England is my home and has been since I moved here from India, a decade ago. And during these years, I have acquired a taste of visiting Christmas markets and have visited numerous Christmas markets with in the United Kingdom. I have visited the famous Winchester market, Salisbury, Lincoln and many others which are scattered across in London. The European Christmas markets are well known for its festivities,food, shops with handicrafts and traditional fair. And amongst them, the German Christmas markets are considered the best and are also amongst the oldest Christmas markets. We decided we want to experience the European Christmas markets. After my hours of gathering up information on internet and my husband looking at Google maps for the distance between cities we zeroed in on Christmas Markets of Duesseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart and Zurich. And as for travelling to different cities of Europe, we decided on railways to be our choice of mode of transport. Train journeys are very remarkable, I have very nostalgic memories of long train journeys in India, train tearing across different plains and terrains, the gentle rocking of the train, like a baby being rocked in the arms of a mother, lulling one in to a reverie. And finding Reverie is my prime occupation as of now. So we ordered Inter rail Passes to travel between the European Cities and I can very happily say, it was a very good choice.
We flew from London to Düsseldorf. And from there onward all our journeys were by train. From Düsseldorf Airport, we took a train to the Main station Düsseldorf. Since our travel was to be predominantly on railways, so we booked stays in hotels near the main stations for the entire trip. After dropping the luggage at our hotel, we went around for a stroll around the city. The trip was to experience Christmas markets and the markets open around 11.00 am. They are more delightful to watch with the lights on and hence a more appropriate time is when the day light starts to fade with Sun set, and the fairy lights start twinkling. We walked in to Konigstalle, a shopping district of Düsseldorf, where all big names in fashion industry have an outlet. It is often referred to as Champs-Elysées of Dusseldorf. Konigstalle, means King s Avenue, fondly called as Ko by locals, is a pretty road lined with trees on either sides, a canal running in between, shopping centres and mall on one side of the avenue and on the other side of the canal offices and banks. It was a crisp and bright Winter morning , we walked along the canal, which also has a cycling path, admiring the Christmas decorations of different shops and offices. We walked in to a mall called Seven, which was all lit up with beautiful lights and decorations. We decided, we will head back to our room and sit for a while and then come back a little later when it was slightly darker and the lights more visible. We returned back to city centre around, 4.00 pm and went to Christmas Market at the City Centre, with wooden stalls, selling colourful objects.The atmosphere in the market was full of festive cheer and charm,there was a band playing Christmas songs, there were Glu wien- Mulled Wine stalls, traditional German food stalls,we being vegetarians we had limited options, so went for some Potato fritters, with sauce. There is a pleasure in eating hot potato fritters fresh out of the fryer, standing outside in the cold, all wrapped up, steam rising from a fritters and coffee in your hand and drinking in the atmosphere. Again anyone else would choose Gluhwine, but me being me, I chose a coffee. Glu wien, is Mulled wine infused with spices ,served warm in a mug.Every Christmas market has a unique mug with city’s name inscribed on it,which can be your keepsake, for a few Euros and I believe makes a good Souvenir. From the city centre Christmas market, we walked in to old Town Düsseldorf, which is referred as Aldstadt, has its own Christmas Market. The Düsseldorf Wheel is also located in Aldstadt. I found the Aldstadt very charming, which is full of restaurants, bars and eating joints on either sides of the road,lined with chairs and tables on the either side of the street and tall towering heaters around, spreading heat and warmth. You find different cuisines ranging from Italian, Spanish Tapas, American Steakhouses, Lebanese, Morrocan, Chinese, to traditional German food, and serving the famous German Altbier. Walking around in the Aldstadt,I found a little write up outside one of the restaurants , stating there is an age old rivalry between Düsseldorf and neighbouring city Cologne, on everything ranging from food, to their beers. If you order a beer brewed in Cologne, called Kolsch, when in Düsseldorf, instead of Altbier, you have invited trouble for yourself. Similarly when you are in Cologne , if you order Altbier, you would be looked down upon. And this rivalry still continues.
Next day we left for Cologne from Düsseldorf. The lovely lady at Duetsche Bahn counter suggested we reserve a seat on the train, also suggested a route were by we change at Frankfurt, which was more convenient and quicker for us. The DB train staff were very friendly, spoke to us in English, and very helpful on all occasions of our interaction during this trip. We walked out of the train station, with the Cologne Cathedral towering over the Station, on that that day which was shrouded with clouds. We walked from the station to the Hotel , again very much in walking distance from the main station. We checked in to the Hotel, dropped our luggage and went up to the Cathedral and surrounding area to have a bit of wander. There were carol singers in the market spreading festive cheer ,there was the regular hustle and bustle ,with throngs of people rushing in and out of the shops, then there were many like us , who were walking around the market with a leisurely pace, soaking in the atmosphere, looking around for a place to eat. There were plenty of options available with variety of cuisine , Falafel joints, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, Indian and there were restaurants catering specially to Vegan and Vegetarians also. My husband was toying between Falafel, Indian or an Italian. We walked around the market trying to arrive at a conclusion, and when I could no longer wait for a decision, I walked in to Vapiano. Vapiano is a chain restaurant which serves Italian food, we have tried their food in London and Vienna, love the buzz of the place and of course the warm and delicious food.I had a nice warm Roasted pepper and Tomato soup with some bread. My husband choose Arabiatta pasta. While having our food we decided we could go back to hotel, leave around 3.00 PM , walk to the station and catch a train to Aachen. Aachen is a spa town, around half an hour train distance away from Cologne. It is famous for its Cathedral and the Christmas Market around the Cathedral. The markets and lights look more resplendent in the evening. Also it would also gave us time to chalk out the plan for Cologne Christmas Markets route. We reached Aachen by 4.00 pm and we paid a visit to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is 8th Century Church with a unique Octagonal shaped Cupola with mosaic tiles decorations and is considered prominent pilgrimage church. The Christmas market is around the church, is more quieter and calmer then the other big market, but in no way less in festivities and spirits and it reminded me of the Winchester Christmas Market, back home.
The next day we visited the Cologne Cathedral. Cologne Cathedral was the only surviving building from World War II, the entire city was destroyed in the bombing and a part of the Cathedral was also destroyed. The entire city has been rebuilt and so was the parts of Cathedral too.We stayed in the Cathedral for the prayers/mass. Even though I did not understand a word of what was being said, I found it be a very profound experience. It speaks a lot about the positive impact of prayers, irrespective of language, borders,religion. After the Cathedral, we decided to wander around in the city instead of going back to the hotel,to wait for the daylight to vanish in order to savour the Christmas Lights. We decided to visit the Lindt Chocolate Museum. The exhibits at the museum has been organised very well, instead of concentrating on just Chocolate making process, it also explains the impact of Chocolate and cocoa s industry’s impact on the world, how and where cocoa is grown, about Cocoa bean growers, their conditions , I learnt that cocoa growers are often from not such developed part of the globe, who live below poverty line and often have not tasted a bar of chocolate in their lives, the economic impact of cocoa growing countries which most often not the country of consumption , economic impact on Chocolatiers or chocolate consuming countries, which is often Western Countries, the medicinal effect of chocolate, how the cocoa is traded in Commodities Market, how much of income it generates for Cocoa growing countries and Chocolate producing countries, which most often is not the same countries. And of course it also shows the chocolate making process. I found the exhibition very interesting and thought provoking. After the Exhibition, we walked back to the market around the cathedral and wandered back in to Vapiano for Lunch. After a sumptuous lunch of pasta, we wandered a bit more around the market, enjoying the Carol singing, waiting for the natural light to fade. Cologne has many Christmas market around the city, the famous being ,the one next to the Cathedral and has the tallest Christmas Tree in the entire Rhineland, the other one being the Aldstadt Heinzelmunchen, -Old Market of House Gnomes Market and last not the least Market der Engel- Angel Market. All the three markets are un missable and charming and have their on themes running. My personal favourite was the Angel Market, star shaped lights strung across the market as if the stars have descended closer to the earth to form a ceiling on the angel market, it is a spellbinding sight. When we were happily floating about in the market, I started getting calls and messages from friends to check on our safety and informing us about the terrible attack on the Berlin Christmas Market, we walked back to our hotel, not much in elation.
Next day we looked up the news to check on the status and travel advice. We checked out of the hotel, and walked to the main station. We caught a train to Stuttgart. The travel mostly in silence , gazing out of the window, trying to make sense of the world we are in, wondering the capacity of human minds and heart, the penchant to love and hate with equal intensity, spend centuries creating and building lives with love and then destroy it in a moment with hate. Love and hate are the two sides of the same coin, if we know to hate, we know to love too. It is simple yet complex truth, a paradox of universe. We reached Stuttgart in late afternoon, we checked in to the hotel. And then went out for a wander around the city. Stuttgart is an economic centre, with Merc and other car giants having their headquarters. I was little surprised the way city looks considering it being very ahead in economic ladder. We walked around the Christmas market in the city centre. It was lit up, beautiful, and quieter not as exuberant as Cologne’s Christmas market. We wrapped up for the day earlier than usual and walked back to the hotel.
Next day we went to the Mercedes Benz Museum, one of the bucket list of my husband. I love museums and not cars so much. Car is a mode of transport like any other mode of transport, nothing to get excited about. Yet I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the museum. It shows the evolutionary journey of automobiles from the invention of wheels to horse drawn carriages to the present day cars. And above all I was very fascinated to find out that Mercedes was the name of the daughter of one the car enthusiast racer, who was pivotal in evolution of the car and it’s speed. Interestingly Mercedes herself did not learn to drive until her death !!!. After a lunch of sandwich at the Merc Museum Café , we took a train to another town called Esslingen, which is a twenty minutes ride on a train. Stuttgart region is a hilly region famous for its vineyards. The train ride to Esslingen, gave an opportunity to look at the topography of the region. Esslingen hosts a Christmas Market which is Medieval themed. The whole town gets in Medieval makeover, including the people, who wear Medieval clothes, the shop owners in the market are dressed in medieval costumes, the bars and eating joints are medieval themed, the carousel is an iron medieval themed , the story telling is too in medieval theme. It is claimed you can see fire breathing people, and fairy tale characters walking by. I did not spot any, yet it was like walking into a medieval market set of a movie.We tried a bread called Stockbrot. It is a twisted bread on a stick,we tried the salty version with tomatoes. The dough is wrapped around a stick and baked in a fire oven on coals. You eat the bread holding on to the stick , much like a ice lolly but instead the bread is nice and warm. It was perfect for the cold weather. We decided we still had the time to visit another Christmas Market in a town called Ludwigsburg. We took the train from Esslingen to Stuttgart Main Station and changed to another train to Ludwigsburg. The weather was turning colder and by the time we reached Ludwigsburg, a light mist started to rise. The entire town of Ludwigsburg is lit up with Angel theme. The mist rising and four large lit up angels looming over the market with their wings wide spread, made the market look ethereally very beautiful. We had a leisurely wander around the market and the lights, taking photos, the weather turning colder and colder, we walked back to station to head back to Stuttgart.
The next day we checked out of the hotel, and walked towards Stuttgart Main station to catch a train to Zurich. We had a bit of time in our hand, we browsed through some books at a bookstore, sent a post card to ourselves back to London, which is our quirky tradition of any holiday, went to a coffee shop , sipping a coffee bade our goodbye to Germany, before getting on the train departing for Zurich.