So: starting off this rabid spree of catch-up blogging, let me finally tell you about Nürnberg! This is old news, really – I went to the Christmas Festival in Nürnberg on the first of December. Great way to kick off the holiday season!
The Christmas Market in Nürnberg is one of the biggest, oldest, and certainly most well-known Christmas market in Germany. To those unfamiliar with the concept, a Christmas market (or village, or fair, or festival, or half a dozen other terms, depending on where you are in Germany, Austria, etc.) is sort of similar to a cross between a farmers’ market and a state fair – only everything is Christmassy. (Actually, my southern Missouri friends, think Silver Dollar City during Christmas, only everything is outdoors and there’s alcohol.) There are usually a few small rides (like a seven-seater carousel or a camel – I really do mean small) for the kids, and then a ton of booths and stalls filled with every imaginable sort of Christmas gift. Baked goods, candles, marzipan, old-fashioned toys, ornaments, hand-knitted scarves, hats, and gloves – if you’re looking for it, someone is probably selling it, handmade and with surprisingly reasonable prices, on the whole.
I couldn’t let Christmas pass by without seeing the famous “Christkindlemarkt”, so I hopped on a bus at an ungodly and dark hour of the morning on December first and rode the three hours south-east to Nürnberg.
The bus was surprisingly comfortable, actually – once it actually got there. I started off the day nearly an hour late (for reasons never explained by our grouchy driver) but once we were finally underway, I enjoyed the ride. Honestly, the traveling part is always my favorite of any trip. The destination is all well and good, but I just really love driving. Or flying, or riding in a train, as the case may be. I listened to a Batman radio drama on the way (it ended literally as we pulled into the bus stop in Nürnberg) and when we finally arrived I was ready to explore.
It was super cold, even with all my layers (2 pairs of pants, turtleneck, t-shirt, sweater, hoodie and coat) but I managed to forget about that for most of the day. There was so much to see! In fact, I took so many pictures that the rest of this entry is simply going to be photos, with captions explaining what they are and their significance.
1. This is the “Christkind” (say: krihst-kint), the symbol/host/mascot of the Nürnberg Christmas festival. Portrayed as a golden-haired angel in a white gown, she’s the star of the show and can be found all over – painted on ornaments, mugs, soaring over the streets, and even holding court in front of the church. The tradition goes back to Martin Luther, who was trying to avoid the Catholic veneration of saints and who told his children that the Christ Child had brought them their gifts on Christmas Eve. The Nürnberg Christkind morphed into a female figure by getting meshed up with the Angel of Annunciation from German Christmas plays, where angels are generally portrayed as female.
2. The Pegnitz River (I think) and it’s evil, rabid seagulls.
3. How often do you see Santa whiling away the days until Christmas by entertaining people at the Nürnberg Christmas festival with his mad accordion skills? With an elf-dog, no less!
4. The Frauenkirche ("Church of Our Lady") which stands on the eastern side of the main market square. I ducked in here long enough to sing some German carols with a local church that had come in, and then escaped as the priest began the ceremony of Mass for the three old ladies who had actually come for the service.
5. Here follows a few pictures of some of the prettier stands – I mean, they were all cool, but some were more eye-catching than others. This first was a stand of miniatures – something very popular at Christmas Markets. I think it’s an out-branching from the crèches people build at Christmas. I just wanted to buy everything in the shop!
6. More of the miniatures.
7. This entire stand was white-and-glass ornaments. It looked like Old Man Winter had set up shop selling icicles.
8. Fantastic lamps, hand crafted from cut sheets of plastic.
9-10. The antique nativity scene – or crèche, as they’re called here – outside the cathedral. The sign says: “Please refrain from throwing coins or other objects at the Nativity Scene. If struck, the antique figures might be seriously damaged! Beginning in 1935, on the initiative of Paul Seegy, then Building Director of the City of Nuremberg, this Nativity Scene was crafted by Bertl Kuch and Max Renner, two Nuremberg artists. 36 figures carved from Pinewood tell the story of the birth of Christ in a timeless and naïve way. The shepherds’ clothes are based on local traditional dress, adding a special Franconian touch to the scene. The design of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds reflects lade mediaeval Christmas representations, reminding us of Nuremberg’s heyday as a Free City of the Empire (Freie Reichsstadt) in the 15th and 16th century.”
11. Coming up on the south (I think?) side of the Nürnberg castle – that is, the Berg that the town is named for. :) I didn’t get to go inside (didn’t want to spend the money on a ticket – I’m a total Scrooge) but I explored the grounds and such.
12. This is the main courtyard of the castle, just outside the oldest still-standing buildings. (Castles, like non-for-profit hospitals, were constantly being added on to, rebuilt, and reimagined by each successive generation of owners.) This was, at once point, the women’s tower (behind me) and in this courtyard the canonized Empress Kunigunde planted a lime tree. It’s had to be replaced over the years, of course, but the tree in the center is still a lime tree.
13. This courtyard was special because if you had committed a crime, you could find sanctuary here for three days. No one could touch you in that time, giving you the opportunity to get evidence defending you, or at least to put your affairs in order. Unfortunately, no one would necessarily bring you food or water during those three days. The tour guide told us that there was a story about a knight who escaped by riding his horse and leaping from the courtyard to the roofs of the houses outside the castle walls – an amazing story when you consider that the roofs indicated are at least 150 feet away and about 20 feet lower down. But hey – who knows. :D
14. These are the aforementioned roofs. :D This also happens to be a view out over the city of Nürnberg. The Frauenkirche is (I believe) not the nearest set of steeples, but the larger ones in the distance.
15. Hey look! It’s my face!
16. Murder holes! This is a tunnel leading under the walls to the north (?) gates of the castle. I was ridiculously pleased to see the enormous murder holes (through which things like boiling oil and hot rocks could be dumped on the heads of invading armies). I have a weird sense of what’s cool, ok?
17. The north (?) side of the castle, looking up the cliffs to the at-one-time-menacing berg crouching atop the mountain.
18. Albrecht Dürer was a Nürnberg native, and so there is a statue to him here as well as… (next picture please)
19. …his house, which is now a museum. I considered going in, but my Scrooge-ishness and the massive group of Italian tourists who went into the tiny building just as I got there discouraged that idea.
20. I took refuge from the cold in one of the smaller churches, St. Sebald’s. It was a bit run down inside, and you could see where ongoing restoration work was being done. Apparently, this building was nearly demolished when Allied forces bombed Nürnberg, and it’s still not entirely repaired. There were placards set up in various places showing right-after-the-bombs pictures and including sections from a poem called “St. Sebald – a monument for peace” in several languages. This one line just really struck me: “Peace – what is peace? / That we can go through the ruins / without fear of bombs?” I’m sure it’s better in the original German, but even in English the wording grabbed my attention. I won’t go all English Major on this, but if anyone is interested I Had Thoughts. :D
21. A fallen angel. *bursts out laughing* Ok, ok, sorry – I couldn’t help it. This was a crèche inside the Frauenkirche, and somehow the Angel of Annunciation had been knocked over. I just laughed quietly to myself and took a picture before the curator could come and fix it.
22. My first (and last) Glühwein. It was hot, which was good, and I got to keep the little frosted mug (set me back about six Euro, but ok…) but the wine itself -- *shudders.* Blarg. Glühwein is a mild, low-alcohol mulled wine, very fruity and a traditional Christmas market treat. I got the raspberry sort and quickly decided that I would like wine very much – if I couldn’t taste the alcohol. LOL. But it was hot going down and warmed my hands, and it was An Experience, so that’s all well and good. :D
Farewell, Nürnberg Christmas Market!