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Monday, January 02, 2012

Christmas for Two - Munich

We had a great time in Prague but were excited to get to our next destination on our Christmas vacation - Munich.  We decided to take the train, which was easier than driving and less stressful than flying. The train worked out perfectly. We splurged for first class seats (they were only a few Euro more) and ended up being two out of five people in the whole train car. The trip was a little long (six hours give or take) but we went through some beautiful countryside and it even started to snow the closer we got to Munich.

Once we got settled in to our hotel we high tailed it to the main Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) in the Marienplatz, right by the Rathaus Glockenspiel. The market is filled with hand crafted ornaments and other gifts, food and gluhwein vendors galore and tons of happy shoppers. As much as we were underwhelmed with the Christmas market in Prague, the markets in Munich knocked our socks off. This was the biggest market there and is the one that we returned to several times over the next few days - picking up some gifts here, a steaming mug full of spicy gluhwein there and sampling the many delicious food stalls.

We purchased several hand crafted ornaments, all made in Munich or other parts of Germany, which wasn't an easy feat as there are literally thousands to chose from. If you are looking for a nativity scene then you have come to the right place - in fact there is a whole other market dedicated to nativity vendors selling all sorts of hand carved wood figurines (including some non-traditional figurines like penguins and bears - I don't remember those being there at the birth of Jesus?!) There are hundreds of German Christmas pyramids and nutcrackers, and beer steins as far as the eye can see. 

The famous Rathaus-Glockenspeil

German Christmas pyramids and hand carved ornaments 

After all that shopping we had worked up an appetite. Luckily we were in the right place. You could get anything you wanted at the market - from traditional roasted chestnuts and lebkuchen (thats German for gingerbread) to chocolate covered fruit-on-a-stick and light-as-air marshmallow bombs (OK, that's not their real name, but that's what I called them while I was there). I recommend starting off your meal with a hot mug of gluewein (or you can get the alcohol-free version, like me, called kinderpunsch), it packs a punch though so make your way to a food stall while you take the first few warming sips. You can then grab a grilled bratwurst or perhaps some potato pancakes to fill your tummy. Personally I recommend the potato pancakes. They are made hot and fresh in front of your eyes, served up with a healthy sprinkling of salt and a side of applesauce (if you so chose, and I suggest that you do). These were the best potato pancakes we had tasted on all of our Bavarian travels over the years. Of course nothing beats Brians parents homemade potato pancakes, but these came in a very close second.

Gluhwein tent
Potato pancakes
Hot potato pancakes - who wants 'em?!
If you still have room after all those potato pancakes a couple of gluhwein refills then it's time to move on to dessert. The most common treat you're bound to come across is lebkuchen, otherwise known as gingerbread. You can get it in small cookies, big cookies, heart-shaped cookies with "Merry Christmas" written on it with frosting. You can get it with a simple sugar glaze or perhaps you fancy it covered in chocolate with candied fruit on top, or flavored like your favorite tipple? Or if gingerbread isn't your thing maybe you would like a piece of marzipan - pick your shape, size and coating. Grab a pig shaped one with a penny in its mouth for good luck in the New Year!

Or, you could try one of these little gems. I have no idea what they are actually called - I was too busy taking pictures and then shoving one or two (or ten) in my mouth - but they are a little piece of heaven. Essentially it is a thin wafer cookie with a light-as-air marshmallow dome on top, enrobed in chocolate. The marshmallow is so light and airy I almost think it is closer to a fluff-like consistency, but less fluid. If that makes any sense whatsoever (pretend that it does). They come in a wide variety of flavors, ranging from plain chocolate to Baileys to Lebkuchen and dozens in between. I sampled the Lebkuchen and the "Zebra" which was a mix of white and dark chocolate and nearly died each time I had one. Pure bliss.


The next night we headed over to the Medieval Christmas Market at Odeonsplatz. It was a smaller market and, as you can tell from the name, it had a medieval theme to it. There were lots of fur pelts, traditional Medieval costumes and hatchets (or whatever they are called, those ax-like things that guys love) for sale. We did a quick run around of the stalls and decided there wasn't anything there that we wanted to buy as gifts. Then we concentrated on the main task at hand - gluhwein and food. And there were a lot of choices. We saw stalls sells grilled sausages and meats, a "pizza" of sorts made out of flat bread and soft cheese with toppings, and even steaming bowls full of homemade noodles (think spaetzle) covered in melted cheese. Seriously drool worthy. They all must have been quite tasty as well as the lines to get to any of the food stalls were a mile long! We only had a little while before our dinner reservation so we got right down to the important part - gluhwein. 

We noticed a lot of people walking around with flaming clay chalice-type mugs which immediately peaked our interested. After a long wait in line and a hefty deposit for the mug, Brian had his own flaming mug of hot gluhwein. The mug is filled with hot, spiced wine and then a sugar cube is placed in a small lip around the rim of the chalice. Liquor is then poured on top and lit on fire. This was one drink sure to warm you from the inside out!

Flaming Gluhwein!

We really enjoyed our time in Munich and wish that we had an extra day or two to explore. They seriously know how to do Christmas right (didn't it originate there, or something like that??) and if you are looking for a true, traditional Christmas experience I highly suggest it. Or any place in Germany for that matter. You are pretty much guaranteed efficient transportation, clean and orderly cities, some of the best Christmas markets in the world (or try going in September for Oktoberfest!) and many friendly faces happy to share their beer, food and gluhwein with you.


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