Having ‘escaped’ winter by spending five wonderful, but scorching months in Asia last year, I must admit – it’s been a bit of a shock wintering in the Alps these past months. Fortunately, there are the visual elements that make sidewalk slips, shoveling and shivering so worthwhile: chalets peeking out from under snow blankets, Mother Nature wearing her finest maquillage, and graceful icicles about to rappel from rooftops. Here are more scenes from Oberammergau, Germany, and inspirational quotes attesting to the magic of winter.
What do you think of winter? Do you embrace it or long for balmier days? Can you share any tried and true activities, rituals or pilgrimages that help you bridge the cold impasse to spring?
Where in the World?
The town of Oberammergau is located about 90 km southwest of Munich. To get there by rail or by bus, research the Bayern or Regio Ticket (website in German, but you can use Google Translate). These special tickets start at €20/25 for one passenger, and cost €6 for each additional passenger. You can use them to travel via bus and train throughout much of the region, making them a better deal if you want to make a few stops in a day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
Are you looking for a guesthouse or hotel in Oberammergau? Before my parents moved there, Shawn and I spent two nights at the Gästehaus Hildegard (affiliate link). We thought the beds were comfortable, the owners were helpful and kind, and the breakfast was tasty. The guest house is centrally located in the town too, and it’s not far from the Tiroler Gasse bus stop. The train station is also only about 1 km away.
During Oberammergau’s peak tourist seasons, visitors can easily while away an hour observing artisans demonstrating their trades on the ground floor of the beautifully-frescoed, 18th-century Pilatushaus. In past centuries, nomadic traders acquired crafts like these and sold them throughout Europe, making Oberammergau famous for its fine work. Today, travelers can purchase the items directly from the craftsmen and women at the Pilatushaus.
The sign declared, Bitte Esel nichtfüttern, and in Germany, the land so famously-known for its rules, I obliged.
Even though visitors to the Christmas Market in Oberammergau, Germany were asked not to feed the photogenic donkeys (to keep the live Christmas props from developing upset stomachs), rubbing of the animals’ cotton ball-like ears seemed to be encouraged. Before I approached the stable, I had even noticed that Saint Nicholas was giving the cuddly beasts a head massage.
On the eve of December 6th, as a young girl, I placed my shiniest shoes in front of my bedroom door, anticipating the arrival of Saint Nicholas. The next morning, I eagerly popped out of bed, delighted to find my footwear stuffed with oranges, Christmas cookies, chocolates and tiny trinkets. St. Nick didn’t visit most of my classmates’ homes but I suspect he visited mine because of my family’s German ancestry.
Last night, in homes throughout Germany and other corners of Europe, many children prepared for Sankt Nikolaus’ arrival in much the same way as I used to. Legend has it that ‘good’ children will find their footwear overflowing with sweet treats and small toys. Naughty kids, on the other hand, are only gifted a bundle of twigs.
Santa Claus is believed to have developed from this custom, with stockings overtaking shoes as a vessel for holiday goodies.
This past weekend, we had our first sighting of St. Nicholas, braving frosty weather to partake in Oberammergau’s Christkindl Market fanfare. While a choir sang holiday tunes in German and English, revelers warmed their hands by swirling mugs of ruby-red Glühwein (literally ‘glow wine’ — a hot, mulled wine beverage with red wine and spices).
Stands staffed by hearty residents of all ages overflowed with a blend of culinary offerings such as homemade donuts, heart-shaped waffles, cakes dusted with a snow-like sugar, plump bratwurst and golden schnitzel. Some catered to the holiday gift shopper, while one stand offered attendees the chance to guess the weight of meat prizes. As the afternoon progressed, more and more snowflakes danced down from the sky and young girls dressed like angels handed out flyers for upcoming community holiday events.
With rosy cheeks, noses befitting Rudolph, and toes and fingers slowly turning into icicles, we headed home to warm up.
With Oberammergau’s Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) just around the corner, we will continue to usher in the holiday season in the coming days. In the meantime, to combat the cold and deluge of snow we’ve been receiving the past days, we’ll break out our own bottle of Glühwein at home, while toasting to the holidays. If you’d like to make your own Glühwein, do try the recipe that follows.
Cheers & best wishes for a happy holiday season!
Today, St. Nick stuffed our shoes with German chocolates and oranges. If you celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in your home, what type of goodies did St. Nick leave you or your little ones? Will you be going to any Christmas markets this season?
Finally, if you’re inspired to warm up with a cup of Glühwein, do check out this simple recipe in the BBC’s recipe section.
Where in the World?
The town of Oberammergau is located about 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Munich. Oberammergau hosts a Christkindlmarkt each winter. The Christkindlmarkt takes place the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are held in other towns in the region. See the Ammergauer Alpen site for specific details.
To get to Oberammergau by rail or by bus, consider getting the Bayern or Regio Ticket (website in German, but you can use Google Translate). These special tickets start at €20/25 for one passenger, and cost €6 for each additional passenger. You can use them to travel via bus and train throughout much of the region, making them a better deal if you want to make a few stops in a day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit. Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit.” – A traditional German beer drinking song wishing good health and cheer to companions.
I was first exposed to Germany’s Oktoberfest culture when I was eight years old. During a whirlwind trip to Munich, my parents’ German friends whisked us away to what seemed like every famous city landmark.
First, there was Munich’s Rathaus (city hall), where we watched the Glockenspiel figurines on the intricate tower twirl upon the hour. We then headed to the splendid two-domed church called the Frauenkirche. And since a visit to Munich is not complete without stopping by the famous Hofbräuhaus, we ventured there for a hearty meal as well. Once inside the legendary brewery, which dates back to 1589, I recall hearing polka music emanating from shiny brass instruments. Committing a German faux pas, we upset a Lederhosen-clad local when we mistakenly sat at his Stammtisch (a table reserved for regulars).
Osterbrunnen, or Easter fountains, herald spring’s return to chilly Germany’s Franconia or Franken region. Each year, wells and fountains in town centers are dressed with boxwood cuttings, ribbons and delicately-painted pastel eggs. The custom celebrates water’s life-giving properties.
The decorations typically spring up one week before Easter Sunday and they grace the fountains for a week thereafter, lending colorful accents to cobbled lanes and village centers that have been slumbering during the grey and frigid winter season.
In preparation for this long Easter weekend, my mother and I swung by her favorite Ansbach bakery last week, tucked away in the small city’s Altstadt, or old town. Though dogs are beloved in Germany and often seen accompanying their masters into department stores, cafés and restaurants, a sign outside the bakery indicated that Maltese, pup, Gigi had to remain outside while we loaded up the wicker basket with baked German goodies. In such establishments where dogs are verboten, there are hooks outside on which furry friends can be tethered while the Hund’s owner is inside shopping.
Eager to be showered with morsels of meat and biscuits from benevolent German shopkeepers – as Gigi and her canine sister, Meg, typically are when accompanying my mother on shopping errands – Gigi was decidedly unhappy that she had to remain outside – far from the culinary treats. Here’s hoping that you’re having a happier Easter and celebration of spring’s return! :)