Christmas Joy in Munich
Experiencing a German Christmas Market has been on my bucket list for far too long. It feels great to finally tick it off and I’m already planning a different one for next year… but that’s a topic for another post! Let’s talk about Munich, a city I’ve always loved to visit during the summer months for various festivals and sporting events. The most memorable of these was the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2006 watching Australia bravely fight off Brazil but ultimately lose 0-2. Luckily there was plenty of beer at the Hofbräuhaus to drown my sorrows!
This trip I was expecting to drink more Glühwein (mulled wine) than beer and I was right! What was forecast as “unsettled weather” turned particularly cold for early December and we needed the glühwein to keep warm. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Here are the facts:
I booked my flights early from Rome to Munich from 8 – 10 December. I had to because that weekend coincided with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, an Italian religious and public holiday celebrated annually on December 8. The best deal and flight times were with Lufthansa so it was a no-brainer. I flew there with Eurowings (airline under the Lufthansa umbrella) and with Lufthansa on the return. The Friday morning flight to Munich was very pleasant because when I checked-in online with Eurowings I was (amazingly) able to select a front-row seat. It was on the way back to Rome, however, that I was relieved to be flying with Lufthansa. The aforementioned “unsettled weather” meant constant snow all day Sunday which was a dangerous combination with the freezing rain. Hence, all flights in and out of the UK were cancelled and my friend returning to London on British Airways was stuck in Munich airport for an extra 24 hours. The flight to Rome before mine had also been cancelled but at least Lufthansa was making it worthwhile for any passengers willing to give up their seats. I was nearly tempted to give up my seat at the thought of another glühwein-filled evening with my friend and collect the generously offered €250! Luckily I didn’t because when I scanned my boarding pass at the gate, out popped a lovely ticket showing my new seat - 1D in business class. I was already happy just to have a seat on the plane, let alone one that included a delicious meal and a glass of bubbly! Thanks Lufthansa!
After looking at all the usual hotel booking sites, I also checked my Starwood Preferred Guest offers and the one for the Four Points by Sheraton was too good to refuse. I wrote to the hotel’s manager to let him know I would arrive before the standard check-in time and I was surprised to receive a response from two of the reception staff advising me that in the manager’s absence they would both be delighted to welcome me early to the hotel. Tick! When I did arrive at the hotel, I received a super-friendly welcome as well as a room upgrade, welcome gift, handwritten message and a map of the Christmas markets! Too much! The only small negative was the 15 minute walk to the city center but that was probably just as well since after trying all the varieties of glühwein, we didn’t have a spare moment to use the hotel’s fitness center.
As expected, Munich did not disappoint. It has all the Christmassy feels with every tree, building and inch of spare window space covered in decorations. When it started to snow, Munich was transformed into a real winter wonderland – fortunately with ample glühwein to protect us from the invading cold air and freezing rain! Until this trip I had no idea that freezing rain and snow were two distinct forms of water. Anyway, there’s a reason the Munich Christmas Markets are renowned as “the original”, with their origins dating back to the 1300’s. After seeing the 30 meter high tree in Marienplatz radiating with 2,500 Christmas lights, the glühwein flowing, Advent music playing and snowflakes falling, I was already enchanted by the magic of Christmastime in Munich, and this was only the first market of many we visited around the city. According to my local Munich friends, the city was overflowing with Christmas market visitors, but they still gladly come to meet up with friends and enjoy the markets for either a culinary delicacy during their lunch break or after work for a glühwein. The longstanding Bavarian tradition of handmade items is immediately apparent, ranging from gingerbread, wooden and glass decorations to sheepskin clothing and accessories. The sheepskin innersoles at €10 a pair were irresistible!
After experiencing the famous Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz, we took the excuse to escape the cold and step inside the Rathausgalerie Marienplatz. Here we were able to view 100 different Nativity Scenes dating back 300 years! If you’re a fanatic, not far away is also Germany’s largest Nativity market, known as the Kripperlmarkt where you can find every detail to make your own authentic Nativity Scene, including lanterns and hay. There are experts (at every stall) to give you advice and custom make something or even repair your existing treasures. Enjoy!
A short walk from the city center is the English Garden, where a more romantic Christmas Market awaits at the Chinese tower. Apart from all the typical arts, crafts and Christmas delicacies, we were also tempted by the horse-drawn carriage ride around the gardens. Unfortunately, we still had to walk off our hearty Tuscan-style lunch at nearby Seerose. I wasn’t expecting to eat Italian on my trip to Germany but it was everything I love about both countries – authentic Italian flavors, great wines and friendly service in a cozy yet elegant atmosphere.
Next stop on the Christmas Market tour was the magical Christmas village scene inside the Residenz. After a patient wait in the single line entering and exiting the courtyard of the Residenz, we were greeted by trumpeters around the square playing traditional Christmas music which put us in the perfect mood to try some more mulled wine! This seemed to be more the focus of this market, rather than on the Christmas stalls. Cheers!
Perhaps it was more a reflection of the time of day than the Medieval Christmas Market on Wittelsbacherplatz, but the mood at this market also seemed to be heavily focused on eating and drinking. And why not! Here we were able to find a delicious white mulled wine and something I had been dying to try – Feuerzangenbowle – a variety of mulled wine with a generous shot of rum which is then lit on fire. I don’t know how these oversized earthenware mugs with blue flames licking over the sides were carried around the crowded market without incident! I highly recommend the freshly made oven-fired pizzas at the Flammbroten Beckerey inside the Medieval Market – absolutely delicious with mulled wine and all less than €5. Notably, the glühwein was only €3 or €4 everywhere we went in Munich. Ich liebe München!
I have to dedicate a section entirely to Dallmayr because in my trip to Munich of only three days and two nights, I managed to squeeze in breakfast, an aperitif, dinner and Christmas shopping in this German institution which began as a trading business over 300 years ago. The beautiful window displays drew me into the world of Dallmayr and I spent my first hour inside exploring the delicatessen, the teas, coffees, chocolates, cake… until I found the Dallmayr-branded champagne and my curiosity got the better of me. I knew it was an institution after meeting a local couple at the bar who have been meeting a group of friends there for Friday drinks for many years. Two glasses of champagne later and I was adopted into their Friday night group! I really understood the importance of the brand when I returned to Rome and recounted my trip to a German friend, whose face lit up when she told me that her family would drink Dallmayr coffee on special occasions. I can happily attest to not only the coffee but the delicious breakfast in the Café-Bistro which absolutely needs to be booked if you don’t want to wait an hour like we did. All of Munich was there on Saturday morning – really, the surrounding streets were empty!
PRAY (AND EAT)
I had the pleasure of being able to experience Mass in two iconic Munich churches and put my limited German to good use (one of the benefits of being married to a Swiss Guard). The first was at the imposing St. Michael’s Church on the evening of December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, where I was lucky to find a seat. Walking outside into the chilly night air I was delighted to find a nearby stall selling organic mulled wine.
For Sunday Mass I attended the elegant Frauenkirche, the Gothic-style Cathedral of Munich, whose two towers can be seen from most parts of the city. I also mention this because the Augustiner Klosterwirt is conveniently located underneath the towers and many of the parishioners flowed into the beer house after Mass to enjoy a meal of roasted knuckle of pork with potato dumplings and dark beer gravy washed down with at least a liter of beer. I opted for another traditional Bavarian meal of cheese Spaetzle topped with friend onions and only half a liter of beer.
On Sunday afternoon after our heavy but delicious Bavarian lunch, we and other pedestrians in the heart of the city were mobbed by hundreds of horned, masked and furry beasts during the traditional Krampus Run past the central Christmas market. The Krampus tradition is scary but harmless. This is something not to be missed as the Krampusses rattle their chains and bells to sort out the naughty from the nice children at Christmas. I wasn’t the only one to give a few shrieks! Vielen Dank München – now I’m really in the mood for Christmas!