A Girls Weekend- Heidelberg

After months and months, I finally was able to do my little girls’ getaway! Back in March I was supposed to go on a girl’s weekend to Prague. This was something that we had planned, booked train tickets, an Airbnb, and some things to do while we were there. Then everything shut down in Europe and we had to cancel the entire trip (and any hopes of doing any girls things at all that weekend-even locally). In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad, but it was definitely a bummer for us, and I’ve been waiting since then to be able to do a little get away. So, when a free weekend popped up, I took it and one of my best friends, Kim, and I headed out to Heidelberg.

Heidelberg is a university town in south-west Germany, right on the Neckar River. The city itself has been designated a “City of Literature” and has quite a scientific hub as well within the university. The city also serves as the site of the remains of the earliest signs of human life in Europe ( a jawbone was found in 1907 dating back 600,000-200,000 years ago). Heidelberg as a region dates back to the 5th century BC, with the Celtic people and then the Byzantine/Roman Emperor Valentinian building homes in the location. In the 1st century AD a Christian church was founded inside the Celtic Fortress, with a Monastery and Abbey being added in the 12th century.  The actual founding of Heidelberg is considered to be in 1196. Heidelberg then went through two changes of “rulers” first the house of Hohenstaufen, then the Duke of Bavaria, Ludwig I acquired the city. In 1386, Heidelberg University was founded and, finally, of the upmost importance to me, Heidelberg’s library was founded in 1421, making it the oldest (public library) in Germany. So, a lot happened in the town’s history, long before our more modern history.  

A couple other random facts about Heidelberg, before I get into what we did on our 24 hrs…

Heidelberg went through quite the religious battle (as did most of Europe at one point or another), concerning Lutheranism and Calvinism. In fact, it played a leading role in the conflict, hosting Martin Luther shortly after his Ninety-Five Theses. Heidelberg was also a key player in the beginning of the Thirty Years War, after Frederick V was overthrown in 1621 by the House of Habsburg. Heidelberg has seen several different countries invade, including Sweden and France. And, during World War 2, Heidelberg was a stronghold for the Nazi Party (the NSDAP-National Socialist German Workers Party). The local populace was very much on the side of the Nazi’s and the university served to build an amphitheater and hold rallies during Hitler’s rise. While Heidelberg wasn’t targeted by bombings or other air raid actions, the old treasure bridge was destroyed (3 arches) by Germans fleeing in March of 1945. One final note, Heidelberg has one of the largest American communities outside of the United States (and I can definitely see why), along with an overall large population of expats from around the world. 

Ok, so now that we’ve got the history of the city out of the way (seriously- that was much longer than I had originally intended), let’s talk about what we did. We basically spent 24 hours wandering the Altstadt (Old Town), just reveling in being in an old German Town. The fact that it’s home to so  much history gives it a certain…feel and we just wanted to soak that up. 

We started off at Heidelberg Castle. I’ll be doing a full castle post on it, but I’ll touch on some of the basic information in this post.

The castle was first mentioned in the early 2nd century when the Duke of Bavaria (Louis I) received it from the Hohenstaufen Emperor. From that point on, the castle became two castles, upper and lower. The Upper castle was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1537. The present castle was expanded in 1650, to then be damaged by war and fires, before another lightning bolt struck in 1764. It was incredible to walk through the walls of the castle, then along the ramparts overlooking the city, and finally just outside the main walls along the side of the complex. It has a real feel of history and tells a multitude of stories. 

From the castle, we checked into our hotel, and headed to the Old Bridge. The Old Bridge is actually the Karl Theodor Bridge, an arch bridge that crosses the Neckar River.

The current bridge is actually the ninth built and is dated back to 1788. The bridge location has a storied history (it had to have been with Heidelberg being on its’ ninth bridge) of bridges being destroyed by mother nature and wars alike. The medieval bridge gate on the Old Town side of the bridge dates back to the original town wall, however the tower helmets were added with the new stone bridge in 1788.  

A fun fact, on the gate side of the bridge there is the statue of a monkey (it’s ok if you don’t see the monkey until you read that it was a monkey- we originally thought it was a cat) which has quite the story attached.

The original monkey dates back to the 15th century and was placed within the tower to represent mockery against the tower’s representation of fear and respect. The monkey had a mirror in one hand (to encourage critical self-reflection) and his other hand on his…rear end. This was turned so that his rear end was facing across the river towards Mainz; which in turn was how the people of Heidelberg told the Bishop of Mainz that he had no power in Heidelberg. The 15th century version of an…eff you. The current bronze statue was installed in 1979 and legend says that if a visitor touches the horns, they will return to Heidelberg, the mice will provide fertility, and the mirror will provide wealth or good luck.

Our hotel was right at the Altstadt side of the bridge, so we were on it…a lot. We walked across to the other side of the Neckar and wandered down the water a bit before heading back over. We got some dinner right off the bridge and then wandered down and around the main street of the Altstadt. It was fun to just wander the streets and take in everything. 

Our final stop of our trip was a stop into the Church of the Holy Spirit, a church that dominates the main square of the Altstadt (and the steeple dominates the entire city).

The first mention of a church on this site is from the 13th  century, then in the 14th century another Gothic Church, and finally this church during the 15thcentury. The construction took around 150 years to complete, however it was interrupted for a period of time, and has been rebuilt once due to being set on fire by the French. The church did have the Palatine Library; however, the collection was taken during the Thirty Years War to the Pope and are now, on the whole (only about 885 manuscripts were returned) in a dedicated section at the Vatican Library. 

One of the things that I really liked about the church was how there was a little market set up on the direct outer walls of the church. Market stalls were set up within the walls of all different varieties, which reminded me of something straight out of a Ken Follett novel. The church itself was incredible and not what we were expecting at all. The walls and ceiling had a pink hue to them and the church itself had a simple elegance to it. 

The only thing that we did not get to do, but wanted to was walk up the Philosophers Walk. This is a walk (or hike) that offers scenic views of the old town from the opposite side of the river. It was a tradition of the philosophers and professors at the university to walk and talk along the path. If you hike a bit farther up you can see the ruins of the Monastery, the amphitheater, and the Celtic fort.

Overall though, we had such a wonderful time and I really recommend a trip over to Heidelberg. It, once again, reminded me just how much I love Germany and the German Old Towns. There is not a bad choice to make anywhere within the Altstadt and even just sitting along the river is incredibly peaceful. 

Fasching 2020

Here in Bavaria (a state within Germany) they are highly religious. Every holiday is celebrated with the appropriate parameters and one of those celebrations is Fasching, or Carnival. We experienced our first Fasching parade last year, but we were still so new that I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it much. Now, a year later I feel a bit more comfortable. I may not know all the ins and outs, but I feel a little bit more of a connection with the culture and having seen two very different parades, feel like chatting about it. This will be similar to my “Bavarian Weekend” post, in which I talk about some of the traditions of the region that we live in.

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Fasching is also known as Carnival or Fastungnacht and refers to the time leading up to Lent. In much of Germany carnival season actually starts around Epiphany (January 6, also known as Three Kings Day) and continues through to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Most parades and parties occur in February, with many being the weekend right before Ash Wednesday. Overall though, the days of carnival signify a party; a last shebang if you will before the seriousness of Lent.

Carnival occurs across Germany, as well as Switzerland, Italy, some areas of Austria, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, but other countries have also adapted Carnival to their own traditions such as Latin America, and even New Orleans’ “Mardi Gras”. It didn’t really pick up much steam in regard to the United Kingdom or United States of America due to the history of Henry VIII moving away from the church and such. The history of Carnival (or of this style of celebration) can be traced back quite a ways, but the oldest mention is somewhere in the 13th century.

Basically, it is a chance to party and enjoy life, before repenting all the sins and it is very much enjoyed by all.

Last year we attended a small-town Fasching Parade which consisted mostly of very small floats being pulled by small tractors or by hand. All of the floats usually had some parody of local and international politics. All of the floats (whether about politics or not) all reflected what was trending in the world at the time of the parade or within the last year. For example, there was a cart referencing the Border Wall from last year. When attending a Fasching Parade or Event (they have balls and other parties as well), it is expected that you dress up. For the parade it is a chance to dress up in a costume of your favorite character and there is candy tossed for the kids, shots of alcohol for the adults.

So, last year’s small-town parade was a really nice introduction to the concept of carnival.

The kids got to experience the parade, load up on candy, and it wasn’t a “big production”. This year we went to a slightly bigger town (that is in fact closer to our house) and got a much bigger taste of what Fasching can actually be. We had so much fun getting swept away by the excitement of the crowd, the party atmosphere, and just the general feeling of “fun” that the Germans have when it comes to life.

At this year’s parade, we saw floats about Star Wars, Frozen, Vikings, Snow White, Coronavirus, and so much more. We collected an incredibly large amount of candy (that my kids will definitely take a year to eat), and I even got to have a shot.

The entire afternoon was set up as one big celebration and we definitely got a little swept away in the atmosphere. This year’s parade was exactly what we want when we look for these celebrations- not too small, but also not too big. There are much larger, much more well-known parades and parties that we could attend, but I like the small-town community feel of our neighboring larger towns. This is how I would recommend celebrating the Fasching or Carnival period. I say that, but I may have a larger plan for next year to attend one of the bigger ones in our area (bigger than this year), in order to experience what the larger one is like.

I don’t know if this post really went a direction that I intended it to, but I hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit more about Fasching and getting a little glimpse into some of the celebrations that we experience living here.

A Bavarian Culture Evening – December 2019

Imagine…

A cold blustery evening, the sun has set. All bundled up with your friends and family by your side, in the town square you eagerly wait for the show to begin. Everyone told you that this you had to see, for not only was the show exciting, the culture couldn’t be beat. The square gets darker and soon a low rumble begins. An announcer’s voice starts to tell the story of Krampus and St. Nick. Slowly terrifying horned creatures fill the square carrying switches and sticks, bells clanging.

This begins the Krampus show that we went to this past month.

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Krampus has been set deep in the culture here and is known just as widely as St. Nick and Santa Claus. There is a troupe of performances who dress up in costume and put on a great fire show to tell the story and activities of Krampus during the Christmas Season. Before we chat on the performance I’ll share a bit of the history of Krampus that we know.

Krampus dates back to when pre-Germanic tribes practiced paganism and originally had no relation to Christmas. Krampus is described in folklore as a half goat half demon creature and beyond dating him to pre-Germanic origins, there really isn’t much more history on Krampus. Saint Nicholas became popular around the 11-12th century, with Krampus following suit in the 16th century. During the 16th century masked devils would run around acting as nuisances opposite of the St. Nicholas displays. In modern times Krampus “flies” with St. Nicholas on December 5 punishing all the bad little boys and girls (while St. Nicholas awards the good children). Krampus has horns on the top of his head, a long tongue, a face that seems to be in a perpetual howl or evil expression, chains (as an attempt to bind him), and hooves. He typically carries a birch switch and has bells somewhere on his person.

A much darker version has Krampus kidnapping and torturing those who are bad (which is what has been picked up in America/Hollywood/Movie Producers).

There are a couple different ways to see Krampus, one is a performance (which is what we did), the second is a Krampus Run (which is something the bigger cities will hold), and the third is to run into him at a Christmas Market. The one thing they all have in common is that Krampus has no boundaries. His job is to cause havoc and mischief and he definitely succeeds at that.

When I originally heard about Krampus, I knew I wanted to go to one of the fire shows. It seemed the best way to experience the entire “effect” of Krampus. You see him both causing mischief (as the no boundaries includes the shows), but also how they work with the fire.

I’ll let the pictures from the show do most of the talking for this post, but let me just say this, if you EVER have a chance to go to a Krampus fire performance…go. It was so cool to not only see Krampus, but also see the work that they did with the fire, see the performers in their element, and feel the culture of Krampus and the Christmas Season.

He is terrifying (especially if you go up and ask for a picture- if you have any boundary issues DO NOT do this), but at the same time, there is something inherently awesome about the whole show. The troupe that we saw was Oberpfalzer Schlossteufeln e.V. and they were fantastic. They truly put on a show and they lived up to the Krampus legend.

And that was our Bavarian Cultural Evening for the Christmas season. We did combine it with attending the Christmas Market at Amberg, but the market itself was quite small so I didn’t have enough to really make a good market post on it.

Christmas Market Breakdown – Schloss Gutenek 2019

Untitled Design 22Ah, our final Christmas Market post. I have one more Christmas related post (all about Krampus!), but this is the last Christmas Market post and I have saved the best for last. Schloss Gutenek was my favorite Christmas Market that we went to this year (followed closely by Dresden) and I cannot wait to share this market with you. It’s one that I think everyone should try to go to (in the area at least). It’s one of those small but perfect markets, that weaves you through various courtyards and castle alleys. To me, it is the quintessential German Christmas Market experience. I think it rivals Thurns & Taxis in Regensburg (read about that one HERE), although I liked this one a bit better and cost wise it was a bit cheaper.

Schloss Gutenek – The Specifics

As a castle (yep a little history first…), Schloss Gutenek is first found around the 12th century, although the current set up is dated the 19th century. The property and buildings have bounced around various royal families, finally settling with the Gymnich family.

Schloss Gutenek has only been holding this Weihnachstmarkt for 10 years (so a newbie!) and it is only open during the weekends. It is actually classified as a medieval market and features not only the stalls of a Christmas market, but a tented section that has character actors and artisans making their wares. You can watch the craftsman work away to make the perfect item. There is also both camel and horse rides, as well an old-fashioned crank ride for children.

The market itself winds its way through the entire castle grounds, so you not only get to see the market, but also bits of the castle as well. I would say that most of the stalls were hand crafted or unique items, with only a couple (at the most) stalls featuring mass produced items. This particular market also had a couple of enclosed areas where you could sit and drink a beer (from Weltenburger kind of a fun bit to see after visiting the Abbey!) and enjoy your meal of snacks.

The real highlight was standing in the darkened evening with only the lights of the stalls and lamps to see, glühwein in one hand, pastry in another, with a  crackling fire in front, and Christmas Music from a live musician. It was heavenly and I just want to relive that again and again and again.

This was another market that we didn’t actually buy anything at, aside from food and drink, keeping the mug. Again though, we ate some real delights. One of the stalls had a donut selection that was incredible. Donuts here are not quite the same as they are stateside, but they are just as (if not more) delicious. Robert went for a full selection, getting a piece of each kind, while I stuck with staples- chocolate, cinnamon sugar, original, raspberry, and a fried apple chunk. It was absolutely delicious and hit all the right spots. Robert also picked up a pulled pork sandwich which contained pork that was roasted for 2 hours (you could see the spit turning) and featured a select group of spices. He said it was delicious and well worth the price.

It might be a smaller market, and not as exciting as say Dresden would be, but I found this market to be my favorite of the bunch. It was small enough to not be super overwhelming or duplicates, but not too small that you felt it wasn’t worth the time. The ambiance was incredible, and the food was spot on. Everywhere we looked was just Christmas embodied and this was just the perfect reminder that sometimes smaller and more “intimate” can be better. I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

 

Christmas Market Breakdown: Nuremberg 2019

IMG_2708Oh Nuremberg…a romantic (ish) city with quite the history, was there ever any doubt that the Christmas Market would be spectacular? I had heard several of things about this particular market (which we will get into as we go on in this post), the least of which was about just how popular the market is. We decided to visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market as a Girls Night. A train ride in (so no worries on the drinking front), a couple of drinks, a lot of shopping, and an overall good night was had by all.

 

 

 

 

To start with…The Basics

Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is one of the oldest markets in Germany’s history, dating back to the 16thCentury! It also has several traditions, including a post war prologue for the Christkind, the food and drink offered at the market, even the stalls are the old-fashioned striped roof stalls. The market itself is open from 11/29/2019-12/24/2019 from 10AM to 9PM. While we didn’t experience the crowds (we went on a Thursday night that had wacky weather all day), I would recommend getting there right when it opens if you are going with young children or a larger family.

Nuremberg Specifics

Basically, Nuremberg has one main market with a couple of smaller off shoot markets. The market is in their Old Town Square with Frauenkirche and the Rathaus as a backdrop and The Beautiful Fountain on the outskirts of the market. It’s very compact in this main square as there are around 165 stalls total in the main Christkindlmarkt. You can see how it could become very packed full of people very quickly, but we got incredibly lucky and didn’t have any crowd issues. We were able to take our time walking up and down the stalls and make our purchases.

There are two other immediate market offshoots and those are the Sister Cities Market (with 22 international stalls) and the Children’s Christmas Market. Walking up just a little further will get you to the Original Regional Market, and there is also the Craftsmen’s Courtyard, which is a little closer to the train station area. There is also the Feuerzangenbowle which is the largest punch bowl in the world.

Out of the offshoots, we peaked very briefly at the Children’s Market, which features a nice number of children’s rides and we walked through the Sister Cities Market.

I would highly recommend the Sister Cities Market, not only is it really cool to see and taste different offerings from around the world, it also provided a nice little dose of home with an Atlanta booth (as well as us questioning how the rest of the world sees the States). This little market was a highlight of our time there.

Of course, one of the highlights of any Christmas Markets you attend is the food and drink and Nuremberg was no exception to that. Nuremberg is known for its Nuremberg Sausage and the 3 in a bun or Nuremberger. IMG_6927This is exactly as it sounds, 3 of the Nuremberg sausages (which are about the size of your finger) in a bun. It is actually incredibly delicious and was a highlight of our evening. We also managed to snag some Apfel Glühwein and Hot Chocolate’s. One of my friend’s got Baileys in her Hot Chocolate and said it was delicious, so that is on my list to try (it was for Nuremberg, but I ended up passing at the last minute). We also got the world famous Lebkuchen, which is a gingerbread style cookie. In my absolute honest opinion of Lebkuchen…I would like it if it didn’t have this weird papery bottom to it. If it was just the standard cookie it would be delicious as it’s quite full of the spices and flavorings.

In terms of shopping, this particular trip was hit or miss despite what my purchases say. It’s one of the disappointments that can come with the larger markets, more mass-produced products, less individual crafted items. In the case of Nuremberg, I would say that each aisle had relatively the same products (displayed differently) with only a handful of local, unique items. I did do a bit of shopping picking up an incense smoker (which ended up having quite the story behind it!), a bookmark, a ring, and a smoker house for my little German Christmas Village. I also did manage to snag two of the Christmas Market Mugs.

I do want to touch on one item that you may want to purchase, an item that is unique to the Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt…the Prune People. These are little “people” made out of prunes and walnuts (I believe). They are only at this particular market and we only saw two or three stalls devoted to them. I’ve included pictures above so you can see what they look like, but did not end up purchasing one.

On the whole we had such a wonderful time at the Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt. It’s definitely a market that you need to get to early to avoid crowds, understand that there will be a lot of heavily commercialized items, and just have very few expectations outside of a good time. I would take the train if you can and avoid trying to find parking, and then walk from the main train station to be able to hit all the markets (which is easily do able in a day trip). At one end of the main market there is a stairway that leads to a restaurant, but also gives you a good vantage point over the top of the square. While it wasn’t my favorite of all the markets we’ve been to so far, it definitely ranks somewhere in the Top 5.

Christmas Market Breakdown: Regensburg 2019

Regensburg is the nearest “big city” to our location and also happened to be the first Christmas Market we went to this year. We started at one there, headed to Prague, and then visited two more when we came back into town. Regensburg is one of those great cities that just seems to meld the Old-World European Charm with modern convenience and {some} buildings. Its old town is such a great place to walk through and has provided a lot of fun for us.

To start with…The Basics

As always, Christmas Markets are a great way to get in the Christmas Spirit, to try new foods/pastries, drinks, and other fun items. It’s a good option when shopping for Christmas Gifts and fun little keepsakes of your time in Europe.

Regensburg has one large popular market and then several smaller markets (I am finding 4 total markets). The largest one is the Romantic Christmas Market at the Thurns & Taxis Palace and then they also offer a Traditional Christmas Market in the Neupfarrplatz Market. They are all within a walkable distance of each other and walking through Old Town Regensburg to get to each is a treat in itself.

This year (and typical years) they open around the last week of November and close right before Christmas. Something to keep in mind, the markets that open earlier (than the 30th of November), will be closed for Silent Sunday, a holiday in Germany.

Regensburg Specifics

My quick tip is in regard to parking. I would recommend heading out early in the day and parking at the Regensburg Aracaden. This is a larger shopping mall that connects to the train station and then the Old Town area of Regensburg. It is walking distance to all of the markets and the parking cost is not terrible. You can pay for an all-day ticket (Tages Ticket) and leave your car without fearing it on the streets. They have both underground and above ground parking.

Regensburg Christkindlmarkt:

In terms of Christmas Markets, this one is a fairly small one, taking place on a little market square in the Old Town area of Regensburg. There is really only one loop, and about three kids rides so it will only take about an hour to work through. The vendors are all craftsman, with only one that I saw displaying more of the commercialized items. They had plenty of drink stations and a couple different mug selections to choose from.  If you are wanting to do this market, I would do it in addition to spending a morning wandering around Regensburg and taking in the sights OR in addition to the other markets. The Christkindlmarkt is not big enough to warrant a large amount of time, just a quick wander as you enjoy your hot beverage of choice (at this market mine was Hot Chocolate- delicious!). This market is open 11/25/2019-12/23/2019.

SpitalGarden Advent Market:

This one is probably the cutest, quaintest little Christmas Market, featuring all local craftsman, a photo booth for little kids and live music. It’s located in a beer garden right on the Donau River and each weekend is themed with different mottos. This particular market is only open on the weekends (and Friday late afternoon/evening), so keep that in mind with your planning. I will say, it is very tight spaces, so I would get there early to beat the rush if you can. Otherwise, this market is just so much fun and you can’t beat the view. This particular market is open Wednesdays through Sundays 11/28/201-12/23/2019 with varying hours.

Thurns and Taxis Weinachtsmarkt:

This is the Romantic Christmas Market of Regensburg. Set in the courtyard of the Thurns & Taxis Palace it is probably the biggest of all the Regensburg Markets. It also offers various themes as the month goes on. An important note about the Thurns & Taxis market is that there is a charge to get in to the market, and it increases on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. HOWEVER, this is totally worth it as it was one of my favorite markets so far. It’s not huge, but there is just something really magical about going to a Christmas Market in a palace courtyard. The decorations were perfect, it didn’t feel crowded (though it was), the booths were full of a wide variety of goods and food. PLUS, they had my favorite drink as of this post. We treated Thurns & Taxis as a date night (and it makes for quite a romantic date night) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Make sure you at least set aside an hour or two to just fully wander and bask in all the festivity. This market is open 11/22/2019-12/23/2019, but closed 11/24 for Silent Sunday.

In terms of what I ate, at the Christkindlmarkt, I had hot chocolate, glühwein, and a trdelnik. The glühwein was delicious, not too sweet and not as spice filled as I’ve had before. I also picked up some Apfel Glühwein (it was called something different, but I can’t remember right off the top of my head), that was absolutely delicious. Easily topped the regular glühwein and it made me want to try some other flavors as well.

 

I didn’t do a whole bunch of shopping in this go around of markets. I only picked up a couple of things for my little village and our tree, two gnomes (who the boys have named Gnome-y and Monty?), a little wooden person, and a wooden Regensburg Ornament. I, of course, picked up a glühwein mug each time we went, two at the Christkindlmarkt and one at Thurns & Taxis. I think at the end of the market season, I’ll put a post up of all the mugs together so you can take a little look see.

 

So, on the whole Regensburg has good “introductory” markets. They give you a little taste of what the Christmas Markets are like and the atmosphere is top notch. Quite honestly, all three that we went to are definitely doable in a day. It’s hard to say where to start and stop as I think that Thurns & Taxis should be an evening event…SO, start towards the end of the day (opening hours) at SpitalGarden, then head to the Christkindlmarkt, and end at Thurns & Taxis. I would eat and drink mostly at Thurns & Taxis.

 

And that is my Christmas Market Breakdown for Regensburg. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know…Have you been? What are your thoughts?

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – An Overnight Trip

It is probably one of the most frequently recommended stops in our area of Germany (and really Germany as a whole) and we finally got to experience the charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the middle of November.

Let’s start with a little history of the town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (I’ll be shortening this down to Rothenburg o.d.T, but you want to be sure you are indicating the full city name in order to find it on a map as there are several different Rothenburg’s and Rothenberg’s in the country) dates it’s history back to the Celts around the 1st century. However, most of what you will find in Rothenburg o.d.T today dates back to around the 18th century (more on that in a minute- it’s a fun legend!). Around the 13th century Rothenburg o.d.T was granted Free Imperial City status, which allowed the city to charge a toll on all those who passed through the city itself. This allowed the city to become quite prosperous and grow rapidly as Rothenburg o.d.T. is pretty well located for pilgrims and travelers. At one-point Rothenburg o.d.T. was one of the larger cities in the country.

The downfall of Rothenburg o.d.T. came during the Thirty Years War (to narrow that down, we are looking at 1631). The walled city was taken under siege by the Protestant County of Tilly. They quickly fell and the Count of Tilly’s troops quickly gained access to the city. Town legend says that when the Count demanded the councilmen’s deaths and the city burned to the ground, the councilmen made a bargain- if one of the councilmen could drink 3 ¼ liters of wine in one go, Tilly would spare them all. The mayor succeeded in doing this and the Count’s men withdrew from the city that winter. At this point, the city was left nearly empty and when the bubonic plague came in 1634 it wiped out most of the remaining townsfolk. That is why Rothenburg o.d.T. remains in the state it is.

Rothenburg o.d.T. played quite a role during the Nazi era both being given the title “ The epitome of the German Hometown” and being listed as a regular day retreat for members of the Kraft durch Freude (a Nazi organization). Rothenburg expelled all of its Jews in the late 1930’s and became a “poster town” for what Hitler and the Nazi party wanted Germany to look like. Rothenburg survived untouched for the majority of World War Two, until the last couple of weeks when Allied Bombers dropped bombs on the town destroying a total of 321 buildings and killing 37 people. Hitler had ordered all of his troops to continue to fight to the end, but the troops at Rothenburg decided to defy the order, meeting with American Soldiers in an attempt to save what was not already destroyed in the town.

Rothenburg o.d.T. has played a lot of roles in the film and book industry, being the inspiration for the town of Pinocchio, was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, small bits in Harry Potter, as well as many more. Rothenburg o.d.T. is also widely known for its Christmas spirit and Christmas Markets. This past trip was a little too early to attend the market, BUT we will be heading back for the market, so stay tuned for that upcoming post. They were getting everything prepped, putting up the shop decorations and stalls, as well as Christmas Tree’s all around.

And that concludes today’s history lesson ha-ha. (Information sourced from rothenburg.de and the town itself) I didn’t mean to include so much, but it is just incredibly fascinating to look at all of the history of the places that we are visiting. It’s not only so vast, but full of so much turmoil. I hope that you enjoy getting to hear not only about our trips, but also about the history that we are learning during our trips.

Now on to what we actually did during our 24 hours there. We started off by walking the wall.

You are able to walk the entire wall of Rothenburg and I highly recommend that you do. It gives you not only a unique view into the city, but also a unique view into history and what it would have been like to live/man the walls during the days. It’s narrow stairs and walkways are great too, although a struggle if you have any disabilities or young children. It is still entirely possible to walk them with young children, but tread carefully. We did not walk the full length of the wall, just about a quarter of it and then we descended into the city streets.

We spent most of our time strolling along the different streets, stopping and shopping at times, taking pictures, and just reviling in the ambiance that is a quaint German town.We wandered through the Western Gate to stroll the gardens and the lower part of the outer wall outside the city walls.

The kids loved being able to just run around the walls and little side streets as well as see all of the older buildings.

We did stop at the famous Old Forge (Gerlachschmiede) and see the famous half-timbered half between the Rödertor and Galgentortowers. This is actually a restored version as the original was on the buildings destroyed in World War 2.

We stopped for a quick cup of tea and cappuccino at the café right off the Marktplatz. No matter where you sit in this small little café, you will have a great view of the town square and it’s the perfect little mid-afternoon stop. If you do stop here, try out the truffles as they were delicious!

We ended our day with the Night Watchmen Tour.

This tour is given twice a night (times vary due to time of year), one in English and one in German. In the olden days, at night the town was guarded by a Night Watchmen. This watchman was intended to keep the peace and watch for trouble. Without any real training or experience, they walked the streets with a horn in hand to blow should trouble arise. These days the Night Watchmen leads a tour of the city at dark with his lantern, telling stories and the history of the town. We learned quite a bit about the town as well as about Germany. A definite highlight of our time there!

We stayed the night in a hotel right off the marketplatz called Gasthof Griefen which was nice and quaint. We had both dinner and breakfast in their restaurant and the house itself is beautifully done.

What I would recommend for a trip to Rothenburg o.d.T. (as well as a couple tips). Start by parking right outside the city walls. If you are just planning a day trip, then you can park outside the wall with a day parking ticket (Tages Ticket), that costs about €5.50. There are several different parking lots outside the city of varying sizes and various entrances to the city. Each entrance has stairs to climb to get up the wall as well, so you really cannot go wrong with parking outside the city. There is parking inside the city as well, though depending on the day that you go there may or may not be any spaces available. It’s also not very easy, realistically speaking, to driving within the city walls, so parking right outside is your best option.

Once you’ve got the parking settled, I would start by walking the upper length of the wall. You can walk most of the wall this way, then descend and walk the lower ramparts. If you’ve had enough after walking the upper level, then head towards the cobblestone lined streets of the main town. Again, you can’t really go wrong as to where you start as you will see everything by the time you have finished. I personally would start at the central marktplatz with the Rathaus and Astronomical Clock. From there, wander the various streets, see the two churches, and head out the Western Town Gate to see the gardens and various overlooks. I believe you can walk all the way down to the Tauber river from this spot, which is a pretty nice hike down. There are also several museums to visit that detail the history of the justice system, a Christmas museum, a puppet museum, and a craft house that shows the everyday life of the craftsmen and the families that lived there. There are also two towers that you can climb to get the scenic views of the city (the Roedertor Tower does charge for the overlook).

Here comes the make or break part. I would highly recommend sticking around for the Night Watchmen Tour. For us, that meant staying overnight, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. The English tour starts at 8PM and goes for about an hour. The watchman is not only very well informed, he also throws in some funny jokes and tells history in a very captivating way. I waffled on whether or not we really needed to do this tour and in the end, I am very glad that we stayed to do it. By staying till 8, we also got to see the Meistertrunk scene from the astronomical clock that depicts the famous town legend of drinking the wine to save the town (even if you don’t do the Night Watchmen Tour I would still recommend at least staying to see the clock). It’s the perfect way to end the day in Rothenburg o.d.T..

And there you have it! Our 24 hours in Rothenburg o.d.T. Have you been? Do you want to visit? Stay tuned for our Christmas Market visit 🙂

I Didn’t Give Germany A Chance

Untitled Design 7When we first started tossing around the idea of moving to Germany it felt surreal. The concept of actually living in Europe wasn’t something I could have wrapped my head around. I had been to England and Scotland when I was a baby, but Europe was this distant dream that I dreamed for a long time, but never really thought would be able to be a reality.

When we got orders, it still felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had would be a reality. That we would be so blessed. The concept of being able to travel Europe, to go to all these countries was just too good to be true. Incredible. I thought of all the sights we could see, all the countries we would visit.

And I’ll be honest- I treated Germany as simply a location. A central spot that we could then travel out of. Not as a place to explore beyond a few historical landmarks. I knew about Germany, knew its history, it’s big cities, some of its culture (like Oktoberfest), and that was about it. I focused solely on EVERYWHERE else we could go, all the other things that we could see, all the dreams that would no longer be just dreams.

I now realize how much of a mistake this was.

Germany is stunning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own spots ,it doesn’t have troubles, but I definitely should have thought more about everything that we could do within its borders, rather than just looking outside the country. There is so much to see here, so many little holes in the wall spots that no one really thinks about that are just stunning. A lot of the little towns are old world quaint and each has its own history. Take Tubingen (HERE) or even Weltenburg Abbey (HERE), we had considered these both a nice little day trip, but both are so perfectly European and German, and I loved it. This was something I hadn’t really thought about when we got orders. The history here goes back much further than I had even anticipated (yep, I’m naïve) and there is a never-ending number of things to do and places to see.

And, since we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…Germany has such a way with its own history. They have quite the history here, quite the troubled past, but they’ve managed to settle with it. One of the things that has stuck with me in our time here so far is how they handle their own history. They don’t hide behind it; they don’t bring it up time and time again. They acknowledge what happened, they acknowledge the hurt and pain that was caused, they punish those responsible. They take steps to make reparations, they don’t destroy everything relating to their own history, choosing to make the most incredible memorials that I’ve seen out of the pieces. The Berlin Wall Documentation Center, The Berlin Wall, The Eastside Gallery, Dachau Concentration Camps, Nuremberg Rally Grounds, Nuremberg Court House…the list goes on. All of these places are landmarks, marking down what happened for everyone to see. They’ve made changes, they’ve learned, anyone who visits these places learns. They move forward.

We can all take a lesson from that.

Not to mention just the sheer amount of history here. In a city right near us they are excavating bodies from Roman times and have a set of Roman archways from… It’s incredible to think that some of the places that we see have that much history.

We won’t even start to get into the culture of this country. Festival season is such a fun, warm and welcoming time, not to mention the season we are about to go into…the most wonderful time of year. The way of life, the idea of a slower pace. We live in the countryside (something we’ve been wanting for a long time) and the number of animals and crops that we see daily is something else. It’s been an incredible bit of time and one that we are looking forward to continuing for the next couple of years.

I’ve found a true home in a place that I hate to admit that I discounted. I figured it would be a home base for everywhere, but we’ve really made a home here in such a short time. I won’t discount a place again.

 

A Close to Home Autumnal Weekend

We have had another one of those weekends recently where we’ve done a couple different things, each important, but not enough to warrant individual blog posts (although this one is probably pushing it). I figured I would once again, consolidate into one “long weekend” post. This is a bit longer than I would have liked, so grab a cuppa something good and snuggle in for a read.

The second weekend in October we got the chance to have a long weekend together. My husband had both Friday and Monday off of work (due to Columbus Day), but we didn’t really want to do a lot of traveling. Look, traveling is tiring and at some point you’ve got to take a little rest. I’ve mentioned this previously and have a full blog post coming up talking about it, but we decided that it was really in all of our best interests to stay close to home. We had actually originally planned a relaxing weekend, curling up at home, handling some things and just chilling.

Apparently the weather decided differently for us.

When Sunday morning hit and we were supposed to see 70 degree’s, sunshine, and not a cloud in site we made a last-minute decision to take a little trip to the Nuremberg Zoo. I’ve been wanting to go as the kids love the zoo and it’s an excellent learning opportunity for them. We also love seeing the wide variety of animals, as well as the workout that comes with walking an entire zoo with two toddlers who like to be carried off and on. We booked train tickets as that is a feasible option, a shorter train ride (about an hour for us) works best with the boys and no parking/navigation worries. The zoo itself is quite large (we saw everything there was to see and ended up walking about 6 miles), with a spacious layout. I do tend to worry sometimes about zoo’s, but I found the animals to be well cared for and have more than enough room/things to do. For the most part they were quite active, which pleased the boys to no end.

We did end up stopping for lunch within the zoo and found several things. I want to interject to say that this is the first time that we’ve eaten at a European Zoo (this is only the second we’ve been to; Berlin was the first) and I was incredibly impressed to say the least. Here’s the thing, you can order “normal” food. There isn’t pizza and hotdogs, we got Schnitzel Sandwiches and Chicken Cordon Blue. The food was served on proper plates and if you wanted to order a coffee or beer? Well you could and it would be served with the proper coffee cup and beer glass. Everywhere you could sit was clean and well maintained and people bussed their own tables when they were done. There wasn’t any trash overflowing, no massive gathering or anything. It was really refreshing and honestly, we would probably take a trip back to this zoo (it’s the closest to us) and spend another day here.

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Monday morning, we did the one thing that we had planned for all along, a river “cruise” down the Donau River to Weltenburg Abbey. This was something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but we’ve been waiting for the weather to cool and the leaves to turn before doing it. And boy, we picked the PERFECT time to do it. The leaves were at the height of the coloring, right before they all truly start to fall off and in this area there is just enough of the year-round green to make the reds/oranges/yellows to really pop.

So, a little history first. Weltenburg Abbey was founded in 600 by two monks and is the oldest monastic settlement in Bavaria. The church was originally built in the early 1700’s but went through a period of being disbanded. King Ludwig reestablished the monastery and the abbey has been in use sine 1913. One of the neat things about this Abbey is that it has a brewery as well, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It is one of the oldest monastic breweries, citing 1050 as the opening/starting date. It’s Dunkel beer has won several awards for being the best in the world, and there is a restaurant right in the Abbey courtyard where you can eat and drink the local dishes.

We took the first available cruise time, 9:30 AM. This provided us not only a relatively empty boat (seriously the second boat ride we saw come through was packed), but it afforded us the chance to see the sun peak over the hills and see the river under the soft dawn light (even though it was hours after daybreak). It was absolutely gorgeous. There are several sights to see throughout the cruise, as they talk about the history of the area. This area has ties to Napoleon and his reign, including a story about his suitcase being left behind. There are also quite a few folk lore style tales about river witches turning pretty maidens to stone, and three rock brothers fighting, then falling into the river. It is so much fun to hear about all the folklore and tales of the region and we really enjoyed that aspect. Plus, the fact that the area is gorgeous and the trip down the river was a nice smooth 40-minute boat ride.

Once we arrived at the abbey we headed in to see the museum, which contains relics from the abbey as well as a little kid’s room with hands on activities. You do have to pay for both the cruise down to the abbey and entrance to the little museum. The museum is entirely in Germany, although the very nice greeter told us you can request the movie to be played in English and they will try to accommodate. From there we headed into the church, which was easily one of the most gorgeous churches we have ever been in. It was absolutely incredible, both in overall looks and the minute details. The whole region that encompasses the abbey is able to be converted into one big hike and is absolutely gorgeous. We simply chose to hike up the smaller hill and get an overarching view into the abbey.

Since the abbey is still an active church, you are able to see the church being used by the monks at their prayer times.

IMG_0983.jpgWe then settled in for a little bite to eat and a beer a piece. I went with a lighter beer and Robert chose the Dunkel. Both were delicious. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, sitting right in the courtyard, with the sun shining and the leaves gently blowing in the breeze. Shortly after lunch we took the ferry back to Kelheim. We had one more stop still to make on this beautiful Monday.

Our final stop of the weekend was to visit Liberation Hall.

Liberation Hall was commission by King Ludwig as part of a “group” of several monuments. This particular one was intended as a memorial to victory against Napoleon. It is quite the masterpiece. On the exterior are 18 statues that are supposed to represent the various tribes of Germany (the number is also significant due to the date of the victory). The statues on the inside are the goddesses of victory holding hands for a ceremonial dance. Similarly, to Walhalla, you are able to walk around the exterior free of charge, but there is a cost to get inside. Unlike Walhalla, there is much more to the interior than meets the eyes.

By going inside you are able to not only go through the floor gallery, but you are able to go to the second gallery (same level as the statues), climb to two different “look out” points (one just below the dome, and one just below that), and then see the second “level” gallery. It was incredible and the climb to the top was definitely worth it for these views.

And that was our “close to home” weekend. Each of these places were well within a quick travel day (an hour or less) and are just beautiful spots. We would definitely re visit all three of these spots and I’d like to explore Kelheim a little more. I hope you enjoyed our weekend and seeing the sites through our eyes.

Oktoberfest 2019

It’s the event of the year, the event that everyone talks about, the event everyone mentions when talking about Germany. It’s Oktoberfest. This past week we got the chance to go to Oktoberfest and today I am going to share what that experience was like, some tips if you want to attend, as well as a little history of the festival.

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Oktoberfest originated in 1810 as a wedding celebration for Ludwig I (Crown Prince, later King) and Therese (Princess of Saxony- Hildburghausen). The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities of the wedding reception held in front of the city gates. It has since evolved into the festival you see today. From horse racing being the exciting event, to agricultural shows, amusement rides and carnival games. From Beer stands to beer tents. Fun fact: Oktoberfest has only been canceled 24 times in the 209 years it’s been around (these were only due to illness outbreaks and war).

A couple more fun facts about this year’s Oktoberfest (from the Oktoberfest website)…

There was a total of 17 beer tents, the largest tent being Hofbräu at 9,991 seats. The beer that is served comes from the six major breweries in Munich (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus). There are actually three sections to Oktoberfest: The Large Oktoberfest Grounds (Grosse Wiesn), Vintage Oktoberfest (which is actually part of the large Oktoberfest called Oide Wiesn), and the Small Oktoberfest Grounds (Kleine Wiesn). The Vintage Oktoberfest is the only part of the festival that costs money to get into.

Now onto our day at Oktoberfest…

IMG_8972.jpgTo start with, we wore our German best, our Dirndl and Lederhosen. We had gone shopping about a month back to pick out our outfits to wear not only to Oktoberfest, but to any festival that we attend. There is always a chance to wear them at festivals and picking out a good selection that fitted us properly was important. We were fitted and put together in our best by Moser and I would highly recommend them if you are up for paying a little extra to get “the real deal”.

IMG_8979.jpgGetting to Oktoberfest is super easy by train, about a 2-hour ride for us, and the train ride is already full of the brimming excitement. Having a drink or two on the train ride is completely normal during Oktoberfest and most people you see will actually have a beer in their hand while chatting with their friends. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride over.

The train dropped us right off at the main Munich Station and from there it was about a 20-minute walk to the actual fair grounds. Super easy to navigate as they have dedicated blocks/signs on the sidewalk showing you the way. There are also crowds and crowds of people heading there, so it’s hard to miss.

Once on the actual fairgrounds we headed straight for the beer tent. We were all meeting up at the Hofbrau Tent, which is the biggest, most packed tent. This year we did not have a reservation (more on that later), so we knew that the earlier we got into the tent the better chance we would have to get a seat. Luckily we were able to go right in, be seated at the table, and have our first beers in a matter of minutes.

You have a wide variety of beer (and alcohol) options, but even just the standard beer was delicious. I say this as a non-beer drinker. You are served full liters of beer, so be sure that you know your limits and can pace yourself properly. There is a couple of non-alcoholic beverages as well if you would like those. Now, within the tent you are able to order a variety of German Delicacies to eat, as well as pick up a Pretzel and a wide variety of souvenirs. We ended up not eating in the tent itself, just drinking some beer, and decided to walk the grounds instead, picking up food from one of the many vendors outside.

The atmosphere inside the tent is infectious. The high volume of people all feeling festive, feeling the alcohol, combined with the music and just the noise is incredible. It has a way of making you feel intoxicated when you haven’t even had anything to drink, and you really feel that “let loose” feeling. It’s fun to just sit and watch the people around you and allow yourself to get swept away. But, after some time it’s good to get out, get some air, and maybe take a little walk through the festival grounds.

Outside the beer tents, is a carnival set up. You’ve got carnival games, roller coaster rides, even a Ferris wheel and carousel. There are a lot of food vendors selling anything from chocolate, to candies, to nuts, and traditional German food. Honestly, we just wandered through the various streets, soaking in the atmosphere. Outside the tents is extremely family friendly (more on that later) and we saw plenty of families enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Overall, we had such a blast and are definitely going to be attending every year that we are here. It is well worth…well everything, and we loved being able to just let loose and really experience the culture.

Some tips for you if you would like to go…

Tip #1: Take public transportation. Here’s the deal, you can drive there. You can park nearby and take a bus to the grounds. It is an option and may be the best option in some cases. HOWEVER, I feel like it is safer, faster, and easier to take the train. Not only are you avoiding the obvious drinking conundrum, you are also avoiding the traffic and parking. When we were leaving (by train), we happened to go right past the Autobahn, and it was completely stopped. No movement in any way. It’s a long day, don’t make it longer (or dangerous).

Tip #2: Reserve a table. You don’t HAVE to do this, however if you want to be guaranteed a table in the tent that you want to be in, reserve a table. You are able to reserve tables anytime from {just about} the conclusion of Oktoberfest up until a month or two before it opens. You may be able to get a seat when you arrive without a reservation or you may not. If you decide to reserve a table (or a seat), your reservation ticket comes with a beer, a meal, and a guaranteed time to have a seat.

Tip #3: Don’t bring a bag. Large bags are not permitted on the fairgrounds, and even small bags can be a bit of a hindrance. I took a small crossbody bag to hold our things (as we didn’t really have any pockets to use) and that was it. Diaper bags are not allowed. You can check the Oktoberfest website for full details on the size limitations if you absolutely need to bring a bag.

Tip #4: All About the Family. My honest opinion on Oktoberfest…don’t bring the kids. This is not to say that you can’t bring kids or that the event isn’t kid friendly. Outside the tents is actually quite family and kid friendly. They also offer family days where it may be a little “tamer”, but honestly, in the tents it gets crowded quite quickly and the spaces are so tight and packed that it may be a better option to not bring the kids. Strollers are allowed outside on the grounds Sunday through Friday till 6PM (not on Saturdays or the Public Holiday), and there are biergartens that you can sit, drink and eat at if you like. They do also do a “child finder” bracelet for young children (I’ve read about this, but did not have the kids with me so I don’t know how that works). It is entirely up to you and your family, but I don’t know that our children will every actually attend Oktoberfest.

Tip #5 Check the Oktoberfest Website. Oktoberfest is run by a great organization and the website is top notch. They have a map of the fairgrounds, including information on where everything is located, AND a really great tool to see what the crowd situation will look like while you are there. They have statistics from previous years, as well as any changes or improvements for the current year. There is also an app that you can download on your phone. It’s a really great option while you are trying to figure out your Oktoberfest experience.

 

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed learning and experiencing Oktoberfest with us! Honestly, if you are planning a trip and happen to be around on the same dates, make a day to go. It’s not only about drinking, it’s also the festival and just letting loose.