German Christmas markets are a popular travel destination this time of year with people flocking to the wonderful big markets in Aachen, Cologne, Nuremberg, Munich, Dresden or Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but I if you have been to all of the above and/or want to experience something a bit different, which is a little more hands-on and immersive, why not make your way to Bad Berleburg, a small town in the hilly region of Wittgenstein, about 1.5 hours by car from Cologne airport or 2 hours from Frankfurt? Every year on the second weekend in December the old town around Castle Berleburg, home of the family of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, transforms itself into one of my favourite Christmas markets, the WeihnachtsZeitreise (Christmas Journey Back in Time).
The Goethe-Platz (Goethe Square) in front of the castle has all you want from a traditional Christmas market: potent mulled wine directly from a seemingly never empty cauldron, Christmas sweets like sugared roasted almonds, spekulatius biscuits and vanilla kipferln; a story teller Escapacia von Drachenzeh alias Kathrin Sonza-Reorda bewitching her young audience with spell-binding wintry fairy tales; a fire pit where you can bake your own Stockbrot (stick bread) and stalls with plenty of ornaments and wreaths to get everybody in the Christmas mood. Of course there are also places to have a beer or something more substantial to eat or you pop into one of the many restaurants and cafés that line the square.
The Baroque castle of Bad Berleburg is spectacular at any time of the year but at Christmas time it becomes even more special. The courtyard is filled with fir trees and little chalets that sell traditional wooden and ceramic ornaments and you can watch wood carver Heinz Mengel at work. Local delicacies are awaiting you, for example pulled pork specialities from Grill Master Marko Holschuh and Fischfreunde from Wisenttal Rohrbach will be tempting you with freshly smoked trout and more, and last but not least there are local wild boar sausages on the grill. Brass bands play and choirs sing Christmas carols and on Sunday Father Christmas comes visiting and he and his flight of angels hand out baked hearts to all the children. You can also go and see the inside of the castle, there are guided tours every half hour. And locals are able to pick up a Christmas tree.
When the sun goes down blazing torches and fire pits light up the courtyard, the castle itself looks like it glows from the inside out and it becomes a truly magical place to be. Wrap up warm, get a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) and soak up the atmosphere.
The castle’s park becomes a medieval village for two days where at the invitation of the organizers of the “Grünewälder Strief“, travelling mercenaries and knights spend a couple of days in the shelter of Berleburg Castle, a place where you can watch traditional crafts and arts, like blacksmithing, wool dying and shoemaking or you can try your hand at shooting with a crossbow, and children can make friends with the pony, chickens, sheep and piglets in the petting zoo at the ‘Old Farm’ and dress up in your favourite fairy tale outfit and have their portrait taken. This is also the place to come for entertainment: from listening to visiting troubadours Donner & Doria, who bring their eclectic mix of cabaret, medieval and folk music to the audience to watching juggler & prankster Gustav Basseltan and the Chapeau Claque Rouge troupe, which lets you dive into a world of fairies, gods and beings from another reality, whether you meet them during the day on stilts or at night at one of their fire theatre performances. I also recommend you try one of the alcoholic potions on sale and I can guarantee you will find original and unusual Christmas gifts for everybody on your list.
I hope you enjoy yourself as much as we did when we visited in 2014!
Entry: 3,00 € Adults, 2,50 € Children over 12
Children and Disabled Adults – free
8,00 € Family ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children over 12)
5,00 € Weekend Ticket (per person)
This year the WeihnachtsZeitreise takes place from December 9th-11th 2016, opening with a Christmas concert in the Evangelische Stadtkirche and then on Saturday and Sunday you can visit the market. All you need to know you can find here: www.weihnachtszeitreise.com
For more information on Bad Berleburg, the region of Wittgenstein, directions on how to get there as well as places to stay and eat, visit: www.blb-tourismus.de
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