Christmas Travels – Part 1: Munich

Nothing beats Germany in pre-Christmas mode. I have never enjoyed being back home for the holidays more as this year we arrived just in time to check out all the Advent excitement. Christmas markets and seasonal events in and around the city are amazing venues to check out with a glass of Glühwein (“mulled wine”) in your hand. Here are 5 of my favourites, in and around Munich.

1. Milchhäusl at the English Garden

Take a stroll through the English Garden and watch the Eisbach Surfers withstand snow and cold water. After this favourite spectator sport it’s just a short walk to the Königinstraße entrance of the park. This is where the little gem “Milchhäusl” is located. Enjoy a cup of Glühwein or Lumumba (hot chocolate with rum) in one of their Winter Gondolas – Original ski-lift gondolas that are repurposed as private, heated seating areas. You can choose between the “Kuschel-Gondola” (snuggle gondola) with curtains or the “Disco-Gondola” decorated with colourful lights. Afterwards check out the christmas market around the “Chinesischer Turm” – a beautiful location to do some christmas shopping or sample some more Glühwein.

2. The Medieval Christmasmarkt

The market is conveniently located at Wittelsbacher Platz, close to Odeonsplatz station and the famous Theatinerkirche.The food options are amazing: Schupfnudeln with speck and cabbage, ox meat or walnut pesto, various dumplings and venison goulash. Next to Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle (a hot specialty with burnt sugar and rum) you can order a Met honey wine which is served in a big clay jar. The craft huts sell unique gifts such as medieval jewlery, swords and drink horns. Everyone working at the market is in character and dressed in medieval outfits. A truly special market that is great for a lunch break visit or a drink after sightseeing.

3. Bad Tölz Weihnachtsmarkt

The BOB train connects Munich to the southern mountain and lakeside in under an hour. There are many picturesque towns to discover and mountains to climb. A favourite of mine is the romantic town of Bad Tölz which is located right on the river Isar and offers a view of the alps. The colourful old town is the prefect setting for it’s traditional Weihnachtsmarkt. Arts and crafts and delicious cheese and meats of local artisans make the market a favourite amongst locals and tourists. And the food options are amazing: Fresh bread and Alsatian flans right from the woodburning fire, Käsekrainer sausage (cheese filled) and Nürnberger in a bun (3 small bratwurst sausages) are crucial after trying the white and red Glühwein varieties and the local Hirschkuss Schnaps (a herb liquour).

4. Tollwood

This event has a Winter and Summer edition and twice every year transforms the famous Theresienwiese into a funky festival with food carts and big tents that host concerts, comedy events, parties, bars, local arts, fashion and craft vendors and ethnic eateries. The food and drinks served here are all organic. My favourite: The Mini- Cheese fondue at the foodcart “Fondue Baron”.The cause behind the winter festival 2014 was to promote the end of mass husbandry systems and humane treatment of animals.

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5. Pink Xmas

My favourite quarter in Munich is the Glockenbachviertel. It’s party central and home to many great restaurants and bars (My Top 3: The Bavarian-Vietnamese Fusion at Fei scho, a cocktail at Zephyr and the legendary Pimpernel Club). This quarter has lots to offer. Not surprisingly, the Christmas market here is amazing! Pink Xmas is a favourite neighbourhood event and an initiative by the gay and lesbian community in Munich. The cute little market is complete with neon-pink lights, hot Caipirinha and fun little shops offering quirky accessoires like topless male “mermaid”- tree ornaments. A fun spot to start the night out on town!

Stay tuned for my favourite winter activities in Vienna and Budapest…

Oyama Sausage Granville Island White Sausage

6 Tips on Where to Find German Food In Vancouver

When I am asked what I miss most about Germany, I always answer with the three F’s: family, friends and food. While the latter is a pure luxury problem and I very much enjoy the range of cuisines one can enjoy in Vancouver (especially the ocean to table options!) – sometimes I crave a taste of home. That’s what comfort food means to me, feeling a little closer to home with the help of a dish. A good pretzel can make my day and when I found Krapfen (basically a jelly filled donut without a hole) and good Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) at a local bakery, Vancouver felt a lot more like home all of a sudden. So where do you go when homesickness hits or you just want to try some German staples?

1. Bread

I kissed a lot of frogs (named German Rye, Vienna Style or Fritz Buns) until I found the amazing ‘Bauernbrot’ at Breka Bakery. It’s the first bread that tasted just like at home. With salami, mustard and a pickle for lunch or Nutella for breakfast it hits the spot. Speaking of pickles: Germans do not hang a pickle in their christmas tree. This “tradition” is basically unheard of in Germany, against all North American beliefs.

German Christmas Myth Pickle

Photo by © Jamie Anderson

2. Pretzels

Similar to my bread research, it took me a while to find the best pretzel in town. The Deutsches Haus serves expensive and dry ones, so I turned to the Swiss (!) Bakery and  found my match. The pretzels here are a bit too soft for my Bavarian preference, but throw them in the toaster and you will get a sense of what a pretzel should taste like. Pretzels and sweet mustard – something is missing here…

Swiss Bakery Pretzels Vancouver

Photo by Swiss Bakery

3. Sausages

There are amazing butchers in Vancouver. Unlike German sausages, there is a lot of experimentation going on here: Blueberry-Elk, Apple-Pork, IPA-Bratwurst – there’s no limits when it comes to “Wurst”. My favourite sausage makers are Rio Friendly Meats on Hastings and Oyama on Granville Island. The latter is selling the best white sausage in the city. This brunch sausage is equally as important to a Bavarian as Bacon is to a Canadian. White sausages are simmered and not boiled. Don’t get caught putting it on the BBQ either or you will never hear the end of it.

Oyama Sausage Granville Island White Sausage

Photo by Oyama Sausage Co.

4. Sweets

Sometimes it has to be the real thing. You won’t have any trouble tracking down Ritter Sport or Lindt Chocolate. Milka is a different story though , but it is possible to find the purple goodness (I`ve seen it at the J N & Z Deli on Commercial Drive). London Drugs offers a surprisingly good selection of Bahlsen-Cookies, Manner-Waffers (Viennese!) and Haribo Candy. Same goes for Marmelade, Mustard (Kühne Sweet Mustard) and Spekulatius (spiced cookies) which you will find at Deli Supermarkets like Meinhardts or Stongs Market. And there is even a German Sweets Foodcart in this awesome city: The “Cändy Meister” Truck sells all natural German bonbons.

Ritter Sport German Chocolate

Photo by Ritter Sport

5. Beer

Liquor stores generally offer Löwenbräu and Becks…not my first choices. But there is great German style beer from local breweries in Vancouver. Russell Brewing and Bomber Brewing make a mean Märzen and a lot of the local wheat beer and Helles are very tasty too. I love touring around breweries like 33Acres, Parallel 49 and Brassneck to sample their fresh brews. But that’s a whole different blog post.

6. German Fast Food

A good Curry Sausage can do wonders before a big night out or after a long day. Bestie is the best place in town to get your fix. And on top of that, they serve litre-porcelain steins of beer, the only legitimate size in Bavaria where a “small beer” means 0,5 litre. Sometimes they feature a Leberkäs Specials which is basically a Bavarian Meatloaf in a bun. We call it health food.

Bestie Sausage Currywurst Vancouver

Photo via Nomss.com

What’s your favourite German food?

Put a Little Oom-pah in Your Life

Living abroad means that I sometimes crave the things that I take for granted at home. Like a German newspaper, the obligatory “Tatort” crime series ritual each Sunday, fresh pretzels and white sausages, or even things I would complain about in Munich. Like the public transport system. Or Oom-pah Music. Never in my life have I voluntary listened to bavarian music, except when driving with my granny in the car or visiting one of the region’s famous beer festivals. But things have changed. Recently I caught myself craving a good Oom-pah-pah for dinner time and studying seems to flow much better when there is a brass band playing in the background. This being the case, my excitement for Canadian Oktoberfest celebrations shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We visited the Bomber Brewing Oktoberfest in East Vancouver last weekend and my Canadian fiancé and I were buzzing with excitement. German sausages, beer kegs, bavarian music and a beer garden party – that’s what dreams are made of!  Riding my bike through the city in a ‘Dirndl’ (traditional bavarian dress) was also a highlight. Suddenly the houses looked more bavarian and even the air smelled just like home…but reality caught up with me and next thing I knew, we were standing in the craft breweries concrete ‘backyard’, fenced in with wire. The prison flair gave the beery neighbourhood party some edge for sure.

A legal beer festival outside – this is still a novelty for Vancouverites. No German would understand the excitement of drinking outside (!) but it is a big deal in this city. Any trace of homesickness was forgotten when I smelled the bratwurst on the BBQ and saw the white and blue flag flying overhead. Funny how the little things become so important when you’re living abroad. I didn’t even complain too much about the plastic stein or the unsalted pretzels. The music wasn’t particulary German either and the ‘costumes’ could have been offensive to my bavarian eyes. But I was on cloud nine. Teaching bavarian drinking chants to my friends and sharing Oktoberfest stories with locals made me embrace my Bavarianism more than ever. And I truly believe that everybody needs a little Oom-pah in their life.

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