Christmas Market Tour 2018: Oberwiesenthal

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Our next Christmas market tour takes us up the mountain- literally. Through “knee-to-waist-deep snow”, the heavily populated forest and lots of twists and turns along the road that is sometimes too narrow for cars to meet. However when up there, the town, its market and the views of the mountains will take your breath away.

Oberwiesenthal may be a very typical town in the Ore Mountains, that is also one of the most traditional when it comes to Christmas. However, do not be fooled with the fact that with a population of 2,600 inhabitants, it’s just a simple, quiet village, for the town is very popular for many reasons. At the height of 2,999 feet (941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest town in Germany, located at the foot of the Fichtelberg, the highest mountain point in the state of Saxony. It is only three kilometers east of the Czech border and only 22 kilometers from the nearest city of Karlsbad (Karoly Vary). And like the Czech town, Oberwiesenthal is not only a resort town, laden with hotels and resorts within a ten-kilometer radius, it is also a ski resort town- home to ski resorts, and all kinds of ski facilities available, from slalom to downhill, cross-country to alpine! It hosts several ski championships on the national and international levels annually, attracting over a million visitors, pending on how cold the weather is. And it is also anchored by traditional but nationally known ski-teams.

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When it comes to Christmas and winter time in Oberwiesenthal, they go together like bread and butter. When looking at the Christmas arches alone, one will see that right away. The town has one of the highest number of these traditional decorations in Germany- every window in every house and building is occupied with these arches. Dozens of them can be found along the town’s streets, whether it is at the railroad viaduct on the east end, at the resorts,

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…..or even at the Christmas market in the city center!

After fighting through snow drifts, snow piles and snow-packed streets, I found my way to the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal. It is located smack-dab in the market square in the center of town, surrounded by the city hall, several traditional shops and a historic mile-marker. The square is cut in half by a street going diagonally in the northwesterly direction, going up the hill. And with that, especially on weekdays where there is not much going on, cars can go through the market square, albeit at a snail’s pace.

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The market itself consists of a traditional Christmas pyramid, a stage flanked by a Christmas arch and some other exhibits on the right-hand side, and eateries that flank the historic marker on the left. The eateries provide the most traditional dishes in the mountain regions, from its bratwursts to the goulash and its mushroom hotdishes. Beverages include hot drinks, like spiced wine (Glühwein) and Heisse Met (honey punch), but also children’s punch, hot chocolate and the basics in coffee.  It’s not much but the market is the central meeting point for tourists who not only want to go skiing, but do some shopping while in town. Oberwiesenthal is connected with the Fichtelberg Ski Lift, which takes the people to the top of the mountain, seven kilometers away. It cuts down the travel time needed by the car by up to half of the 15 minutes needed.

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There are no stores directly at the market due to space, yet there are traditional stores that sell virtually everything made of wood and from the mountain region within only a 2-3 minute walk, mostly along Markt and Bergstrasse where one can find most of the cafés and restaurants going up the hill. At least five or six stores have a wide array of products that are made out of this bountiful material. Even one store sells wicker products, including chairs and even lamp shades! 🙂  But the bulk of the wood products have to do with Christmas, and in particular, Christmas in the mountains, which makes Saxony special to begin with. And unlike some Christmas markets in the mountain regions, the sculpture work done on the figures is very detailed, enough to look at the figures in real like on a 1:25 or 1:40 scale.  Apart from the arches and the holders (the latter of which is as well-decorated as the arches themselves, the stores sell incense men of all shapes and sizes (Räuchermänner), Christmas pyramids and the most popular of the products: a concert of figurines!

These consist of figurines that have a typical theme, such as angels performing a music concert, the traditional manger set of Jesus Joseph and Mary with angels and animal figures, the parade of miners and angels, skiiers and angels….. 😉 I think the reader can follow the pattern from there, right?  Because of the town’s location in the Ore Mountains and the traditions of “Angels we have heard up high,” Oberwiesenthal is popular for their angels and angelic figures one will find everywhere. Even guardian angels are really popular in the stores, based on my observations. 🙂  It is unknown why, especially as the town has only one church in the Martin Luther Church, next to the market square. But the impression with the angels is that Oberwiesenthal is rather religious- predominantly Lutheran, which makes the community a traditional one of sorts.

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Yet as far as fixed eateries are concerned, they are rather multi-cultural as restaurants offer not only traditional foods from the region, but also Italian, and even Anglo-Saxon culinary products. For the latter, one should check out the Kiwi Coffee-Bar-Lounge, located on Schulstrasse across from the Sparkasse Bank. Originating from New Zealand, this restaurant offers one of the widest varieties of coffee, burgers and other pastries in the region. They are usually open during the evening hours yet during my visit, there were only a handful there. On the weekends, they are sometimes filled to the brim, especially when the skiiers are around or if there are winter sport enthusiasts in the area.

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When we think of Oberwiesenthal, we think of winter time and the feeling of Christmas time. It goes beyond the market, its city center and its popularity for winter sports. It has the sense of hominess to it. Even when passing through the villages enroute, they are laden with Christmas decorations for every house and apartment alike, with small villages having their own manger set with pyramids and arches set up at small parks along the way to encourage tourists to make a stop, especially in the evening when they are lit. And this was my overall impression of the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal- it is a very popular place for winter sports, but has a feeling of home for the holidays. And one can feel this while passing through. It is worth the couple hours of stopping and enjoying the snow.

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flfi-travel-tips

The roads leading up to the market in Oberwiesenthal are narrow and sometimes treacherous, especially as the area receives the majority of the snowfall in Saxony. Therefore, one needs to plan ahead, pack accordingly and take the time getting up there to avoid an accident or going into the ditch.  In Germany, it is required to have a warning vest, warning triangle and a first aid kit in your car just in case.  However, highly recommended is a winter-survival kit. There you need a blanket, jumper cables, tire-repair kit and air compressor for the tires, flashlight, warm winter clothing, something to write, cigarette charger cable, emergency contact information, a fully-charged and functioning mobile phone and some dried food- all in addition to the above-mentioned items. It is not required by law in Germany but is mandatory in the US; this has to do with the population density of the former for in case you are stuck, your are more likely to get help quickly than in areas of the US, where the population and the towns are sparse. Still, in case of bad weather and no help arrives even while in the forest, it is handy to have it with.

 

 

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  1. The German word Fichtel is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to region. We would use the word Fichtelberg to describe the highest point in Saxony, at 1,215 meters. Oberwiesenthal is located at the foot of this summit, which can be called Mount Fichtel. However, the Fichtelgebirge (translated literally as Fichtel Mountains) is located in northeastern Bavaria and western Czech Republic, where the cities of Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weiden and Eger (Cheb), Czech Republic are located. Like in the Ore Mountains, the mountain region is known for its winter sports and is the starting point for some of the rivers and streams in Germany and the Czech Republic.
  2. While the Fichtelberg is the highest point in Saxony, it is not the highest point in the Ore Mountains. That belongs to the Keilberg (Klínovec) in the Czech Republic, which is 12,44 meters above sea level.
  3. Although founded in 1529, only a couple tiny relicts of Oberwiesenthal can be seen today. Among them is the historical Mile Post Marker, which can be found in the market square in front of the city hall Neues Haus. It was built in 1723 and was part of the mile marker system that connected Saxony with its neighboring states.
  4. The Fichtelberg Ski Lift (a.k.a. Cable Railway) is the oldest ski lift in Germany. Built in 1929, it was renovated in 1956 and again in 1984. It connects Oberwiesenthal with the Fichtelberg.
  5. Oberwiesenthal is connected by the historic railroad that connects the community with Cranzahl to the north. The 17-kilometer narrow gauge railway was founded in 1897 and is privately owned.

 

Two photo galleries of the Christmas Market in Oberwiesenthal can be found via facebook (here) and Google Photos (here).

 

FlFi Christmas 2018

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Christmas Market Tour 2018: Meissen (Saxony)

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December 5th, 2018- the day before St. Nicolas Day. It is a quarter past five in the afternoon, the city center is lit with a wide array of colors, from the buildings flanking the Market Square to the City Hall, to the Church of our Lady. The tree is lit but in a much greener fashion. Huts are filled to the brim with people drinking mulled wine, hot chocolate and tea using the cups that are locally made.  Mushroom Hotdish and Hirtenkäserollen (a meat roll with cream cheese filling) are being dished out and people are having a great time, talking, eating and drinking. The mood is very cheerful and there is not much crowding.

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Suddenly, the attention turns to the stage and the city hall- each window converted to a day in each month of December, thus turning the entire building into a giant Advent Calendar.  The window of the Fifth opens and a unique form of artwork is presented with the question: From which fairy tale does this piece come from?

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The Answer: The Princess and the Pea, a work written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Each open window has a unique drawing and/or painting, all of which are homemade just like the postcards and paintings done by a family that has resided in the community for at least three centuries.  The backdrop of the market is the castle and cathedral on the hill, overlooking a major waterway and the rest of the community. It used to house a royal dynasty until a century ago when they were forced to abdicate because of the Treaty of Versailles.

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People associate the city of Meissen, located 23 kilometers along the River Elbe northwest of Dresden in the German state of Saxony, with its world-famous ceramics, as the Meissen Porcelain Company produces and exports pottery worldwide. Yet they still don’t know what they are missing. As a tip, if one visits Dresden to see the Christmas markets there, one can afford a half-hour trip to Meissen to see this one. There are many reasons to visit Meissen in general, aside from the ceramics:

  1. Albrechtsburg and Meissen Cathedral (Meissner Dom): One cannot miss seeing this tall Gothic architectural artwork which is right next to the Elbe. The castle needed 53 years to be built, having been completed in 1525. It housed the House of Wettin, a dominant force that played a role in the Kingdom of Saxony and later the German empire before 1918. The castle houses the Meissner Dom, which was completed in the 13th Century and is the tallest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany.
  2. The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche): This is located on the western side of the market square. The official name is the St. Afra Church and the church is famous for its organ and especially the bells, all made with Meissen porcelain. The bells play every quarter hour. That church is one of over a dozen that have a historic flavor for Meissen.
  3. The Historic City Center: Featuring the City Hall, several restaurants that have existed for over a century, the Theaterhaus and countless historic houses, people can spend a whole day window shopping, visiting ceramic and painting exhibits and enjoying the culinary dishes that are typical for Meissen and the region.
  4. Domherrenhof: Dating back to the Baroque period (and even further back), this area features a series of walls, steep steps, walkways and bridges surrounding the historic city center and extending from the St. Afra Church, all the way to the Alrechtsburg and Cathedral. The whole pathway provides visitors with a splendid view of the entire city from down below, as well as regions along the Elbe and beyond.
  5. The Meissen Vineyards: This is the signature of the region along the Elbe. Known in Europe as the northernmost vineyards, this area extends for over 60 square kilometers, along the Elbe and deep into the Spaargebirge. Festivals in the spring and fall are dedicated to the planting and harvest of grapes and the production of the wine, most of which you can only find in Saxony.

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But when it comes to Christmas markets and the like, Meissen brings out the best, not just in terms of its porcelain but also in the form of artwork. It goes all the way down to artwork on the Christmas market cups, where each year has a commemoration of some sorts, a different design that includes anything typical of Christmas and Meissen and the writing which turns the standard fonts of Times New Roman into shame. You can have a look at a pair of cups I got from there to find out.

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If you collect Christmas market cups, then Meissen is the place to stop for them.

Another feature of Meissen that one will not see is when visiting Brück and Sons, a store that was established in 1723 and still serves today as not only a bookstore- one of ten that serve the city of 28,000 inhabitants- but also a publisher.  Brück and Sons’ bookstore also has a function as a Christmas specialty store and a local shop. In other words, the store has everything but all homemade.

What does the store have? Nicht leichter als folgendes:

The store features homemade Christmas cards, Advent Calendars and other paper items, all handpainted and all have different themes, whether it is with a Christmas market scene, or a historic place of interest or even a general theme. The artwork there is genuine and is as good or even better than the works of the late Tom Kincade because of its realistic setting and the use of lighting.  If one is looking for something for Christmas, this is one of the seven wonders of Meissen that is worth seeing, especially as the store also offers homemade products, such as liquours, jams (some with whisky in it) and praline candies. The lone exception of products offered at the store are the products imported from Sweden, yet they appear to be homemade.

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But the store is not the only place where a person can stop to shop. Homemade products can also be found at the St. Afra Church. Open every day until 6pm, the church’s  basar sells a wide array of products that are handmade by several different groups, whether they are homemade Christmas stars, paper stars for the Christmas tree, homemade jam, Christmas cards and even some winter-wear, even though during my visit, the temperature was a couple degrees above zero and quite mild.  As a bonus, one can be greeted with some organ music from time to time.

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The booths at the market itself offers a lot of Christmas products that are made from the Ore Mountain region as well as the Vogtland, mostly from the latter. A real treat are the mini-Räuchermänner at a stand at (….). These are mini-incense men which uses mini-cones, half the size of a Räuchermann on average. Also found there are the Christmas Gnomes, which use the normal cones. In Germany, gnomes are becoming popular year round for they used to be found in most gardens in the summer time. Yet in the past five years, the gnomes have found their way to fame on the Christmas stage, either as incense figures or decoration on the Christmas tree.  Yet at the main market, one will find most of the city’s culinary foods, such as mushroom hotdish and Hirtenkäse-Rollchen, and pastries. Yet much of the mulled wine are produced locally, in addition to the hot chocolate.

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The only caveat to Meissen’s Christmas market is the parking. Because of the narrow streets and the close proximity of the buildings, parking and even driving is restricted when going through the Meissen Christmas market. Even the streets leading to the two markets- the smaller one included, is blocked off to ensure the safety of the visitors passing through. Henceforth, it is recommended to use the parking garages to the south and the east of the Christmas markets, including those along the Elbe, and walk to the places directly. They will save the person a lot of time and headaches, especially as the areas are restricted as is. Because most of the buildings are rather historic, there is no leeway in terms of providing better parking possibilities.

However, this may not be even necessary given the charm that Meissen has in general. When walking through the city center for the first time, there was a sense of going back into time where cars were non-existent, and the only way to get around anywhere was on foot. Even the bike trail system is rather restricted because of the narrowness of the streets, combined with the steep grades. Just add the Christmas market in Meissen to the scenery of the old town and one will be in Winter Wonderland. It’s like leaving the stresses of city life and entering a different world when walking through Meissen.  While one could add another theme to the market, such as something Medieval, etc., but it would be somewhat overkill, given the sittiing Meissen has to offer, combined with the points of interest the city has.

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To sum up this visit, there are enough reasons to visit Meissen and spend the day there. The Christmas market is one of the key reasons. It features locally handmade products that go beyond the ceramics the city prides itself on- namely artwork, clothing and anything related to paper. It offers food and drink that is based on what is offered in the region. It has a large, life-sized Advent Calendar that people can look forward to everyday. Even the market itself features events that extend until January 6th. And lastly, the market has a small-town feeling which is atypical for a town as big as Meissen itself is. One does not need to have an overcrowded but popular Christmas market, like in Nuremberg, Berlin and even neighboring Dresden. It just needs that perfect touch that makes the market the place to spend the whole day in. And Meissen is just that when looking at just the Christmas market, alone. The rest is already a given.

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More about Meissen can be found through the following links:

http://www.meissner-weihnacht.de/

https://www.stadt-meissen.de/Advent.html

More photos on the Christmas market in Meissen can be found via facebook (here) and Google (here)

FlFi Christmas 2018

Santa Goes Shopping- Kaufland Commercial ’18

 

With the holiday season around the corner, we have Father Christmas (Santa Claus) in action, as seen in the Christmas commercial presented by German supermarket chain Kaufland. This was released shortly before Thanksgiving and even though it is a tradition over here in Germany to have food chains to release commercials with special themes just in time for the holiday season, this one is special as Germany, like many countries in Europe, is latching onto the Black Friday tradition, where people line up in front of malls and major stores to get the best deals for Christmas. The difference here is that Kaufland, like many store chains, are introducing Black Week. Taking place at the same time as Thanksgiving, Black Week shoppers can find the best deals both in stores as well as online- mostly through Amazon, who may have started this tradition. Whether it is a good idea to order online or not remains to be open, but if Father Christmas keeps huffing and puffing to get everything last minute, he won’t have to worry about weight loss come Christmas time. It’s just a matter of persuading people perceiving him as fat and jolly that being slim and active is a wonderful thing. 😉

 

So let’s shop and celebrate smart, shall we?

 

The Flensburg Files is about to go on tour to the Christmas markets again, as the first one opens after Thanksgiving. To look at the previous places visited, click here.

There is also a collection of other Christmas stories, films and poems in the Literature and Genre section. Click here and scroll down, there are some funny ones worth seeing.

While the Christmas market tour will include some catching up from last year (the author was sick during much of the holiday season last year), it will include some cool activities for you to try out, not to mention a couple things to think about- the author sometimes has to get them off his chest and many can benefit from it.

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FLFI Holiday logo

2016 Christmas Market Tour: Flensburg

I would like to start off this tour with a story and a definition of the word punch. It happened at my cousin’s high school graduation reception in 1990 and I was 13. We had a large bowl of fruit punch that was based on a family recipe from my grandmother- basically, fruit juice with ginger ale and ice cream. I drained the lake and wanted more, but in response, my aunt (the proud mother of that high school graduate) decided to give me the punch I deserved, which went along the lines of this…..

You can imagine how I looked like minutes later, with a pair of Ozzy eyes (named after the famed rock singer Ozzy Osbourne)!  😉

The English version of punch is translated into German as Bowle, and with the exception of Feuerzangenbowle (a hot red wine punch with a sugar cone soaked in rum lit above it), a Bowle is a large bowl of sweet non-alcoholic beverage, served with or without ice cream (a typical German gets by without this).  However, punch can also mean Punsch in German, and that has alcohol in there.

The Christmas market in Flensburg is centered around this theme, as I had an opportunity to steal a couple hours to have a look at it. And believe me, having sampled at least five different types while up there, I felt like this afterwards:

I highly doubt Flensburg’s Roter Strasse, which is laden with shops connecting two markets was like Dodge City, Kansas in the Hollywood western films starring John Wayne, however if one is not careful with the punch, one could end up getting sobered up in the icy cold water of the Fjorde, located only 200 meters away. 😉

Overview of the Christmas market at Südermarkt with St. Nicolas Church in the background.

But getting to the real aspect here, Flensburg’s Christmas market is plotted out in a way that all of the  huts are located either in Südermarkt, where the St. Nicolas Church is located, or along the Roter Strasse. Basically, as a friend of mine (who is a Flensburger) suggested in an inquiry: Start at the market and work your way up the huts along the street. 😉 Normally, Flensburg has two markets- Südermarkt and Nordermarkt (at Schiffbrückstrasse). The reason Nordermarkt does not have any Christmas market huts is not just because of space issues, but also because seven eateries are located there. Another open area not used for the Christmas market is the Kanalschuppen am Hafenspitze (will be named Hafenspitze in this article), at the tip of the harbor. Some carnevals and markets can be found there in the springtime, and the space is technically suitable for a few huts and some form of amusement at Christmas time. However, that remained empty during my visit in November before the first Advent. Having the market directly in the city center at Südermarkt and along the main street definitely makes sense because of its location- with stores, museums and other public places lined up and down along the street, safety because of the high density of traffic encircling the city center via Norderhofenden, and convenience as people can shop and taste the punch, like going through revolving doors connecting the shopping center indoors and the huts and eateries outside at the market.

However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, the theme of Flensburg’s Christmas market is the punch. One will see a booth for every three that sells this unique drink. The origin of Flensburg’s punch is from over 230 years of producing rum by as many as 20 refineries and distilleries owned by 13 different families; the most famous ones were Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Braasch, Johannsen, Christiansen and Pott. One will see memorials, street names and businesses named after them today, while touring Flensburg.  And while one can take the Rum-Sugar Mile Tour, like I did during my first visit in 2010, that combined with the taste of rum or any form of punch with the beverage in there, provides the tourist with a unique treat at Christmas time. The lone caveat based on my personal experience: no matter what kind of punch a person tries, each one may have a different flavor but they one common ground, which is the ability to pack a punch with every sip. So please, be careful when sampling. 😉

I tried five different types of punch while at the Flensburger Christmas market. They included the following:

Johannsen Rum Punch- I tried this at the Johannsen hut along the main street and it was so powerful, that not even a slap in the face from a furious fraulein would surpass it. It had a citrus, cinnamon and dry red wine taste to it, but with the Johannsen Rum, one sip is enough for a good buzz. The hut was selling bottles of their signature punch when I was there. One of which was bought as a Christmas gift for a family member, who is a rum fan. We’ll see if he gets the same impression as I had. 😉

Braasch Rum Punch- Tasted at the booth near Südermarkt, this type of punch is a bit milder than the Johannsen as it had a taste of raisin, almonds and brown sugar in there. Still one does recognize the taste of rum when drinking it. For those who don’t like dried alcoholic beverage, like wine, this one is worth it because of its sweetness. This one is highly recommended. 🙂

Flensburg Special- This was purchased at a booth along the main street near Nordermarkt. Containing cinnamon schnaps and rum punch, this one has a very spicy but sweet taste to it, similar to cinnamon itself. If you have not tried cinnamon liquor, you don’t know what you’re missing. 😉

Fernwärme Punsch- Like the Flensburger Flotilla (a concoction featuring rum, Flensburger beer and apple juice), the Fernwärme Punsch, a.k.a. Hot Pipe Punch, features the signature products of Flensburg, minus the beer. In this case, Johannsen Rum with apple punch. The taste is sour as Granny Smith’s apples, but it is relatively mild.

Pott Rum Punch- Featuring a combination of der Gute Pott Rum, red wine and the spices that make up the spiced wine, this one is far different from the typical spiced wine because of its rum taste and its spiciness. Nevertheless, one will get a good dose of rum and Flensburg’s heritage with this sip, while trying this at the market.

But not everything is centered around rum at the Christmas market. Aside from the traditional German entrées that can be found at a Christmas market, like the goulash, bratwurst and kabobs, there were several huts that served some delicacies from outside of Germany, including Italy, Scandanavia and Turkey. One of the places worth visiting is a Turkish hut that serves Börek. Börek is a pastry that is made of a flaky dough called phyllo and is filled with either meat or a combination vegetable and cheese- namely spinach and Feta cheese. It can also be served with fruit pending on the appetite. I had a chance to try one while at Südermarkt and it tasted really delicious.

In spite of its fame in the rum industry and its multi-cultural foods the market offers, there are a couple of caveats about the market that the city government and organizers should take into consideration when planning the next Christmas market. One deals with the opening hours of the market, the other deals with spatial issues and possible expansion to make it more attractive.

The first oddity I found with the Christmas market were the hours. Flensburg’s Christmas market is one of a few in Germany that are open beyond Christmas- specifically, until the 31st of December. Most Christmas markets close before Christmas or even on Christmas Eve, thus sticking to the guidelines and observing the holidays, let alone families wishing to celebrate and then go on vacation. However, the opening hours of Flensburg’s market is even more odd. They are open until 10pm daily, even though most stores and shopping areas at and near the market close at 8:00pm sharp, unless some exceptions are noted. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect opportunity to visit during the evening of my visit in Schleswig-Holstein, there are some benefits and drawbacks to extended hours. The benefits include the possibility to eat and drink at the huts with friends, as well as buy any last minute gift items for Christmas, even if it was a bottle of a valuable rum, like Braasch or Johannsen. For many who work long hours or have to travel long distances, a brief stop at the market in Flensburg provides them with a chance to enjoy the view of the city center and harbor, while sipping one of their punches and eating a rare cuisine.

The drawbacks to having extended hours are two-fold. The first one is the conflict between the huts selling their goods, the retailers and the customers. While the market may be open until 10pm, many retailers may feel disadvantaged because of the loss of sales. In addition, many customers would like to do some nighttime shopping in addition to visiting the Christmas market and would see extended opening hours on weekdays as an advantage, especially as they do not have sufficient time to shop for Christmas. On the flip side, however, some huts I observed while touring Roter Strasse closed a half hour to an hour earlier because they didn’t have enough customers to keep their stores open. If a salesperson sees one or two customers stopping at a stand during the last two hours of the market in comparison with over 300 during peak times between 12:00 and 6:00pm, then the question remains if these two extra hours makes sense.  Roter Strasse is known to Flensburgers and tourists alike as the district that never sleeps- not just because of the lighting, but also the bustling nightlife that goes on even after 10:00pm. This is speaking from personal experience after visiting the city for the fifth time since 2010. Even at midnight, one will see people walking around or see some action in one form or another. It is also one of the busiest pedestrian pathways in northern Germany as thousands roam the streets during the day when all stores and eateries are open. Keeping this in mind, businesses and planners need to work on having transparent opening hours at the market. If the stores wish to close at 8:00pm, then the Christmas market should also follow suit and close their shops just like the other markets. If the Christmas market wishes to remain open until 10pm, then at least the shopping centers and key businesses should remain open to encourage shoppers to buy their gifts AND eat or drink at the market. Only with these uniform guidelines will Flensburg win more customers and leave no one out in the cold.

View of the market at Südermarkt and its pyramid from the steps of St. Nicolas Church.

Another critique point of the Flensburg market is the space. The market is concentrated at Südermarkt with some huts lined along Roter Strasse. Despite the main street connecting both markets, there are no huts at Nordermarkt because of its proximity to the numerous eateries nearby, let alone its size as it is at least half the size of Südermarkt. But as mentioned earlier, there is potential for expansion on the opposite end of Süderhofenden, the main highway passing through Flensburg. In the past, the highway was laden with traffic, and crossing the street to the Hafenspitze was dangerous. However, since the Deutsche Bahn has eliminated train service connecting the harbor with the train station a few years ago, plans are in the work to convert the rail tracks to a pedestrian path, thus encouraging more commerce around the harbor and possibly enlarging the Christmas market. Already in the works is the revitalizing of Angelburger Strasse from the former Comic/Bike Shop Bridge at Süderhofenden to Petersen’s Bike Shop at Bismarck Strasse by redesigning the businesses, renovating many of the historic buildings along the street to provide housing and new commerce and encouraging businesses and residents to move to the area, the city council, merchants and planners are working to attract more people and businesses and thus relieving the overcrowding that the business district has, especially at Christmas time. If successful, a row of huts and other forms of holiday entertainment, perhaps around a (cultural) theme could be provided to encourage people to visit there.

Former Restaurant Bellevue now called Heimathafen at Hafenspitze
View of Flensburg’s skyline from the Restaurant Heimathafen. This is the third picture at this site since my first visit in 2010. The Christmas tree is on the far left.

Another sign that an area of Flensburg is being revitalized came with the purchase and reopening of the former Bellevue Restaurant at Hafenspitze in June 2016. As the restaurant is fostering its growth in the number of customers, one could revitalize the area at Hafenspitze by adding an amusement section, like a theater or a few rides, and a few huts to provide food and drink for those interested. During my visit the area was completely empty and what was featured that constitutes a Christmas market was a lighted Christmas tree in the harbor. Great photo opportunity for a dedicated (night) photographer, but Flensburg can do better with utilizing and revitalizing the area, let alone a larger Christmas tree in the harbor.  With this development, the city can attract more businesses, especially from Denmark and parts of Scandanavia. There were only a couple stands selling goods from the region, despite its campaign of being the market with a Scandanavian flair. However, with some redeveloping of the aforementioned areas combined with some incentives, the city can bring in many businesses from up north- be it the ones in the north of the city, at the border in Pattburg or even in other parts of Denmark and beyond. Flensburg’s role as a border town, a multi-cultural community with the largest Danish minority in Germany and its great reputation in many fields makes it a magnet for more people, businesses, and in the end one of the most attractive Christmas markets  in the region. 🙂

Night photo of Flensburg’s City Center and Christmas tree at Hafenspitze

Flensburg’s Christmas market can be best summed up in this way. The market centers around its rum industry and its many types of punch a person can try. It does complement the businesses and historic places the city has to offer and it definitely makes the city center a rather attractive place morning, noon and night. It is a small market with a potential for greater and bigger things, especially in light of recent developments at Hafenspitze and Angelburger Strasse, but it is definitely not small enough to be missed while travelling north to Scandanavia. One just needs to start at Südermarkt and work their way along Roter Strasse. With a good punch in the hand, and a walk along the business strip, visiting each booth, one will not forget this trip. I personally didn’t. 🙂

 

Apart from this, more photos of Flensburg’s Christmas market, taken by the author, can be found on the Files’ facebook page. Just click here and you’ll be directed to the photo album.

 

  DO AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR? 

What things can be done to make Flensburg’s Christmas market more attractive? Do you agree with the author’s critique? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the Comment section below. But don’t forget, the city council, planners and merchants would also like to hear from you too. 🙂

Prost! Cheers! Salut! Mazeltov! From the two travel companions enjoying a good Flens beer: BamBam and CoCo (brown)

Christmas Market Tour 2015: Gotha

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Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall). Photos taken in December 2015

The last stop on this year’s Christmas market tour takes us 70 kilometers east through the heart of the German state of Thuringia to the small town of Gotha. With a population of 44,000 inhabitants, the city, located between Erfurt and Eisenach may look appalling at first when getting off the train at the station.

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Gotha Railway Station with its bland modernized facade and dilapidated columns at Bahnhofsplatz

 

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Inside Gotha Railway Station with scenes from the 1980s.

 

Plus a quarter of the buildings in the city may appear run down, like this former publishing house:

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The Printing and Publishing House on Lutherstrasse.

Don’t let that scare you. 😉  Speaking from experience with other German cities, you cannot judge one just by the train station alone. One has to go further to see what it really looks like from the inside. 🙂  When walking or even biking towards the city center, you can see that  Gotha’s architecture, much of which originated from the days of the Renaissance and the Reformation have been intact. Only a small fraction of the buildings were damaged or destroyed in World War II, including the railway station. Another small fraction was neglected by the East German Socialist government during the Cold War, most of which have been restored since 1990.

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Belini im Ratskellar at Hauptmarkt/Rathaus

 

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Friedenstein Palace Complex

Gotha’s cityscape features not only a mixture of old and new buildings, but also seven- count them- SEVEN palaces located in and around the city center! :-O  The most notable ones are the Friedenstein Castle and the Friedenstein Towers, located on the hill overlooking the city to the north. Built in 1643, the palace was part of the duchy of Saxe-Gotha (later annexing Coburg) which ruled Gotha until Germany’s defeat in World War I. Ernest Pios of Saxe-Gotha founded the duchy three years earlier.  But apart from that, many of the historic buildings in Gotha that are still standing come from this time period, including the Historic Town Hall (built in 1574 and has still been used since 1665), the Ekhof Theater (built in the 17th Century and is the lone theater left that uses the original stage machinery), St. Margaret’s Church at Neumarkt (built in 1543) and one of the youngest from the era, the Insurance Museum at Bahnhofstrasse (built in 1820 and was the site of the Gothaer Insurance Company. Now a combination museum and labor court).

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Insurance Museum (1820)- site of the Gothaer Insurance Company

 

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St. Margaret’s Church at Neumarkt (1543)

But beyond the history, the insurance and even the distillery Gotano, which produces wermouth for the region, Gotha’s Christmas market provides tourists with a bunch of surprises that will keep them in the city for longer than planned.  When looking at the market itself, consisting of three different markets at Butterplatz, Neumarkt and Hauptmarkt/Rathaus, and by viewing the shopping areas in the background, one could say that the markets are nothing spectacular. Just typical small-town markets that come and go every weekend.

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Hauptmarkt

Guess again! 🙂

Each of the markets has at least one unique feature that one should visit while visiting Gotha. For instance, looking at Butterplatz, the place is flanked with two pubs but its main attraction is the Medieval theater, where plays and concerts are performed every evening and people can enjoy food directly from that period. It does serve as competition to the pubs, especially the Irish Pub, which is behind the stage, however people staying there can still enjoy the music and other performances while drinking their Snake Eyes and Newcastle Ale.

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Gothaer Schwibbogen at Hauptmarkt

The Hauptmarkt has their display of items in front of the historic town hall. The first impression of the market is that only small rows of red huts with eateries and mulled wine (Glühwein) make this a pure open-air restaurant. However, there is more to it than just that. This open-air site features the largest Schwibbogen in the world, as seen in the picture above, where visitors can walk in and enjoy a hot drink and a meal in the glass covered facility. The Schwibbogen is eight meters high, 13 meters long and 5 meters wide, providing 65 places for visitors to eat and drink. Opposite the place is the stage where cooking contests with prominent celebrities take place on weekends, competing with various German TV cooking shows that are broadcasted on frequent occasion. Adjacent to the Schwipbogen is a piece of artwork worth seeing. A manger set was created by Rüdiger Noldin and his friends depicts life-size figures of Baby Jesus, his parents Joseph and Mary and the animal figures, all woodcarved using chainsaws. The artwork is remarkable as the details are carved out, lookig like the real scene.

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And if you are tired of seeing the red-colored huts with the eateries, you can also purchase souvenirs typical of the town and region at the  Gotha Adelt. While not part of the market scene, it is highly recommended if you are looking for items for your loved ones that don’t represent the typical items found in a grocery store or bookshop, like mustard, local beer, Gotano wermouth, liquour, oil and spices, books on the history of Gotha and/or its palaces, refrigerator magnets and the like.

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Despite what the Hauptmarkt offered on the north side of town hall, I wished that there were more huts and small shops featured on the south side. Between the town hall and the Friedenstein palace along the former Leina Canal, there is a vast amount of space that is open and could potentially be filled for the holiday occasion. Why this space was not utilised is unknown but the area where the Leina Fountain in front of the Palace is located provides a splendid view of the buildings alongside the streets, leading directly up to the town hall. Looking at the picture below, could you imagine what the area woould look like if the Christmas market extended to here and not stopped in front of the town hall on the north side? 🙂

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Thinking about that while leaving Hauptmarkt, we head to the last market square, which is Neumarkt. Surrounded by a mix of historic and modern buildings, the market features a backdrop in the St. Margaret’s Church, which looks splendid at night. However the largest of the huts at the Christmas market are located here. This includes the bumper car  hut and this interesting place- a two-story hut that is a restaurant serving local specialties of venecin and wild boar and many varieties of hot drinks. At 7.5 meters high, 15 meters long and eight meters wide, Weisheit’s Schlossmühle, which is the only one known to the German Christmas market scene, can house up to 200 guest.

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Weisheit’s Schlossmühle

 

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Bumper car rink with the church in the background

But what stands out the most at this market place are the various foods that a person can try. It is a well-known fact that the Christmas market in Gotha is laden with stands serving Thuringian Bratwurst and its various sorts. The origin of the bratwurst and why they are very popular all over Europe is one to be written at another time. However another meat product worth trying is the Grillschinken, known as the grilled ham slices. The pork products are grilled on a rotating spit, similar to the one used for döner kebaps, which is typical in Germany. Slices are taken off and with the fixings (onions, barbeque sauce and cheese), become a tasty sandwich. 😀

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Having that together with the Erdbeerkönigin, a hot drink mix consisting of strawberry liquour and honey met liquour, it is very hearty and one that puts a crown on a couple hours exploring the market and purchasing last-minute items before Christmas. By the way, the Erdbeerkönigen drink can be bought at the honey stand, where other honey liquours and other honey products (spreads, candles, candies and bars) are available for purchase at the corner of the church.

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Honey stand. 

Given its location in the flat agricultural landscape, the Christmas market in Gotha is best described as one that features unique huts with a historic background, offering local goods coming from local farms which can attract the visitors, providing them with a chance to taste everything. And while everyone is familiar with the Thuringian Bratwurst, Gotha’s products, which one can rarely find, clearly depicts what the town has to offer to the people, when visiting the town. And it is a good thing too, after going through seven palaces and dozens of Renaisance-style buildings, one can use a break by trying something that is not typical for Germany but one for Gotha.

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As observed in my visit, Gotha has a lot to offer with the Christmas market, especially given its setting, and it definitely plays down the firsthand impressions of the city, as mentioned at the beginning. There are towns that deserve to be ignored because they are too modern or too dilapidated and unappealing. Then there are towns like Gotha, where going beyond the run-down train station, one can see some jewels of the town just by going 100 meters away from the station. When you see that, keep going. Chances are very likely that more will be found, and with that, more information on the history and culture of the town. So keep looking and start exploring.  A lesson learned for the trip home by train……

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Heading home on the ICE-Train from Gotha Railway Station.

 

Author’s note: This sums up this year’s tour of the Christmas markets in Germany. If you want to view the other Christmas markets, please click here and you will find a list of Christmas markets visited since 2011. If you know of a Christmas market the author should visit next year or in the future, please use the contact form and mention this. Chances are, the author will have a look at it and take whatever suggestion you give him. Many thanks and wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 😀

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Christmas Market Tour 2015: Leipzig

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How long does a person take to walk from a major train station to the nearest Christmas market? Let alone bike there? And if you had a long waiting period for the next train, would the Christmas market be worth the visit?  In the case of the Christmas market in Leipzig, located in western Saxony near the border to Saxony-Anhalt, it would not take long at all: five minutes by foot, not even two minutes by bike, and the visit is worth the layover! 🙂  While having a layover at Leipzig Central Station awaiting a train connection, I figured an hour or two at the Christmas market would kill the time needed before moving onto my final destination. Sure, one can see some booths and stores in the station shopping mall, let alone look at seven generations of trains arriving and departing the station platforms…..

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Station Shopping Mall at Leipzig Hbf.
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Two vintage trains- a locomotive and a passenger train- from two different generations on Platform 24 at Leipzig Hbf.

…..the question is would you make haste and see something new from the market or twittle your thumbs for an hour? I wouldn’t. So I left the historic Central Station building- well decorated, even at night, and decided to take a look.

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Leipzig Hbf. (Central Station) at night.

Two minutes later, thanks to my bike companion Galloping Gertie, I was at the first stop at the market: Nikolaikirchhof, where two rows of huts and lots of space to explore can be found next to the church. While rows of huts have mainly eateries and some items traditional of the German Christmas markets, such as candles, Christmas pyramids, hand-made clothing, etc., the setting takes a person back 25 years. The St. Nicholas Church, built in 1165 but rebuilt in the 17th and 18th Centuries, was the site of the famous Monday demonstrations, which took place from 1988, until the Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. The demonstrations continued beyond that until the two Germanys were reunited on 3 October, 1990.  Markers indicating events that occurred during that time can be found throughout much of Leipzig’s City Center near the church as well as along some of the major streets.

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St.Nicholas Church with the huts in the foreground.
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Nikolaikirchhof

Before going further, the Leipzig Christmas market is perhaps one of the most centrally located markets in Germany. It features five markets located inside the ring that surrounds the city center. A map of the market provides you with a background on how centralized the market is (click here).  One will find the markets at Nikolaiplatz, Augustusplatz, Salzgässchen, Grimmaische Strasse and Petersstrasse- all of them  are interconnected. If one was to walk through all of the markets from north to south, or even east to west, without even stopping at any of the stands, one would need at the very most an hour.

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Huss incense cones/oven stand at Petersstrasse

But when you see booths, like this one- an original incense oven where the incense cone in a pan is warmed up with a tea light, coming from the Ore Mountain region- it would be a sin to not visit them.  While one may find them at smaller Christmas markets in the Ore Mountain regions, the Huss stand on Peterstrasse, which sells incense ovens and candles, is one that is a must-see. Located in Sehmatal-Neudorf, the company, founded by Jürgen Huss, has been producing incense cones and ovens for over 85 years and has many commercials on how to have an enjoyable Christmas, like this one:

 

You can find more episodes here.

But of course, it is along the same street where one can find the St. Marienthal booth, where one can purchase a local microbrew and other local goods, with proceeds going to the church and its activities. The microbrew comes in regular and dark, both having a rather herbal taste. A fruit mulled wine (Glühwein) stand is also located a couple huts away towards the Market Place where one can try various flavored mulled wine, locally made.  And while the row of huts along the street end after 300 meters, one should marvel at the architecture of the city center, as countless restored buildings can be found not only along this street, but in many areas of Leipzig’s city center. This includes the Deutsche Bank building, which was built at about the same time as the bank’s founding in 1872.

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Going north, to the market at Marktplatz, one can assume that with the setting: a Christmas tree with a manger set with rows of huts with unifor colors of acorn brown in front of the town hall, the scenery is typical of the Christmas market in Germany.

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Guess again!

This part of the market in Leipzig is not only the fanciest in terms of design but also the most multi-cultural and perhaps the healthiest and most natural of the markets in the city. Fanciest because of the huts being decorated with garland, connected with green arch settings making it look like a person was walking through a green tunnel looking at finest products.

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But the multi-cultural part comes from the various stands selling goods originating from France, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Austria, Ukraine, Iceland, Scandanavia and parts of Africa. Much of which has to do with food, such as fudge, licorice or even the Galette- a cross between La Croque Madame and Crepes. Made of buckwheat dough, one can choose his topping, such as eggs, rucola, cheese or other vegetables, before folding the crepes dough into four corners as seen below:

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The French saleswoman, knowing that I was American by my accent and that I was a writer, convinced me to try it.  All I can say is, healthy and highly recommended if one digs French specialties and healthy foods. 🙂 ❤

And while the market is also the hub for various types of hand-bread and stollen, mostly made from Dresden (although based on the popular recipe and not that of Naumburg’s), one section of the market that is a must-see are the healthy natural products…..

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….and they do not necessarily refer to the corn on the cob, as I saw entering the Markt from Grimmaische Strasse. Nor odes it only refer to the fruit and vegetable stand. It refers to the organic and home-grown products. This is where Fairgourmet comes in. Located on the northwest side of the market, Fairgourmet has its headquarters in the western suburb of Leipzig, but its main focus is selling only products produced locally. This includes a wide selection of spices and beverages. However their specialty is selling the unknown products that one normally does not see at other markets. This includes stollen in a glass jar, jams with bergamot and quitten flavors, and even bread spreads with various vegetables, such as red beet, orange and pepper, shalotte, pumpkin and ginger, or even parsley, apple and mustard. One will not see these spreads on the table during a traditional German cold-plate dinner, but they are worth a try- and a perfect gift idea. ❤ ❤

The lone caveat with this market is its narrowness of the rows going between the huts, thus making it difficult to look at the places at night because of the mass of people. This is speaking from experience visiting the market both in the afternoon as well as the evening of the same day. Therefore, it is recommended to see the market and shop for the product in the daytime to keep the flow going. If compared with the other sections, especially the one at Augustusplatz, the one at Markt is probably the crowdest at night, except at the eastern entrance where the tree and manger set are located. There one can find a nearly life-size set made of metal, with the depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ, all under the Christmas. It is a site to see, even among the children.

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Moving away from the market along Grimmaische Strasse, one will see a row of huts dividing the street into two parts, allowing for passage  in either direction. There one will find mostly goods from the region in Saxony and Thuringia, including the bratwurst, Glühwein, Glühbier (mulled beer) and Baumkuchen, a cylinder layer cake resembling a tree trunk. One stand in particular that sells this is one located in Zschopau, where local Baumkuchen of many types and size can be found there.

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One can also see a similar setting along Salzgässchen, where many stands selling local pastries, roasted nuts and the like can be found, together with a double-decker carousel and a Ferris Wheel- and this in addition to the cafès and restaurants found along this stretch.  Finally, there is the largest of the five markets- Augustusplatz, where a combination of amusement, fairy tales from the Grimm Brothers, and Finnish folklore meet, providing entertainment for visitors of all ages. Featuring the largest Ferris Wheel at the market, Augustusplatz has a great background setting, as the market is in front of the Opera House. One can see the market from the opposite end of the market along Grimmaische Strasse. It may take 10 minutes by foot, but the stay is well worth it. 🙂l24

Inspite of the maze of historic architecture the city center features, the Christmas market in Leipzig combines localities, history, culture and delicious delicacies, into one, placing them all inside the ring and making them really accessible. It is a market that is pleasing to the tourists because of rows of huts against the backdrop of historic buildings, and from my visit, very convenient to get to. Everything that is typical of the city is inside the ring encircling the city center, thus making the market the place to see. A word of advice to the next traveler passing through Leipzig having a long layover: If you have an hour to spare, visit the city and its historic city center. Especially during Christmas one should take the time to visit the city’s Christmas markets. Believe me, an hour layover in Leipzig exploring the city center is better than waiting at the train station. That is, unless you want to see ICE’s arriving and leaving on the Neubaustrecke Leipzig-Erfurt, that is…. 😉

Information on the new line can be found in the Newsflyer here.

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The author would like to thank the crew at the newspaper Leipziger Glocal for providing some further tips regarding places to visit at the Leipzig Christmas market. To subscribe to the Glocal for further news coverage in and around Leipzig in the English language, click here.

Also useful is a website on Leipzig’s food culture, the Leipziger Lebensmittelpunkt. While much of the article has to do with Leipzig’s local specialties and other foods from different countries, this blog provides you with a look at that plus many current event themes affecting Leipzig, all of which in German. More here and you can subscribe as well.

Apart from the architectural scene, one can look at the art scene in Leipzig by clicking here.

And lastly, there are more photos of the Christmas market taken by the author, which you can see on the Files’ facebook page. Click here to have a look. 🙂

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Christmas Market Tour 2015: Naumburg (Saale)

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Naumburg (Saale), located in the southern part of Saxony-Anhalt between Leipzig and Weimar, has many unique features that are overlooked many times by tourists travelling thriough Germany. The town of 22,000 inhabitants has a cathedral (Naumburger Dom) destined to become a UNESCO site. Its historic city center, laden with houses dating back to the Baroque period, is located in the river valley where the Saale and Unstrut Rivers meet. It is in that region where one can find a pair of castles and one of the largest vineyards in Germany. The brand of its sect is named after Little Red Ridinghood (Rotkäppchen). Going west to Bad Kösen, a health spa and museum dedicated to Käthe Kruse dolls will attract a tourist wanting a quiet two weeks off, in addition to biking the Saale and Unstrut bike trails. Until most recently, it was a major junction for Fernverkehr (long distance trains) on the East-West axis Dresden/Leipzig- Frankfurt and the North-South axis Berlin-Munich.

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The Regio-Train arriving at Naumburg Station: Now almost exclusively the Regio-bahn Station after its main meeting point for Fernverkehr was shifted to Erfurt.

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Then there is the Christmas market.  Small and located in one place, the Marktplatz, one needs 10 minutes by bike (as the author tried) or by bus, getting there is a maze, and when arriving there, one would only see this and be disappointed…..

If you are a typical Glühwein drinker, this would be the place to try the local specialties and the mulled wine, ride the carousel, have your kids do artwork at the Gingerbread House and then leave after an hour.

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Some of you are probably asking the author: “Mr. Smith, what caused you to stop at Naumburg instead of visiting the markets in Leipzig, Erfurt, Eisenach or even at bigger more popular towns.”  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: “Nichts leichter als das…..”

CONTINUE READING BY CLICKING HERE. IF YOU THINK THE DRESDNER STOLLEN IS THE OLDEST KNOWN STOLLEN ON RECORD, BE PREPARED FOR A BIG TIME SURPRISE!!! 🙂

 

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