I just experienced one of the best Christmas’ of my life, thanks to my husband, who planned a one week Christmas market tour through Germany for our family. If you don’t already know, I am in love with Christmas, I know who isn’t right…but I seriously love everything Christmas and am one of those crazy people who put up their tree before Thanksgiving, listen to Christmas music the second it starts to get cold and has Christmas decor exploding out of our closets, because we ran out of room for storage. However, this year Christmas season has been a little different, being in Dubai. The temps are 75-80 degrees, there is obviously no snow on the ground, my Christmas CDs are in Michigan, my light up reindeer I bought at the garage sales this summer are still packaged away in the shed at home, my green garland is still in its tub and of course, our big 8′ Christmas tree is still hiding in the closet. It’s not the same, but that’s ok. Caden and I have made a couple of Christmas crafts to hang on the walls, we bought a 2′ Christmas tree and put felt decorations on it and I have been blasting the Christmas YouTube channel, whenever possible. I think Layne knew that I was missing the Christmas season and being that we are already half way around the world, why not save some of the cost and head to Germany this year!
Disclaimer: I am sorry I couldn’t get the photos on the blog. My storage has run out, and I am not paying for it for four days left in the Dubai journey. Please check out our pictures on my Facebook page, HERE.
Last week we traveled to Horgen, Switzerland (where Dow’s headquarted for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India) for Layne to meet up with fellow work peers. He was given the chance to do a short presentation in front of the Horgan team and also meet several faces that he works with on a normal basis. Caden and I spent the day catching up on jet lag, with a little exploring in there as well. Caden tried schnitzel for the first time and LOVED it! However the schnitzel probably didn’t help when I was carrying him up those Swiss hills! That was a workout in itself, let me tell you! That evening we were invited to the home of one of Layne’s leaders for dinner. On our way, we experienced the Switzerland public transit system, which we think is a little more confusing that Germany’s, and we also learned several interesting things about Switzerland from Layne’s coworkers. Apparently there are rules for “everything”, and that they were enforced more strictly 15 years ago, but a couple of the rules that still apply today are that you are not allowed to recycle on Sundays, you should not be loud after 10pm in some areas (including things like showering) and you are assigned a laundry washing day, in apartments, that you must not break. Of course, each area of the city is different, however those were some that stuck out to us. After a delicious dinner with our new friends, the next day we took the train four hours back to the Haufbanhouse (train station) in Munich, for our first Christmas market stop.
Immediately upon our arrival, we recognized one thing we have dearly been missing in Dubai- toilet paper, in every public bathroom! However, we also recognized things about Germany that we forgot- having loads of change to carry around (due to no $1 bills) and having to pay to use the restrooms or WCs. We did miss the cleanliness of Dubai and realized how clean it truly is compared to other cities, however we quickly got over that once we locked eyes with all of the yummy carbs displayed in our eyesight. We got Donner for our first meal and we were definitely NOT disappointed, but were surprised to find out that our little guy didn’t feel the same way. After settling into our hotel, we headed out to the first Christmas market in the fusgangerzone (no cars allowed). I am not sure what it was about this market, but I think it was my favorite night. All of the booths were lit up with Christmas lights and it seemed like there was quite the variety of goods and foods to choose from. There were also trumpets playing Christmas songs and of course the view of the beautiful Mariensaule (the New Town Hall). This is where we had our first glass of gluhwein and decided that we would start a collection of gluhwein mugs from the trip, so that every year we can make our own gluhwein and remember the amazing time we had in each city. (Fast forward one week and we ended up collecting 10 different types of mugs!) After exploring the market we headed to the famous Hofbrauhaus where we enjoyed a traditional German dinner, soft pretzel and, naturlich, a stein for each of us. Caden loved the live German band and was dancing along, having a wonderful time.
The next day we took our rental car and went for a scenic drive through traditional German villages, navigating our way to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. The sites along the drive were amazing with the Swiss Alps in the background and the Christmas music on the radio (another one of our favorites from the trip- exploring the hills of Germany as a family). We arrived at the castle and hiked up the mountainside, with Caden in tow on Layne’s back. I carried the book bag, which I felt was just as heavy and we were both near sweating upon reaching the top…well if you know Layne, he most definitely was sweating. HA! The view was just as I remember from our high school trip, breathtaking! The Romanesque style castle was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, in honor of his dear friend Richard Wagner. Construction on the palace started in 1869 and was paid for out of Ludwig’s personal fortune, however it was not completed due to King Ludwigs death. Instead it was opened to the paying public in 1886.
We chose to take the additional steep voyage up the side trail to the Marienbrücke (bridge), for a family photo. Caden really wasn’t a fan of being confined in the back carrier at the this point, so the photos are not the best, but what a memory! On our way down, we made Caden’s day by introducing him to quark balls, which are mini fried balls covered in powdered sugar. Layne saw them an said they were a must, so the boys greatly enjoyed the sugary snack together, while I sipped my gluhwein, with a breathtaking view.
Oberammergau is located in the Bavaria Alps and getting to this small quaint town was another fun adventure. After winding several hills and valleys, we arrived at the location of the once-a-decade Passion Play town. This town is famous for putting on the Passion Play every ten years and brings in people from all over the world. We stopped by the famous theater and then continued on to several small Christmas shops throughout the town. We even visited one of the stores I bought my very first Christmas smoker at, nearly 9 years ago! Oh the memories.
We then drove to Heidelberg, Germany and checked into our hotel for an early night. This was the first true Auto bahn driving experience that Layne had, and he loved it! The next day we got up early and headed to three Christmas markets, before reaching the beautiful Heidelberg Schloss (Castle). Heidelberg is a beautiful city that is located next to the Neckar river and was filled with lovely cobblestone roads that climbed up the side of the mountainsides. We decided we would revisit the Heidelberg Schloss and are so glad we did, as there were new areas opened that we have previously not seen. If you ever have the chance to visit this castle, please do. The view of the Altstadt (old city) is breathtaking and the photos don’t really do it justice. With Caden sleeping in the carrier, we decided to explore the inside of the castle, as well as the Schlossgarten. We then took the mini train back down to the bottom, for more Christmas market exploring and more gluhwein of course! The next morning we loaded up early and went to eat at Backer Caden for a delicious breakfast before heading out for Berlin.
Five hours of driving later, with Caden falling asleep in the last 20 minutes (of course), we made it! Berlin, Berlin oh where to begin! This city has so much history to offer and it was so good to see all of that again. Layne planned the visit out perfectly so that we could revisit some locations, we saw in high school, but also visit new ones. We even had time to stop at FIVE Christmas markets! If we had a FitBit on, we would have been going over our 10,000 steps every single day this week! Our first Christmas market was at Potsdamer Platz where we devoured currrywurst and crepes, prior to moving on. We then walked through the Berlin city center and stopped at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This monument is so serene. It really makes you stop and humble yourself for what had happened to millions of people in the 1930s and 40s. We pressed on and went over to visit the Brandenburg Gate which was opened in 1791 as a sign of peace. After visiting a couple other landmarks, we went to our second and third Christmas markets for the day. The second was located next to the Fernsehturm and the third was outside of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, Weihnacts markt am Opernpalais. This is where we experienced more delicious German food. I think I had some type of chilli and Layne had a meat and potatoes mixture, he was of course obsessed with. My boy and his potatoes! To finish off the busy day we stopped at Check Point Charlie for a couple of photos. Layne was pretty pumped on his hotel selection, as we were less than half a mile from Potsdamer Platz and a quarter mile from CheckPoint Charlie, where the Berlin Wall ran parallel to where we stayed.
On the second day we started with a highly ranked Christmas market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskireche, which was quite a big market and where we found several gifts there as well! The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which was built in 1890, but bombed in 1943. It is amazing to see all of these buildings that are still standing after the war. This church is located in West Berlin and was kept in its destroyed/chipped tooth state, as a reminder of their resolve to rebuild the city. We then walked over to KaDeWe, which is a huge department store that covers an entire block of the city. It is actually the second largest department store in Europe, but no I didn’t buy anything! Instead, we found Santa and tried again to get pictures of he and Caden. I would say we did a little bit better, but still no smile from our little man.We proceeded then to walk to the Christmas market at the Charlottenburg Castle. This one has been around for only ten years, but was also quite impressive in size. They even had a kids market with rides and sugary sweets! We snapped some photos in front of the castle and then headed back to Postdamer Platz for dinner. I wish I could tell you the name of what I had, because I would love to cook it for myself in the future, however I guess I will never know. It was delicious and had chicken with tons of veggies mixed in, over potatoes. Scrumptious!
The next morning we left early again for Dresden. After a two-hour drive we arrived in Layne’s old stomping grounds. This is the city where Layne did his study abroad program for two months in the summer of 2009. It was so fun to see where he stayed and all of the history he learned about the city. We stopped by the Altstadt Centre where we saw The Zwinger, the Royal Palace and the Catholic Church of the Royal Court. All of these buildings were severely damaged in the Allied air bombs in 1945, WWII. These bombs resulted in a fire spreading all across the city, however these buildings are still standing and several had beautiful interiors that were reconstructed after the war. The Frauenkirche Dresden was one of these beautiful buildings and inside it is white and pristine. Not photos were allowed to be taken of the interior, but the exterior is also quite beautiful. It was amazing to see how they reconstructed the church with pieces from the old burnt down rubble.
In Dresden we visited three Christmas markets: Weihnachtsmarkt an der Frauenkirche, Alt Stadt Centre Markt and Dresdener Striezelmarkt. The last market was the biggest and also one of my favorites. It is ranked on several lists online if you search for Christmas markets in Germany. If was so unique not only because it filled a full city block, but also because of the tops of the stalls were all decorated so uniquely. Every vendor at the market had a different design on top and covered their entire stall, with their beautiful displays. There was also German Christmas music playing, which really made you feel nostalgic. One of our favorite things about this market was that Caden got the chance to ride his very first choo choo train! He did so well in the front seat and went around three-time! It was such a proud mommy and daddy moment! We then hopped into the car for a quick 2 hour drive to our next stop- Nuremberg!
Nuremberg is supposed to be the best Christmas market, per a couple of those online lists I was talking about. The market was huge which you can see in the photos that I post on my Facebook page. There were nine different sections of the market to visit (Christkindlesmarkt, Markt der Partnerstadte, Postkutschenfahrten, Original Regional, Rathaus Wolffscher Bau, Feuerzangernbowel, Handwerkerhof, Sternenhaus and Kinderweihnacht) and we still aren’t sure if we actually hit them all! This market was quite traditional offering traditional German food like sausages (Bratwurste & Rostbratwurste), potatoe pancakes, crepes and of course gluhwein. They even had the little plum people like we made in one of our first years of German class! That was our first time seeing a booth with those too! We really enjoyed the kids section and all that was offered for little ones. Layne even bought me a Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread heart), to remind me of our old high school days when we made them for each other. What a sweet guy!
I will honestly say, if you ever have the chance to take a trip like this, please do it! You will not regret it! This was a Christmas that I will never forget and our little family was able to make so many memories together, while also revisiting some old ones from when we were young and in high school traveling Germany with 30 other people. I am so blessed to have a husband who appreciates the history and uniqueness of different cultures/cities and wants to share that with his family. We were quite sad to leave on our last day, but told each other that we would one day be back. Afterall, our Christmas mug collection can only get bigger right!?
View the rest of our pictures here!