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Holiday Adventures in Nurmeberg
By Diana Koch

In mid-December 2008, I went on a Christmas adventure to Nuremberg, Germany, aka "Christmas City," with a large group of spirited travelers. Quite festive during the holiday season, Nuremberg's renowned Christmas Market (CHRISTKINDLESMARKT, translated into English as the "Kris Kringle Mart") is observed each year since the early 17th century. The market begins in late November and continues until Christmas Eve, and is a favorite of both young and old, beckoning folks from around the globe with unique holiday themed items.

The historic, ancient city of Nuremberg is also famous for its traditional gingerbread (Lebkuchen), sausages and one-of-a-kind, handmade toys, so we anticipated getting some serious shopping, eating and sightseeing in over our action-packed, three-day journey!

Day 1

After a smooth eight-hour flight from New York, we landed in Frankfurt and took the Intercity Express from the airport right to Nuremberg. After a two-hour train ride to the Nuremberg Hauptbahnh of station, we were whisked to the Le Meridien Grand Hotel, (which according to Frommer's is the best place to stay) where we settled in and enjoyed a traditional German-flaired breakfast, complete with bratwurst, various cheeses, fruit, cereal and eggs. Although we were tired from our journey, we couldn't wait to start exploring our surroundings, so many of us bundled up to ward off the cold, wet weather and walked 10 minutes right to the Christmas Market. Crunching through the slightly snow-covered ground energized us, further heightening our holiday spirit.

Finally, we arrived. Right on Nuremberg Main Market Square in front of a beautiful cathedral was the Christmas Market! Each of the almost 200 red-and-white festooned wooden stalls held traditional Christmas wares, such as spicy gingerbread, fruit loaves, bakery goods and sweets, and typical Christmas articles like tree angels, cribs, ornaments and candles, toys and arts and crafts products. Other favorites included "Nuremberg Plum People," which were curious little clothed figures made from prunes. Refreshment was at hand with many bratwurst booths, and we gladly partook. As is tradition, three bratwursts known as Drei imWeggla, (which resemble small breakfast sausages in the U.S.) are served in a fresh roll.  We also enjoyed gluehwein, a hot spiced mulled wine served in a ceramic holiday cup that you can reserve or buy. Both the sandwich and wine were quite satisfactory in the chilly weather. Soon after, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

Day 2

After breakfast, we enjoyed a walking tour of Nuremberg spearheaded by our group leader, Rick. He had a special fondness for this city, having been stationed there for 18 months during World War II, and was a fountain of historical information. Although the city is for the most part rebuilt, evidence of the war still exists. As we walked, we observed the many shrapnel marks embedded in the buildings and ancient churches, one of which had an interesting story behind it. Legend has it that long ago, Saint Sebaldus, the Patron Saint of Nuremberg, instructed his followers that when he died they should place his deceased body on a mule. Wherever the mule stopped was where his church should be built. That is the very spot where it stands today. And although many churches charge to enter, this particular one runs strictly on donations. While inside the traditional European church, we observed photos of how battered it looked during the war.

We also visited massive Nuremberg Castle, or Kaiserburg, one of the most important castles in the history of the German Empire. Between 1050 and 1571, all the German and Holy Roman Emperors lived there at various times. Nuremberg Castle is located at the highest point in the city, so we breathlessly walked up its steep hill, entered, and were greeted by incredible suits of armor and battle gear, most of which had obviously been used. It was interesting to see how small people were back then! We also marveled at the amazing view of the battlefield and expansive city below. Although some in our group were claustrophobic or afraid of heights, a few were brave and ventured up the spiraling, stone staircase to the top of the tower.

In one of the castle's many rooms, we observed an eerie painting of a resident prince. No matter where you stood in the room, his feet pointed in your direction! We also visited the famous Schöner Brunnen fountain in the Hauptmarkt. This towering, beautifully ornamented treasure was carefully covered during World War II to protect it from Allied bombing. A wrought iron fence encloses it and there is a "gold" ring (actually bronze) looped around one part of the fence. Turning this ring three times is supposed to grant a wish. We took this opportunity to turn the ring and take some pictures. That evening, we dined in the center of the city overlooking the river Pegnitz at Heilig-Geist-Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit).Now an elderly person's home and restaurant, it was founded in 1332, and was one of the largest hospitals during the Middle Ages. Because the dining room was large and expansive, one could almost imagine how it was hundreds of years ago with cots of the wounded laid out everywhere.

Because we sat at long banquet tables made of wood, it reminded me of King Arthur's court - especially when part of a giant goose was laid before us. The wait staff was dressed in traditional German garb and of course, there was bratwurst! The whole experience was wonderfully authentic. Afterwards, we took a 15-minute walk, smoking cigars all the way, to a small, intimate restaurant called Raubritter, located in a wine cellar with low ceilings, slanted walls and romantic candlelight. We enjoyed a cocktail, relaxed and soaked in the atmosphere.

Day 3

Because we could do what we wished on this last day, some in our group revisited the Christmas Market and souvenir shopped, while others took the train to the nearby cities of Munich and Rothenburg for further adventures. Since Christmas was approaching, a friend and I opted to explore the numerous little lanes around the main market square and below the castle, where there are many shops selling designer fashion, jewelry, shoes, antiques, toys and more. Those looking for something unusual are sure to find it here! We explored the Handwerkerhof (CraftsYard), a special shopping section in the city where traditional craftsmen such as doll makers, pewterers, glass engravers, glass painters and leather bag makers offer their wares in a typically Franconian half-timbered ambience. We wandered in and out of the specialty shops, one of which had hand-painted toys, reminiscent of those made by Santa's elves.

Another shop, aptly located in a section of town that resembled medieval times, was filled from top-to-bottom with handcrafted items made from pewter. There, I picked up a one-of-a-kind holiday-themed beer stein for my husband. Authentic gifts for the kids were found at a doll store. I chose two adorable bears, traditionally dressed as a little German boy and girl, complete with lederhosen. In between shops, we stopped at a street café for a little rest, and one of the locals told us that when the weather is good, a visit to one of the beer-gardens is a must. We also learned that at night, a lively club scene lures night-owls into pubs, bars and discos. We vowed to return!

After souvenirs were acquired, we visited the former home/studio and now museum of Germany's most famous artist Albrecht Dürer, born in Nuremberg in 1471. Today, the Albrecht Dürer-Haus is the main attraction of the "Historical Mile," and offers an unprecedented glimpse 500 years into the past. The upper floor was Dürer's studio, where you can see the carved blocks for the printing press, and even purchase some prints. The kitchen still had its kettle on a raised hearth with hanging utensils. The museum tour even included the parlor where Dürer entertained clients who were interested in having their portraits painted, since this was his main way of earning a living.

We took a cab to dinner at Zum Sudhaus on our last evening on the other end of town. More German fare was enjoyed,with ample fish and meats, as well as ginger ice cream- a real "Christmasy" treat! Overall, our holiday adventure in Nuremberg, Germany was a whirlwind adventure, full of vast new experiences. We enjoyed German fare, shopped at the famous Christmas Market and beyond, and learned about the region's history. We had an amazing experience in this historic and beautiful European city. Everyone should go at least once in a lifetime, so start planning now - the holidays will be here again before you know it!

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