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Published: March 15th 2008
Christmastime in Berlin
Our road trip took us to three German cities, Berlin being our final stop.
(We take a road trip through Rothenburg, Nuremberg, and Berlin)
19 Dec 2007
After a traffic laden drive through the ice-covered countryside, faintly lit by the rising sun, we arrive in the medieval town of Rothenburg odT. This is one of the few towns which still holds its medieval ambiance. It’s had its hardships, like a devastating earthquake in 1356, ravaging pillagers in the Thirty Years War (1618), and a forty percent destruction of the town during a bombing raid in WWII. Shortly after the last war, however, the town was completely reconstructed. It lies on the Tauber River, thus the odT, or “ob der Tauber,” and the old town is completely surrounded by the wall and gates of the medieval fortifications.
It’s a chilly and windy 22°F, so though it’s quite sunny, our faces and fingers are frozen almost immediately. We’ve both been to Rothenburg many times before, so we’ve seen the town, we’ve visited the Imperial City Museum and the Medieval Crime Museum, and we’ve walked along the wall of the medieval fortifications. But this charming town is always worth a visit, and we spend the day wandering the narrow streets and visiting the vendors
The medieval town of Rothenburg odT (ob der Tauber - or on the Tauber River) has substantial original fortifications still in place, including many town gates. Pictured here are the Siebers Tower and the Kobolzell Gate.
of the Christmas markets. We see the Siebers Tower (1204) and Kobolzell Gate, then head to the Spital Bastion, a double bulwark with seven gates, then trace the inside of the old town wall to the Nag’s Mill, built in 1516 to feed the town in times of war.
We stop for lunch at the Baumeilterhaus and do a bit of shopping before heading into the heart of the Christmas market to enjoy some Glühwein. As we enjoy the spiced hot wine in a small town square, we talk with a nice American couple who had driven up from Naples, him a retired soldier and her a DoD civilian. We also make sure to walk through the gigantic Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store and stop at a café to grab some Snowballs, an original Rothenburg treat of fried dough shaped into a ball and covered in sugar or chocolate.
It’s time to say goodbye to Rothenburg, and we get back in the car to head east. Our next stop is Nuremberg (Nürnberg), my husband’s favorite German city. We fill up at the Esso in town, hop on the nearly-empty Autobahn 7, and cruise along at a good speed until
The White Tower.
we suddenly hit a stau (traffic jam) the second we pull onto A6. We sit in almost the exact same spot for one hour and forty-seven minutes. I fall asleep twice - and I'm the one driving. There are people standing around the curb of the road smoking, a couple of truckers next to us eating oranges on their folded-down front grill, and semis blocking the emergency lane. We got on A6 at exit 48 and by the time we reached exit 49, there were workers blocking off the autobahn, so everyone was forced to get off, which is what most of us would have done anyway. So we drive the rest of the way on the country roads, for awhile behind hundreds of other cars and semis, but at least we’re moving.
We reach Nuremberg a couple hours later and park at the Hotel Ibis Nuremberg City, which is across from the bahnhof. It’s 29°F, but it feels colder. The room is small and strangely smells like smoke, with a bathroom approximately three by eight feet, and the shower knob falls off when I touch it. For dinner we return to The Royal Dragon, which is near Tourist
Statue outside of St. Jakob's Church.
Information, and about a three minute walk from our hotel.
20 Dec 2007
We walk into the old town and have a breakfast of coffee and pastries at Kamps. Then it’s off to the Kaiserburg, or Imperial Castle. This beautiful Kaiserburg was used by every Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire between 1051 and 1571. The only way to see the inside of the castle is to take a tour and the only tours they’re offering at this time of the year are in German. We stick close to a friendly American couple we meet on the tour as her mother was from Wiesbaden and she was translating for her husband, though because of the guide’s dialect, even she couldn’t understand everything - and we could understand almost nothing. She had grown up in Germany as the daughter of a soldier and he was retired Navy, so they’d both done a bit of traveling and had some interesting stories. The tour ends with a glance down the Deep Well, which was built 47 meters (154 feet) deep into the rock of the hill in the 14th century, and then we climb to the top of the Sinwell Tower
The famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. This is the original one.
and enjoy a view looking out over Nuremberg.
We peruse the main Christmas market for awhile then stop at the famous Bratwursthäusle for some Nuremberger bratwurst, and thaw out at the Black Bean with some coffee. We visit a few of our favorite stores and then it’s off to the Germanisches National Museum. Though not a very organized layout, there were some interesting items on display, such as Neolithic artifacts and models of Neolithic cabins/homes, castle door locks and hinges from the 16-18th centuries, and many other artifacts ranging from prehistoric to modern times. We did not see the entire museum. It was a bit disappointing that only some exhibits were identified in English, and even those were rarely more than a few words. I don’t think this would surprise me so much if I hadn’t already visited dozen of museums all over Germany, some in very small towns, which provided both languages. Lately, we've been having a bit of bad luck with that.
We grab some snacks at a booth in the Christmas market and head back to the hotel. When we reach our floor, a few doors near ours are open and emitting loud music, when
Detail of town wall.
an inebriated German man wanders over to us from one of those doorways, beer in hand, to say hello. Our room key decides not to work, and the stranger offers this advice, “Oh, it is not your room.” So we explain that we slept there last night and all our bags were inside. “No, the key does not work, it is not your room.” So we just say ok and head down to the front desk so they can reset the key.
Tired of bratwurst, schnitzel, and Chinese food, we head to McDonalds for dinner and people-watch from our seats by the front window. After our McRoyal and Big & Tasty, we return to the Christmas market to get some Glühwein in a collector’s mug. When my hands suddenly feel strangely warm, I discover that somehow I’ve gotten the red wine all over my gloves and sleeves, and we now need to go back to the hotel, where the wine luckily washes right off. We decide to go to bed early anyway, since we’ve got a long day tomorrow. Plus, I’ve already got blisters on my feet, which is what I get, I suppose, for wearing old shoes just
View into the Spital Bastion.
because I like the way they look.
21 Dec 2007
We’re up quite early to check out and get on the road by 3:45am. Hopefully this will avoid any more staus. There is little traffic on the road, and ten times more semis than cars - but they mostly stay in the right lane. We speed along nicely until the asphalt turns from black to white, and then things slow down. The fog and ice mean we won’t get there as quick as we’d hoped - seeing as how we can barely see anything in front of us. It’s strange because at 6:15, I can still look up and see a sky full of stars because it’s still dark outside and there are no lights along the autobahn, so the road is very dark and the fog surrounds everything at ground level. We stop at an Autohof (truck stop) to get some buffet breakfast and coffee from a nice looking restaurant there, though it makes us both sick. When we leave I still feel like I am driving into The Nothing from the “Never-ending Story.” When we hit Berlin, our autobahn exit is closed, so we take the
Me inside the Spital Bastion.
scenic route into town by way of Potsdam. We hit the Hotel Ibis Berlin Potsdamer Platz (different Potsdamer) at 10:30 and 25°F. We take some time to freshen up in our room which is much nicer than the last one.
It had been snowing lightly on and off, but seemed to have stopped by the time we walk into Potsdamer Platz to find a tour bus. We get on the City Circle Sightseeing bus and take off across Berlin. I’ve never been here, so we decided to take this bus around to point out all the main tourist attractions before we explored on foot. The buses are double deckers, but all the tops are enclosed because of winter. We actually only get off the bus a few times, but we visit Checkpoint Charlie, where I get a stamp in my passport, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), and the Holocaust Memorial, as well as viewing many other sights, like the Bellevue Palace, Charlottenburg Palace and Museum Island as we weaved through the streets of town. We’re driven all over the city before we’re dropped off at our starting point, where we head back to the hotel and take some much-needed
A bridge on the outskirts of the old town.
Then we find the public transportation and take the U-bahn to find the Hard Rock Café. We get a little turned around, but the man behind the Reception desk at the Astoria Hotel was nice enough to put us back on track, and in the process we walked through some very nice shopping areas. Dinner was good and we hang out there for awhile before catching the U-bahn to the Stadmitte where we visit the Gendarmenmarkt’s WeihnachtsZauber. There are Christmas markets all over Berlin, and we chose to visit this one because of its picturesque locale. The Gendarmenmarkt’s pretty square holds three large buildings, all originally dating from the 18th century but having been rebuilt for various reasons, including a theatre and identical French and German Churches. It was the first Christmas market where we had to pay an entrance fee, but it was only €1 per person. We got our Glühwein and watched some strange live singers for awhile, before heading back to get out of the freezing cold.
22 Dec 2007
We wake up to faces red from windburn. Our first stop on foot is the remains of the Berlin Wall, a short
The 16th century Hegereiterhaus.
walk from our hotel. We snap some photos and read through some of the photographic displays. Then we grab some breakfast in a café that happens to be in between the hotel and Potsdamer Platz, and here we have the best pastries we’ve had in a very long time. They were simple cream cheese Danishes with streusel and icing on top, but they were just divine.
We walk through the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz and take photos with a life-size Santa and sleigh with reindeer, all make from Legos. We then visit a nearby mall which closely resembles the malls to which we are more accustomed. To get to the U-bahn we have to walk through the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz again, and on the way we grab some lunch of fried mushrooms, chicken on a stick and a crepe. We take the subway over to Museum Island and photograph the area. The museum we decide to visit is the Altes Museum, mainly because of their Egyptian exhibit. The Altes Museum, built 1824-30, was one of the first European structures built with the purpose of housing a museum. There were many interesting items in the museum, though
Part of the wall.
the most famous is the Nofretete / Nefertiti bust which dates to 1350 BC. The bust is magnificently detailed and beautifully colored though it is still in its original form and has never been touched-up.
We take a stroll through the city to Alexanderplatz and take the U-bahn back to the hotel garage because it’s time for the long drive home. The first hour of the drive wasn’t too bad, but then a thick, blurry cloud descended upon us and never retreated. The fog made the drive along the wavy and winding mountainside curves of A4 quite interesting and a bit slow-going, especially because there were, of course, no street lights. With a quick dinner stop along the way, we make it back to Heidelberg in almost exactly seven hours. It was amazing to find snow on the ground in Heidelberg - where it never snows - even though Berlin had frozen us in biting cold winds, but no snow. Maybe we’ll have a white Christmas in Heidelberg after all.
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