For two weeks, over Christmas break, I traveled across Germany. The first part of my trip included two small cities nestled in the foothills of the Black Forest called Heidelberg and Freiburg.
Heidelberg. WOW. Heidelberg is an old city on a river. This was my first destination in Germany, and the one night I stayed was not long enough. I arrived in the late afternoon, but it was already beginning to get dark, so I spent the first night perusing the stalls of the crowded Christmas markets.
I could have spent hours drifting through the stalls admiring the woodwork and craftsmanship of all the handmade trinkets and ornaments.
Towering over the Christmas markets was the majestic and crumbling Heidelberg castle.
I tried my first brat and fell in love with German mustard. (sidenote- it was very perplexing to me the lack of mustard in most restaurants, even at Subway. I have to start carrying a bottle in my luggage everywhere I go. Apparently, having mustard in every restaurant is not a thing outside of America. Of course if you love the most vile food that ever graced this earth, mayonnaise, you’re in luck– pretty much the rest of the world is on your page.)
When walking around the food stalls in the Christmas markets DO try currywursts. AND bratwurst with mustard. AND glühwein. AND anything else edible you see, really. Except for the 5 euro pork sandwiches. Those are bland and overpriced.
The next day I headed straight for the ruined castle that overlooks the city. The oldest parts of the castle were constructed well over 800 years ago.
It has held a deposed pope prisoner. It has been visited by Martin Luther when he went to Heidelberg to defend his Theses.
Mark Twain said about it: “Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes – improved it.”
I was over the moon climbing in and around such an old castle. I loved how accessible it was.
I would have loved more time to explore. I had not quite yet realized how short the days are in Germany, and daylight left much quicker than I had planned for. I wandered through the decorated and lit streets, and admired how well preserved and ancient the city was. With giant Christmas trees and lights, and the smell of gingerbread and Glühwein, it was the perfect setting to put me in the Christmas mood.
Freiburg im Breisgua
On my second evening in Germany, I took a train two hours away to Freiburg. Freiburg really blew my mind. Mountains, Black Forest, the Brothers Grimm. Freidburg was a fairy tale. Walking through the dark forests, you can imagine Hansel and Gretel huddled together trying to find their way back home or Little Red Riding Hood being followed by the malicious wolf.
I woke up early for a full day in Freiburg. I was Christmasmarketed-out after two days of them in Heidelberg so I decided to tackle a hiking trail through the Black Forest. The forest was so dark, quiet, and almost sinister. There were abandoned cottages and forts and forgotten monuments deep in the trees.
To see a gorgeous sunset over the town of Freiburg hike towards Schlossberg, the remnants of fortifications, where there is a tower on the mountain that gives you a 360 view of the town of Freiburg. Schlossberg itself is ok, but the best part is the walk up and down the mountain through the forest.
The overall hike took about 3 hours. In late December, when sunset is at around 4:30, 1:30 was the perfect time to begin the journey. I hiked up to Schlossberg, the tower, and walked a trail beyond it a bit further into the woods. When I turned around and hiked back down to the town, I got beautiful views of the sunset over Freiburg and the Black Forest that surrounds it.
After sunset, I wandered from the hills back to the little city which was now brightly lit with Christmas lights and streetlamps.
The city of Freiburg is so romantic and festive at Christmas time. Bright lights hung crisscrossed above the cobblestone streets. Every alleyway offered sweet music floating from an old guitar or from children caroling. There was no street left unadorned in Christmas cheer. Crowds gathered at the numerous Christmas markets scattered around the city squares. It was like a dream.
I walked along the open gutters into the Christmas markets for a peek at the goodies at the stalls and a bite to eat. There is a legend that if you fall into one of the gurgling gutters that line the streets you will marry a Freiburger. Maybe I should have given it a try. I could definitely imagine myself living as a Freiburger!
After a bratwurst and some chocolate covered strawberries, with frozen toes, frozen fingers, and a full belly I made the trek back to my one bedroom apartment for the night.
Have you ever been somewhere that felt like a real-life fairy tale? Do you think you might enjoy Freiburg or maybe Heidelberg? Let me know in the comments!