If anywhere in Europe does Christmas right, it’s Germany. Those of you who know me know that I love Christmas. Maybe it’s because I’m a December baby or because growing up in Texas, I always yearned for colder weather and the picturesque white Christmas, but I love it. I start celebrating the red and green holiday with the American retail stores…before Halloween. So, when Jeff showed me pictures of Munich at Christmas with all of their markets and lights, I was ecstatic. Jeff booked us tickets and off we went to spend our American Thanksgiving with thousands of other Christmas-lovers and shoppers.
We picked a lovely place to stay again using our favorite AirBnB, south west of the city in Ebenhausen-Schaftlarn. It was quite a commute from everywhere we wanted to go, but the place was spectacular and worth it. Well, it was worth it until it was a mile hike from the place to the train station and every single day of our stay it was 33 degrees and so misty, you couldn’t see more than 100 yards in front of you.
We arrived to the cabin about 1p and immediately took advantage of the rest of the day and headed to Dachau, the prototype concentration camp built in 1933. The day was so grey and fogged over, the mood was set for us to see it. Dachau was built as a model to see how the bunker layout would work as a labor camp, but also to determine how many people could be housed. Only later did it turn into a concentration camp for the Jewish community. It was originally built with 6,000 people in mind, but it wound up housing up to 30,000 with no additional bunkers or space.
Jeff and I were freezing cold in the wind, and we had jackets, scarves and gloves. I could not imagine how it would have been under the circumstances of no to little clothing and zero insulation in the bunkers. I realize the cold was just one of their many worries though.
Dachau also did have two crematoriums. The small one with only two ovens was in constant use, but there was a new structure that was fitted with four ovens that were never used. It was built too late into the war, but despite that, there are 32,000 documented deaths that occurred at the camp not to mention the thousands that were not documented.
We were able to walk around the full bunker campus, but we did not have time to see the entire property including the memorial path. We had arrived too late, so when visiting, bargain for about three hours. We also had to cut our time in the museum portion down. However, the museum was not nearly as interesting as walking around the property. The audio guide was €3.50 each which we didn’t feel bad about since the park itself is free to the public and it was full of information.
There is one bunker reconstruction that stands to show how housing was re-purposed throughout the years. It was pretty incredible to see how housing went from bad to worse. I didn’t realize it could have gotten any worse than it was in 1933, but by the time 1944 came around, I’m surprised anyone could breathe in those conditions let alone live.
We left Dachau and headed back into the main plaza or Marienplatz in central Munich via the train. Jeff said my face went through a complete transformation as soon as I saw my first string of Christmas lights. There was a giant tree just in front of the Rathaus or New Town Hall and dozens of wooden cabin like structures that were selling ornaments, crepes, and gluwein or mulled wine, which turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever had.
A quick bit of trivia about the beautiful Rathaus. It was built between 1867 and 1908 as a Gothic revival, which is incredibly obvious from the structure. It’s just massive and overpowering with the same curves we have seen on buildings all across Europe, and it does house public restrooms…for a price of €.60 which I did not have on me. But it has about 400 rooms in the building and has the offices for the mayor. But something that makes it also a bit odd was a puppet-like display that faces the plaza. It if officially called the Rathaus-Glockenspiel that “performs” everyday at 11am, 12pm, and 5pm for tourists. We waited to see this display and it was quite underwhelming. It’s just wooden puppets that rotate in a circle. Well, it was underwhelming until I learned more about it.
The rotating puppets reenact two stories in German 16th century history. The top half is for the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhem V to Renata of Lorraine. In honor of their marriage, there was a joust in celebration. So there are knights from Bavaria and Lothringen running toward each other with Bavaria winning the joust every time.
The second half of the display is the story of the Schafflertanz or the coopers’ dance. This dance was something to keep spirits high during tough times such as the plague. Traditionally, this dance is performed every seven years in remembrance with the next one in 2019.
As we drank our mulled wine, we wandered around and soaked in the surroundings, but did finally imbibe in some bratwurst and cold potato salad from Cafe Nymphenburg Sekt, which very well may have been the best meal of our trip.
The next day, we decided to head to Nuremberg to see the opening ceremony for the Christmas markets. Their first day was November 28th, and off we went for the 3:45 hour train ride. We didn’t realize it was quite so far away or we would have started much earlier in the day. We napped through the German country side and made it around 2p.
We first went to the Nuremberg Documentation Center to see the exhibits on the Nazi Party and the Nuremberg Trails. What was also on the campus was the Nazi Parade Grounds which was like looking into a ghost town. It was incredibly eerie. The building of the Documentation Center is a part of the unfinished north wing of the Congress Hall of the former Nazi Party Rallies.
You can see some of the unfinished construction behind glass walls which was unsettling. The Nazis had such grand plans for their buildings during the war, which was details in the exhibitions. It was actually pretty extraordinary what they wanted to accomplish, but it never got completed. There was a lot of Grecian and even Egyptian influence that just fueled the madness of the dictator.
There was a small cost to get into the museum, but it did come with an audio guide. Everything was in German, so the audio guide is a must. Just as a fun fact: you get a discount on the ticket for the actual courts with your ticket to the Documentation Center. We ran out of time to see the courts because it is on the opposite side of town, so plan accordingly.
After we learned we had missed the cutoff for the courts, we meandered toward the plaza to see the famous opening ceremony for the Christmas markets. Every two years, they select a young girl to be the “Christkind” who dresses like Goldilocks on LSD and stands on the ledge of a massive church only to recite something in German with perfect diction and over-pronunciation. We were literal sardines in this plaza and were beginning to suffocate waiting for her to speak. There were people pushing and shoving including the geriatrics! One old woman actually shoved me into the man in front of me. I profusely apologized to which he accepted and then yelled at another man seconds later. It was a hostile environment all to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.
We tried roasted chestnuts only to realize they have zero to no flavor and weren’t that great. And we had our fair share of more gluwein, which was delicious. But something that I had to find and send to my parents as a gift were the famous prune people. This is something invented in the 18th century as a low budget gift for children. But now the legend of the Prune Man is “with a prune man in your house, money and happiness stay too.”
We did a little shopping and wandering around, but something to note that finding gluten free anything is rather difficult in Germany. The famous brat on a bun is out unless I just munch on the brat, which is what I wound up doing the entire trip. However, there was one stall only in Nuremberg that had gluten free gingerbread which was completely worth the €2! But I never saw anything gluten free again.
We caught the last train back to Munich and walked through the dark and mist to our cabin to rest up for the next two days in Germany! Keep reading!