By the time you read this, I’ll be flying from the prairies of the American heartland to the lush forest deep in the heart of Germany. I’ll be writing about the topics I love to cover — local artists and craftspeople, how history shapes communities, farm to table dining and off the beaten path travel — just in a different country.
And I get to visit Christmas markets! So. Many. Christmas markets. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this trip. Bring me your handmade goods, your Christmas cheer, your hearty, traditional food, Germany. I’m ready.
There are so many parallels between the state I’m visiting — Thuringia, located in the east central part of Germany — and my home state of North Dakota. Both are considered the heartland of their respective countries. Both understand that travelers are usually first seduced by their countries’ urban centers before succumbing to the less flashy charm of the smaller cities and towns within their borders. Both hold treasures for travelers willing to step outside of their comfort zone and go down the back roads, stopping at the local markets to shop or enjoying coffee and a snack at a small town cafe. This is the kind of travel I like best, so I can’t wait to see what this unique part of Germany has to offer.
There are differences, of course. Thuringia is the land of mountains and forests, well-preserved medieval villages and imposing baroque fortresses. This is the place where Martin Luther lived and studied and where the Protestant Reformation took root.
I’ll be walking in Luther’s footsteps in Thuringia’s capital, Erfurt. Luther himself said this place was “in the centre of the centre” when he lived, studied and preached here. I’ll be exploring its past as a thriving medieval market town and digging into its Jewish history and the evolution of its food scene as well.
Then it’s off to Weimar, a city of poets, artists and musicians, home to Goethe, Schiller, Bach and Liszt. Duchess Anna Amalia, one of history’s great patrons of art, ushered in a golden age of intellectualism and artistic expression in her city. I’m excited to see the library she left as a legacy.
I’ll be taking the mountain railway up into Oberweißbach, learning how artisans make Nativity scenes in Steinach and relaxing along the Rennsteig hiking trail in the Thuringian forest in Neuhaus am Renneweg.
I’ll be blowing glass baubles in Lauscha and learning about the export of German Christmas goods in Sitzendorf. I’ll visit a castle in the heart of porcelain country in Leuchtenburg and explore lots of charming Christmas markets all over the region.
I am squealing just typing that sentence. I’m a sucker for a charming holiday atmosphere and Germany promises to deliver, big time.
Then I hop on a train to Düsseldorf for a couple days with my friend and writing partner Joe Baur. Joe lives in Düsseldorf and has been giving me lots of insider tips about the country he now calls home. He also writes sanity saving posts like the one that details the most important German travel phrases to know, which have proved really helpful. (I’m cool with resorting to gestures as needed, but it’s so nice to know what to say when you bump into somebody or when someone asks you what you need in a store.)
Learning about coffee while drinking coffee…how meta…
I always try to learn the basic pleasantries in the local language when I travel, but German has proven to be the hardest language for me so far. (Japanese was a breeze compared to this!) But I’m trying.
Studying a few quick language lessons on Babbel on my phone has helped me sound (slightly) less like the Swedish Chef as I torture the German language. But I’ve also gone old school, studying from water logged text books from my local library and going back to my old standby — writing things out phonetically in one of my many trusty notebook. We’ll see how it goes.
If you have even the slightest interest in German history, food, art, pretty mountain scenery and/or Christmas markets, I encourage you to follow my latest adventures on my Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram. I’ll be a little quiet on this site until I return, but I’ll be very busy on social media. I’d love to interact with you there.
How about you?
What do you want me to tell you more about or explore in depth while I’m away?
Which parts of my trip sound the most interesting to you and why?
If you’ve visited Thuringia (or Germany in general), what do you recommend that I see or do there?
How has your own language study going?
What language learning tools do you use?
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