Monday, December 12, 2016

German towns have much to offer any time of year

Our recent trip to Germany to visit several of the area’s Christkindlmarkts introduced us to features of the four cities we visited that make them great travel destinations no matter what time of the year.

We visited Frankfurt, Rüdesheim, Nürnberg and Würzburg. Like their markts, each city and town shared several similar traits, but each also had aspects that made it unique.

Frankfurt

Euro symbol in Frankfurt's financial district, Germany
Euro symbol in the financial district
With its population of about 700,000, Frankfurt is Germany’s fifth-largest city and, due to its status as the country’s financial center, referred to by some locals as “Main-Hattan” due to its location on the Main River.

Following Great Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, it is vying to become the EU’s financial center as well, though it is facing competition from other major cities on the continent.

On four evenings each year, the churches in the city center square participate in an event called stadtgeläut. During the events, which mark four occasions of the liturgical year, the ten churches ring a total of 50 bells simultaneously for 30 minutes in the late afternoon or early evening. We visited on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent. Stadtgeläut also takes place on Christmas Eve, Holy Saturday and the Saturday before Pentecost.

While we enjoyed listening to the bells from a Primus-Linie boat cruising a lazy oval in the Main River between two of the city’s main bridges, it can also be experienced from the town square, at the foot of one of the participating churches, or from the Iron Bridge spanning the Main.

The city is home to a panoply of churches, with many concentrated in the Römerberg area. In addition, the birthplace and museum dedicated to German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe is a five-minute walk from the center of the area.

Frankfurt offers a number of attractions including the Main Tower, where observation decks on the 54th and 55th floors provide views that seem to stretch forever.

Vegetables for sale at the Kleinmarkthalle, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Vegetables for sale at the Kleinmarkthalle
As one can readily see from the Main Tower and elsewhere, Frankfurt’s architecture is an interesting blend of old and new. Although heavily damaged by bombing during World War II, many of the replacement buildings were constructed in the old style. The track hall and the reception hall of the city’s main train station, The Hauptbahnhof, are examples Neo-Renaissance architecture, while the outer two halls are examples of neoclassicism. Skyscrapers more recently built sport a distinctly late 20th or early 21st century style.

Frankfurt is home to an indoor farmer’s market of sorts called the Kleinmarkthalle, or small market hall. While nowhere near the size Los Angeles Farmers’ Market or Seattle’s Pike Place Market, it offers a range of products from meat to vegetables to candies and even wine, beer and liquor. A great place to browse, and even grab a few things to bring home.

Rüdesheim

Some 60 kilometers west of Frankfurt, on the north bank of the Rhine River, is the tiny village of Rüdesheim. This town of about 6,000 has a definite orientation toward the tourist trade with its riverfront boulevard the Rhinestraße home to souvenir shops and stands, hotels, bars and restaurants.

Niederwald Monument, Rüdesheim, Germany
Niederwald Monument, Rüdesheim
Although similar in many respects to other small towns along the river, there are several features that make Rüdesheim well worth a visit.

One of the first sights visitors see is the tower of the Adlerturm, or Eagle’s Tower. Located about a kilometer south of the town’s train station, the tower was constructed in the 15th century in the Gothic style.

A part of the city fortifications, it is 20.5 meters tall and its walls are a meter thick. Remnants of the city’s wall are directly across from the tower and easily seen from the sidewalk. It is said that, during the 19th century, the Adlerturm housed an inn called “Zum Adler” and that Goethe frequently stayed there during his visits to Rüdesheim.

On a hill above Rüdesheim is the Niederwald Monument. Constructed to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Kaiser Wilhelm the First laid the first stone on Sept. 16, 1871. The monument was inaugurated almost exactly 13 years later, on September 28, 1883.

Cable car to the Niederwald Monument, Rüdesheim, Germany
Cable car to the Niederwald Monument
Located in the Niederwald landscape park, it overlooks the Rhine River Valley. Visitors can reach the monument in small, open gondolas of a cable car that departs from the north end of Rüdesheim, by car from the nearby town of Assmanshausen or by trails on foot. The day we visited was cold but clear, providing some spectacular views on the rides to and from the monument.

Rüdesheim lies at the nexus of the region’s wine-growing region and a UNESCO World Heritage site along the Rhine River, making it an excellent jumping-off point to do some wine-tasting and, depending on the season, visit some of the area’s wineries.

A two-hour boat ride that departs Rüdesheim takes passengers into the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Named a World Heritage Site in 2002, the 65-kilometer stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley between Bingen, Rüdesheim and Koblenz showcases the area’s strategic location and importance as a transport artery. It also shows the prosperity the river trade brought to the area, which today is reflected in its 60 small towns, extensive terraced vineyards and the ruins of castles that once defended the river and the commerce it brought.

Nürnberg

Schöner Brunnen fountain, Nürnberg, Germany
Schöner Brunnen fountain
Our next stop was Nürnberg, a city of about 500,000 residents. A train ride of about 2-1/2 hours east of Frankfurt, it lies near the center of the German state of Bayern, or Bavaria. Like many cities, it features a number of churches, museums and attractions in addition to seasonal features like Christmas markets.

The Nürnberg town square features the Gothic Schöner Brunnen fountain. Originally built in 1385, the original was replaced with a replica during the 20 th century. Set into the railings is a golden ring. Legend has it that visitors who turn the ring three times, then make a wish, will have their wish granted.

In addition, the market itself abuts the German Railway Museum, the spielzeugmuseum (toy museum), and the Goldenes Posthorn, which claims to be Germany’s oldest wine stube, or wine bar.

Würzburg

Würzburg, located about 1-1/2 hours east of Frankfurt by train, has a population of about 125,000, including many international students attending its two universities and the Würzburg Music Academy. When not hosting the annual Christkindlmarkt, Würzburg’s Marktplatz and the city’s newly designated pedestrian mall serve as gathering places and focal points for visitors and residents alike.

The Residence, Würzburg, Germany
The Residence, Würzburg
Like the other cities we visited, there was much to do in Würzburg beyond the Christmas market. The city is home to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Würzburg Residence. Located less than a kilometer from the town center, it was a “must see” for my wife, the history aficionado.

The magnificent Baroque palace was created under the patronage of the prince-bishops Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. It was built and decorated in the 18th century by an international team of architects, painters including Giovanni Tiepolo, sculptors and stucco-workers. Surrounded by lush gardens, the Würzburg Residence has been called one of the largest and most beautiful in Germany.

Although heavily damaged in the bombings of World War II, much of the palace has been recreated and restored and is open for tours today.

Fortress Marienberg, Würzburg, Germany
Fortress Marienberg
Just inside the doors of the Rathaus, or town hall, is a three-dimensional model of what the city looked like following the Allied bombings of March 1945. Although lacking major armaments industries, Würzburg was targeted as part of the attempt to break the spirit of the German people, according to one local with whom we spoke.

During that raid, incendiary bombs set fire to much of the city, killing an estimated 5,000 people and almost completely obliterating the historic town.

Würzburg is also home to the Fortress Marienberg, which stands on a hill overlooking the Main River. The first church in Würzburg was erected on the site in 704 A.D., and fortifications were built around the church at the beginning of the 13th century. The fortress, which was expanded and renovated several times during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, served as the seat of the area’s prince-bishops for more than 500 years, until the Würzburg Residence was completed.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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