2010 was the first time I accompanied Vonia on BayernTrips’ Christmas Market Tour. She’s always told me that the “feel” of the trip is significantly different from our Oktoberfest and Starkbierfest trips – she was right!
Our tour officially began on the Saturday, December 11, 2010 at the Munich airport, but Vonia flew to Munich on Dec 8th to insure that she is in Munich on time for the tour to begin. On Friday, she picked up several of our guests who wanted to arrive a day early. On Saturday, she retrieved the group and a bus transported the group on to Bamberg.
Vonia accompanied the group to Rothenburg ob der Tauber on the train. They all really enjoyed the city tour with Martin. Meanwhile, I landed in Munich and was met by Pam and her daughter-in-law. My task was to take them on the train to Bamberg. Pam had been in Munich for 2 weeks prior to my arrival and was carrying a stack of baggage taller than she is! We had been planning on getting a BayernTicket, but opted instead for an ICE ticket that would take us straight from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Bamberg faster and with no changes. We took the S-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof. Once there, there was some confusion with the train – the train was a bit late and arrived missing about 5 of the planned cars. This made finding seats a little more challenging, but we found three together with a table. Once we were underway, Pam and visited the dining car to enjoy a Franziskaner Weissbier. That first fresh Weissbier always puts me in a better mood and Pam and I had fun catching up and talking to some others in the bar car of the train.
Arriving in Bamberg, we took a taxi to our hotel and met back outside for a quick Glühwein. The Hotel Brudermühle conveniently had a stand outside their door with a roaring fire-pit to help us stay warm. Pam and Michelle were anxious to get on with some power shopping at Käthe Wohlfahrt. I took a quick catnap and 90 minutes later met Vonia and the rest of the group at the train station after their day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Dinner was something I’d been looking forward to for months. Schlenkerla is my favorite “Wirtschaft” and they make their famous Bamberg Onion only for groups who order it in advance.
The group assembled outside the hotel and we walked down to Schlenkerla. Our friend and fellow tour guide, Christian “Erik” Berkenkamp ran into us outside and treated everyone to the story of how “Schlenkerla” came to be. Inside, most of our guests opted to try the famous “Smoked Beer.” Schlenkera is one of the few breweries to preserve the medieval method of roasting their malt over an open fire. The beechwood flavor seeps into the malt and provides a strong smoky flavor to this unusual beer. Not everyone likes it, but it goes great with the stuffed onion and mashed potatoes. To cap off the evening, we were treated to Schlenkerla’s handmade Rauchbier truffels and a glass of their “Eiche” – another strong smoked beer which is done over Oak. Served in a tulip glass, this one is a real treat!
The next morning we met Erik again for his walking tour. Since it was quite cold outside, we spent a fair amount of time in the historical Bamberg Cathedral. In addition to seeing the famous Bamberg Rider, he told us many other stories of the cathedral and treated everyone to a short course in medieval architecture. Erik led us through many of the best sites of Bamberg and dropped us near our lunch stop: The Fässla Brewery. Most of our guests took a little time to browse through the Christmas market, but Bob and I wanted to pop into the Spezial brewery next door. After a quick taste of the lightly smoked beer, we crossed the street to Fässla for lunch. Herr Kalb, the owner, great us warmly and reserved an entire room for our little group. It took a little time to translate the menu for everyone, but all got to order exactly what they wanted.
After lunch, we walked down to the train station and boarded a train down to Nuremberg. Just 50 minutes away, its an easy ride. Once we arrived, everyone was anxious to explore the massive Christmas Market. The number of stands is downright dizzying. Everyone went there own direction. Vonia and Wendy paired up and I made my way over to the Albrecht Dürer Haus. I enjoyed walking through his old house and seeing how he did his work – they even had a young lady demonstrating how an old press worked.
Afterward a walked up toward the castle and enjoyed the wonderful angles and views of the city. It was nice to have sometime to myself to enjoy this magnificent city and I feel like I now know it much better than I did.After a few hours on my own, I walked back to the train station to a small Wirtschaft that Vonia, Wendy and I agree to meet up at. After being outside in the cold for hours, it felt great to sit in the warmth and enjoy a Paulaner Weissbier. We had set up two meet up times with our group and Vonia agreed to let me take back the first group. She waited an extra hour for the later bunch.
Once we were back in Bamberg, I took a few people over to the Klosterbräu for dinner. We treated Wendy to her first ever venison dinner. It was a stew and tasted fabulous with the brown beer.
On the 14th, we arranged for a bus to pick us up in Bamberg and take us down to Ulm. At the same time, a bus from Füssen drove up to Ulm and the plan was to meet there and transfer the luggage from the Bamberg bus to the Füssen bus. Our driver from Füssen, Uwe, had some trouble finding the agreed upon parking lot, but will Michael Frey’s help, we were able to get both busses together and were only 10 minutes late arriving in the Zunfthaus for lunch.
At the Zunfthaus, Hans arranged for several large pans full of Swabian Specialties for everyone to try: Maultaschen, Krautspätzle, and a variety of meats. The food was excellent and everyone enjoyed meeting Michael and Petra and hearing the stories of Fischerstecken and the Club that occupies the Zunfthaus. After lunch, everyone enjoyed the Christmas Markets in Ulm. Wendy even got hi-jacked by one of the security guys and led up to a place where she could get some great photos of the entire market. Some of the great features include a life nativity scene right in front of the cathedral (the largest church steeple in the world) and the live glass-blowers.
In the late afternoon, we boarded the bus and completed our journey on to Füssen. I had Uwe drive us through the tunnel into Austria and over the old border and to the castles. Seeing the two castles lit up at night is beautiful and it seemed like everyone enjoyed the 15 minute detour. Arriving at Hotel Ruchti, we were all warmly greeted by Steffi, Ingo, Maggie, Christine and the whole staff. It was really great to be back home! We launched into dinner quickly after arrival. The Mathilde Stube was set for us and we enjoyed a private feast of Wiener Schniztel and Pommes. At the end of dinner, Herman made us a plate of Kaiserschmarrn. Everyone was quite full, but somehow we managed to eat it all. Since it was Maggie’s last night in Füssen, I ordered a round of Birnenschnapps for everyone to try as we celebrated Maggie’s success as an Au-Pair. The “Willi” was a little harsh for some, so Steffi treated for a round of Croatian Fig Schnapps from Ingo’s Godfather. As we ate dessert and drank the schnapps, we went around the table and each person told a short story of what their family tradition is for Christmas. It was a fun and relaxing evening filled with Gemütlichkeit.
The following morning was set for us to visit the famous royal castles. Vonia went early to pick up our tickets and I followed with the bus and our guests. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the front door of Steffi’s hotel and saw a bright yellow, American school bus! Manuel Kö?ler came inside to greet me and explained that they recently imported this american icon and planned to use it as a party bus! Indeed it was equipped with a plasma TV screen and a awesome sound system.
Manuel dropped us of near the Alpsee in Hohenschwangau and I led everyone up the back way to the castle. The street was covered in a few inches of snow, but it was a pleasant walk up the hill. We were able to savor the views of snow-covered alps and the exterior of the castle before our tour began. It was our lucky day to have “Poffi” as our guide through the castle. I met him many years ago and he’s a good friend of one of my hockey buddies. Poffi’s english is impeccable and he has great repertoire of jokes and is a fountain of knowledge about the castle and the Wittelsbach family.
After the first tour, we moved on to the bis castle: Neuschwanstein. Usually the tours here are less than stellar – large groups and sub-par English delivered in monotone. This time, however, we had an exceptionally small group and the guide took his time and was quite animated. It was nice to have some space to enjoy Ludwig II’s rooms at a slow pace.
Everyone made it back down the hill on their own. Unfortunately, none of the restaurants in Hohenschwanhau had any room for us, so we were all quite hungry when Manuel showed up with the bus. However, I got Manuel to drive us to St. Colomon church thinking we could get some great shots of the castles from a little distance. Sadly, the snow was a too heavy and it was quite difficult to make out the castles. Reboarding the bus, Manuel dropped us of in Füssen’s old town and I offered everyone a quick orientation of the layout. Then most of us made a beeline for the Markthalle. The old fire station was renovated a few years ago into a mini-food court and every picked outs something. The Maultaschen Soup was popular with many, but I went for a Turkish salad and fresh olives.
After lunch I helped a few people with looking at Bavarian clothes at Trachten Wolf and then we all split up for the afternoon. Meeting back at Hotel Ruchti for dinner, Thomas and Hermann made us a very special dinner: Roasted Goose. This traditional German Christmas dinner came with all the normal trimmings and was perfectly prepared. After dinner, Wendy and I excused ourselves a bit early and took a taxi over to the Milchhäusle in Schwangau. We had arranged to meet up with Poffi and my old hockey buddy, Bruno the Bavarian. It was a fun night hanging out with the locals and cracking jokes in two languages!
Sadly the next morning we had to leave Füssen. We stopped by the famous Wieskirche for a quick visit. It was a brilliant winter day – a rich blue cloudless sky contrasted with the pure white snow. We drove on to Böbing and I took everyone into the Metzgerei Sohmen to say hello to Karl, Werner, and their mother. We then went to Sepp’s bakery and eveyone sat down to enjoy Karl and Werner’s fresh Weisswurst and Sepp’s perfect pretzels. Accompanied with a Lammsbräu organic Weissbier and Händlmaier mustard, it was sensory overload. Sepp followed up the visit with freshly baked Christmas Cookies before setting us on our way.
The afternoon was spent at the Holy Mountain: Andechs. Most everyone visited the Church first and a few lit candles in honor of loved ones. Adjourning to the Bräustüberl, no one was very hungry but several people got together to share the Schweinehaxe. In the meantime, I enjoyed the famous Doppelbock (consistently rated A+ on Beeradvocate) and one of the dark Winterbier – available only at this one location! Both were outstanding and I wandered back down the hill a happy man.
Uwe drove us on to Hotel Alter Wirt in the Munich suburb of Grünwald. Ulli and his wife greeted us and teased me gently about my voice. Usually they only see me during Oktoberfest well after my voice has been drained! Everyone checked into their rooms and we met back together to ride downtown together on the streetcar. While we were riding, we fell into conversation with an older fellow. It turns out that his Stammtisch is at the Weisses Brauhaus and we knew many of the same people! Munich lived up to its reputation as “Millionendorf.”
Arriving at Marienplatz, we discussed the history of this famous square and then walked to the Alter Hof and then into the Hofbräuhaus. We had to split up across two tables, but were close to the band and it was really comfortable. There was a little discussion about changing our dinner plans and just staying here, but in the end we decided to stick with the plan to go to the Augustiner as planned. We walked to the Frauenkirche and passed the Michaelskirche to this enormous restaurant. As we entered, a manager directed us upstairs to our table. It was amazing to see how full the place was on a Thursday night! We were also very happy that Frances showed up from Ulm to have dinner with us Again, we ordered of the menu – the roasted chicken seemed to be the popular choice with the group. Service was a little slow, but our waiters were working very hard. After dinner, about half the group went back to the hotel with Vonia and the other half stayed for dessert. On our way back to the hotel, we strolled past the ice skating rink that was set up at Karlsplatz before boarding the tram back to the hotel.
Friday morning we tried to visit the Asamkirche, but found it closed for the morning for cleaning. So, we walked on to the Munich City Museum, the Jewish Museum, and to the Viktualienmarkt. After a bit of time to look around, we gathered back together for the Glockenspiel. We had hoped to take an optional trip today and it seemed like Regensburg was the candidate, but the weather was not cooperating. In Munich it was snowing like crazy and Regensburg was reporting issues at the train station with many trains canceled or running significantly behind schedule. However, many in the group had already said they wanted the extra time in Munich – several wanted to visit the City Museum, the Residenz, and the BMW Museum. So, it didn’t seem like anyone was too disappointed with the weather issues.
After the Glockenspiel, several of us went over to the Bratwurstherzl for lunch and then broke up into our separate directions after eating. I took a group over to the City Museum. At the same time, Jens and Uli arrived in from Ulm and we went over to the Altes Hackerhaus to catch up on the happenings in each others lives. We spent a good 2 hours talking while the others were in the museum. Wendy showed up and then we met back up with Bob & Heidi from Rhode Island (really great people!). We stopped back at the Asamkirche for a quick peek and then we decided to take a ride on the Christmas Tram at Sendlinger Tor. The tram ride was just 1,50 per head, but it was a little too crowded. It took Heidi and me a little bit of time to fetch a Glühwein. We had to stand near the back of the tram and the windows were all fogged over, so we really couldn’t see anything. But, it was somehow fun to ride the tram and have a drink! Afterwards we stopped by the Feuerzangenbowle at Isartor before meeting up with a a bunch of our guests at Marienplatz. Vonia went back to the hotel with John and Georgann and Bob and Heidi. They were all hungry for a break from Bavarian fare and Vonia took them to a great Italian place with an unfortunate name: Eboli. In the meantime, Jens, Uli and I went to Spöckmeier for dinner. I was also in the mood for something a little different and had a great Rumpsteak with garlic butter – yummy.
We got back to the Alter Wirt relatively earlier and I was very happy to see that Nikki was working – when we are there for Oktoberfest, everyone really enjoys her and she takes great care of us at the bar – serving us that last Augustiner of the night, but along with a tall glass of ice water – hard to find in the land of Germans! So, of course my last mission of the night was to get a photo with Nikki that I could send to Jersey Bill!
On Saturday morning we rode down t the Hauptbahnhof. A lot of our guests wanted to be sure they understood where the Airport bus left from, so we decided to go have a look and explain it. We then walked past the Palace of Justice where Sophie Scholl and the others were tried just before being murdered by the Nazi government. A few steps farther was the stark contrast of kids enjoying a sunny day on the ice at Karlsplatz. I love the skating aids they use here. At our rink in Ironwood, the kids learn to skate by pushing a metal folding chair around the ice. In Munich they get to push around a cute little penguin or polar bear – how cool is that?
We also visited the Frauenkirche, Odeonsplatz, the Residenz, and the National Theater before claiming our reservation at the Weisses Brauhaus. We were in the back room on the ground floor and split up over two tables and two different waitresses. Our waitress was a sweetheart who remembered me, but the other lady was a bit of a problem. She was less than excited to have a table of English speakers. Fortunately, Jens and Uli appeared and ran interference for everyone – she was still a little rough, but everyone got all the food and drink that they needed. Plus, Jens really enjoyed the political conversation at the table!
Afterwards, everyone went there separate ways for the afternoon, but RI Bob and me went over to the Hofbräuhaus. We found a table right behind the band, and no sooner had we sat down than a group of guys from Dachau dressed in tracht sat down with us. We had a great great drinking Mass after Mass of Dunkles together and telling jokes. They were great guys and Bob got a taste of what makes Munich so special – the friendliness of the people is tremendous. Later on, Wendy and Vonia and Christine and Mark from Colorado joined in the fun. After several hours there, we headed back to the Alter Wirt. Vonia beat me there and had the computer humming, checking on everyone’s flights. The weather in Europe was not looking good, but it seemed like everyone’s flight would be OK – only our Colorado couple would have major issues…
Unbeknown to us, the staff of the Alter Wirt was having their staff Christmas party and the entire restaurant was shut down. A bunch of us were pretty hungry, but no one was too motivated to go back into the cold to find something to eat. Fortunately Uli, the owner of the Alter Wirt, noted our plight and invited us to have some of the food from the staff’s buffet – it was an African theme, but really hit the spot!
Sunday morning was departure day for everyone. Some left very early and others were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before leaving. Vonia and I packed up and Jens and Uli drove us to the Weisses Brauhaus. The plan was to meet up with Simone and Oliver and wait for Chuck and Cindy to arrive from Cincinnati at about 11:00 Am. Sadly, those two got stuck in Paris since their connecting flight couldn’t get into Munich. Oliver’s Mom was celebrating her birthday so we didn’t sit them, but we had a great time with Jens and Uli and were serenaded by the brass band. On our way out we got to see Robert – he suffering with some pretty tough medical issues and we made a plan to meet up with Oliver and Simone at 6:00 to wait for Chuck and Cindy.
Vonia took a nap for the afternoon and I went to the Medieval Market at Odeonsplatz. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of thing and had a good time watching a tightrope walker and a gymnast. Of course I ended up back at the Hofbräuhaus, but my table-mates were not too exciting this time. But things improved when Ingo joined me – it was great to have him drive up and spend a few more hours with Vonia and me . At 6, Vonia, Ingo and I went to Schneider and met up with Oliver and Simone. They were pretty excited to see cousin Ingo with me! Chuck and Cindy’s travel issues continued – their luggage was lost (and still hasn’t appeared as of 12/31). They got on a flight to Stuttgart and were coming the rest of the way on the train. At about 10:00 PM, they finally walked through the doors at the Weisses Brauhaus! Surprisingly they were pretty chipper and we had 2 Weissbiers before calling it a night.
The next day Vonia and I flew back to the USA, but were very happy that we got to have one more Weisswurst breakfast at Schneider with Chuck and Cindy before we left!
We had a great trip and met many more great people – we were happy to share our Bavarian Dream!