I was lucky to live in Germany as an ex-pat in the early 2000s, and never miss an opportunity to go back. Love taking friends to the Christmas markets in December. Yes, weather is unpredictable and usually really cold, but like the Germans say, there’s nothing wrong with the weather if you’ve got the right clothes! Four is the magic number for me; three plus me. Four friends with light luggage will fit in a rental car, which gives us freedom to go on our schedule. (And four splitting a rental car and two hotel rooms costs way less than traveling with your husband!)
The Christmas markets are linked to Advent, so we usually leave on one of the last days of November, stay 15 nights on the ground, and get home with about ten days to spare before Christmas. I like a mix of cities and smaller towns, scenery and churches, museums and outdoor activities, and I keep us out of the big cities on weekends when the Christmas markets are too crowded for me. Every time I go I change things up a little so there’s someplace new for me to see too. Delta flies direct to Frankfurt from Atlanta, and the last two years I’ve found fares as low as $650 or 42K FF miles sometime during the summer, though these amazing deals often last only a day then disappear. ($950 or 60K is more likely, but not awful, especially for open jaws out of Munich.)
I always rent my cars from Andy at gamut.com. Germany’s rental car prices are relatively low, and Andy can often find great deals on safe (fast) BMWs or Mercedes. If you’re willing to pick up in Frankfurt itself, you can save the 20% airport tax. (The added time probably is not worth it if you’re driving after an overnight flight.) Since we were dipping down into the Dolomites in Italy this trip, we rented a Skoda wagon, similar to a 5-series BMW, because “luxury” rental cars can’t be driven into Italy because of theft issues in areas nearer the Eastern European border.
I started watching four weather sites about a month in advance, mostly hoping for snow. (It’s an Atlanta thing.) Last December the weather forecast for our first stop in Germany (Rothenburg) predicted bright sun, patchy rain, sleet, and heavy snow, in no particular order. Guess we'll order what we want, and eat what we get.
I like starting in Rothenburg because it’s easy and pretty and nobody can get that lost in a walled city. I try to make my friends’ first view of the city the medieval part by entering through the ancient Rodentor city gate. I still have my German neighbor’s explicit directions for getting on the Romantik Stasse near Wurtzburg and tricking the Navigate from sending us back to the faster, less scenic autobahn. Countryside is beautiful and all was well til I decided we were close enough to Rothenburg to skip the last few towns and just put in our hotel address. Rut row. An hour later, after a major scenic detour through some sleeping villages, a wind turbine farm, and somebody's barnyard, we were back on the road to Rothenburg. Lesson learned. When a German engineer writes you out directions...follow them.
My favorite place to stay is Pension Elke over Klauss Endress’ tiny grocery shop. The location is convenient, rooms are immaculate, breakfast is great, and price is low, so we save euros to splurge on expensive city hotels. (Herr Endress used to find me nearby parking on the street, but now that most is reserved for residents, he gave me a pass for a public lot only a few blocks away.)Three nights there gave us time to recover from jet lag and make some day trips during the day when it gets more crowded. Evenings are calm and perfect for walking, window shopping, and great dinners with carafes of Franconian white wines that cost about the same as a liter of water. First night there we joined the 8 o’clock English tour with George the Nightwatchman to keep us upright and moving until almost 9:30.