Part of the fun of living in a new country is to see the changes throughout the year. When we arrived in February and for as long as we had known, the Chinese Tower was one of the biggest, most popular beer gardens, since it is located in the middle of the English Garden (main park similar to SF's Golden Gate Park) and had a band that played often. In winter, they were only open on weekends; during the summer, every wonderful day! Above is a photo from over the summer of me with the band. Spending a warm afternoon with friends and family at the Chinese Tower beer garden was definitely one of our favorite pastimes.
But, since Germany embraces Christmas in a way that words can't describe, they even removed all the benches, tables, and other signs of the beer garden from around the Chinese Tower, and instead, installed a smallish Christmas market, complete with carousel, kids rides, food stands, and booths selling ornaments and other goods. If you wondered what would get Germans to part with their beer gardens, at least temporarily, it seems Christmas succeeds in doing just that!
We had been to Prague in the summer (post linked here), which aside from an unfortunate incident with a bee sting, we truly enjoyed and kept thinking it would be amazing if we could somehow manage to see Prague for one of the couple times each winter that it snowed. Lucky for us, going for the Christmas market worked out and we got to see the city with a couple inches of snow!
For an added bonus, the first night we were there, no snow, but it was still incredibly beautiful. This is the old town city center with the Astronomical Clock on the left.
The city of Dresden has been having a Christmas market in some form since 1434, which makes it the oldest Christmas market in Germany, and gives it a serious leg up on other cities. Like most, they actually have about five smaller markets and one major one, but they did the best job of providing information in English about where they were and what was at each one. Some of the main sights in Dresden include the largest pyramid candle in the world which is 46 feet tall, a larger than life erzebrigge (wooden scene with an arch of candles) that you could walk up, two carousels, a ferris wheel, and loads of stands.
For those who can't picture a Christmas market, there are a couple things to know. In Europe, there are big empty squares, at least the size of a football field, and they are everywhere, so they get filled with wooden stands that are lined up and decorated, which sell all sorts of winter, holiday, and household items. The decorations on the stands are often just as I'm impressive as what they have for sale. It is hard to see in the photos above, but often the decorations involve moving bits, like the dwarves who were making teddy bears - above a stand that sold teddy bears.
The markets are crowded all day, but get way more magical at night, when all the light displays turn on, and you see ornate, larger than life German pyramid candles spinning (top left). Stuttgart had a choir that sang in one of the empty courtyards inside a former palace (there are former palaces all over Europe!) so everyone got to listen to them and admire the surroundings, which included a statue of some ruler on a horse (bottom photo).
One of our worries about staying to see Christmas markets was would they all start to seem the same? I mean, how many variations of wood-carved ornaments and glass-blown ornaments and lebekuchen (the gingerbread hearts and Rudolph's) could we really see, even though there are something like 500 different Christmas markets across Europe?
Germany's National Holiday recently happened on October 3, and it was interesting to see how it was celebrated, beyond just the updated Google doodle. To start with, how the date was picked is interesting. Per Wikipedia: "an alternative choice to commemorate the reunification could have been the day the Berlin Wall came down—November 9, 1989, which coincided with the anniversary of the proclamation of the German Republic in 1918 and the defeat of Hitler's first coup in 1923. However, 9 November was also the anniversary of the first large-scale Nazi-led pogroms against Jews in 1938 (Kristallnacht), so the day was considered inappropriate as a national holiday. Therefore, 3 October 1990, the day of formal reunification, was chosen instead."
Day two of Oktoberfest is a parade that, based on its title and description, I expected it to be a somewhat brief parade with a few interesting costumes. I was seriously mistaken. The parade lasted three hours! Three hours. Think about it. Have you ever seen a US parade last that long? Especially when the alternative activity is to be in a beer tent drinking? The parade was supposed to showcase some of the history of the region, and it did that. And more. I'll spare you the photos that were almost exact duplicates of the opening parade where all the breweries' horse teams brought in massive barrels of beer. Instead, I have grouped photos by themes: some relevant to the parade, some that just amused me. These first photos above were from before the parade started.
As long as you can find it, Rothenburg is an amazing town! You have to be careful because there are multiple Rothenburg's in Germany (I'm referring to the one by the Tauber River, hence the ob der Tauber) as well as that in German it's called Rotenburg, so that can be confusing. Foruntately, I have my handy English speaking guy at the train station who made sure I was going to the correct place and who got us train tickets including the two connections. It's a long journey from Munich (3.5 hours by train), but if you can't get your fill of cute, old villages or if you need a dose of Christmas no matter the time of year, Rothenburg is the place to go.