Weihnachtsmärkte Season: A Tale of Two Cities

December 22, 2011

Düsseldorf's Weihnachtsmarkt. Pretty, oder?

With our hopes of spending the holidays in Paris dashed in a pile of unplanned bills and various financial obligations, we've been trying to not let it get us down by seeing more of what our local holiday celebrations have to offer. This past weekend offered quite the tour, with both days filled with a little bit of travel and a whole lot of Weihnachtsmärkte.

On Saturday, we took a trip south into the Pfalz wine region for - what else? - some our favorite Sekt, sold only at the Weingut, and a stop at one our favorite little towns, Freinsheim. We were introduced to it by a German friend last spring (on a wonderful little road trip which somehow I forgot to blog about) and immediately fell in love with its amazing history and quirkiness. The town has apparently been settled since the 6th century and most impressively still remains built around the 15th century wall that once protected the city. Because everything was built - and then rebuilt after the Nine Years' War - around this massive fortress, streets and passageways are often winding, tiny and super-old, giving one the feeling of stepping back in time.

Not surprisingly, the Weihnachtsmarkt there was just like the town itself - small, charming and surely full of centuries of tradition. While there weren't many booths, some of what we managed to pick up was the best we'd experienced anywhere. A small booth selling hard candies - sold at just about every holiday market - had the very best-tasting candies I'd ever tasted (we bought mandarin, apple-cinnamon and milk-rum with filling - yum!).  The Glühwein was offered in original, Dornfelder and even a Potugiesier variety, and every one was the most delicious Glühwein we've had at any of the various holiday markets we've visited. It was obvious in this tiny town that they weren't just churning stuff out for mass amounts of tourists. They really took pride in what they served at their Weihnachtsmarkt - and it showed. We're looking forward to making Freinsheim a regular stop at Christmastime. 

The picturesque town of Freinsheim, done up for Christmas

Bailey is always well-behaved when there's Wurst involved

Very different Glühwein mugs, 
but the very best Glühwein we'd ever tasted

Just in case you didn't know what you were eating, 
here's a lovely picture of the animal it came from

A fuzzy end to an afternoon full of many mugs of Glühwein 
(really only because I wanted the perfect mug to take home)

The incredible medieval outer gate of Freinsheim 
- the Eisentor, or 'Iron Gate''

Sunday was a trip with some of Russ' work friends to Düsseldorf, which was quite the opposite in every way from Freinsheim. Where Freinsheim was a traditional small town with small town offerings, Düsseldorf had more of what you'd expect from a major city - everything was bigger and there was just more of it.

Düsseldorf 's Weihnachtsmarkt - or I should say Weihnachtsmärkte, as it's really a bunch of smaller markets connected on a path of lights around the city center - was impressive in its scale and light displays, as well as range of Glühwein mugs (I picked up three different ones to bring home!), but in terms of food and things to purchase, I wasn't really blown away. The atmosphere definitely made up for its average offerings though, as did the light sprinkling of snow we got in the evening.

While we really didn't get to see much beyond the Markt, just being there for the evening, it was our first time to Düsseldorf and we enjoyed seeing a new town. It was also nice to spend some time with folks I rarely get the chance to see and catch up. In the absence of family, friends really do make the season for us.  

The Rheinkniebrücke and Rheinturm (which tells the time with the light display down the tower)

Our group, freezing down by the chilly river

One of the most impressive sections of the Markt boasted a beautiful carousel and giant Christmas tree

Holiday stars light the path to the next section of Weihnachtsmarkt

Angels watch over the booths in this section

This raised platform/bar was quite impressive 
amongst all the lights

And onto another Markt area...

...where blue 'stars' lit up the sky

The Glühwein stands here were mostly enclosed 
- a nice respite from the cold - 
and this one even had super-swanky chandeliers inside

After our whirlwind weekend touring Weihnachtsmärkte, we definitely got inspired to see more to fill our holiday since we're staying home and on our own this year. Yesterday, we drove to Erfurt, in Eastern Germany (more on that later), and we hope to make it into France just after Christmas, as their markets go on till the end of the year. There are definitely people we miss this time of year, but it's hard to get too lonely with such amazing seasonal celebrations going on. I feel rather spoiled - I really couldn't imagine not having the holidays done up as the Germans do.   

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische