Germany at Christmas can be one of the most magical places I know. We were lucky to get to live there as corporate ex-pats, and now every two or three years I take a few friends to some of my favorite places. This December’s trip started with the opening weekend of Advent and lasted 15 nights on the ground. I tried for a good mix of cities and countryside, cultural and outdoor activities, with mostly three night stays to minimize the unpacking and allow time for some day trips. I’m hoping to share enough details to make this helpful to any of you who might be planning something similar.
We flew direct from ATL to FRA on Delta. On overnight flights it’s well worth it to me to spring for the extra $100 or so to get the extra legroom in Economy Comfort seats. I wasn’t nearly as concerned about the terrorists as I was about driving jet-lagged when I landed. I’m a horrible plane sleeper, but after years of doing this, I’ve worked out my own little ritual that semi-works: window seat, no movies, no reading, backpack on the floor topped with an inflatable footrest, my own travel pillow and blanket, a bottle of water, and a couple of benadryl.
I know Germany has one of Europe’s best organized train systems, but I like the freedom of a car, and driving in Germany is a pleasure. Their roads are good and their drivers predictable. Andy at www.gemut.com has a 100% track record so far for getting me exactly what I want at a good price. I sometimes try to pick up my car in Frankfurt itself rather than the airport to save the huge airport tax (21%, I think) but this trip it worked better for us to arrive on Sunday, and all locations except the airport are closed on Sundays. I always put the car rental on AMEX so I can decline the CDW and pay the $25 fee to AMEX for the coverage. (You have to set this up ahead of time with AMEX, and carefully follow a few rules, but it’s a huge savings.)
With four people, each with one roll-aboard size suitcase plus either a backpack or a soft shoulder bag, the back of our Hertz 5-series BMW wagon was full! We knew we would accumulate treasures on this trip, so we tried to start with not stuffed full luggage, and we each brought a small duffel that folded into its own pouch. (Got mine at Eddie Bauer.) And I do check my bag, always, even though legally it would fit. I can’t travel without my backpack full of technology and “travel comforts” and that’s as much as I’m willing to lug on a plane.
Our first destination was Rothenburg ob.d.Tauber. Most of my German friends have never been there and are totally puzzled by my fascination with it, but I love it at Christmas. It’s small, pretty, pristine, walkable, and everything Walt Disney would have done if he were making a German Christmas town. And I’ve never taken anybody there who didn’t also love it! If you put “Rothenburg” in your GPS, you will be taken all the way on the autobahn, then through the shiny row of new tourist hotels and car dealerships in the new part of the city before you get to the old walled town. To preserve the magic, I like to get off the A3 near Wurzburg and drive down the Romantic Road. If you get a map, and keep playing “Trick the Navigate” by putting in just the next town, you will drive through beautiful countryside and enter Rothenburg through the Rodentor gate.
I’ve never had a bad hotel experience in old Rothenburg, but my favorite place to stay is Pension Elke over Herr Endress’ grocery shop. The rooms are small, simple, and spotless, and the attic breakfast room is delightful. There was a Christmas tree, special decorations on the tables, and an extensive buffet breakfast. He has always been very helpful in finding me a parking place and suggesting places for dinner. I’ve also stayed in his annex across the street, which is nice.
We had good dinners at both the Greifen and the Reichskuchenmeister, the latter having a more adventurous menu and definitely requiring reservations.