12 Places to Visit in Germany

My New Year’s Travel Resolution this year is to travel more closer to home. All too often we overlook interesting places just because they are close and they don’t feel like “real” travel. As part of this resolution, I’ve come up with 12 places to visit in Germany (one for each month) that are a 3 hour drive or less from where I live in Stuttgart, Germany.

Places to Visit in Germany #1: Schweine Museum in Stuttgart (Pig Museum)

Worlds largest pig museum in Stuttgart, Germany

The world’s largest pig museum is right in my own city of Stuttgart featuring over 40,000 pig exhibits from all over the world. I’ll admit, I’m intrigued but may have to go alone as my German friends seem less than enthusiastic about spending an afternoon learning about the history of pigs.
Visited Jan 2011: See World’s Largest Pig Museum

#2: Zugspite Region

places to visit in germany

The Zugspite Region is home to Germany’s highest peak – the Zugspite (2963m), crystal clear lakes and gorges. As an avid hiker, I can’t wait to explore this area and I have a feeling, this is one place where I will keep coming back to. It is just under a 3 hour drive from Stuttgart. While I haven’t made it to the Zugspite itself yet, I have hiked in it’s shadows. See Hell Valley Gorge – The Best €3 I Have Ever Spent, and Partnachklamm: The Winter Jewel of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

#3: Regensburg

Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a former European medieval trading centre where Gothic and Romanesque building dating back to to 90 A.D. can still be found. I’m curious to learn more about medieval times and Regensburg is a great place to do so and is ~ a 2 hour 40 minute drive from Stuttgart. I’ve visited and enjoyed it but haven’t written about it yet and that was two years ago. Probably need to go again to refresh my memory.

#4: Ludwigsburg Palace Tour

Schloss Ludwigsburg has a fantastic castle tour - one of the best in all of Germany!

I’ve been to Ludwigsburg Palace, only a 20km drive from Stuttgart, but only to the outside and the grounds on several occasions for the World’s Largest Pumpkin Festival that is held there every year. The palace is impressive and is considered one of the most impressive baroque palaces in all of Europe. But the real draw surprisingly is the tour itself. I’ve heard from quite a few German and expat friends alike that the tour is the best castle tour they’ve EVER been on in Germany. Instead of just touring a few rooms, this extensive 3 hour tour takes you into secret places – including servant quarters and secret stairwells used by the king’s mistresses, giving visitors an inside glimpse into what life in a castle was really like. Done in May, I liked it so much: Schloss Ludwigsburg: My Favorite Castle Tour in Germany.

#5: Dachau Concentration Camp

Not the happiest place in Germany to visit, but as I’m living in Germany, I feel it is important to visit a concentration camp and learn more about German history, however tragic it may be. Dachau was the first Nazi Concentration Camp and is located near Munich, ~ a 2 hour drive from Stuttgart. Done in Nov, but no post as of yet.

#6: Mercedes Museum

The modern shaped Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.
The Mercedes-Benz Musuem is one of the most popular attractions in Stuttgart.

Another museum located right in Stuttgart. It’s also one of the most popular museums in Stuttgart, although the Porsche Museum gives it some healthy competition. The museum has over 1500 exhibits and shows the history of Mercedes. I’m not really into cars, but have been told that it is still interesting even if I’m not that interested in cars. Mostly, I’m curious to see what makes this one of Stuttgart’s most visited sights, but this is admittedly the place I’m least excited to visit on my list. I did this and wrote about my visit Mercedes Benz Museum, but frankly I was much more excited by the nearby and more humble World’s Largest Pig Museum and the Bread Museum located an hour away in Ulm.

#7: Frontiers of the Roman Empire

places to visit in germany

I’ll admit that I came across this site via a road sign pointing out the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The “Roman Limes” marks the border of the Roman Empire when it was at its largest in 2nd century A.D. Today, all that is left are walls, fortresses, towers and settlements, but I am curious to see such a historical border that is ~ a 90 minute drive from Stuttgart. I visited both the Roman Limes and the Roman Limes Museum.

#8: Feldburg Mountain, Black Forest

Feldburg Mountain is known as the highest peak in the Black Forest, even though it really is a big hill and not a peak. I have hiked quite a bit in the middle and northern part of the Black Forest which is 200km long, but never in the south. Feldburg Mountain would make a great day hike and the view is supposed to be one of the best in the Black Forest. At just under a 2 hour drive from Stuttgart you could easily make it a day trip, but with so much to see in the region, I plan to make it a weekend trip. Done, but no post as of yet. In the meantime, check out these other interesting destinations in the Black Forest: Barefoot Park: Germany’s Quirkiest Attraction?, My Favorite Castle Ruins in Germany, Tips for Hiking in the Black Forest, and Hiking in the Black Forest.

#9: Trier

Trier is the oldest city in Germany dating back to 16 B.C. 2000 years later there is still evidence of the Romans, most notably in the architecture. I love visiting places where you feel transported back in time and this one just barely slips under the 3 hour drive mark with 4 minutes to spare, according to my GPS. Trier is included in My 3 Favorite European Christmas Markets.

#10: The Kelten Museum (The Celtic Museum)

Located just outside of Stuttgart is an ancient Celtic settlement and the Celtic Museum who migrated to Germany from Ireland and Scotland. To be honest I don’t much about the rest of the story, which is precisely why this museum is on my list, especially since it is less than 16km from Stuttgart. Done, but no post will follow. I felt I should have appreciated it more than I did, but history buffs may enjoy it.

#11 – The Allgäu

I’ve noticed that when I’ve asked my German friends where the most beautiful place is in Germany they most popular answer is “the Allgäu” a pristine mountainous region in the south of Germany. While I have been to the eastern Allgäu where the famous Neuschwanstein Castle is (the famous white one which Disney based their castle on), and to Linderhof Palace I have yet to go deep into the Allgäu. And this is where lies some of the best hiking in Germany. This too just barely slips under the 3 hour drive mark. Still not done – this year!

#12 Place to Visit in Germany – ???
I will visit another place within a 3 hour drive from Stuttgart in the next year, but one of the great things about traveling is that you keep discovering new destinations, so I plan to keep this one open to whatever new and exciting place I discover in Germany. This would easily be Maulbronn – My Favorite City in Germany followed by Scwaebisch Hall – My 2nd Favorite City in Germany.

So there you have it, my 12 New Year’s Travel Resolutions, all within a 3 hour drive or less from Stuttgart, which was my travel resolution – to travel closer to home. I have a feeling that unlike many New Year’s Resolutions, this will be a fun one to keep!

Have you been to any of these 12 places to visit in Germany

Where are your close to home travel destinations that you plan to visit this year?

9 Cafes in Muenchen Offering Lactose Free Milk

I LOVE checking out cafes in München – that’s German for “Munich”. Despite having lived here for over 3 years it’s still one of my favourite things to do.

Exploration doesn’t always have to involve hopping on a plane and visiting a new country – although admittedly that’s fun too! While I’m not a fan of the word staycation, I am a huge fan of shaking up your daily routine and checking out a new place or a new neighbourhood.

For me, exploring my city usually means checking out a new cafe – or at least one new to me. I also try to check out unusual museums of which Munich has several, but I must admit, with few exceptions, I enjoy the cafes a whole lot more! I work from home and while I love it (it means more time to spend with my two co-workers, aka Fuego and Coco, my two cats), I also need to get out of the house. Furthermore my creativity seems to flow better when I’m working in a cafe in new surroundings.

Then I recently discovered I was lactose intolerance, that’s in addition to having celiac disease in which I can’t eat any gluten. That’s not an easy thing when eating out in Germany, but I’ll get to that in another post. It was after many disappointing visits to cafes that I thought would have offered a lactose-free option, only to discover that they did not, that I decided to write this post. Of course, you can drink a tea in other cafes, but some days there’s just no substitute for a cappuccino or latte macchiato!

Through much research – aka spending times in cafes – you can thank me for all my hard work by buying me a coffee the next time you’re in München :), I’ve discovered nine cafes that cater to those of us who are lactose intolerant, and yes they also have regular milk as well if you’re going with some one who prefers that.

9 Cafes in München Serving Lactose-Free or Soya Milk:

Vits Cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in Munich, Bavaria, Germany
One of my favorite cafes in München and they cappuccino always comes with really pretty designs in the foam.

Vits: This is one of my FAVOURITE cafes in München. The aromatic smell of coffee hits you as you walk into the cafe – they brew their own blends. Furthermore it’s centrally located near Isator, has plenty of seating, and free WIFI. They offer lactose-free or soya milk. I personally like lactose-free milk better, but it’s a matter of personal taste and the soya is a good option for vegans. Address: Rumfordstraße 49.

Cat at Cafe Katzentempel in Munich, Germany
Ayla one of the resident cats.

 

Cafe Katzentempel: This is my FAVOURITE cafe in München because of the residents that live there – meet Ayla on the left. I’ve written about it not once, but twice – see my review of Germany’s First Cat Cafe here. I like it that much! It’s a PURRfect place for cat lovers although you might want to avoid it if you’re allergic to cats. They offer soya milk (no lactose-free milk) and have a variety of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. Address: Türkenstraße 29.

 

Cafe Luipold: This is the place to go for one of the largest selections of cakes and pastries in München. Cheap it’s not, but it is centrally located and the cakes look delicious! It’s just a short walk from the Munich Residenz. They offer both lactose-free and soya milk.

White Rabbit’s Room: This half store, half cafe is whimsically decorated, resembling a little girl’s room. It’s one of my regular spots in Haidhausen and I often meet a friend there. They offer lactose-free milk. Address:Franziskanerstraße 19.

Fortuna Cafebar: This is a cosy little place that’s more than a little bit retro and is popular with locals in Haidhausen. They have lactose-free milk. Address: Sedanstr 18, but really it’s right around the corner from Sedanstr so a bit confusing to find the first time you’re there.

Catwalk: I’m a big fan of this cafe in Bogenhausen. There is plenty of seating inside and outside on a tree-lined street. They have a good-size menu and free WIFI. They have lactose-free milk. Address: Mauerkircherstr 2.

Segafredo: I’ll admit that I’m not a regular at this Italian chain of cafes – I try to avoid chain cafes, but they do have convenient locations throughout München. Address: notably Tal 1 (near Marienplatz) and at the Ostbahnof – the east train station. I’ve only requested lactose-free milk here, but I think they also have soya milk.

San Francisco Coffee Company: Another one that I choose for convenience since they have several locations throughout Munich and because they have WIFI. Address: Theatinerstr 23 (at Odeonsplatz), this location has a lot of seating and outdoor seating as well. Their other really good location is at Orleansplatz 5 across from the Ostbahnhof. I’ve only requested lactose-free milk here, but I think they also have soya milk.

Yorma’s: Not a cafe at all, but a grab and go place, I choose it exclusively for its location – the Haupbahnhof (main train station) in Munich. They have what I believe is the cheapest lactose-free coffee in the entire city – less than €2! There are multiple locations throughout Bavaria and the rest of Germany, but I don’t know whether all locations provide a lactose-free option. Address: Hauptbahnhof – across the rail tracks on the opposite side of Starbuck’s.

So now you know where to go, how do you order a lactose-free cappuccino in German? “Lactose-free” is “Laktosefrei” in German, with the “e” pronounced as short “e” (not silent as it is in English) and “frei” pronounced with a long “i”. Fortunately, “cappuccino” is just “cappuccino” :).

I hope you will find this list of cafes in München where you can enjoy a lactose-free cappuccino or latte macchiato helpful! If you know of others, and I know they are out there, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list!

Note: As I prefer lactose-free milk over soya milk, it’s possible that some of the places listed above also offer soya milk, but I didn’t ask – at the time of my visit, I wasn’t planning on writing a post about it. It’s also worth noting that I received no incentives or financial compensation to include any of these places on my list. I just included places from my own experience.

Be sure to check out my Munich City Guide for how to make the most of your precious travel time.

See more places to visit in Germany.

4 Years of Travel Blogging and Living in Germany

Today I’m celebrating my four-year blog anniversary! That’s practically ancient in the world of travel blogging!

Admittedly my blog started out as Expat in Germany, and then evolved into Monkeys and Mountains, but it’s been quite the whirl wind. My world was turned upside down when I moved to Germany for a cute boy that I met on vacation. Spoiler alert: It worked out, we’ve been married for almost three years now. So to celebrate, I thought I’d share with you the answers to the questions I get asked the most often and give you a glimpse into what life is really like in Germany.

wedding photo

What is it really like living in Germany?

Canada Day in Germany

I really like it and can easily see myself living the rest of my life in Munich. I now proudly refer to myself as a Germadian, in which I take the best traits of Germans and Canadians and combine them. Case in point, I still love my Tim Horton’s but don’t say sorry nearly as often as I used to – even if I bump into you on the train! That’s as un-Canadian as you can get. I’ve also adopted German’s approach when meeting someone to find out what they do for fun, rather than what they do for a living. I love that philosophy, and now find it unnerving when someone asks me about my job rather than my hobbies.

So you’re never moving back to Canada?

Never say never, but no I don’t have any plans to. The winters are far too cold for me (despite being Canadian, I’m a wimp when it comes to cold weather) and I really love living in Europe.

How’s Your German?

In a word, I’m say stagnated. I did eight months of German school, 25 hours a week when I first moved here, which brought my German up to an upper intermediate level. I’m ashamed to say that it’s improved little since. I could blame it on an intensive travel schedule, or working in English, but let’s face it, if it was a priority, my German would be much better than it is. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my German is good enough for most day-day situations and I’ve gotten lazy to take it to the next level. My goal is to be fluent by this time next year. Hold me to it!

What’s it really like being married to a German and should I move to xxx country for this great guy I met on vacation?

In the Galapagos posing with a gigantic tortoise.
Me and J.P. in the Galapagos on yet another vacation together, before I moved to Germany.

This is by far the most frequent question I get asked. To answer the latter, I have absolutely no idea. Most holiday romances don’t work out. Long distance is tough. People are different on vacation than they are back at home in the real world. Having said all that, I took the risk and it worked out, but I made sure I had money in the bank in case it didn’t. I was fully aware that if things went bust, J.P. still had a job, and a place to live and a car, while I had none of the above. I did it on a gut feeling and taking the time to get to know him before I did it (2 years to be exact).Read this, for further advice.

If this were a fairytale, this is where it would end with us walking into the sunset living happily ever after. But life is not a fairytale and while we are happily married, there have been ups and downs as we have gotten to know each other in the real world.

Before I moved to Germany, we had never seen each other after a hard day of work, or when we were stressed. Then there are the cultural differences. In the beginning, I struggled with his directness (very German) while he struggled to be tactful (very Canadian) and wouldn’t understand when I would cry out You are so mean!

He would be genuinely confused and scratching his head about how expressing his honest opinion could be mean. Canadians are generally speaking optimists, Germans, pessimists. Look at our history! my husband would point out in his defence when I complained about his negative attitude.

Think of everything that can go wrong so that you can be prepared, he argued, while I would counter, But think how great it will be if everything goes right! These are not easy discussions, especially when you’re an entrepreneur and these discussions are about your business, which you treat like a delicate newborn – even if it is four years old.

Despite the ups and downs, which any marriage has, I’m so glad I married him and we are happy together most days. But my point is if you marry someone you’ve only seen on vacation and they’re from another culture, you have to expect that it’s not all going to be roses (as a fan of The Bachelor TV show I just had to throw that in).

 

So can you really make a living as a travel blogger or do you have another job?

Yes, but I choose not to. Simply because it means too much travelling. I did a lot of sponsored trips where I worked with tourism boards, hotels and travel companies for two years and while I enjoyed every minute of it, the amount of travel it takes to make a full-time living from blogging is not for me long-term. Plus, much of that travel was without my husband, which doesn’t make for much of a marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to travel, but I also like having a life in Munich and spending time with my husband and friends. Ideally, I would travel a week out of every month. I’ve reduced my travel in 2014 but am still travelling more than that – but somehow it’s working and I’m enjoying travelling more than ever!

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to travel, but I also like having a life in Munich and spending time with my husband and friends. Ideally, I would travel a week out of every month. I’ve reduced my travel in 2014 but am still travelling more than that – but somehow it’s working and I’m enjoying travelling more than ever!

While I do earn income from my blog, I also make my living from an offshoot of travel blogging – social media consulting and training. Specifically, I’m a Social Media Time Optimizer and show people how to convert followers into customers in just 15 minutes a day.

This really gets back to my education roots. I used to be a Program Director at a university in Canada and hold a Master’s degree in Adult Education. I’m passionate about education, and love showing clients how they can profit from using social media correctly and filter out the noise.

Laurel headshots

So glad that I finally got professional head-shots that I had to throw this in. Courtesy of Teddi Hosman, a talented jewellery designer, photographer and friend.

 

So has anything stayed the same?

Everest Base Camp Laurel
Me at Everest Base Camp after 8 days of hiking.

I’ve stayed close with a small circle of my closest friends in Canada. We don’t always speak as often as we’d like due to an eight-hour time difference, and different work and travel schedules, but every time we do it’s truly like going home.

And my mom and I are closer than ever. I’m truly blessed to have such wonderful women in my life. I was an avid hiker in Canada and that’s also stayed the same. I can be found in the mountains more often than not, but instead of the Canadian Rockies it’s the Alps.

I’ve always been a bookworm and if anything am more so living in Germany since I watch less TV than I did while living in Canada. And monkeys. I will always love monkeys, especially gorillas, although technically speaking they are an ape not a monkey!

What’s Next?

My focus is on growing my adventure travel blogging business. Most days I work really long hours but I really enjoy it and find it incredibly rewarding. I’m working towards a passive income model, but I’m not there yet. I’m also focused on spending time with friends and connecting with inspiring people who are doing cool things. I keep finding new ways to challenge myself.

Last year I completed the Tour du Mont Blanc in 8 days instead of the recommended 10. This year it was a 12 day trek to Everest Base Camp. And I recently started running again. I hadn’t run in years but saw an ad for the 5km Color Run. It looked like fun so I signed up, trained for four weeks and had a blast doing it. And travel. Travel will always be a big part of my life. Beyond that? Lets see where this adventure called life takes me.

Thanks for reading and being part of my four-year journey of Monkeys and Mountains!

Why I Think the Nuremberg Christmas Market is Overated

nuremberg christmas market

I think the Nuremberg Christmas Market in Germany is overrated.  I know that saying the most famous Christmas Market in Germany that attracts over 2 million people a year is going to likely to get me in trouble, but it’s true.

I LOVE the Christmas Markets in Germany.  I love the festive atmosphere, I love meeting friends over a mug of Glühwein, choosing between which kind of potato I’m going to have at the potato stalls.

And of course, buying more ornaments for my Christmas tree which is already drooping from the weight of the existing ornaments purchased from previous Christmas Markets.

nuremberg christmas market stalls
A stall at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

But I just LIKED the Nuremberg Christmas Market.  The Market Square and the Church of Our Lady provide an impressive enough setting, but most Christmas Markets in Germany are located in a market square with a church.

In Ulm the Christmas Market is surrounded by the highest church steeple in the world.  After visiting the Nuremberg Christmas Market I left perplexed as to why it is the most popular Christmas Market in Germany.  I wasn’t the only one.

I went with a fellow expat and two Germans and we all agreed that the Stuttgart Christmas Market with its roof decorating competition was more picturesque and unique and it didn’t compare to My 3 Favorite Christmas Markets in Munich nor did it make it on My 3 Favorite European Christmas Markets list.

nuremberg christmas market crowds
As Germany’s most popular Christmas Market, the Marketplatz in Nuremberg was not surprisingly crowded.

To be fair, Nuremberg does have a competition for the most beautiful stall, but this wasn’t obvious to me.  I only found out after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong the wooden stalls with their red and white striped clothed roofs are cute, but really don’t look much different from any other Christmas Market.

nuremberg christmas market roofs
Only the roofs of the children’s market were decorated with figurines from popular fairy tales in the Nuremberg Christmas Market, but they were adorable.

As far as I could tell the Nuremberg Christmas Market also didn’t have a theme to differentiate itself from the hundreds of other Christmas Markets found throughout Germany.

Two of my favorites are the Ludwigsburg Christmas Market which has a baroque theme and huge light up angels hung throughout the Christmas Market and the Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market in which the vendors dress up in medieval clothing, serve medieval food and even have medieval games that visitors can try their hand at for a couple of euros.

There’s also the Frauen Insel Christmas Market, Germany’s only island Christmas Market with all locally produced offerings which I plan to visit next year.  What makes these Christmas Markets stand out is that they offer something not seen at a lot of other Christmas Markets, something I didn’t see at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

Our German friend noted that he heard more English being spoken than German.  I hadn’t even noticed, but perhaps that explains the few food stalls we found at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

Eating and drinking Glühwein at Christmas Markets are a huge part of the experience for Germans (you can only see the same offerings so many times before the shopping becomes rather dull).

Unfortunately, food stalls were few and far in between and besides the traditional Nuremberg sausage – 3 small sausages in a bun, there wasn’t a lot of variety, which you normally find at Christmas markets.

nuremberg christmas market carousel
I had never seen a two-story carousel before until I visited the Children’s Market.

Even the potato stall was only offering potato puffers (to be explained in an upcoming post) instead of the usual three or more choices of potatoes.  While the quality of the food we ate was good, we were all disappointed in the lack of choices.

On a positive note, the Children’s Market at the Nuremberg Christmas Market was a highlight.  The stall roofs were decorated creatively with various figurines from children’s storybooks and a two-story carousel and ferris wheel offered rides for children.

The Children’s Market was my favourite part of the Nuremberg Christmas Market and I think it would be a hit with kids.

If the Nuremberg Christmas Market had been my first Christmas Market in Germany I have no doubt that I would have been impressed, but after visiting so many Christmas Markets I was left perplexed as to why it’s the most famous Christmas Market in Germany.

Especially given all the strong competition from the others of hundreds of Christmas Markets, many of which are more unique and stand out more in my opinion.

I liked the Nuremberg Christmas Market well enough, but I do think it’s overrated.  I still think this medieval city deserves another visit – after the Christmas Market is finished.

A Medieval Treat from the Nuremberg Christmas Market

Have you tried the medieval treat from the Nuremberg Christmas Market?

You probably have, even if you’ve never stepped foot in Nuremberg. But you may not have had the REAL treat. I can almost smell the cinnamon, Allspice and cloves. Just thinking about it takes me back to my childhood where I remember cutting out cookies in the shape of reindeer or Santa Claus.

Nuremberg’s medieval speciality is GINGERBREAD (lebkuchen in German).

Gingerbread bakers in Nuremberg first appeared in the records as early as 1395.

Nuremberg became famous for its gingerbread since it was on the spice route. Back in the Middle Ages wafer-based gingerbread (different from the gingerbread cookies found in North America) was considered a delicacy. Nuremberg soon took pride in making the best gingerbread and as early as 1441 there was a spice inspector at the city gates. Only the highest quality spices were allowed into the city, before being passed onto the gingerbread bakers.

Today, there are more than 4000 gingerbread bakers in Nuremberg today and the pride in making high quality gingerbread still stands, enhanced by the long tradition.

Gingerbread collector's tins from the Nurembergn Christmas Market in Bavaria, Germany

What to Purchase at the Nuremberg Christmas Market:

Gingerbread obviously!  I always buy one to eat on the spot and them some to take home and share with guests over the holidays.  I have a gluten allergy and had my very first gluten-free gingerbread here.  Not all stalls have it, but if you ask around you will find it.

Besides the gingerbread itself, the packing and containers can also be works of art. Some of them are even collector’s items.

It’s is also a great place to purchase high quality spices used to make gingerbread like cinnamon, Allspice, ginger, Aniseed, Candied lemon peel, or candied orange peel. You can compare your gingerbread making efforts to those of the Nuremberg Gingerbread Makers.

Did I mention that gingerbread goes nicely with another one of my favorites?  I’m talking about Mulled Wine:  The most popular drink at German Christmas Markets of course.

Fortunately there’s no shortage of that either!  Find out what to really and see and do at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

Maypole Celebrations in Germany

Maypole celebrations festival in Germany

As we were driving one day in early May, I was surprised to find a very tall Christmas tree colorfully decorated in red and yellow erected on a large pole in the middle of a district center.

Maypole celebrations in Germany
The maypoles I have seen in Stuttgart have only been decorated in red and yellow, while maypoles in Bavaria are decorated in white and blue – the Bavarian state’s colors.

I asked J.P. about it who looked at me in disbelief as to why I thought a Christmas tree would be up in May.  He then informed me that it was not a Christmas tree but a “Maibaum” or maypole in English.  I had heard of maypoles before, but had never seen one and didn’t know what they represented.  J.P. informed me that in many areas in Germany maypoles are erected in a district’s city square on May 1st to celebrate the return of summer and that they stay up for the entire month of  May.  So you can imagine how excited I was to see a sign for a Maypole festival.  J.P. cautioned me to contain my excitement as he though it would be a small festival, but I still wanted to go.

The Maypole Festival in Weilimdorf, Stuttgart Germany
The Maypole Festival in Weilimdorf, Stuttgart.

And it turns out there is more to the maypole than just the return of summer, but no one can agree exactly what that is.  Maypoles have been found in Germany since the 16th century, but date back to the 10th and 11th century to paganism in the Iron Ages, so perhaps the maypole is a pagan symbol?

Other scholars debate that the maypole is a symbol for the world axis.  Or perhaps the maypole was a Germanic reverence for sacred trees.Or my personal favorite, that the maypole is a phallic symbol to worship Priapus, a minor Roman God of fertility who always had an erect xxx(I’ll let you fill in the blank).  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Sigmund Freud was a supporter of this theory.  Adding more fuel to this theory is that May is the most common month for Germans to get married.  Yet, maybe the answer is simpler than that.  Maybe the maypole is simply just a part of the merriment of the return of summer – no further explanation needed, as some scholars believe.

Maypole celebration in Munich, Germany
A blue and white maypole in Munich, the Bavarian state colors. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

When we arrived to the Maypole Celebration taking place in Weilimdorf (an area in Stuttgart) the festivities were in full swing.  Despite being a small festival, there was a band and beer gardens, serving what else but sausages and pretzels.

Th Weilimdorf Maypole Festival appeared to be sponsored or put on by the Fire Department as fire trucks were everywhere.  Even the games had a fire department theme to them:

Maypole celebrations games, Germany
The Fire Department hosted games using fire hoses for older children as part of the Weilimdorf Maypole Festival.
Kids at Maypole celebrations, Germany
And rides using fire truck ladders for smaller children. All part of the Maypole celebrations in Weilimdorf.

The Weilimdorf Maypole Celebration was a small one, as J.P. had predicted, and even though we missed the traditional maypole dance, I still enjoyed it.  It was a hot sunny day – perfect for a celebration of summer’s return and everyone was in a good mood.  Perhaps the simplest explanation of the maypole is the correct one, that it is simply just part of the celebration of the return of summer.

Have you been to a Maypole Celebration before?  What color was the maypole?

For those living in Stuttgart and wanting to see a maypole, I’ve seen them in Feuerbach and Weilimdorf, although I’m sure they’re in other locations as well, but hurry, they’ll just be up until the end of May.

Maulbronn Monastery – The Best Preserved Cistercian Monastery in Europe

Entrance to maulbronn monastery in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Maulbronn Monastery is the best preserved Cistercian Monastery in all of Europe.  It’s near Stuttgart, in the state of Baden-Württemberg,  Germany. And it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Maulbronn Monastery is located in Maulbronn,  My Favorite City in Germany That You Probably Haven’t Heard Of.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in large part because it’s the best preserved Cistercian medieval monastery in Europe.

Maulbronn monastery chapel in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn Monastery Chapel

At the time of writing, extensive renovations were being done on Maulbronn Monastery. That’s understandable considering that it was founded in the year 1147 under interesting circumstances.

Legend has it that some monks looking for a new location for a monastery. They decided to let their mule out and wherever he stopped for water, that would be a sign from God as to the location for the new monastery.

And so when the mule stopped in Maulbronn, twelve monks starting building their new monastery there.

Maulbronn monastery hall in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Walking through the halls of Maulbronn Monastery was very peaceful. However,  I also felt a little sad, knowing that the monks had to live in seclusion from the rest of the world.

The monastery was also a very cold place in winter. There was no heating except in one small dark room.  It got a lot colder after the Protestant Reformation broke out.

The Duke of Württemberg decided to take out the windows of the monastery. He used them in one of his own castles instead. The monks were left with cold winds blowing through the monastery.

Maulbronn monastery ceiling hallway in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn monastery ceiling mural in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Maulbronn monastery ceiling mural in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

At least the monks had interesting ceilings to look at.  I was fascinated by all the murals and hand paintings on the ceilings.

Maulbronn monastery courtyard in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

And when the monks tired of looking at the ceilings I can imagine that the courtyard would have been a very welcoming place.

A monk’s life was not easy.  The monastery was self-supported through their own hard manual labour. In addition, the monks were required to pray several times a day for a couple of hours at a time.

That also included waking up in the middle of the night to do so.  The pews were designed so that the monks would be supported while standing. They weren’t allowed to sit since voices sound better when standing.

Maulbronn monastery pew in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Church pew where the monks stood several times a day for a couple of hours at a time.

For all that holiness, you may be surprised to learn that the chefs at Maulbronn Monastery were creative when it came to getting around the vegetarian rule.

Legend has it that Ravolli, or Maultaschen in German, were invented at Maulbronn Monastery. It was a way of sneaking meat into the monk’s dinner which was supposed to be completely vegetarian.

Maulbronn monastery fountain in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Maulbronn Monastery was eventually turned into a Protestant Theological College. Much to the monk’s chagrin, I would imagine.  One of the most famous students was German poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Herman Hesse.

His time at Maulbronn is illustrated in several of his works, most notably “Beneath the Wheel”.  I imagine they’re quite interesting given that he was expelled from the school.

Maulbronn monastery window courtyard in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Cistercian monks also had to follow no talking rules and talking was only allowed in one room of the Maulbronn Monastery.  I t would have made a terrible monk!  How about you?

More info on Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery is located ~35 km NW of Stuttgart, Germany.   For more info on opening hours, directions on how to get there see:  Maulbronn Monastery Service. Audio tours are available in English for €2 extra, which I would highly recommend.  See also Maulbronn, My Favorite City in Germany.  If you can’t make it to Germany, watch a virtual tour of Maulbronn Monastery.

Also be sure to watch for Maulbronn Monastery on the 2013 €2 commemorative coin in Germany.

Have you visited Maulbronn Monastery? I’d love to hear about your visit.

See more places to visit in Germany.

Masks of Carnival: A Photojourney

The masks of carnival are one of my favorite parts of Carnival in Germany.

Carnival officially begins on Nov 11th, but it doesn’t really ramp up until the crazy carnival week starting today (Feb 16,2012).  Old Woman’s Day kicks off the festivities and is my favorite day of carnival and you’ll likely see lots of women dressed up as witches.  During the rest of carnival you will see scary masks with bulging eyes, warts and jutting chins meant to scare winter away.  Sadly it hasn’t worked so far this year and I’m in desperate need of a holiday to Magaluf in Majorca.  Then there are the same masks with a huge grin plastered on them  – to welcome in Spring perhaps and to hand out handy!
The best place to see the masks of carnival is at one of the MANY carnival parades found throughout certain parts of Germany.  These photos are from the Stuttgart Carnival Parade and the Tübingen Carnival Parade, both located in SW Germany.

Either this mask wasn’t that scary or the kids were more concerned about the candy!
Many of the masks are hand-carved and can cost upwards of €1000!
These guys were scary and smart! It was freezing, but their costumes looked rather cozy.

Not only are these guys scary, they’re also tricksters, sneaking up behind the crowd and smearing unsuspecting people’s faces with black paint, or dumping flour on people’s heads when they weren’t looking.  The lucky ones just get covered in confetti.  I’ve been lucky…so far! Note:  Don’t wear white or expensive clothes when you go to a carnival parade!

They’re not just pretty faces, they’re also expert pyramid builders!
Masks of carnival in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Masks of carnival in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
This guy kept lifting his mask for quick sips of his beer. He certainly was one of the happiest parade participants.
Masks of carnival, Germany
masks of carnival
One of my personal favorite carnival masks.

Whoever said that Germany is the least funny country in the world, has obviously never been to a carnival parade where scariness and silliness go hand in hand!

See more places to visit in Germany.

Why Charming Houses in Northern Germany Are Disappearing

One of my favourite type of traditional house found in Northern Germany is in danger of disappearing – the thatched roof house.   I love seeing farmhouses with thatched roofs when spending time in Northern Germany and find them utterly charming.  They remind me of a simpler time.

Unfortunately, thatched roofs are in danger of disappearing and I can’t say I blame the Germans.  Thatched roofs can be a fire hazard.

They catch fire more easily than other roof materials do, the fire spreads more quickly and when the reeds burn, they slip and fall into the house which can make it difficult for people in the house to escape from the fire.

As a result, houses in Germany with thatched roofs also carry substantially higher insurance costs than houses with roofs made of other materials do.  Furthermore,  thatched roofs are not any cheaper than building a roof with other materials, so building a thatched roof results in increased costs, not to mention safety concerns.

With this in mind, I can’t really blame Germans for choosing other materials over the thatched roof, but I would hate to see all the thatched roof houses in northern Germany disappear.
Thatched roofs may not look very durable, but they can last 30 years or longer.  They are built with a high pitch to keep the water running off the roof and normally it’s only the top layer of reeds that gets wet.  The thick densely packed bundles of reeds serve as an insulator.

I love seeing how the thatched roofs evolve as they age.  It reminds me of how people’s faces change, a few more wrinkles here and there, which gives them character.  The inside of this house which I’ve been inside looks the same as the inside of any other house – white ceiling with no visible thatched roof.

All the thatched roof houses I’ve seen in Germany are made of brick.   I really like the contrast of the thatched roof when it starts to grow some green moss with the red brick.
What types of houses have you come across in your travels that you enjoyed?