First, we should say that the mulled wine to which we make reference in the title is actually Gluhwein, the German incarnation of everyone’s favourite festive drink. However, that doesn’t begin with ‘m’ and therefore would have ruined our beautifully alliterative headline.
Anyway, a few of us here at Fred.\ Holidays recently got the chance to head over to Germany’s Rhineland region and experience the sights and sounds of a number of German Christmas markets. So, with a festive spring in our step, we set off on the Eurostar (a fantastic alternative for those who want to avoid the hassle of flying) to visit the cities of Bonn, Frankfurt and Cologne. Here’s a round-up of our trip.
John Le Carré once wrote of this former capital of West Germany ‘Bonn: either it rains or the level crossings are down’. Thankfully, we experienced much more of the latter in a city where the main metro lines forge a route right through the centre, testing the patience of locals and visitors alike. Our time here, though, started with a pleasant night’s sleep at the Maritim Hotel Bonn, just outside the city centre. It may be located a few minutes from the station and main sights, but the adjacent metro stand makes getting around very simple indeed. A brief tour of the property taught us that not only are the majority of rooms in a Maritim hotel very spacious and a similar size (only amenities, location and view determine the room grade), this particular hotel also has one of the largest conference halls you’ll ever see.
Our walking tour of Bonn gave us a great insight into certain events in this important city’s history. We were showed the house where Ludwig van Beethoven spent the first five years of his life; Poppelsdorf Palace, which the Prussian King Frederick-Wilhelm III turned into the main university building; the gilded Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), where the Nazis once held one of their book burnings and much more.
As for the Christmas market, held on Münsterplatz and the surrounding streets, it was a quaint and traditional affair. There were various gluhwein stalls, as well as those selling local handicrafts, charming decorations and irresistible food that fills your nostrils at every turn. At one end, beyond the treasured Beethoven memorial, stood a Ferris wheel, whilst other parts of the market were delightfully intertwined with the old city walls and other historic buildings.
Frankfurt: The City Of Superlatives
Our second stop took us to the towering skyline of Frankfurt, or Mainhattan, as the locals like to refer to it. This nickname is apt due to the fact that the city is dissected by the Main River and that its 14 skyscrapers give it a similar look and feel to New York’s borough of Manhattan. Two of these buildings once held the title of tallest in Europe and so begins a list of records that Frankfurt is proud to boast. One such skyscraper, the Commerzbank Tower, is still the tallest office building in Germany, whilst the nearby airport is the largest in the country. In 2015, Frankfurt is also where you will find Germany’s tallest Christmas tree. From the moment you arrive, it is clear to see that this is a city that means business; literally.
The Maritim Hotel Frankfurt that we stayed in here is set-up perfectly for those travelling for work purposes, as well as tourists arriving for events at the Festhalle, located next door. Guests have direct access from the hotel to Hall 5 of this complex, which hosts music and comedy gigs as well as prestigious conferences. Key features of the hotel include a superior floor, which can be used by guests who don’t want to be disturbed; two rooms designed specifically for women travelling alone, complete with female-friendly amenities, increased security and use of a mobile phone; and Frankfurt’s most popular Japanese sushi restaurant.
Our time at the Frankfurt Christmas market, one of Germany’s largest and oldest, was all too short. However, there was still time to try some of the festive specialities that Frankfurt is famous for. As well as Apfelwein, a warming drink similar to mulled cider, and almond candies known as Bethmännchen, there are stalls selling Quetschenmännchen. These little figures are made out of prunes joined together with wire and a walnut for a head. They represent different jobs and hobbies and are traditionally given to declare one’s love to the recipient.
Christmas In Cologne
The largest city on our trip and last on the list of places to visit was Cologne. Famous for its breathtaking Gothic cathedral, the people of the city are proud to be represented by three ‘K’s. Firstly, there’s Karneval; the season of partying which originates from a time when all the tantalizing food and drink was consumed in one period of frivolity to alleviate any temptation during the month of lent. Secondly, there’s Kölsch; a word that refers to both the dialect spoken here and the type of beer the locals vehemently quaff. And finally, there’s Kölnisch Wasser (literally water of Cologne); the fragrance which has led to the city’s name being used to describe perfume and aftershave all over the world.
The Maritim Hotel Köln was the most impressive of the three we saw throughout our brief stay in Germany. The expansive, glass-roofed lobby allows light to flood in and shows off the beautiful layout of the building. The bottom floor features a range of shops and restaurant, with the rooms being situated on the floors above. Everything is set to run with typical precision and guests are given many different options for breakfast, regardless of what time they choose to make their way down from their room.
There is a total of seven Cologne Christmas markets dotted around the city centre and we got to spend most of our time in one of the largest. The ‘Home of the Heinzel’ is situated in the Old Town and is themed around the legend of the Heinzelmännchen. These tiny elves are said to have once carried out all the housework and craftwork for the locals whilst they slept at night until the tailor’s wife set a trap to see them for herself and they were never seen again. The stalls here seemed to be set out in a more orderly fashion and there was even a map to help visitors find what they were looking for. In order for this German Christmas market to celebrate truly authentic craftsmanship, all sellers are asked to demonstrate the production of their wares at some point during the festive period.
All in all, Germany is filled with some fantastic Christmas markets. The three we saw were all excellent, but we can also help you plan a trip to anywhere else in Germany, be it a small town or major city. And if you’re in need of somewhere to stay, Maritim hotels are always a convenient, comfortable and classy option.