December in Deutschland

Feb 23rd, 2016, 12:49 PM
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December in Deutschland

The Plan:

Escape a year fraught with challenges, and abide by our motto, ‘travel while you still can’.

The itinerary:

Dresden – four nights
Annaberg –Buchholtz – four nights
Bamberg – four nights
Garmisch-Partenkirchen – four nights
Munich – six nights

Our interest in Dresden had been piqued some time ago, when fellow Fodorites questioned why, with all our December visits to Germany and its Christmas Markets, we’d not yet ventured to Dresden, home to the Striezelmarkt, the oldest documented Christmas Market in Germany (581 years!). Why indeed?

The Erzgebirge, i.e. the Ore Mountains, near the Germany/Czech Republic border was also suggested, as ‘Germany’s real Christmas Country’, home to authentic handcrafted Erzgebirge folk art and Europe’s earliest mining district. Much of the Erzgebirge is difficult to reach via train, hence the decision to stay in Annaberg-Buchholtz; easy train access from Dresden.

Bamberg has been on our radar for some time, and not just for the Rauchbier. Its UNESCO World Heritage status intrigued us, and this year it made logistical sense, as we wanted to wrap up our trip in Munich, meeting some friends from England the weekend before Christmas.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen has long been a favorite and was a no brainer. Even without snow!


In July we cashed in our UA frequent flyer miles and booked December flights to Germany in Business Class. Outbound flights were purchased using 140,000 of Bill’s miles, return flights were booked using 115,000 of mine, all earned the hard way, butt-in-seat. Plus the unavoidable taxes, about $300.

We collected a one-way rental car the night before our flight from the city nearest our small mountain town, parked it at our house overnight (barely making it up the steep, snow-packed driveway), then packed up the car and drove the two hours to Denver International Airport the following day. The weather gods were in a good mood, thank goodness.

The Flights:

1) Denver to Frankfurt on Lufthansa
2) Frankfurt to Dresden on Lufthansa
3) Munich to Houston on UA
4) Houston to Colorado Springs on UA

Prior to departure, UA predictably did what they do, re-routed our flights through Chicago; as if they knew our plan all along had been to avoid Chicago at all costs. Fortunately, a phone call got us even better flights (with a single stop) without too much drama. We never did find out why they made the change.

The Trains:

About a week before departure, we purchased discounted point-to-point train tickets from Annaberg-Bucholtz to Bamberg (52 Euro for both) and from Bamberg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (48 Euro for both) via the DB Bahn website. All other train/bus transport was done on the fly.

Travel day:

We chilled in the DIA Red Carpet Club prior to our flight, the bartender laughing when I presented some old drink vouchers; seems all drinks are now free in the Red Carpet Club and have been for years. We’re a bit out of touch with UA, having actively avoided them while living in Australia.

The nine hour flight from DIA to Frankfurt on Lufthansa was excellent; we were in row 2, literally in the nose of the 747; the pilots right above us. Lay down seats, good food, three choices of appetizer and main (and enough on hand so everyone got their first choice), cheese and port for dessert, and surprisingly for me, five hours of sleep. Bill said breakfast was good too, but I took a pass.

As is so often the case, it was sunny and clear until we made our decent into Frankfurt, a thick layer of ominous cloud enveloping the city. We had a 90 minute layover, but our slightly late arrival led to a long wait on the tarmac as a seemingly endless parade of planes and vehicles crossed in front of us.

After deplaning and a quick stop in duty free for chocolate (but of course!), we made our way to the very busy Lufthansa lounge. No time for a much needed shower, so we settled for a quick slice of buttered bread and some hot chocolate, then made our way to the gate for our next flight, where we boarded...a bus. It seemed to take forever to reach our plane; I was beginning to think we were driving to Dresden.

The flight was quick and easy; we were seated in what we refer to as ‘European Business Class’, Economy with an empty seat between us. Although only a 45 minute flight, we were served a full meal of dried beef, some sort of white bean and beet concoction, rolls, apple cake and a nice chocolate cookie/candy bar, complete with real dishes and utensils.

Dresden airport was surprisingly deserted; our flight the only arrival, yet we had to wait a bit for our luggage. We enlisted the help of a woman at the Information desk who when asked, admitted to speaking ‘a little English’ (a phrase we’d hear repeatedly over the next three weeks), taking her advice to purchase an all day train/tram ticket for two at 9 Euro (we ended up only needing a 2.30 Euro one hour ticket, but who knew?). Our destination was the Dresden-Neustadt train station, the second largest in Dresden, 3-4 four stops from the airport, and strangely enough, quiet as a morgue.

With four hours to kill before we could check into our accommodation at 6pm, we left our luggage in two lockers (2 & 3 Euro), and armed with a printed Google map, set out to find the guest house (to prevent having to find it later in the dark, although it felt pretty dark at 2:30 pm).

Accommodation located, we followed the lights towards civilization, and quite by accident found ourselves at the statue of Augustus the Strong, the Goldener Reiter, the appointed spot for our meet-up with Fodorite Ingo the following day and mere steps from the Augustusmarkt (Dresden’s second largest Christmas Market). We meandered amongst the white tents, sampled our first gluhwein and bratwurst of the trip (not liking the pear so much, but the red with amaretto was a winner). Two mugs of gluhwein later I was scrambling for change, making a mental note to keep plenty of 50 cent coins on hand for the loo. We eventually walked back to the Neustadt station, collected our luggage and rolled it over to the guest house. It was an early night; we were both thoroughly tired, Bill feeling a bit punk, having come down with the creeping crud prior to leaving home.

Where we slept:

Ingo had tried to steer me in the direction of the residential areas of Loschwitz, Blasewitz and Striesen but we didn’t want to deal with trams in an unfamiliar city on our arrival day, so we took a flyer and booked here:

Interesting place this, located in a rather charmless area across from a pharmaceutical factory that was lit up well into the night, and adjoining a few sad looking apartment blocks. The walk from the Neustadt station took 10-15 minutes and wasn’t particularly pedestrian friendly, involving some car dodging at intersections without traffic lights, and walking through an underpass on one side, then crossing to walk down the other side to access the correct street. The neighborhood was... colorful... with a nearby XXX Dolly Buster shop, and plentiful trash, bottles and graffiti lining the streets. The overall feeling of neglect extended to the apartments surrounding the guest house with abandoned TVs, strollers and broken windows. I’d read the reviews, but had booked anyway, as the good seemed to outweigh the bad. I’d also given Bill fair warning, so neither of us was particularly surprised.

Despite the unappealing approach from the train station, City Oase is a quirky little gem, well located near the Elbe River, alongside which one can easily walk to both Old Town and New Town in about 15 minutes. The building dates from 1880 and consists of individually themed rooms; it’s beautifully restored, lovingly maintained and full of character. It’s also a bit of a labyrinth, the rooms accessed via long hallways and interconnecting locking doors, the ceilings impossibly high. And, it fit our #1 requirement...peaceful.

We’d gotten the last available room (named after the artist K.G. Brucke), which meant twin beds; no drama for a couple of old married people, but the nocturnal forays to the loo across the hall weren’t particularly quiet or convenient given the extensive system of locks. We were cozy and warm, quite content. The only real downside was the breakfast, which got old fast; the same basic offerings placed on our table each morning and tepid, too strong coffee.

The owner requested a deposit via bank transfer, but agreed to accept cash on arrival if I sent a deposit via check, even though it was in US funds. He returned the check when we arrived. Cost - 358 Euro for four nights inclusive of city tax, plus an additional 8 Euro each per day for breakfast.

Up next – Dresden, land of pork, quark and Schokolade
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2016, 01:29 PM
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ooh - nice start, Mel.

very interested to discover what you thought of Dresden and Bamberg in particular.

Keep it coming!
annhig is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2016, 02:44 PM
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Good start! More please?
Trophywife007 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2016, 04:34 PM
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Reading along.
Can't wait to hear more about your experience in Bamberg (we based there in an apartment in 2012 for a week...never tired of it!)
mokka4 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2016, 09:54 PM
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What a great trip - can't wait to go to Germany ourselves. Husband's mother was German so he is keen to go one day. Bamberg looks amazing.
How did you find the weather? We are coming from New Zealand and could take 6 weeks if we went in December and tagged on the days off we get at Christmas to the holiday.
Thinking about this as during the year we could only have 4 weeks off work.
tasmangirl is offline  
Feb 24th, 2016, 12:25 AM
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Great to see you've started your TR, Mel. Looking forward to your impressions.
Adelaidean is online now  
Feb 24th, 2016, 04:45 AM
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tasmangirl -

The weather was downright balmy. Didn't feel like winter at all, thanks to a complete lack of snow. Christmas Markets just don't feel the same when it's warm outside. We did have a few cold days here and there, but otherwise, it felt oddly spring like. Our plans of winter hiking kind of fell flat.

Adelaidean - slowing down in my old age, this baby is taking forever to write.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2016, 04:49 AM
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Oh yeah forgot to mention, the nine hour flight was a piece of cake after traveling from Australia and Asia for the the past eleven years!

I didn't feel like I'd been hit by a truck when we arrived.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2016, 03:42 PM
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Enjoying your report and looking forward to Bamberg, and how you liked rauchbier.
travlsolo2 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 05:47 AM
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December 3, 2015 -

Our pre-breakfast walk found us in a downtrodden area alongside the Elbe River, surprised by both the bike traffic headed into the city and the forlorn floating hotels docked in the marina. This bit of the river isn’t very pretty and just felt sad, at least in December.

Our host, Enrico, presented us with our first breakfast, launching into a discussion about quark, and wondering why Americans weren’t familiar with it (this American is familiar, having discovered it in Australia). From that moment on, we’d notice quark at almost every breakfast we sat down to.

When we’d checked in the previous night, Enrico had asked us to sign a form regarding use of the Internet, and told us about a guest who’d downloaded three minutes of the movie Gravity, resulting in a 2,500 Euro fine against him, as owner of the guest house. The German government takes illegal downloading very seriously and imposes stiff fines for each violation.

We followed the path alongside the Elbe River to Old Town, crossing the Augustus Bridge (the oldest in Dresden) which connects the Innere Neustadt in the north (right bank) with the historic part of the city in the south (left bank). We’d barely entered the Alstadt when I spotted a chocolate shop, making a beeline to Camondas Kakao Stube where we slurped up some extremely rich and decadent hot chocolate – dunkel for me, milch for Bill, 9.80 Euro for two massive cups (and-oh-so-delicious).

We wandered aimlessly, happening upon several Christmas Markets and popping into the Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross), learning it had been destroyed and/or burned five times and re-opened in its current form in 1955. We perused the elaborate Erzgebirge wood carvings on display and watched a man tune the church’s 6,111 pipe organ; we’re easily entertained.

After a trip back to the guest house to get a warmer coat and a quick lunch of bratwurst and gluhwein at the Augustusmarkt, we were off to the Golden Horseman to meet Fodorite Ingo, who’d been kind enough to offer us a tour. We’d never met, but the minute I spotted the nicely dressed gentleman with startling blue eyes, I knew we’d found him. And what a find it was.

After discussing our various options, the three of us caught a tram to outer Neustadt, Ingo pointing out places of interest en route (including the former Stasi Headquarters). We walked along the edge of the Dresden Heath and up to Schloss Albrechtsberg overlooking barren vineyards, a surprisingly large meadow and the Elbe River. The sun was out, the day pretty. From this vantage point we could really appreciate the size and sprawl of Dresden. Ingo pointed out the Ore Mountains in the far distance, in the direction of the Czech Republic.

We continued walking to Lingnerschloss, the second of three palaces/castles/villas/call them what you will, along the Elbe, where we took in the fabulous views, soaked up Ingo’s commentary and indulged in our second, decadent hot chocolate of the day (calories be damned!) while watching the sun set over the Elbe River.

We returned to the Alstadt, thoroughly enjoyed a 5 pm Christmas concert at the Kreuzkirche, and then joined the festive throng in the Striezelmarkt, where Ingo introduced us to his favorite bratwurst stand, Dean and Beluga (we laughed too), owned by the Michelin starred restaurant of the same name. And yes, those babies were good. Ingo then led us to Viba Nougat, where we sampled the praline from the chocolate fountain and watched a group taking a chocolate making class. All this wonderful chocolate...this was a city after my own heart.

He next took us to a bakery to watch genuine Dresdener Christollen being made, the pride of Dresden; and of course there were samples.

We eventually parted ways, Ingo barely catching his tram. It’d been a brilliant day with a charming Dresden gem. His generosity of spirit was nothing short of amazing, this man who welcomed two strangers to his city. Thank you Ingo! Wunderbar!

One final gluhwein nightcap at the more-our-style-mellow Augustusmarkt, and an ogle of a kiosk selling chocolate cameras, nuts, bolts, faucets, bones, etc., and we called it a night.

Photos here:

Up Next: Dresden – Europe’s Treasure Chest, Speckbrot and Mandeln
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 07:01 AM
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Sounds like an excellent plan! I'm going to Germany myself soon. Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin some more
Planned it on RoutePerfect's trip planner to get it all organized, Two weeks in July, but there's a chance Radiohead are going to have a concert there in August and if they are I'd have to change everything!
jenniferSt is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 09:26 AM
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Thank you for this report, Mel! You're too kind It was a pleasure meeting you both, I enjoyed this afternoon very, very much. Chocolate addicts, huh?

Brilliant photos also. It's amazing what details you noticed, we locals overlook them too often.

Btw, it's "Bean & Beluga", first letter a "B".
Ingo is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 01:30 PM
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Last December was unusually warm in middle Europe - don't count on it! Usually in December, it is dark, dreary, rainy and cold - in other words, perfect weather to drink hot chocolate and Glühwein!
traveller1959 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 02:56 PM
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Nice to see you here Ingo and thanks for the correction. I had Dean and DeLuca in my head, which BTW is why Bill and I laughed when we heard Bean and Beluga.

Sounds like a good trip jenniferSt.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 03:03 PM
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You see me slightly chuckling because Ingo has told me about your meeting and tour, too. (Yes I know him. You could not have a better guide in Dresden! I don't think any professional guide could compete.)

I am enjoying your report throughly, and am especially curious about your stay in Annaberg.
quokka is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 03:06 PM
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Yes, much to the dismay of my waistline!

Working on Annaberg right now quokka.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 03:15 PM
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Can't wait! I only visited in summer and I imagine that it's even more fabulous in Advent.
quokka is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 03:19 PM
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P.S. Like your photos!
quokka is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 06:19 PM
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Great to read this Mel and my goodness it looks like mild weather!
We spent the previous Christmas in Dresden and it was very cold - especially having come from Adelaide.
It wasn't quite as successful as we had hoped but looking at your pics they sure do bring back the good memories.

Envy your shorter flights now that you are back home.

Thanks for your writing.
love_travel_Aus is offline  
Feb 25th, 2016, 09:32 PM
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Love your photos, Mel. Am also envying your new short flights.

Lucky you, to meet Ingo, he sounds a real gentleman in his posts, too.

Dresden had a nice vibe, but we were shown around by a 75 year old Chemnitzer on steroids, who marched us through the Zwinger, an Opera house tour, the Green Vault, the amazing church, the streets, a funicular to a town lookout, a school reunion lunch for my mum.... it was such a blur but the kindness of people wanting to share was so lovely.

I loved Annaberg, hope you did too.
Adelaidean is online now  

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