Christmas Markets: Germany, Luxembourg, France

Now that we are knee deep in December, Christmas Markets are in full swing.  So far, I’ve cruised through four of them.  Here are some photos and observations.

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Bernkastel-Kues

Our first market of the season was Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River, which I wrote about in my “And the Season Begins” post.  It’s one of my favorite small German towns, and the market is equally fabulous.  Being there in the evening, or just as dusk falls, is the best–the markets (all of them, as far as I’ve seen) really become magical when the lights are twinkling at dark, or in a hazy swirl of snow.  Plus, Bernkastel has an old world feel that’s undiluted here, but often more watered down in  larger cities (where busy, modern shopping areas stand side by side with older architecture).

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Luxembourg City

DSC_0673My next adventure in Gluhwein and Gingerbread was in Luxembourg City, the week of Thanksgiving.  It was a sleepy Monday, and the market was just beginning to wake up for the season.  The day was bitter cold, so the hot gluhwein and potato pancakes there were greedily gobbled out of both desire and necessity.  And after a glass of gluhwein, I wandered into a store with a friend and bought a big fuzzy mohair sweater.  Later that night, I wondered if that was a wine-induced mistake:  I look a little like giant grey blueberry (greyberry?) in it. . . but I’ve worn it a lot since then.

Pain d'Epices (gingerbread) in Luxembourg
Pain d’Epices (gingerbread) in Luxembourg

Turns out that, ridiculous as it looks,   it is very warm and cozy on a winter day, and sometimes that’s not a bad trade off for looking like a Fruit of the Loom character.  It also hides any extra pounds you might accumulate walking around markets eating potato pancakes and gingerbread.

 

On to the third market of the season:  Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. If you grew up on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then you’ve already caught a quick

Rothenburg
Rothenburg

glimpse of Rothenburg– a charming, walled, 13th century town in Bavaria.

 

Any time of year that you visit Rothenburg, you will feel that you’ve stumbled on to Christmastown.  It is quaint and visually perfect, and peppered with small stores selling Christmas decorations.  It’s also famous for Schneeballs (“snowballs”) –a fried doughball covered in (most often) chocolate, cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar.  They can be delicious, but on our first trip to Rothenburg a schneeball single-handedly took down my husband for an entire evening.

Schneeballs
Schneeballs

We skipped the schneeballs this go round and headed straight for the market and the spiced wine and candies.  The town was crowded, but not overly, and we enjoyed just milling about, eating, drinking, and taking in the sights.  On our first trip to Rothenburg (over a year ago), the kids and I had taken the Night Watchman’s Tour at about 8 pm  (while my husband was at the hotel in Schneeball hell).  It was fantastic–lots of history very charmingly and entertainingly told by an actor in the character of the town’s medieval nightwatchman.  We weren’t in town overnight this time, so we took a daytime tour of the city with a German woman who was probably well schooled in her history, but was

DSC_0152 fairly hard to understand.  Some of her phrases just didn’t translate.  No worries, though–a stroll through Rothenburg ob der Tauber is never a mistake.  The view from each corner is fantastic.

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Rothenburg–it really is Christmastown.

And trip number four?  Metz, France.   Metz market has an ice skating rink which our kids enjoyed last year.  This year, it has added an ice sculpture exhibit (Disney themed).  The market is actually multiple markets in different squares around the city, but we DSC_0186 lingered longest near Place St. Louis–home to stalls with table linens, butter biscuits, and outrageously good candied fruits.  Candied fruits are rarely featured in the German markets, so they were a special treat!

Place St. Louis was also home to one DSC_0187 of the most beautiful carousels I have ever seen.  (We’ve noticed vintage carousels in so many French cities–always a delight for the eyes.  One of my favorite photos of my kids around age 4-6 is on a carousel in St. Malo, France.)  This carousel in Metz boasts a balcony–fancy stuff!

Truth be told, most Christmas markets have a similar feel.  They are best suited to a day (or better yet, an evening) of meandering, nibbling, and sipping.  The ambitious (or tipsy) among us may revel in the shopping experience, but it’s the general atmosphere that most of us go for.

Frohe Fest (Happy Holidays!) and see you at the markets!

Metz Market
Metz Market

 

And the Season Begins . . .

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Snow on rooftops, smoke from chimneys– winter is here.

We woke this morning to a dusting of snow and ice in the Rhineland-Pfalz.  The cold had swept in yesterday, and we were beginning to feel the holiday spirit.

Late yesterday afternoon, we zipped over to Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River, to catch the opening salvo of their Christmas Market. DSC_0072 We drove from cold and drizzle, through a snowy pass, and down into the town of Bernkastel, which seemed to be gripped in an arctic cold.

The market opened just that day (and will continue through December) and it was much less crowded than when we visited last year– which left us able to enjoy the beauty of the town without having to dodge the crowds.  All sorts of food and gluhwein were on offer– and we sipped the hot wine, but not too quickly (it was a great hand warmer!).

At one point, we had to clear a narrow lane to let St. Nikolaus and his horse-drawn carriage and entourage of mariners and fire fighters pass.  We had read that St. Nick was the patron saint of mariners.  In fact, I read that last year after visiting Bernkastel’s Christmas market and seeing Nikolaus and his sidekick Knecht Ruprecht in a boat.  Here’s a photo of last year’s boat display with St. Nick and his ominous sidekick (the mannequin to the left, in the black cape and boots).

St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht--sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?
St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht–sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?

It’s too bad that I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday  because Knecht Ruprecht was even more ominous this year.  This year, that sack he’s carrying wasn’t just stuffed with something out of sight (coal and switches was my assumption).  This year, someone’s been really naughty–there was a child’s leg and boot sticking out of the sack.   Yikes!  These draconian sidekicks of St. Nikolaus (Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, or Schwarz Peter, depending on what region you live in*) often whip naughty children or give them coal and switches instead of candy.  But occasionally the children have been so bad that they are abducted (dragged to hell?) or carried off to be thrown into the cold river.  This could make a good child of the worst of us, because the Mosel River is VERY cold right now–polar bears aside, no one wants a dip in that.

I am breathing a sigh of relief today, because Nikolaus gave me a friendly wave as his carriage passed last night.  Pretty sure I’m on the good list this year.

Being American, my family begins our Thanksgiving week today, so the holidays are now in full swing for us–how nice to have that echoed by the weather and the Christmas markets here.  My oven was cranked up to full tilt today, the house smelled great, and the holiday candle arches were set up in the windows.  We’re getting ready!

Now, if we could just conjure up a little Peace on Earth . . .

 

*If you want a little more background information on Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht, see my post from last year Saints and Devils, Fire and Snowhttps://travelsandtomes.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/saints-and-devils-fire-and-snow/ )