One of my oldest and best friends, Claudia, is German and lives in a lovely village just outside Braunschweig about an hour's drive from Hannover airport. Over the years we have visited her in all seasons but my favourite time of year to visit her in Germany has to be winter, especially in the run up to Christmas.
The flight takes just over an hour and a half and you can pick up from bargain tickets for under £100pp if you are lucky.Tip: Set an alert on your favourite flight search site to find the best prices. Looking for accomodation? Try Ebooking to find the perfect hotel to suit your budget in the best locations.
There are so many reasons to visit Germany. It is a beautiful country with plenty for active souls and thrill seekers to do so if you like to ski, skate, hike, swim or sail you will find stunning locations to pursue your favourite sports.
I am not so keen on sport but I love the German hospitality, especially when it comes to wandering round any of the country's world famous Christmas Markets or "Weihnachstmarkt" to give them one of the German names. The events are also sometimes called Adventsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt.
These markets which range from little crafty fairs in villages and smaller towns to vast sprawling events in cities follow swiftly on from the wonderful Oktoberfest events (which are obviously held in October!) Both involve music, food and drink and often there are fun fairs to add excitement for all ages.
In 2019 my son treated me to a festive weekend in Bremen in December and I am not ashamed to say we made the most of the amazing edible treats on offer from boozy hot chocolate to powdery pancakes.
Although Germany is beautiful and has activities all year round, here are my five reasons to visit in winter.
1. German winter food. I'll never forget my first Turinger Bratwurst. I was actually visiting another German friend, Manuela, who lives in Bremen, famous for the Grimm's tale, The Town Musicians of Bremen. We caught a ferry across the river Weser and headed to a square where we bought the long Bratwurst eaten while holding a tiny bun which is more edible napkin than significant breadage.
At the Christmas markets you will see a variety of regional bratwurst on offer, often cooked on vast pans over coals, but I almost always opt for the Turinger. Don't forget to add mustard and ketchup from the udder-like dispensers hanging around the stalls
During a December visit to see Claudia and her family, we were introduced to the ultimate comfort food, Gruhnkohl und Pinkel. This is a dish made with finely chopped cooked kale and smoked sausage, sometimes served with pears, boiled or fried potatoes and thickly sliced ham or bacon. My friend told me it is traditionally served after a long winter walk and lots of shots of alcohol. This is easily cooked at home and I find it works well as a slow cooker recipe.
2. German winter drinks. Everyone has heard of mulled wine but the German's turn drinking this festive beverage "Gluhwein" into an art form with each market offering commemorative mugs and variations using white wine instead of the usual red. I tried it - in the interests of research obviously - it's kinda like hot egg nog with a white wine twist.
I actually preferred the boozy hot chocolate which to me is the perfect warm-up drink during chilly evenings wandering round all the stalls looking at decorations, trinkets, pottery, ornaments, toys and more. Obviously you can get non-alcoholic versions loaded with cream or maybe try a hot mulled apple juice with cinnamon which gives the drink a festive aroma and taste.
For a spectacular show as well as a drink you have to try Feuerzangenbowle, similar to Gluhwein but prepared with panache with special equipment and a method involving cones of sugar dripping with rum. There are regional variations with some people adding black tea or different liquors. Feuerzangenbowle is served traditionally around Christmas and New Year.
3. German Christmas/Advent Markets. You can visit German style markets all over the world but I still think you have to be in Germany for the fully authentic atmosphere. Some big cities have multiple markets - Berlin has lots across the city.
In Bremen we travelled from our hotel to the city centre by tram then emerged into a bustling square illuminated by twinkly lights on stalls and trees. This traditional market was fun but we particularly liked the riverside pirate themed Christmas market complete with a huge pirate ship centrepiece where costumed staff sold food and drinks from the hatches around it.
I've enjoyed small craft fair markets similar to English summer fayre type events and explored vast markets which meander along city streets in all directions like a giant festive octopus. I even went to a memorable winter event at the Wolfsburg VW factory plant where we could skate, ride vintage carousels, watch an amazing show on ice, applaud my daughter tobogganing down "real" snow hills and admire concept cars before warming up round big fire pits.
4. Scenery and Snow. I live in southern England and we don't see much snow. I love visiting my friend in Germany when it snows and admiring sparkling mountains and frosted trees. Whatever time of year you visit Germany there is some amazing scenery to admire and explore but I particularly love it during winter. Dress up warm and enjoy the Christmas card-esque views and maybe even a snowball fight!
5. Sauna. Obviously you can go for saunas at any time of year but let me tell you, until you have stepped out of a sauna barefoot into snow you haven't had the full experience. I can heartily recommend the amazing Badeland in Wolfsburg (where VW's originated). I promise you this will be an experience you will never forget with just about every type of sauna, indoors and out, available.
So there we have it - five reasons to visit Germany in winter. With so many historic and scenic destinations, modern cities, museums and art galleries, natural attractions and ancient man-made landmarks you can go back over and over again like me and still never get to see all there is to see.