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December 1997

Nuremberg's Christmas Market

Bavaria'S biggest and most popular Christmas festival--The Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt

The enticing aroma of grilling sausages, roasted chestnuts and freshly-baked gingerbread satisfies the senses and softens the sharp winter air as warmly clad crowds gather to sip steaming mugs of Glühwein (mulled wine) and sing Christmas carols. A trip to the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, Germany's largest and most lavish Christmas market, will bring out the Christmas spirit in even the most curmudgeonly Scrooge. From the Friday before Advent (November 28) until Christmas Eve, the main market square (Hauptmarkt) is transformed into a festive village of wooden, lantern-lit stalls selling candles and candy, toys and tin soldiers, and ornaments. The neighboring streets are festooned with garlands and lights while children's choirs and brass bands entertain bustling shoppers. The romantic setting of the cobbled Hauptmarkt, in the heart of Nuremberg, enhances the market's medieval ambiance with its 14th-century red-sandstone Frauenkirche, famous for its Glockenspiel. Daily at noon, seven German electors emerge from the clock to pay homage to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. The filigreed facade of the Rathaus and the elegant Schöner Brunnen, a gilded 60-foot high spire-like Gothic fountain, carved in 1400 are also not to be missed. A gold ring is set into the fountain's railing and stroking the ring is said to bring good fortune. The Nuremberg Christkindl (Christ child) addresses the crowds and officially opens the market on November 28 at 17:30. With luck, on December 6 you'll bump into St. Nicholas handing out sweets and cookies to children. But look out for Krampus, who carries soot and switches for naughty boys and girls. The candle-lit procession on December 10 with thousands of carol-singing children marching through the city is one of the high points of the festivities. At the center of the Hauptmarkt is a vast nativity scene featuring carved, wooden figures. Nuremberg's market is set apart from its imitators by the wealth of handmade quality goods such as hand-carved toys and nativity figures, brass utensils, glassware and pewter. For a quirky Christmas gift, track down a stand selling Zwetchgenmännle (traditional Bavarian figures made from dried prunes and crepe paper). Christmas shopping is not the market's only attraction. With over a third of the stands selling local specialities, the square brims with delicious scents to tempt you at every turn. Try the famous Nürnberger wurst: tiny, charcoal-grilled Bratwurst served with sauerkraut or potato salad. Or order them 'Zwaa in a Weckl' (two in a roll), Nackerte (raw, peeled, and spread on rye bread with onions, pepper and paprika) or blaue Zipfel (marinated in spiced vinegar - supposedly a good hangover cure). To satisfy your sweet tooth try the ubiquitous Nürnberger Lebkuchen, delicious spice cakes traditionally eaten only at Christmas but now sold year round - bite sized, oblong, square and heart-shaped and all quite impossible to resist. A word of warning: Nuremberg's Christmas market may well be Germany's biggest, best and oldest Christmas market, and is therefore one of the busiest and most crowded. Hotels are booked well in advance and parking unmanageable. From Munich your best bet is a day trip by train (1 1/2 hours by ICE). The only problem you then face is how to get your prune man, pewter plates and puppets home unbroken and without breaking into your precious Lebkuchen. Contact the Fremdenverkehrsamt Nürnberg (tourist office) at tel. (0911)233 60; fax (0911)233 61 66 for program information.

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