In early December, I was lucky enough to score a work trip to Germany, to brief two agencies working on a research project I’m managing. Two things I was told prior to my trip that proved to be invaluable:
1. the German Christmas market trumps any other country’s equivalent; and
2. try the Glühwein (mulled wine; literally translated as “glow wine”).
And the markets and the wine did not disappoint. In fact, almost as soon as I’d arrived in the Old Town of Nuremberg, it became clear to me that nobody does Christmas quite like the Germans. (Oh, and that hot alcoholic beverages are an absolute necessity when the sun goes down and the temperature plummets to an extremity-numbing, foot-freezing low.)
Despite epic snow fall in England and Germany, my plane wasn’t too delayed and I arrived in Nuremberg in the morning, giving me a couple of hours before my first briefing to explore the Old Town – and in particular, the famous Nürnberg Weihnachtsmarkt. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is the oldest one in Germany; it has been providing pre-Christmas joy to the townspeople since the mid-sixteenth century, and now attracts tourists from across the globe for the good eats and the general festive ambience in the market square.
After my briefing, I picked up where I left off and found some somewhat strange Christmas-related fun around the Old Town, such as a nativity scene that included a camel and goats (or rams?).
I also skirted the edge of the Old Town to take in the castle, walls and moat; I should point out that the latter was being used for sledding purposes.
As the sun set, the temperature plummeted and I headed back to the Christmas market for comfort food and a hot drink. The market served Glühwein in charming mugs for which you paid a deposit, and then you were welcome to have a wander or huddle around the fire pit next to the bar – very civilised boozing from a Brit’s perspective!
My evening in Nuremberg was cut short because I had an early train to catch, and by 6.30pm the pain caused by extreme cold was starting to override the charm of the market anyway. So I was off to bed embarrassingly early, and on the platform waiting for the Deutsche Bahn at 7.15am. Unfortunately on this occasion, the Germans did not live up to their reputation for efficiency; the DB was pretty late and I almost missed my briefing in Hamburg. The saving grace of the five-hour journey was that I got to see much of the picturesque German country.
By the time I had done the briefing it was late afternoon, so my first exploration of Hamburg was in the dark. This made the Christmas markets more pronounced; I pretty much navigated the city centre by means of festive lights. The main market, located in the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Place), was a particular draw.
On the Saturday I only had a few hours to explore before heading to the airport, so I planned to see as much as possible. I’d come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t achieve depth of experience in so little time, so I was aiming to at least achieve breadth of experience. Keeping in the spirit of Christmas, I went on a walk that I have since dubbed a “church crawl”. I ventured inside as many as possible, and lingered for a couple of choir performances (sitting in on a performance = an experience and an opportunity to thaw).
St. Michael’s Church was particularly special for me because it treated me to a bird’s eye view of the city…
… and unlike the other German church interiors I’d seen, St Michael’s was relatively ornate.
Near to St. Michael’s, I stumbled upon this rather imposing monument to Bismarck. The whole scene took on new significance when the offspring of a chavvy British family began sledding down the hill on which it sat. Surreal.
I managed to circle the city, returning to Rathausplatz to visit Hamburg Town Hall.
Just as I thought I’d seen everything Hamburg could offer me in half a day, dancing Christmas trees and gingerbread men shimmied past me down Mönckebergstraße. Lesson learned: the more ridiculous the costumes, the better the parade.
So that, in a nutshell, was my Germany trip. Readily accessible comfort food, some great architecture, and an endearing enthusiasm for Christmas.