Every year we compile a wish list. Everything goes on that list, from new computers to extravagant coffee beans, to even more extravagant travel dreams. Some things are very obtainable, like a holiday trip to Germany that we somehow still haven’t taken. Others become perennial entries on our list, such as a European river cruise. For some reason, it never occurred to us to combine those last two, but our thoughtful friends at Viking River Cruises have done just that. We think it’s just what our Travel To Do List needs!
While there is a bit of “ancestral homeland” in Germany – somewhere – the attraction has more to do with fairytale castles and medieval towns, Christkindlmarkt, and age-old traditions which have been passed down more reliably than where the great-great-grands called home. It may be springtime at this writing, but it is the holiday season that piques our nostalgic longing for Germany. If we could choose just one thing in this lifetime to do in Europe, it would be a tour of German Christmas markets.
As if the marketing department had been eavesdropping on our dreams and plans, it just so happens that Viking River Cruises has a Heart of Germany itinerary which visits Christmas markets and historical sites along the Main River. Cruising between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, the ships call on half-a-dozen cities, including Heidelberg, home of Germany’s oldest university and the imposing Heidelberger Schloss castle ruins, which saw centuries of conflict as recounted by Victor Hugo in Heidelberg.
Another spectacular palace is to be seen in Würzburg, the halfway point of the cruise. The Bishops’ Residenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commissioned in 1720 by the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, and his brother Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. Remarkably, it was completed in just 24 years and embodies the pinnacles of Western architecture of its day. Other notable landmarks nearby include the Marienberg Fortress, with foundations from the 8th century, the Old Main Bridge, first built around 1133, and the Baroque Würzburg Cathedral, in which is a decoration made of artificial human bones and skulls. Though nearly destroyed in World War II, the city’s historical buildings have been accurately reconstructed.
Attention turns from history to holidays in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the best preserved medieval towns in the world, and home to Germany’s Christmas Museum. (This is where we pause for a quiet fist pump and perhaps not so quiet “Yes!”) The German Käthe Wohlfahrt company has been creating and selling Christmas decorations since 1964, and is based right in Rothenburg. The museum is said to hold more than 30,000 traditional German decorations. In there, it is always Christmas. (The company has seasonal stores in some of the American Christmas markets included in our post An American Christkindl Market.)
Does it get better? Well, Bamberg is on the tour as well. The town’s medieval city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site with an impressive 11th century cathedral, and a city hall built on an island in the middle of a river that looks like the epitome of period architecture. Plus, more Christmas markets. (Score!) And then, there is Nuremberg.
Few European cities have a history as long and storied as Nuremberg, with everything from plagues and massacres, to seats of Kings and Emperors dating from the 11th century. As in every city with such a history, there are plenty of sights worth seeing, from the Nuremberg Castle and the city’s beautiful Gothic churches, to the Toy Museum and very modern Neues Museum. But, of course, our highlight would be the Christkindlmarkt at the Old Town’s main market square, or Hauptmarkt. Many argue that Nuremberg is the birthplace of Christmas markets and the Christkind, the holiday gift giver who opens the market each year. With luck, a visit from the Christkind would make our German Holiday complete!
There are so many holiday markets throughout Europe. If you have been to any (or many!) of them, or dream of going, we would enjoy hearing about your experiences and expectations. We would also love to hear your thoughts on river cruising in Europe, from what cruise line you like best to what areas you enjoy. Just leave us a comment below!