Germany, Austria & Slovenia
by Larry Zaletel
Maybe it’s a little crazy and it may not be the best time of the year to visit Europe, however there are fewer crowds, airplanes are under booked, and automobile rentals cost less. Enjoy the Alps and the mountains of Europe; experience a European Christmas in Germany, Austria, and Slovenia.
The Christkindlesmarkt (Kris Kringle’s Fair) in Nuremberg, Germany located in the heart of Bavaria begins in early December and lasts until Christmas Eve. It dates from the 1700 century and has evolved over the years and starts Friday before the first Sunday in Advent. It is one of the most traditional of Germany’s many holiday fairs held in the old town’s marketplace.
No one remembers its history exactly but there is some thought that the fair originated in the middle ages. In 1697 the historian Christoph Wagenseil, a native of Nuremberg, mentioned the Christkindlesmarkt in the second history of the town where he described the event much as it is celebrated today.
The event begins with a speech by the mayor. Then, to the accompaniment of Christmas music, a child dressed like Nuremberg’s “gold angel” makes a dramatic appearance and welcomes visitors in verse. During the middle ages people who came to the fair saw in church a replica of the Christ Child in the manger. It was customary to give the Christ Child away to the children in the form of a doll. This custom of the Christ Child gradually became a Christmas angel and today’s angel is dressed in gold-colored robes in the style of the eighteenth century and hovers as guardian over fair-time festivities.
My wife and I are visiting with relatives and enjoying the brisk air. There are golden angels hanging everywhere. This is a very popular festival in Germany and one that is also enjoyed by tourists. We pass by rows and rows of colorful booths, each filled with such holiday delights as glittering Christmas tree decorations, clever toys from Nuremberg craftsmen, marvelous Lebkuchen, a cookie usually made from honey, spices, nuts, or candied fruit, and pungent gingerbread. Then are also figurines of the Christ Child in his crib, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, and adoring shepherds. Faintly in the distance there is music and as we draw nearer we hear the sound of a children’s choir performing a variety of Christmas songs. We linger awhile to enjoy the moment and the spirit of Christmas.
There are booths filled with such specialties as savory-smelling roasted sausages, delicately grilled herrings, and my favorites schaschlik (skewered meat usually lamb) and mulled wine. We partake of the mulled wine to help warm us in the cool winter air. There are sweets, of course, all kinds of traditional candies and all manner of cookies. The Nuremberg Christkindlsmarkt is full of wonderful sights, sounds and smells. It symbolizes for adults unforgettably beautiful childhood memories and it is little short of paradise for all age groups. However, it is also important to discover other Christmas markets in Europe.
Visit the Christmas Market in Linz, Upper Austria and enjoy the fragrance of gingerbread and the scrumptious Linzer Torte from the various pastry shops and cafes. See the lights of the city skyline glitter, view the old and new architecture, and enjoy the enticements of shopping in this city on the Danube River.
My wife and I and her niece rode the train into the city and strolled through the Volksgarten market toward the city’s baroque main market square. The two markets, the shopping mile of Linz, are connected by the colorful Landstrasse tram which takes you from one market to the next so you can enjoy the holiday spirit and inhale the scent of bratwurst and mulled wine.
The Christkindlesmarkt on the Main Square begins November 23 and ends December 24 with hours from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Throughout December there are various performances by music groups, brass orchestras and choirs on the stages at the main square and at the Volksgarten. The area is lit up with a modern dream world of lights and presents Christmas in Linz at its most enchanting side. The Main Square combines the old and new with the modern booths of the Christmas Market with the fairy-tale worlds at the Christmas Market of the Volksgarten public gardens whose entrance and trees are decorated with lights and Christmas decorations that delight all who visit.
Visit one of the many cafes that abound with scrumptious food, fresh pastries, luscious cakes, coffee, and spirits. Linz is full of atmosphere, the smell of chestnuts, punch, and gingerbread.
The Festival of Lights are observed in Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia. Surprisingly there was still no snow on the streets of Ljubljana or on the willow trees lining the Ljubljanica riverbank. It was December 30, 2013, a cold afternoon and the light was beginning to fade slowly into dusk. People were heading toward the Christmas Market of Ljubljana known as the Festival of Lights set up along the Ljubjanica River in the center of the town. Ljubljana’s center was dressed up in colorful Christmas lights that transformed downtown into a beautiful winter scene.
My wife and I and my cousin and his wife walked toward the Ljubljanica River. This year the Christmas season began on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 with the decoration of the town’s buildings and Christmas trees with lights that were switched on throughout the city. There was about 64 kilometers of lighting sculptures and light garlands installed on the trees and seven spruces located in the Preseren Trg (Market), at Figovec, in Levstikov Trg, Pod Tranco, next to the City Hall and in its Atrium as well as on the Ljubljana Castle. This was the beginning of the festive season that lasted until the December 31 New Year’s Eve celebration.
There were strains of Slovenian music in the air from the numerous street musicians performing on their button accordions. We found a table and my cousin and I bought some mulled wine to warm us. On stage was a young man on a button accordion and electric keyboard and a female vocalist. They were strategically set-up between two food and drink stalls, to draw in the revelers and judging from the large crowd they appeared to have succeeded. There were various other musical venues on the the stages in Novi Trg, Kongresni Trg, Mestni Trg, Trg Francoske Revolucije and Pogacarjev Trg that offered music presented by numerous well-established Slovenian and foreign music performers offering their best entertainment to passers-by. As we stopped to visit Kongresni Trg a folk group performed the song Dolini Tihi by Lojze Slak. The square was filled with people singing along with the band.
Along the banks of the Ljubljanica River there were wooden stalls set up, decorated with Christmas ornaments and the scent of sausage; pastries, roasted chestnuts, and hot mulled wine filled the air. Vendors were also selling an assortment of unique Christmas gifts. All around us the varied colored lights begin to sparkle. The Franciscan church of the Annunciation on Preseren Square its pink façade aglow and its statuesque columns were bathed in white lights highlighting the face of the church. On the steps there was a crowd of people exiting while others patiently waited to enter the church to view the nativity scene and numerous religious displays inside.
Another site visited by many was The Good Fairy who fulfilled the wishes of everyone young or old, big or small that approached her. This was one of the most delightful projects at the festival presented by Zmago Modic and fulfilled the children’s wishes for the 2014 New Year.
New this year to the festivities was an open-air life-size outdoor Nativity scene with a wooden manger, figures of the three Magi, shepherds, sheep and other animals all made out of straw. This was made by the Anton Kravanja Christmas Cribs Association.
If you wander away from the market area, Ljubljana’s Old Town features a picturesque river, cobbled streets dotted with quaint squares and interesting shops, a colorful food market, wide choice of restaurants and mix of Baroque, Art Nouveau and 20th century architecture. Ljubljana also has a very lively atmosphere with a choice of stylish bars and clubs, romantic cafes and riverside restaurants, and an active and varied cultural life ensuring a wonderful and exciting Christmas stay for everyone.
If You Go:
There are direct flights from the United States or Canada to Frankfurt, Munich, or Paris. Round trip fares average $1000.00-$2000.00.
Where to stay and eat
In Germany, Austria and Slovenia there are many places to stay including hotels and Gasthaus; in Slovenia they are called a Gostilna. They are modest country inns serving home cooked meals. There is no hard and fast rule but many Gasthaus/Gostilna have sleeping arrangements especially if there is a picture of a bed hanging out in front of the establishment.
Germany and Austria have many bed and breakfasts called Zimmer Frei and Slovenia has Sobes. They are highly recommended as a delightful way to meet the people and make new friends. Usually the price can be negotiated. Prices average about $45-$80 per night and they are much cheaper than hotels and normally include breakfast. We have stayed in bed & breakfasts in Germany, Austria, and Slovenia and have revisited them on several occasions. The local tourist bureaus usually have list of bed & breakfast with prices and further information. Information on accommodations is available on the Internet as each country has its own tourist websites.
The Gostilna Pri Belokranjcu, Kandijska cesta 63, 8000 Novo Mesto, Slovenia is situated almost in the center of town across the street from the Renault factory and is close to two shopping malls. This family bed and breakfast has 28 rooms with double beds. The owners Branko and Mojca Vrbetic offer daily menus with homemade bread and a local wine called Cvicek. Refrigerators and laundry services for extended guests are available. Slovenian, Serbian/Croatian, Russian, German, Italian and English are spoken. Tel 386 7 30 28 444, Price $60-$80 per night. Very good home cooked food.
Gostisce Na Pajcni, about 5 kilometers from Zagradec on the road to Zuzemberk, Male Rebrce 6, 1303 Zagradec, Tel. 386 178 86 800, email email@example.com. Several decades ago there was a tavern at the roadside between Ivancna Gorica and Žužemberk, a very popular stop for coachmen. Today it is a hotel and restaurant offering excellent wines and delicious food.
About the author:
Larry is a freelance travel writer, an avid and dedicated traveler, and a recurring visitor to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East. He writes about the various people that he has met and places that he has visited during his travels.
All photos by Larry Zaletel.