower gate at the old town market
Their Christmas market was closed though, as it was too early in the day, so no mulled wine for us.
It’s also got a claim to fame. On the hill peak opposite the university, there’s a castle with a prison. We parked underneath it, which is where I guess the prison cells might have been. Hitler stayed there after his Beer Hall Putsch, and in cell number 7 he wrote Mein Kampf. It was one of the main touristic sites of Germany during the Third Reich.
This town is a crown jewel of the Alpine foothills. It’s filled with brightly painted chalets, with each chalet presenting a scene from the Passion. The tradition there is that every ten years, they stage a massive passion play that starts in town and ends in a nearby cave. It’s a really beautiful village at any time of year, but they don’t really spruce it up that much for the holiday season (which is weird, considering the clear religiosity of the town.
one of the many painted buildings in town
The next day, we hit the road for the Rhine. First we needed a breakfast stop, so we found a parking spot in Ulm (not really a town made for parking). Ulm is the birthplace of Albert Einstein and was long a major economic center of Germany and was a Free Imperial City during the days of the Empire.
Christmas trees lead to the market
Ulm really spruces up for Christmas time, featuring a massive Christmas market, complete with a nativity scene composed of real animals. This isn’t a rare thing, but it was certainly the biggest living scene we came across.
I hope they give those sheep enough wine to handle this
Ulm itself is a really beautiful mix of medieval and modern, with most of the old town composed of half-timbered houses huddled together until they eventual merge into a modern city.
Rudesheim am Rhein
Germany is full of fairy tale villages, preserving perfectly the medieval architecture of a millennium. Along the Rhine is a region full of these villages, one after the other of wineries and quaint pubs. In the summer time, there are dozens of ferries that go up and down the river, along with a light rail system and extensive bicycling and hiking trails. Add this all up with the dozen or so castles, and it’s a real relaxation station.
one of the many pubs of Rudesheim
As we drove to the Rhine, I was doing a last-minute check on Christmas markets on the Rhine village region. I found that there were only two permanent ones on the Rhine, at Rudesheim and Koblenz. Rudesheim even beat Augsburg on the awesome Christmas market list, especially as the town itself is pretty scenic and medieval.
If I were to stay on the Rhine during the summer, Bacharach is definitely the town to choose. There’s not one trace of modernity about it, except for electricity and indoor toilets. In the winter it’s pretty dead, with only a few pubs remaining open, and no Christmas market in site.
the empty winter streets and a nativity scene
Rhens is where Charlemagne was crowned King of the Franks. I was hoping it would be as romantic as Bacharach, and indeed the main street behind the city gate and wall is beautiful in its way. But, at least in winter time, it’s quiet and empty, but not empty in the same eerily beautiful way that Bacharach was.
All the towns of the Rhine seemed to be holding their Christmas markets in Koblenz. The town full of them. One after the other, more and more tucked away in all the small streets and squares of the village.
every little corner was full of the gluhwein action
I decided we’d stay in Leiden, as I would never have seen it otherwise, and was I glad we did. It’s a really beautiful Dutch town, with at least three huge windmills towering over it. There might have been more, but we didn’t explore the whole town.
one of Leiden's scenic windmills
Leiden houses one of the oldest universities of the world, is home of thirteen Nobel Prize winners, and is regularly ranked as one of Europe’s top schools. The painters Rembrandt and Jan van Steen are both from Leiden as well.
that market is on a barge
At Christmas, Leiden hosts a floating market on one of their canals. It doesn’t quite have the same kitschy charm of the German markets, as it seems to have more of a flea market vibe than a Christmas market, but it is neat nevertheless in that it’s floating on the canal!
We had a quick pit stop in Aachen to take a glimpse at Charlemagne's resting place, at the 9th century Cathedral of Aachen. Plus a bonus Christmas market.
the almost Byzantine temple
The town speaks for itself. Though it does hang up some lights, it seems the Christmas season is kind of just the same, cold rainy season as the others.
We visited the de facto capital of the Netherlands in order to see the M.C. Escher museum. That’s when we found in the square just in front of it, a bonus Christmas market. That’s where we tried to figure out why Amsterdam was the actual capital, as it lacks all capital functions of a state.
The Dutch Queen's personal market celebration
This was one of those stops that I had assigned for a pit stop. We were headed to Wernigerode when we decided to grab an extra market in this Lower Saxony town. Osnabruck clearly suffered a lot of damage in World War II, as much of it is modern, but its sprinkled with centuries old buildings as well, which gives it a rather weird, half-American, half-European feel.
This Christmas market had the widest variety of food
I previously thought that Rothenburg was the most beautiful fairy tale town in Germany. But that claim has been challenged by Wernigerode. Especially at Christmas time, as it sports a bigger mix of Christmas markets, and lots more restaurants. The town is full of half-timbered beauties, and on the hill overhead a castle looms keeping watch of all the festivities.
Our final stop to Prague was in Dresden. This is the mother of all Christmas towns, as the city resurrects from the ashes and comes to its peak every December. Big square after big square, along with every cozy square and street, is crammed with market action, selling wines and wood trinkets, and beer, along with tons of rides for the kids, everywhere you look.
My favorite part of the market was the Rathaus, where they held a medieval market. They built all sorts of little medieval houses, sold wine in clay cups, and all the vendors dressed in period dress.
I hope everyone's holiday season was great and that you're starting your new year right. If you've enjoyed this blog, be sure to subscribe.