As I write this we have just hit mid-winter in NZ, its July and it’s getting pretty chilly. One of the things that frustrates me at this time of year is that unless you’re a rugby player, a big ski or snowboard buff or plan lots of house parties there’s not a heap to do during our wintertime. It’s not time to celebrate Christmas or New Year’s, there’s no public holidays until October and besides winter sport events like the Queenstown Winterfest down south or the Ohakune Mardi Gras in the North Island there’s not really any big festivals or events on elsewhere in the country.
Later in the year when it does come time for end of year celebrations we’re all so busy thinking about getting outside and getting a tan before our upcoming summer holidays. And while a summertime Christmas, where you have a BBQ in the backyard or Christmas on the beach is a unique experience, for those of us from the Southern Hemisphere experiencing Christmas at wintertime (especially a white Christmas) is something really special. But whether you live north or south of the equator if you’re heading abroad for the silly season where is the best place to go? Well my vote for the ultimate Christmas destination goes to Germany!
Ok I’ll admit it: when I first started travelling overseas Germany wasn’t anywhere near the top of my travel list, in fact, it probably wasn’t even in my top 10. Eight years ago if you had asked me the places I most wanted to visit I would have said something along the lines of France, Belgium, Quebec, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal… no Deutschland in sight! I’ve always had a huge interest in anywhere that is Francophone as well as anywhere in Mediterranean Europe, but as I started to cross these places off my list (you can check out where I’ve been so far here: ) I became more and more excited at the prospect of visiting other far flung destinations and after spending a month in Germany in December of 2013, I will forever be nostalgic about Germany at Christmastime!
Near the end of my time at University in NZ I did an honours year studying the European Union and someone from my department mentioned that there were some great travel opportunities available through the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service https://www.daad.de/en/ ) I jumped at the chance and applied to do a 3 week course on European Integration, with a bunch of other Kiwi and Aussie students in a small village in Germany called Oztenhausen.
Prior to that I had been working hard all through my 4 years at Uni doing part time jobs and saving my moolah because I wanted to make it back to Europe as soon as possible. Seeing my studies were winding up the course in Oztenhausen was the perfect excuse to plan a big round the world trip before I started looking for a big kid job! I made it to a few other countries in the same trip but I will resist the temptation to tell you about them this time and just focus on Germany.
I can’t really pinpoint why it wasn’t the place I was most excited about, maybe it’s because nothing about Germany really jumped out as me but I was wrong to not make it there sooner because Europe’s largest country unequivocally charmed me. Not only are there breath-taking castles, moody forests and amazing cities, in December Deutchsland is also home to the Weinachsmarkt or traditional Christmas market.
Yuletide markets are a big tradition in most European countries but they all originated in Germany, where they’re an absolute institution for the 4 weeks of advent leading up to Christmas. They’re not just a place to you go to buy presents or food but a veritable smorgasbord of the best bits of German culture and cuisine.
While I was over there I managed to fit in visiting some German friends in Frankfurt, Darmstadt and Freiburg and as part of the course, in between classwork and listening to various speakers, we got to visit a few other towns and cities in Western Germany like Bonn and Trier. Each place I went the Weinachsmarkt (or Christkindlesmarkt or Adventsmarkt or whatever you want to call it) was the most animated part of town and the highlight of everyone’s social calendar and I happily joined in the festivities!
The star of Weinachsmarkt beverages is without a doubt Gluhwein or mulled wine and boy when it’s cold it goes down a treat! You can get red wine gluhwein or white gluhwein and each version will be slightly different depending on what spices are used to flavour it. Think sugar, cinnamon, cloves and orange wedges… it is lip smackingly good!
You can also get hot apple cider with similar flavour infusions along with non-alcoholic hot drinks. And there’s no wasteful throwaway cups either, you pay a small bond and get served your drink in a limited edition mug with the name and year of each market on it. If you want a cute souvenir you can keep it or if, like me, your suitcase was too heavy already you can just return the cup and get your bond back.
Then you have the amazing array of food stalls, and while Germany may not always be associated with haute cuisine, the Weinachsmarkt is the best place to sample local favourites as well as hot food from other parts of Europe. From the savoury side of the spectrum; wurst (sausages of all different types) and reibekuchen (potato cakes dipped in apple sauce) to the sweet lebkuchen (gingerbread) and stollen (Christmas cake.) And depending on where you are exactly you can also find Swiss cheese fondue, Hungarian lángos (fried flatbread) and Dutch poffertjes (small fluffy pancakes) and the list goes on!
Lastly along with the food and drink there are carol singers, nativity scenes, joyrides for the children and amazing craft, art and homeware stalls, all very tastefully decorated for the season with paper lanterns, green wreaths, red bows, coloured ornaments and twinkling Christmas lights. That means no shortage of places to get some original and authentic Christmas gifts for the rellies and find some cute souvenirs to take home with you, so make sure you leave some room in that suitcase!
Take my word for it, Germany in December is simply magical, just as Christmastime should be!