Meg + Dan’s Weekend in Würzburg

Just a few days after my parents packed up for home, my sister and brother-in-law arrived!  Megan and Dan stayed with us in Würzburg for 4-days before setting off to Spain and England.  We had splendid weather for their visit and Würzburg was busy with weekend activity.  We showed them a few of the local sights:  the Residenz, Festung Marienberg, and the Rococo Gardens in Veitshöchheim.

We spent the weekend relaxing at the Stadtstrand “city beach”, biking, eating, drinking, and dancing ’til dawn. These two bring fun and lightheartedness wherever they go!

Below: The pedestrian bridge– Alte Mainbrücke ; Relaxing at Wurzburg city beach



We ate at a few of our favorite places, including pizzas at Locanda.  Dan and Meg are beer aficionados and like to sample —  they ordered a Doppelbock from the Franconian brewery Keiler.

Yup, that is half of a pizza!



We ate Würzburger bratwurst in the Marktplatz on Saturday morning and scoped out the weekend activity, a rubber duck river race for charity.



We rented bikes for the day from the local bike shop and peddled along the Main river.  We passed through Veitshöchheima village not far from us where the Schönborn Bishop-Princes built their Summer Residenz and Rococo gardens in the 18th C.   Afterwards, a biergarten.


… And a little bit of Eis.


Late in the day we walked up to the fortress grounds to lookout over the city.  We brought one of the wines we enjoy from the vineyards around Würzburg,  Consilium Silvaner.


We introduced Meg and Dan to the Döner kebab sandwich shop in our neighborhood.   Two more converts who are puzzled as to why savory Turkish-style street food has never made it to the USA Midwest. Someone please open a dang Döner shop!


Back with our feet in the sand at the Stadtstrand – the city beach, followed by a delicious dinner at our preferred spot for Fränkisch regional cuisine, Alte Mainmühle. Mmm, lecker!

What a great weekend! Thanks to Dan and Megan for spending a few days with us, wonderful memories, and for sharing many of these great photos!


Ski Jumping / Four Hills Tournament

One of the most exciting things we have taken part in was an invitation to accompany Derek’s colleague’s ski club on a 4- hour bus trip to the opening of the 63rd Vierschanzentournee  (translation: Four Hills Tournament) which is part of the Ski Jump World Cup.

Ski Jumping is one of the most anticipated winter spectator sports in Europe. Skispringer from all over the world take part in the tournament, and many are in training for the future olympics.

The tour takes place in four villages in the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria.  The opening event was in Oberstdorf, followed by Garmisch-Partenkirchen (we actually posted a photo of the ski jump arena in GaP earlier in the year!) Innsbruck, and Bischofshofen.

It was snowing when we arrived, and the views as we passed villages in the Allgäu  felt like scenes out of a snowglobe.  The arena was packed; Viewers start arriving on buses when the event gates open at noon and pitchers of hot Glühwein or punsch are the best bet for staying warm. The athletes had already warmed up once we arrived at 3pm, and a crowd-warming festival in the stands was well underway!  One glance around and we realized that we should have dressed a whole lot warmer!



Leading up to the event is all of the entertainment and music you would hear at a lively German festival: The Zicke-Zacke chant and après-ski party songs like Amsterdam, and the universally loved song by Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline.

It was exhilarating to watch!  Wind speeds are carefully metered and need to measure within a certain low range for each jump. By late afternoon, a few more inches of snow had fallen and the wind had picked up, which meant that the competitive jumps were slow to begin. There were many times when the broadcast screens would show the skier on the edge of their seat, ready-to-go, and he would need to slide off the bench.  It was a cycle of jumps and lengthy delays, until it seemed that the conditions would not abate and an announcement was made that the event would be postponed until the next day.

My feet have never felt so cold!


Skispringen is well established in Germany and live broadcasts appear frequently through the winter. The next day, we watched the remainder of the competition in Oberstdorf  from our couch with a mug of hot cocoa, and my toes were happy!

Ski jumping has yet to reach the same high level of popularity in the United States.  There was a single qualifier from the USA team and he was unfortunately not able to advance.  This year, a broadcast deal was reached and next winter’s tournament will be televised in the USA for the first time!

Vierschanzentournee is a prestigious tournament for ski jumpers.  The overall winner was a 21-year old Austrian, Stefan Kraft.  Austrians are tremendously good skiers, it’s amazing to watch them perform.

Below are two videos from Oberstdorf —  The first was the best jump of the night!  You can see how revved up the crowd was.


This jump is a German skier, and he’s easier to spot in the video—


We had a great time at this event! Despite our frozen feet, it will certainly be a highlight from our time in Germany!


One of the après-ski party songs that is popular in Germany and Austria via You Tube
Here are the lyrics in english




Vierschanzentournee Tickets and Official Website

How Ski Jumping is Scored Wikipedia

Press: EBU strikes deal with U.S. broadcasters for Austrian FIS Ski World Cups


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.

Weinlese: Grapes for Franconian Wine






In late September, the region was harvesting three main varieties of grapes that grow in the steep river valleys around Würzburg — Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Bacchus.

Derek’s colleague invited us to join-in at a hobby vineyard owned by his relative, where 28-rows of white grapes were ripe and ready for pickin’. We learned that while other produce is harvested, there is a special term given to the collection of grapes for wine-making—-Weinlese, which means selection.

After introductions were made, we received our tools and shown how to identify good grapes. We inspected each cluster by the handful, distinguishing between a dry, dusty grey mold that benefits flavor and fermentation, and discarding anything with blue-green mold.

When in doubt, we were told to smell the grapes!  At first it wasn’t easy to tell… they all smelled pretty sour. But eventually we developed a sense of what we were after.

3 hours later, when the last barrel had been emptied, we were treated to a traditional lunch and offered a mug of Federweißer, young wine in the earliest stage of fermentation.

Federweisser is pale and sweet: a cloudy grape juice filled with active yeast .  It goes hand-in-hand with a slice of zweibelkuchen “onion cake”, another specialty of the season. Drinking and eating too much of either will definitely give you a full-day bloat!

After months of controlled fermentation, most of the sugar from the grapes is absorbed by yeast. The filtered by-product is alcoholic wine, and is usually trocken or “dry”. Our pick will yield about 3500 liters of Müller-Thurgau and will be ready next April!


Why great wine comes from Würzburg.

If you are drinking Franconian wine, it is likely that it was cultivated near Würzburg. The mild climate and mineralized soil have given way to a 1000-year tradition of wine-making. Lime is a main component of the soil, called Muschelkalk. Geological data and the density of lime found in the soil suggest that an inland sea covered central Germany 50-100 million years ago during the Triassic period. The lime is the remains of prehistoric sea creatures.  Silvaner, in particular, produces a superior flavor wine when grown in lime-rich soil.

Quality Franconian wines are light and fresh in flavor and packaged in a tear-shaped bottle of green glass, called a Bocksbeutel. The shelf life is 1-3 years. It looks like this.





 At the Weingut

Afterwards, we visited the processing facility where the grapes are fermented.  The facility is also owned by a relative, so we got a nice tour!

Our grapes had already arrived and were waiting to be crushed. For white wines, a centrifuge separates the skins to be discarded. (For red wines, the skins of red grapes are used as dye .)  The process of straining solids continues (skins, bugs, and other stuff) before the juice is partially sterilized and yeast is introduced. The yeasted grape juice is held in temperature controlled tanks for approximately 7 months. Sugar content is measured at intervals and fermentation can be halted when the wine reaches süß “sweet”, halb-süß “semi sweet”, or trocken “dry”.

This time of year is very busy at the Weingut. Grapes from vineyards throughout the region must be processed almost simultaneously at the moment of ripeness.  Dry weather in the final weeks of growing will result in more flavorful wine.  Wine made from grapes that are saturated from rainfall will have a diluted flavor. Weinlese were taking place all week, and he didn’t expect much sleep.  It was wine holiday! 🙂




Also, thanks to Derek’s colleague for sending us a few of the photos.

Wanderlust: Kreuzberg Monastery, Biergarten (and a 13-mile wander)

At the beginning of September there is a multi-day pilgrimage from Würzburg when the faithful walk over 100 km to the region’s holy place, Kreuzberg monastery. The journey is along Marienweg, a trail that connects nearly 50 religious places throughout Franconia.  Aside from news of the yearly pilgrimage, we received recommendations from the web and friends that it was time to make our way to the biergarten at Kloster Kreuzburg.

The Monastery sits at the top of a hill and overlooks the surrounding valley of german moors. The monastic brewery was founded in 1731.  Today the beer is brewed offsite but the biergarten and traditional food pulls a hearty crowd on a Saturday afternoon. As beer was the main attraction, we looked for accommodations (overnight guests can actually rent a room at the monastery!).   Unintentionally, Our hotel was sort of in the middle of the woods: 6km from the nearby village of Bischofsheim an der Rhön… and 9km from the monastery.

It turned out the area was good for hiking! We decided to partake in the german tradition of wander, and set out on a weekend pilgrimage of our own: a 6-mile hike to the monastery on the Hochrhöner trail. The area, known as the Rhön, was filled with grazing livestock and is known for cross-country skiing in the winter.  And we got close to our first live german Schnecke! A snail.

Hiking the scenic loop through the valley lasted all day which gave us plenty of time to record our journey to and from Kreuzburg!



Our oasis! We ordered half-liters of beer and the traditional fare. For me- lentil noodle soup and for Derek- schweinebraten with potato dumpling and red cabbage.



On our return trip we added the Zubringer Hochrhöner loop through the village of Bischofsheim a.d. Rhön to cover some new ground, and we stopped there to warm up. I would guess that hiking often begins near here, in Haselbach, a 2km walk up through quiet woods to the monastery.



By this time the weather had turned steadily more foggy and then to a persistent drizzle. Our buzz from the biergarten was long-gone and our spirits were beginning to dampen. The ground was completely wet. and muddy. and cold.  We walked, and we walked. It was about three hours before we arrived at our starting point, near Schwedenwall (a trench used by the Swedes during the 30 years war). We were content with a hot shower and spent the rest of the rainy night vegged-out, eating pretzels and cheese crackers, and watching old german movies without subtitles on tv.


The next morning we awoke refreshed and to clear skies. Our day-long hike through the drizzly moors (with a stop at the biergarten) was clarifying and just what we needed.


And also, we parked next to this vintage baby-blue VW in the parking lot of our hotel!



July: Bavarian Alps + Neuschwanstein

A couple of years ago we visited a stretch of Alps in Austria, but had never seen the German portion. This range is so beautiful, we will take every chance we can get to see more of it, and also to show it to visitors.  It is a 3.5hr drive from Würzburg to the Bavarian Alps and to the most known of it’s cities: Garmisch-Partenkirchen (2362 ft).


The drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GaP) passes through the farmlands of the Allgäu, an area of southern Germany with sloping glacial-made pastures where dairy farming reigns.  We pulled into a farm so that Derek could make a phone call– I couldn’t resist a photo. Then on to our destination.





We had bursts of stormy weather during our trip to GaP, heavy rain and fog obscured the top of the Zugspitze.  The rain provided a restful indoor experience (waking to mountain rain, enjoying warm croissants and coffee). It seemed to clear up at the moment we wanted to be outside, which felt like a miracle. We were able to enjoy most of the activities we had planned.


We stayed in a rental apartment through VRBO.  Our host, Christoph, was friendly and generous.  He seemed to be everywhere – Always looking out for us when we seemed turned around (hiking recommendations, food recommendations, where to park, and even how to use the key to the apartment!)   He and his family own a building in Garmisch, which houses their business on the lower floor and renovated apartments above where he and his family live.  The top apartment is a rental with a balcony view of the Zugspitze, which is where we stayed. We would recommend this place wholeheartedly to anyone planning a trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen! This is the VRBO site.


With the reading material that Christoph offered, we learned that the best time to hike Partnachklamm “Partnach Gorge” is in the morning when the light is prevalent.  We walked through stone walkways along the gorge and were stunned with it’s natural beauty- as a bonus, the heavy rain from the day before had swelled the gorge.  It was really movin’ that day.  Derek’s mom took this video:


From Partnach Gorge we split ways. Derek and I hiked another 1-1/2hrs to the Eckbauer elevation (4085 ft).  Derek’s parents went another direction in search of a cable car.  They didn’t find the car they were looking for- but ended up at one of the mountain huttes for beer – which made their walk more exciting! Below is the lookout from Eckbauer. There is a restaurant, accommodations, and most notably–  the Eckbauerbahn, a cable car down to the town. Here is a look at their webcam.




1936 Winter Olympics

Garmisch-Partenkirchen was initially two separate fashionable resort towns for Alpine skiing and winter enthusiasts. The two towns were merged by Adolph Hitler to make Germany a viable host for the 1936 Winter Olympics.  Several of the sites are still accessible. We saw the stadium for ski jumps and a bobsled run. This area is located in a pristine mountain valley, it is quite nice in the summer: A restful retreat and a good place to hike. It is not far from Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze (9,718 ft). Or from Munich (hourly trains, 1.5hr) if you happen to be in that area.


Around every corner in Garmisch-Partenkirchen are unexpected, thoughtful architectural details that nod to German Alpine tradition.






Next, we set off toward Füssen to see the ‘cash cow’ of Germany’s Bavarian castles— Neuschwanstein “New Swan-on-the-Rock castle”.   We waited to buy tickets for the 3:15 tour and climbed the castle’s lengthy walkway.  Ludwig II of Bavaria (1850) was an eccentric king.  He was disgruntled by his lack of power as he was only an emblem for the state.  As a child he had looked to the high cliff above his parent’s home Castle Hohenschwangau near the Schwansee (Swan Lake) and dreamt of his own stately castle overlooking the valley.   He poured his funds into the building of Neuschwanstein– a sort of fantasy playground for himself.



He was also involved with the composer Richard Wagner, serving as his benefactor and friend. Ludwig built separate quarters in the castle for him to live. His dream never came to fruition, as less than 10 rooms of the elaborate Medieval-style interior were completed before Ludwig mysteriously drowned.  We have all seen replicas of this castle in popular American culture— it is the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle! I have to say– the full size model was pretty cool.  All visits to the interior are led by a guide- The tour was more interesting than we thought it would be! Photos of the interior are on Wikipedia.

And the neighbors—–
Below is a nice view of Castle Hohenschwangau, Ludwig II’s childhood home in the valley.






+ Alpinestyle56: Alpine Lifestyle, Heritage and Fashion
This blogger and former ski-racer posts vintage photos of the Alps. My favorite find.

+ This National Geographic photo of a hiker in the Bavarian Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen

+  Germany Holidays: Hut-hiking in the Alps 
A guide and link to the overnight Alpine huttes