Germany’s large cities, such as Dresden, Nuremberg,
Leipzig, Frankfurt and Munich all have numerous markets, large and small.
In Munich, Marienplatz, the city’s central square, is a busy warren
of stalls. Crowds of marketgoers jostle one another for a look at a
crystal ornament, a piece of jewelry, or a hot sausage to go with the
cup of gluehwein.
A sausage seller at the indoor market in the Zurich railroad station.
A little girl waits to be photographed with one of Innsbruck’s Giants in the Old Town, Innsbruck
Innsbruck, the capital of the state of Tirol, was once a powerful independent state, and in the 15th century the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Tirol was divided at the end of World War I when the southern part was ceded to Italy, and on a three-day weekend Innsbruck is overrun with Italians up to shop at the Christmas market and to enjoy the Austrian hospitality. Tiroleans are open and friendly to visitors.
Skiers get out early on the northern and southern slopes surrounding the city, the site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Snow bunnies can ride up thousands of feet on the Hungerburg funicular and the ascent of the cable car that would leave James Bond breathless. At the top, there’s a splendid view of the city and a comfortable café-restaurant from whence to watch the skiers glide down the mountainside.
Visitors don’t have to climb to the top of the mountain to visit the spectacular Bergisel skijumping stadium on the outskirtsof the city. Designed by Iraqi born Zaha Hadid in 2002, the ski jump is used in January for a skiing event; in the summer, athletes train on a special plastic covering.
A Bavarian Christmas decoration in Munich.
But perhaps the real charm of Christmas markets
lies in the small towns and villages of Bavaria and Tirol. In Berchtesgaden,
a historic old market town that has long been a winter and summer
resort, the past is both dead and alive. Berchtesgaden was a favorite
of Hitler’s. The houses occupied by Hitler and his Nazi henchmen
were all destroyed at the end of World War II, with the exception of
a hotel used by the Nazis. Tourists can visit Hitler’s bunkers
beneath the hotel, and nearby is a small museum reflecting Hitler’s
stay. The grim, gray Eagle’s Nest remains a curiosity, but more
for its precarious perch on the mountaintop than for its association
with the Nazis. The 20th century significance of the town is not mentioned
in brochures or by tourist organizations. The locals want this past
to stay dead.
Faulkner’s words come alive, however, in the curious ancient Christmas tradition on the feast day of St. Nicholas. As a rule, children leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors on the night of December 5th in anticipation of goodies left by St. Nick. In Berchtesgaden, however, it’s the white-bearded Bishop Nicholas who roams through the village accompanied by a crew of fearsome buttnmandl and krampus, the former covered from head to tow in straw, the latter in fur with both groups wearing hideous masks with a long red tongue that frighten more than the village children. Attached to their backs are enormous cow bells weighing up to 45 pounds that clank in cacophony as they run through the village streets with long switches in hand. Anyone in the path of these young men is subject to a blow on the legs -- not a gentle one – and having black coal smeared on his or her face. Sometimes a girl is cornered and pushed to the ground; a child screams under the force of a blow to his legs. This is a violent reminder of a barbaric past, despite the concept that the original purpose was to drive out evil spirits, so beware.
Berchtesgaden still honors the coming of the Christ child by ringing bells and Christmas shooting, a custom dating back to the 17th century. Guns are fired every afternoon at 3 during the week before Christmas, to the accompaniment of church bells.
Not far from Berchtesgaden is Bad Reichenhall, a small spa town made rich by its saline springs. In the early 20th century, King Ludwig I of Bavaria built saltworks and a spa house in pseudo medieval style. The special Christmas market in Bad Reichenhall, where the Reber bakery and restaurant claim to make the original Mozartkugel (chocolate marzipan balls) sold everywhere in Salzburg, is an indoor craft market held in the graceful town hall in the second weekend of Advent.
Ladies selling antique hand-made merry-go-rounds at the Bad Reichenhall craft Christmas market.
As silent as Berchtesgarden is noisy, the lovely Fraueninsel (Isle of Women) Christmas market entices visitors from neighboring towns. The island on the Chiemsee is populated by a beautiful old Benedictine convent (now used as a school), a few hotels and restaurants, a handful of charming cottages and, at Christmas time, a Christmas market sprawling over the entire little island. Lit by candles and torches, the market is a magical place, especially when snow falls. In the cemetery adjacent to the convent, candles flicker in red glass containers beside each grave. This custom is honored as well in the Berchtesgaden cemetery.
Candles, nativity scenes, special pastries, wooden Christmas tree ornaments and Christmas trees galore are part of the Bavarian, Tirolean and Swiss traditions. In these regions, children are traditionally not allowed to see their tree before sunset on Christmas Eve, but the decorations and lights everywhere, and the festive atmosphere of the Christmas markets create excitement and anticipation that goes well beyond anything commercial. Christmas is still taken seriously here, and when the bells ring out with the message of the Christ child on Christmas Eve, everyone knows something special is about to happen.
A Bavarian market stall selling Christmas specialties. A puppet theatre for children is next door.
When You Go:
United Airlines flies nonstop from the U.S. to Munich and Zurich. Swiss International flies from New York nonstop to Zurich. Lufthansa flies from the U.S. to Munich.
Let Corinna know what you think about her traveling adventure.
I found a Mich Goss J. Grassmayr Innsbruck bell with Jesus,
a crucifix and a flower on it. Do you have any information about it you can
share with me? Many thanks.
I don't have any information on that specific bell. If she wants information, "Liz" in San Bernardino should contact the factory. Here is the information: Address Grassmayr Foundry and Bell Museum, Leopoldstrasse 53, Inssbruck, A-6010 Austria. Telephone: 43 512-59416-0. Fax: 43 512-59416-22. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Been there -- thought I'd done it -- you proved me wrong. Great travel coverage -- even for those who have lived there.--- Bill, Redmond, Oregon
Corinna, my dear,
What a wonderful series of words you have collected together to paint a mesmerizing story about one of my favorite places. Even though I've traversed these same locales as you many times, your delightful descriptions made me want to book a flight this very second and see again some of the places that time did not allow me to linger in before. Your photos are also riveting, and I loved the pantyhose one - what a clever, sexy way to promote that article of the female form. Your colorful words make the entire region literally come alive before my eyes - a rare gift for any writer! Bravo and again Congrats on your top notch feature. Best regards.
This is very roundabout ... I was recently teaching (Legal Reasoning) in Kabul and encountered Ann Geracimos, who said she knows you from the Times. She recently provided me with an electronic version of your 2007 piece about returning to Frankfurt (which I enjoyed very much). Jonelle and I are well (and enjoying our 3 grandchildren, who live within blocks of our house). I hope you are well. I will now look for your travel writing regularly.
What an amazing background Ms. Lothar has! I enjoyed her article
very much. I found it to be quite intriguing, especially the interpreter school
I loved your article on Metz.
I was an exchange student living there from 1981-1982 and have always felt like Lorraine was the most overlooked part of Europe.
You really captured the feel of the city with your photo and articles.