Month: December 2014

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt

The European holiday markets are one of the pleasures of the season, and while we definitely have more to share from last month, I wanted to write a timely holiday post from last Saturday at the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt!

Nürnberg is known for having one of the oldest and most magical markets in Germany, where it is a 400-year-old Christmas tradition.  A Christmas Angel opens this market before the first Sunday of Advent and it is open daily through Christmas Eve.

The star of the show is lebkuchen, which was baked by the monks of Ulm and Nürnberg as early as the 14th C. This German gingerbread or “honeycake” (made from ground almond and hazelnut, honey, candied citrus and spice) is a seasonal novelty and Christmas tradition.  You will find all types of lebkuchen in the markets, but true Nürnbergerlebkuchen is so famous that the name is protected and must be produced within the city.  One variety is NürnbergerElisen Lebkuchen, which is regarded as the finest version you can buy and is made without flour.

As a child, I tried my first bites of Lebkuchen when a family friend from Germany would drop off her yearly plate of holiday cookies at my grandparent’s house.  I loved it.  We called them “host cookies” because the chewy gingerbread is baked on a baking wafer similar to what we had tried at our first communion (an idea from the monks to keep the dough from sticking to the pan).  Now I know the other name, Oblaten Lebkuchen, and also that if you search for an ‘authentic’ lebkuchen recipe, you will easily find 100.  I have been gathering my favorites, because it seems that everyone should have their own lebkuchen recipe.


One of the funniest traditions in Nuremberg is the Zwetschgenmännle, the Prune People!  The characters are pictured on the market signage, but we saw just one booth actually selling them- and only two amused patrons (us)! They are decorative figures made of wire and dried prunes with painted walnut faces that were dressed up in costumes for children. Kids are not so easily amused these days.  Just part of the folklore.

Hot, mulled wine in Germany and Austria is Glühwein “Glow Wine”.   There are many varieties of this drink throughout northern Europe, so I would guess that many have become acquainted with it and know how it is made! Simmered red wine with citrus and spices and sometimes garnished with seasonal fruits.  The first pour of the season is served at the Weihnachtsmarkts, and it festively flows!  It is often mixed with a shot of brandy, which is the way we enjoy it.

Sipping on steaming glühwein as you browse the booths of holiday items is a big part of the tradition — There is a lot to see.  Wooden and glass-blown ornaments, candy, cookies, glass, pottery, incense, and a few of the oddities (ie, prune people) that always seem to find their way to a public market.


Nuremberg Christmas Market


The largest market in Nürnberg is the Christkindlesmarkt, which is where we spent most of the day. Though smaller markets are scattered throughout the medieval-style Altstadt, where you can buy mistletoe, advent wreaths, spicy Nürnberg sausage, gebrannte mandeln…roasted almonds, more lebkuchen, and more glühwein. Nürnberg really shines at this moment of the year, and the warmth of these markets on a grey winter day is truly something special.



This was our second visit to Nuremberg! I posted about our first visit earlier this year here.

Martha Stewart’s Lebkuchen Recipe

Order Oblaten wafers in the USA (or bravely attempt to make your own)

Recipe for flourless Elisenlebkuchen -or-
Purchase Nuremberg-style Elisenlebkuchen in the USA from Leckerlee

You can watch the opening of the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt  here.


In Berlin

A few weeks ago Germany celebrated 25-years of reunification— In Berlin the event was commemorated with the release of  8,000 illuminated balloons which marked an invisible line where the wall once stood.  In 2001, two neighborhoods in what was formerly East Berlin were renamed Mitte and this is the new center of Germany’s capital city. 

We were pretty excited to see weekend spar (sale) train fares to Berlin in late October, so we left from Würzburg early on a Friday morning just as the bakeries were opening. We stopped for butter-hörnchen (a german version of the croissant) and kaffee across the street from our apartment to keep us warm for our 20 minute walk to the train station. One benefit of leaving so early was that we arrived in Berlin before noon!

The Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament, is steps away from the train station– as is the Holocaust Memorial {a maze of stone columns that covers an entire city block, the sensory experience within this space was like nothing I have ever experienced} — to the Brandenberg Gate {the symbol of democratic reunification} — and stopped for lunch in Potsdamer Platz  on our walk  to Hotel Berlin at the southern edge of Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park.

Starstruck at the Bauhaus Archive

We spent Friday afternoon at the Bauhaus Archiv, a three-room gallery that catalogues the beginnings of Germany’s famous design school. The school was founded by Walter Gropius with the intent to use design theory to improve mass-produced products (pre-Ikea). Mies van der Rohe, the third director, moved Bauhaus to Berlin in 1932 (it closed a year later). The introductory courses were taught by already recognized masters— among them: Laszlo Maholy Nagy, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Our visit had one heck of a surprise! We heard Stairway to Heaven playing around the corner and saw a small group of spectators watching an interview being filmed about the making of a Led Zeppelin album. I was deep into my audio guide on the early career of Laszlo Maholy Nagy when Derek motioned me over. We listened–because the interview was in English— still unsure of who was featured.

We had moved on to the next gallery when we saw the mysterious person walking toward us. The camera panned as he turned in our direction. I felt a light breeze and the smell of tangerines (get it? 🙂 and the legendary Jimmy Page floated right by us!!

He has been promoting his newly written autobiography: Jimmy Page / by Jimmy Page.  I was still curious about the interview, so I emailed the archive last week (It was featured in a national arts and culture program on Das Erste 1 on 10/26.) Here is a partial transcript from the interview (in German) where he discusses his time in art school and the impact that Bauhaus had upon him.  You can translate it here.

We wrapped up at the Bauhaus Archive and took the UBahn across the city where we checked out Zeha Berlin {purveyor of soviet-era style footwear}, and warmed up around the corner at one of the sweet cafés on Prezlauner Allee: Betty n’ Caty.  Then we spent a couple of hours browsing books at  Pro QM, an awesome bookshop that specializes in architecture, design, economic critique, pop culture, and social theory.




The next morning we went to Kreuzberg. Berlin is known for having a good supply of international food (and nightlife) and many sites are located within this alternative neighborhood.  While researching Berlin I began to realize that for me food was trumping most of the other sights. I had been following this Instagram feed for weeks, so I was eager to head toward Roamers– a tiny cafe near the edge of the neighborhood.  One look in the steamy, crowded window and we realized it wasn’t gonna happen!  We ended up nearby at an Aussie cafe: Melbourne Canteen eating Berlin-style curry-sauced eggs benedict (a complete rarity in german breakfast) and stopped for a cappuccino from an Aussie barista at 19 grams on our way to the East Side Gallery. We found that there was plenty of english spoken in Berlin.


East Side Gallery

Most of the 96-mile Berlin wall was dismantled by residents after November 9, 1989. The East Side Gallery was quickly preserved as a monument and later established as an art gallery, it is the most complete section (1.3km) in the city.


The gallery murals are ever-changing with vandalism and graffiti. The East Side Gallery was completely restored in 2009., though few of the original artists were willing to recreate their 1990 artwork. The mural below is easily the most iconic and was painted (twice) by Dmitri Vrubel. The image was created from a photograph of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker.  The words read God! help me stay alive / Among this deadly love.

berlinwall2 berlinwall3



We stopped for Crepes at Hackesher Hofe market and walked toward Museum Isle.



Many of Berlin’s museums are densely located on Museumsinsel (the perfect place to be on a very chilly October afternoon). Derek picked the Pergamon museum, which was very cool and contains a full-size replica of the Babylonian Gate of Ishtar (used for ceremonial processions), and buckets of other antiquities excavated by German archeologists in the early 1900s. The second floor is the Museum of Islamic Art and Textiles.

Below is the Berlin Dom, with the famous GDR Fernsehturm (tv tower) in the background.

berlindom berlintvtower

There is so much to see and do in Berlin, we loved kicking around there for a couple of days!


We read In the Garden of  Beasts, the suspenseful story of the US Ambassador and his family living in Berlin 1933-1937. (Thank you for this recommendation, Evie!)

Berliners Create Grocery Store with Zero Packaging

Buying East German-Style Sneakers at Zeha Berlin New York Times

Angela’s Assets: How Angela Merkel Has Led Germany to New Prominence Vanity Fair

Better photos: Follow Berlinstagram  (on Instagram)

And Finally, Zep Fans:  this tweet