I know, I know: the reason for the season is not Santa Claus. (Believe me, I have strong anti-Santa Claus feelings.) And consumerism and shopping and all that stuff don't make Christmas Christmas either. But there is something so cozy and nice about drinking some hot Gluhwein (mulled wine, for all those who haven't experienced the magic of the Christmas season in this part of the world!) as Christmas music plays, lights and greenery decorate every building in sight, and people are happily munching on Bratwurst and hot waffles. Really, it's a lot of fun, and the Germans do it well.
John and I headed to the Bavarian city of Rothenburg this past weekend. We'd heard about its Christmas markets, as well as its Germanic charm. I'll be honest: the city was beautifully decorated, and its markets were lovely but weren't my favorite. (They were good, but maybe I was spoiled by previously browsing the extensive booths and selection in Munich.) BUT the city is so worth visiting, because it is absolutely charming.
I am starting to recognize more of what's written around me after almost seven weeks of German class (5 days a week, 3 hours a day) under my belt. For example, only this week did I learn the vocab necessary to read the sign above: We must stay outside. It's the little things...baby steps! Grüß Gott ("Groos Gohtt") is a common, more formal way of greeting people here; Servus! ("Ser-voos!") is a common, informal way of saying hello in Bavaria.
If you ever find yourself in Rothenburg, I highly recommend staying at Villa Mittermeier located just outside the city gates. It's beautiful, super warm and cozy, and the staff is so nice. They have a restaurant downstairs, and we had a good breakfast there one morning. We walked around a lot, to the main square and the side streets, stopping in little stores and getting snacks or a meal at restaurants and cafes. The Christmas markets were the main attraction for us, and we visited some of the Christmas shops located near the markets. I'll give you some fair warning: these shops are so overpriced, and I've found the same products (or nicer) here in Munich for much cheaper. I think these stores rely on international guests (and there are many) who have to buy gifts now, and who will pay their exorbitant prices. Nice try, guys.
Other than Christmas marketing and window shopping--and eating too much bread and meat, as the Germans tend to do--we walked on the city walls, which offers some great views of the city's rooftops and the surrounding countryside. It's also totally free, which is a bonus. A highlight that I can definitely recommend if you visit the city is to take the Night Watchman Tour that leaves at 8PM from the town hall. Now, I'm not much of a tour girl, and I dragged my feet to this one; John was really excited about it. But it was great! The guide is dressed as a medieval town watchman and he has a dry/sarcastic sense of humor and hilarious voice intonation (trust me) that made the tour even more interesting/hilarious. It was great to get an overall sense of Rothenburg's history, and to imagine what the town was like hundreds of years ago. (Let's just say I'm glad I was born in the 1980s and not the 1480s.)
The restaurant above, "To Hell" (no kidding), was recommended to us by the tour guide. We stopped there after the tour for a drink and an appetizer, and it is the quaintest, prettiest little restaurant with the nicest wait staff. Go early or make reservations to eat though, because they were packed. So yup, go "To Hell" next time you visit Rothenburg (Zur Höll, Burggasse 8), especially if you're in the mood for a nicer meal (I heard the waiter mention wild boar, duck, and venison as the main specials for the night). (And if you want Italian food, Michelangelo's is the way to go.)
We had a great time in Rothenburg, and if you ever find yourself in southern Germany, I recommend stopping by. An ideal time to go is obviously Christmas, but I know the city would be beautiful any time of the year.