This review is going to cover two towns: Berchtesgaden and Rothenburg. I’m doing them both at the same time because I covered them at the same time and there isn’t much that each has to take up too much space, and we went there for one reason: Christmas in Germany!
I think Christmas is the absolute best time to visit Germany, mostly because – you guessed it – the Christmas markets. Weinnacht (Christmas in German) is an especially important season with a lot of tradition surrounding it. When you go, the most important bit is time. We got very lucky as Berchestgaden has one of the only advent markets that is open until the 24th of December. Christmas Eve – not Christmas itself – is the important day for Germans, so many things are closed to Christmas Eve. Most advent markets will run from beginning of December (beginning of advent) until the 23rd of December. These little markets have stalls that sell a variety of goods. The one in Berchestgaden had a lot of food stalls (mulled wine, alcoholic punch, sausages, and waffle sticks) along with some local products (shoes, blankets, hats, etc.) that could be good trinkets or gifts to buy someone for Christmas. I ended up getting myself a lovely wool hat! A bit expensive and itchy, but I love the color and it’s local flavor.
Berchtesgaden is actually known as having a home of Hitler, called the “Eagle’s Nest.” We didn’t actually go, as our plans did not include Nazi historical trips this time around. The area surrounding Berchestgaden is gorgeous. It has tall peaks and is settled in a valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It’s, like I said, a small town, but with a lot of good shops. There is a main hotel, the Edelweiss, that was sold out so we stayed in a smaller guest inn just off the main market square. There are plenty of these around the main part of town. There are many cathedrals (I remember passing at least three, and we didn’t even hit most of the town!) and there are some murals from WWII that are painted near one of the market squares and cathedrals.
Christmas Eve traditions inBerchtesgaden are quite cool. First, people go to the nearby graveyard and leave candles and little evergreen trees on the graves of all the people. It was stunning, and we left a small red candle (which we got at the advent market) to leave on a lonely grave. I think it’s a lovely tradition, remembering family during this time. Second, around 11:30pm, begins the cannon-fire. For the next 30 mins (and then repeated around 12:30am), the cannons ring in the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s funny to listen to this incredibly quiet place suddenly reverberate with cannon fire for at least thirty minutes. Apparently this happens a few times – though for a shorter duration – during all of advent. I don’t know if this takes place in any other part of Germany, fyi.
Do make sure that if you’re not at a hotel serving Christmas Eve or Christmas dinners, you make reservations ASAP! There are not many places open, most places are closed early (around 8pm) and the main hotel is closed to everyone but guests. We thought we were going to starve, but luckily! There is a Chinese restaurant! Saved!
We then went to Rothenburg ob der tauber (there are two Rothenburg’s in Germany!), which I affectionately call the town of perpetual Christmas. Indeed, it markets itself as such. A town stuck in the medieval ages, it is a walled city with cobblestone pathways and old medieval houses. It’s truly stunning all decorated for Christmas. Despite most every store being close while we were there, we enjoyed simply strolling the streets and looking around. There are a few major things to do in the city:
- Take a tour with the Nightwatchman. It’s only 7 euros and it’s part performance, part history. The actor guide that led us was hilarious. I cracked up during a joke about the local bar called “Hell.” Because it was Christmas he goes, “Even Hell is closed on Christmas!” It’s a great way to see the city at night and get a lot of history. It was especially cool during Christmas.
- Walk the walls. These are the actual walls that stood guard over the town and it’s fun to pretend you’re in Game of Thrones.
- Watch the clocktower perform. It’s very old and interesting to watch and a main draw in the main square.
It’s a quaint little town, which just exudes this old world charm. We stayed at the Hotel Romantik Markusturm which was the perfect location. An old house turned hotel, with a restaurant (that saved us a table on Christmas!), just a two minute stroll from the main city square and five minutes to the walls. It’s on the main street, but because the city has so few cars, it’s not very loud. The staff were friendly, and you can park your car nearby for just 5 euros a day. The restaurant was delicious too! I had goose!
All in all, we had a wonderful jaunt through Christmas Germany and I’d love to go back, especially to Rothernburg during the Christmas markets. Just make sure you book food reservations for the major holidays and enjoy the simple leisure of strolling while you’re there! ama
So much Christmas spirit!