Indulge in the Best of the Black Forest Spa Experiences

SouthWest Germany is a place where you can escape to beautiful scenery, historic palaces, gardens, restorative spas, top restaurants, and elegant overnights. It is a perfect destination to relax before the holidays, or simply to get some well-earned rest and relaxation. The Black Forest Highlands offer miles and miles of well-signposted trails for hiking and biking with charming inns and restaurants and extraordinary scenic views along the way. Gardens and palaces in SouthWest Germany offer soothing landscapes and beauty that take you away to another world. Spas offer restorative experiences from the actual treatments to the beautiful and calm towns and environments where they are located. The hotel options are varied from exquisite five star superior overnights to charming pensions, all of them reasonably priced in their respective categories.

Climactic Health Resorts, Forest Bathing, Herb Paths

“The most you’ll get from walking is blisters,” a herding boy would have said. That his rough path to work would one day become a pleasure trail? Unimaginable. Today in the Black Forest, there is hiking on well signposted, certified “Premium Hiking Region” (German Hiking Institute) trails; invigorating mountain climate with 7 state-recognised climatic health resorts; excellent local cuisine and local specialities, relaxing and regeneration in excellent wellness hotels. With forest bathing, herb, and pleasure trails, you walk through the forest mindfully – smelling, hearing and feeling. Your stress levels plummet. The 3 medicinal herb trails also lead you to contemplate and reflect, while the 17 high-altitude climate trails are invigorating. There are also the 14 certified “pleasure” trails: These particularly beautiful circular tours are 2 to 7 miles long, offer authentic places to stop off and many an insight into regional culture and history from the Black Forest Highland sheep path to the steep and arduous cliff walk. Black Forest Highlands

The Black Forest Highlands Serves Up Delicious Local Fare, Offers Brewing Workshops

The Black Forest Highlands offers many opportunities to taste the local and delicious fare while you are out and about on your walks exploring the countryside. There are 25 nature park hosts who cook seasonally and consciously use regional ingredients from the Black Forest Nature Park for their creations. Along your way, you come across rest areas, restaurants, country inns, and mountain huts that serve the regional food. There are also herb hikes and tasting with the herb woman near St. Märgen as well as cooking courses in Alpersbach.

Of course the original Black Forest cake is served in every good café and restaurant. You can even watch the production, and participate in a tasting in the Café & Schnapshäusle zum gscheiten Beck in Bärental-Feldberg. Another great tour and tasting includes the Rothaus brewery which includes an entire experience and even has its own inn in Grafenhausen. Close by in Bärental-Feldberg Rogg’s organic craft beer is tapped at the brewery inn and offers workshops where you can brew your own beer with a master brewer.Black Forest Highlands

Healing Waters in Baden-Baden

Every day, over 210,000 gallons of thermal water bubble up from the ground in Baden-Baden, and it is still up to 150 degrees hot. On its way from a depth of 6,500 feet to the earth’s surface, it takes minerals with it: Sodium, chloride, fluorine, lithium, silicic acid and boron. It is these substances to which we owe the healing effect. Whether heart and circulation problems, metabolic disorders or respiratory diseases: The healing power of Baden-Baden’s springs promotes well-being and recovery. In addition, the thermal water, due to its warmth and ingredients, provides blood circulation to your muscles, joints and skin. 

In the Roman times, Baden-Baden was simply called Acquae, the waters. Then in the Middle Ages, the town received the name Baden. In the 16th century, to differentiate it from towns of the same name (Baden in Switzerland and Baden near Vienna), the double name Baden-Baden (Baden was also the name of the principality at the time) was given and it became official in 1931. Today, you can visit the Roman style, textile-free Friedrichsbad or the contemporary Caracalla spa to indulge in the treatments, the waters, and to gain a sense of well-being, rest, restoration. Each spa is open to the public. What makes Baden-Baden so unusual too is the beautiful resort town is a cultural destination with world class performances, museums, and beautiful parks and gardens. Baden-Baden

Hotel Dollenberg in the Black Forest Offers Outstanding Year-Round Spa Experience

The Hotel Dollenberg in the Black Forest is one of the most luxurious 5-Star Superior hotel experiences you can have any time of the year and it offers top-notch, panoramic views of the Black Forest from its mountain peak. Recently it has opened its award-winning Dollina Wellness & Spa to day visitors, in addition to hotel guests. It offers one of the largest spa areas covering about 15,000 square feet, including six pools, including mineral water and brine pools, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a whirlpool, and a mountain lake. For over five decades, Hotel Dollenberg, located in picturesque has Bad Peterstal-Griesbach has long been famous for its mineral and healing water which as it bubbles up through layers of Black Forest rock becomes even more enriched with valuable minerals.

There are four different types of saunas, including the old wood sauna, the Swiss stone pine wood sauna, the organic sauna, and the salt dry sauna, and each offers different results for different aches.

The steam baths that improve circulation, metabolism, and immunity include an herbal steam bath, a brine steam bath, and a Hamam with Serail with body peeling, curd soap, and steam thoroughly eliminate waste products and toxins.

And mental stress is simply washed away under subdued light, with lots of soap lather and water. 

There are treatments and massages from around the world from Lomi Lomi Nui to Upanahasveda, and even special wellness programs for children. It is sophisticated and luxurious in the middle of the Black Forest. Dollenberg Hotel Spa

Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe in Hohenlohe Offers Award Winning Skincare

In the Hohenlohe region not far from Heidelberg, the award-winning spa and wellness world of the 5-Star Superior Wald & Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe comprises 15,000 square feet of wellness, water, warmth, massages, and inhouse wine. A starring role is played by the special, inhouse-made wellness care line, SanVino which is a skin-care line made from Hohenlohe grapes. 

 SanVino’s valuable ingredients are from the Hohenlohe vineyards.

Think cold-pressed grape seed oil, red wine and grape seed extracts. 

Highly effective antioxidants and essential oils serve to protect and improve your skin. 

“SanVino–Vino cura naturalis–-health through wine!”

In addition to the SanVino, there a dermo-cosmetic treatment method by Reviderm,

Comfort Zone’s natural ingredients include selected medicinal plants by Pharmos Natur.

The BEWEI boosts metabolism and vitality for the body and face. 

The spa features excellent cosmetics, physical-energetic treatments, biomechanical optimization, and healthy nutrition 

Traveling Through Time: Down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey

Weltenburg Abbey was more than four centuries old before the monks first began brewing ale—or at least ale worth noting–in 1050. Now vying for the title of the oldest monastic brewery in the world (Weihenstephan Abbey also claims the honor), they set their claim on maintaining the original brewing process. Like the beer, much is as it was remains at the Abbey, the somewhat plain exterior of the cathedral opens onto an elaborately ornate and gilded interior. Services are still held regularly, and monks still live and work on the premises. And just as abbeys were places for gatherings for a millennium and more, Weltenburg also remains a destination. Located 25 miles west of the charming Bavarian city of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage City and just three miles from Kelheim, it is accessible by car. But I totally like immersing myself in history and my goal today is to replicate—as much as I can—the 1050 experience.

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Long Wall and St. Nepomuk

On the ferry from Kelheim, I watch as the boat’s wake cuts through waters reflecting the dark greens of dense woods and whites of limestone rocks of the Fränkische Alb mountains, some rising 300-feet high. Winds, water and time have carved caves and nooks in the limestone and in one of these crannies on an expansive stretch of stone called the Long Wall someone has tucked a statue of St. Nepomuk, the patron saint of water and bridges who was drowned when he refused to reveal the confessions made to him by the Queen of Bavaria. Her husband must have really wanted to know what she was up to.

The Danube Narrows

Today it will take 40 minutes to travel the Danube Narrows, an ancient waterway to and from Weltenburg Abbey or if you want to be really German about it, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei, a sprawling complex of Baroque stone buildings surrounded by the lush rural beauty of Southern Bavaria.

There are times when the river is a lively place with small boats passing by and bicyclists and hikers making their way along the riverbank. Then suddenly, navigating a bend, it’s all calm waters and quiet.  I imagine this is how it was when pilgrims and tradesmen (and hopefully tradeswomen as well) came to the abbey to retreat from the world, rest or conduct business. It was a time when travel was mainly by water as roads barely existed and their trip would have taken much longer without our gas powered engines. But the sight they saw when making the final curve is much the same as today—Weltenburg’s blue tower roof and the washed pink walls.

Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei

The abbey sits on a bend of the river and in front is a small sandy beach and shallow waters where people play. It’s hot today—a heat wave is moving across Europe—and I envy them as the water looks cool and refreshing. But history calls and instead I move up the walk leading from the dock to the entrance already awed by the size and beauty of the place.

There are always hard choices and today I need to decide whether to tour first (there are self-guided and guided tours available) or take a seat in the sun at the biergarten, It appears that most people have chosen the latter and rather than wait for a table or sit inside the restaurant, I enter the church.

St. Georg Church

We’re talking seriously rococo inside, an overdrive of theatrical flourishes mixed with more Gothic elements. Paintings date back to the 1300s, a statue of the church’s namesake St. George or St. Georg as its spelled here, sculpted in smooth, sleek marble, rides his horse most likely on his way to slay the dragon. The main room, its ceiling 65-feet high, has alcoves off to the sides, each one just as ornate. It’s hard to take in everything at once, the artistry, pageantry and craftsmanship are so amazing.  Standing near a group tour, I hear phrases like “eight ionic columns, Weltenburg marble and gold fresco” and hurriedly write the words down as it helps sort out this wonderment of riches.

Bavarian Fare

Back outside, I spot an empty table and grab it. Addicted to German fare (yes, really), I order pigs’ knuckle known as schweinshaxe, schnitzel and even though I’m in Bavarian and not the Black Forest (hey, it’s nearby) the famous cake from that region. Of course, I need a glass of their Kloster Barock Dunkel—an almost black in color ale which is still made on site in a rock cave and then sent by pipeline to the monastery taps. Also available—to drink or take home, there is a gift store of course–are other brews and such medicinal spirits as their Weltenburg monastery bitters and liqueurs. And if you want to go full abbey, there’s their klosterkas and monastery sausage both based on ancient Weltenburg recipes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last schnitzel and definitely not the cake. To assuage my conscience, I climb the mountain path as it winds past the Stations of the Cross. It’s steep but the gaps in the woods offer commanding views of the valley, abbey and gorge below. I briefly contemplate spending the night at the St. Georg Guest House to be able to walk the abbey grounds late at night when all the visitors are gone but I don’t have a reservation. Next time for sure.

The Oldest Wheat Beer Brewery in Bavaria

          Returning to Kelheim isn’t exactly like entering the 21st century. In the old town I wander the narrow streets snapping photos of perfectly maintained Medieval-era buildings just a short walk from the docks and on the way to where I parked my car, I let my friends talk me into stopping at Weisses Bauhaus Kelheim.

It’s a beautiful place, all wood, vaulted ceilings and archways leading from room to room. Outside we sit in, yes another beer garden, this one next to a small stream, and order a round of their wheat beer. Really, I had to since they’ve been brewing beer here since 1607, making the Weisses Brauhaus the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.

 

I’m not typically a beer lover but both the Kloster Barock Dunkel at the abbey and the TAP7 here, made from the original 1872 recipe, are robust and flavorful without bitterness or an overly hoppy taste. I’m driving so instead of more beer, I listen to the live music, enjoy the myriad of colorful blooms cascading from window boxes, baskets and containers and contemplate how I’ve spent the day moving through history and only now have reached the 17th century.

German Sweets for the Holidays and Beyond

          Though right now I can’t even travel to Chicago to do some holiday shopping because of the pandemic, I did manage a trip to Southwest German to visit several of their beautiful Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Markets) and take a holiday cookie making class.

          Well, kind of. The trip was a virtual cooking class and I’ve been doing a lot of those lately. It is, of course, nowhere close to being there but still when you get to the point where going to the grocery store becomes a big adventure, it’s really a great way to explore—and plan for the time when we might be able to journey again.

          And even though the holiday is long past, making the cookies and thinking of the beauty of the Christkindlesmarkts is a fine thing to do in gloomy February when all the excitement leading up to Christmas is long past and winter seems forever.

          Southwest Germany is comprised for the most part of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and is bordered on the west by France, Switzerland to the south, Bavaria to the east and Hesse to the north. It encompasses the Black Forest, large cities like Heidelberg, Baden-Baden and Stuttgart and a plethora of towns and villages that are so neatly kept and so very beautiful like Schwetzingen where there’s the Schwetzingen Palace & Gardens and Wiblingen, the home to an 11th century abbey. One thing you quickly realize about Germany is that almost every village no matter how small has a castle. And abbeys and monasteries dating back a millennium are common. New to them is anything built less than 400 years ago.

          Before COVID-19, late November and December is the time for the fantastic Christmas markets that have been part of the German holiday season since the 1300s. But of course, this is the age of COVID-19, so not only is my cooking class virtual but so are my visits to the Christmas markets. One plus, I save a lot of money by not being able to actually shop.

          Wendy Jo Peterson who, between military moves and following her husband’s career around the world, racked up a lot of miles working with children and adults across the spectrum from populations with special needs to elite athletes. Culinary nutrition and reaching optimal wellness through the foods we eat is one of her main drivers and she’s clocked in a lot of hours teaching, at hospital, working a computer and presenting the latest in nutritional science. When she lived in Stuttgart, Peterson immersed herself in cooking traditions and techniques and is bringing all that to our virtual classroom.

          We can either cook along with Peterson or just watch and I’ve decided I want to cook along with.

          To save time, Peterson has prepared her dough ahead of the class and so did those of us who are going to be cooking with her. Our first cookie is a yeast dough shaped into the form of the little tan man, known  In North Baden and the Electoral Palatinate, as Dambedei, in South Baden as Grätti or Baselmann and in other regions as Weck or Klausenmann. I hope I’m not going to be quizzed on the names of the cookies because I just won’t be able to do it.

But no matter the name, Dambedei’s instantly recognizable to children—and adults—because of his characteristic appearances. All little tan men have a pointed head, raisin eyes, almond mouth and a button jacket made of nuts.

Dambedei’s origins go back to when people were excluded for whatever reason from worshipping in the church on Bishop Nikolaus von Myra’s remembrance day. Instead the blessed bread is served to them in the shape of a man.

“The other cookies we’ll be making are Spitzbuben, also known as Hildabrötchen which are named after the Grand Duchess Hilda von Nassau, the last Grand Duchess of Baden,” says Peterson. “Supposedly, the popular Grand Duchess enjoyed eating Hilda rolls and often baked them herself. She was buried at the side of her husband, Grand Duke Friedrich II in the grand ducal grave chapel in Karlsruhe. Her ornate coffin can be viewed there.”

We’re also will make Hutzelbrot. If we were in Germany, we’d use dried Hutzel pears but alas I’ll be using  the dried pears sold in the grocery store. The term hutzelig in Swabia translates into wrinkled and that also describes the fruit. As for Swabia, it’s a historic region in southwest Germany. Someone a long time ago told me a Swabian joke. It isn’t very funny but it’s the only one I’ve ever heard. I tell it to the class, but they don’t think it’s funny at all.

Baden-Baden

We also have recipes for Springerle and Lebkuchen so if I do all the cooking, I’ll have a great assortment of German cookies.

Spitzbuben or Hildabrötchen

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup of cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/3 cups of flour

½ cup of raspberry jam for the center

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Cream together sugar and butter. Add vanilla extract and egg until combined. Add flour to form a dough. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap or cover well and put in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Roll out the dough very thinly and cut into circles. Then cut out the shape you like in every other cookie. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool. Heat the jam, spread over the cookies without  cutouts, then place the cutout half on top of the cookie with the jam. Dust with powdered sugar.

Springerle

4 eggs

2 ¼ cups powdered sugar

2 ¼ cup white wheat flour

1 tablespoon of whole anise seed or, if you want, substitute with gingerbread, cardamom, or ginger

Lightly toast the anise beforehand in a pan and then mix it into the batter. This treatment dissolves the essential oils and unfolds its full taste.

All ingredients are placed in a warm room for several hours before starting.

Beat the eggs until frothy, then add the sifted powdered sugar and the tablespoon of anise seed.

Stir this mixture in the food processor for at least 10 minutes.

Then stir in the sifted flour, one tablespoon at a time.

The dough is now a bit soft and needs to rest to have time to shape.

Put the dough in a bowl with a tightly fitting lid and covered with cling wrap, leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least 12-24 hours.

When you are ready to make the cookies, you cut off a small portion of the dough and immediately cover the rest of the dough again, otherwise it will dry out.

Roll out the dough on the floured baking board 8-10 mm thick. Press the Springerle mold into the lightly powdered dough and cut out the springerle with a dough scraper, pastry wheel or a cookie cutter.

Place the springerle on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and leave to dry for 24 hours in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 285 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the Springerle for approx. 15-18 minutes.

After baking, let the springerle cool, remove from the aluminum foil and store in a cardboard box in a damp place.

Hutzelbrot

2/3 cup each of dried pears plums and figs

¼ cup dried apricots

½ cup raisins

1 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or chopped almonds

1 tablespoons anise seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups rye flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

6 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2 to 4 teaspoons of vanilla

Soak the dried plums, pears, and figs in water overnight or 8 to12 hours. Drain the fruit and roughly chop it. Finely dice the dried apricots. Put all the fruit with raisins, hazelnuts and almonds in a bowl, season with aniseed, cinnamon and cloves, drizzle with lemon juice and mix well.

Mix the flours with baking powder. Beat the eggs with the sugar until frothy. Add the vanilla extract and the fruit and nut mixture. Finally, gradually knead in the flour mixture and knead the mixture well.

Shape the dough into two loaves of bread. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 70-80 minutes. After baking, let cool on a wire rack.

Dambedei

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Ground lemon peel

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 packet (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tbsp canola oil

1 egg yolk

Raisins

Mix wheat flour with lemon zest in a bowl. Warm the milk slightly, add honey and fresh yeast and stir. Add vanilla to the milk and add, along with the canola oil to the flour and mix to form a soft dough, about 5 minutes. Let the dough rise to double its volume in a warm place, knead again by hand and roll out to1/3 of an inch thick.

Cut out 4 Dambedeis each eight inches long, place on two baking sheets lined with baking paper and brush with the egg yolk. Press the golden raisins into the dough as eyes and jacket buttons. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 12 minutes at 395° Fahrenheit.

Lebkuchen

If I get the chance I want to follow the Lebkuchen trail that runs through the Black Forest. Until then, I’ll have to settle for making them at home.  

¾ cup honey

2 cups cane sugar

1 cup orange candied peel

¾ cup lemon candied peel

2/3 cup raisins

1 cup + 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts

5 cups whole meal rye flour

2 ½ cups whole meal spelt flour (can substitute whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

4 to 5 teaspoons gingerbread spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves (ground)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter

Juice and zest of an organic lemon

For painting: 2 egg yolks,  3 tbsp milk

For decorating and cutting: whole peeled almonds and cookie cutters

The day before, heat the honey and cane sugar in a saucepan while stirring. Finely chop the orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and hazelnuts.

Mix rye and whole meal spelt flour, baking soda, gingerbread spice, cinnamon, ground cloves, cocoa powder and the finely chopped orange peel, lemon peel, raisins, and finely chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Knead the heated honey with cane sugar, softened butter, lemon zest, juice, and eggs with the flour mixture until it is a very firm, brown dough.

Shape the dough into an elongated roll and let rest in a cold room overnight, in an airtight container.

Preheat the oven to 320° F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Knead the dough well, roll it out on a floured work surface to approximately ¼-inch thick, cut out the gingerbread and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Mix the egg yolk and milk, brush the gingerbread cookies with the egg yolk and milk mixture, decorate with an almond and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

 Place the baked gingerbread cookies on a wire rack to cool, then store in a tin or container. The longer they are stored, for approximately one to two weeks, the better they are.

SouthWest Germany’s Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets in SouthWest Germany are particularly charming as they are often nestled in small towns with cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings, palace courtyards while former cloisters also provide romantic backdrops. Each Christmas market is different than the next with gifts and goods varying from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. On Lake Constance, the many Christmas markets lure visitors lakeside and to tour the islands between the snowy mountain peaks of Switzerland and Germany’s baroque castles.

The lake that carries the sugary scents of waffles and cinnamon is the same on which ferries sail back and forth connecting visitors to different Christmas markets around the Bodensee. Schupfnudeln (finger-shaped potato dumplings), Dinnele (thin-crust flatbreads with different savory toppings) and Winzerglühwein (hot mulled wine) make the perfect outing also delicious. From Baden-Baden to the Black Forest Highlands, Christmas markets offer unending satisfaction – browse, buy and marvel!

Lakeside and Island Christmas Markets Offer Special Experiences Around the BodenSee

In the town of Constance, the Christmas ship with its 360° panoramic bar, a two-story Christmas tavern, the breathtaking lake and alpine panorama characterize the Constance Christmas Market. Take a stroll along the Advent village of 170 stalls set up between the medieval city center to the harbor.

Almost 100,000 twinkling lights reflect off the lake and the fragrant scents of hot mulled wine and gingerbread bring the holidays to life for the whole family. You can also enjoy the wintry landscape of the island of Mainau on a leisurely stroll through the sleeping gardens. After exploring the island, two warm places invite you to linger: the Butterfly House and the Palm House. In addition to the winter exhibition, come and explore the new boutique winter market in the Baroque castle courtyard. Many of the regional hotels around the lake offer Christmas specials. 

 >>  Christmas on Lake Constance

Chocol’ART in Tuebingen in December Lures Chocolatiers and Chocolate Lovers around the World

Tübingen famous for its university, the River Neckar and its old town is particularly fun during the Advent season. Tübingen’s particular flair can be experienced in the small, owner-managed shops that offer exceptional goods and personal advice. From the 3rd to the 8th of December 2019, the city of Tübingen once again turns into a city filled with chocolate.

Karlsruhe Christmas Market. Photo © KME / ONUK.

Throughout the city’s main squares, vendors offer some of the most extraordinary chocolate experiences. Chocol’ART is one of Germany biggest chocolate festivals and offers a unique chocolate odyssey in a magnificent historic town.  All different shapes, sizes, and flavors are on offer with handmade chocolate bars, chocolate figurines, chocolate cream, chocolate tools, chocolate drinks, chocolate beers, pralines, truffles, nougat, and even dragees. From sweet and bitter to mild and spicy, exotic and bio-chocolate to fair trade, vegan to sugar free chocolate are on the stands. The cheerful window shopping and the white chocolate tents in the city square and the magical lighting across the historical city square turn this experience into a fairy tale adventure.  

>>  Chocol’ART

Stuttgart’s Special City Illuminations Create a One of a Kind Holiday Experience

With some 290 stalls and a tradition of more than 300 years, Stuttgart’s Christmas market is one of the loveliest in Germany and one of the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe. It was first documented in 1692, though its roots go back much further. From November 27 to December 23, the stalls of the Christmas Market will stretch from the New Palace and the Königsbau across Schiller Square, the Old Palace and the Collegiate Church to the Marketplace.

Stuttgart Christmas Market. Photo© Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH

Special to Stuttgart is the incredible light display highlighting Stuttgart’s top destinations. For example, a Porsche, a Mercedes or the TV tower bring the city center together with an atmospheric illumination that runs from the Schlossplatz, the heart of the city, down the 1.2 km long pedestrian shopping street. Only 20 minutes outside of Stuttgart is the exciting medieval Christmas market of Esslingen where felters, dyers, jugglers and musicians take visitors back in time. The elegant baroque Christmas market at Ludwigsburg is also close to Stuttgart and offers beautiful handicrafts and delicious foods next to the palace. 

>>  Stuttgart Christmas Market

Baden-Baden’s Elegant Christmas Market Delights Visitors with a Fairy Tale Allee through Jan 6

Baden-Baden. Photo© Baden-Baden Kur & Tourismus GmbH

Surrounded by the mountains of the Black Forest, visitors to Baden-Baden’s traditional Christmas market will experience the feeling of strolling through a scene from a winter fairy tale. The enchanting atmosphere begins at the start of the world-famous Lichtentaler Allee: flickering candles and lights in front of the Kurhaus and festively decorated stands next to the exclusive boutiques in the Kurhaus Colonnade while in the air the aroma of mulled wine and gingerbread follow you around as you amble past the wooden yuletide cabins. 

Stuttgart Lighting Installation. Photo © Sevencity GmbH/ Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH.

Arts and crafts, Christmas jewelry at the over 100 stalls are on offer and a nativity scene also greets visitors. Younger visitors can look forward to tasty Christmas treats, a children’s bakery, a merry-go-round and a varied program of Christmas entertainment performed on the open-air stage. The Christmas market is open November 28 to January 6 so you can actually experience this festive display into the new year. 

Baden-Baden Christmas Market

Christmas Markets of the Black Forest Highlands are Charming and Unique

Christmas markets in the Black Forest Highlands offer a special experience and the little towns are so close together that it is easy to visit two and maybe three in one late afternoon and early evening. These romantic towns, including St. Blasien, Breitnau, St. Maergen, Todtmoos and many more, are sprinkled throughout the Black Forest Highlands and around the city of Freiburg so you can stay in Freiburg which has its own special Christmas market and a variety of hotels or you can overnight in one of these charming towns. Just above the Lake Titisee in Hinterzarten for example is a very special four star boutique hotel, the Alemannenhof which provides wonderful views of the lake, beautiful rooms, and delicious meals.

The Christmas markets in the Black Forest towns are charming and the cheery atmosphere is highlighted with the scent of hot mulled wine, baked goods and beautiful huts decorated for the season. Handicrafts and gifts and local products are for sale and each town has its unique offerings. In the Ravenna Gorge, there is a very popular Christmas market that is nestled underneath the 120 foot high train overpass. Guests can also stay overnight at the Hofgut Sternen which offers glass blowing and Black Forest cake demonstrations and great gifts. The Christmas markets offer a real escape and capture visitors with their atmosphere, delicious food and holiday spirit. 

>>  Black Forest Christmas Markets

For interactive maps and more information on cultural events and destinations in SouthWest Germany and to start planning your trip, please go to  SouthWest Germany 

Making Maultaschen at Maulbronn Monastery

In a room where flickering flames highlight low beamed ceilings blackened with centuries of smoke and glass windows wavy from almost a millennium of time give views onto a cobblestone courtyard bordered by half-timbered buildings. I am at Maulbronn Monastery learning to make maultaschen, a centuries old dish that originated  here.  If I succeed, I’ll earn a coveted but very little known diploma in maultaschen making.P1010274

Built in 1147 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery was founded by Cistercians, a religious order of the Benedictines retreating from the world to establish a simpler life and find a balance between manual labor and prayers. Located in the village of Maulbronn in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany, the monastery was a self-sufficient, fortified city within the boundaries of what was once the Duchy of Swabia.  It’s all very charmingly Germanic, a storybook type place that has survived tumultuous times. Now Maulbronn Monastery, the best preserved medieval monastic complex north of the Alps, functions as a Protestant primary boarding school for both boys and girls. It’s most famous pupil is probably the author Hermann Hesse whose book Beneath the Wheel tells the story of a boy sent to a seminary in the village of Maulbronn.P1010313 (1)

The gates, once locking out the world, are open to visitors, the Romanesque cathedral offers services and tours and historic buildings house a restaurant, visitor center and shops. Frequent events include concerts, fairs, a farmer’s markets during warm weather and those famous Christmas markets they have in Germany. Besides that, this being Germany after all, there’s also Maulbronner Klosterbräu, a beer brewed according to an ancient recipe. Back then water wasn’t safe, so drinking beer, ale and wine started in the a.m. and continued on to night. Which may be one reason why the monks, who were given little food and often prayed for 16 hours straight in the Cathedral were able to do so.P1010302

Back in the day, all was lit by fire and in twilight I can almost sense the friendly ghosts of years past. This feel of what life was like a millennium or more ago includes making maultaschen, sometimes described as a German ravioli but so much more than that. Also, as an aside, if you think maultaschen is hard to pronounce, consider that in Swabian the term is Herrgotts-Bescheißerle, meaning “small God-cheaters.”P1010318

“It’s a dish created when two poor brothers were sent to the monastery because their father couldn’t afford to feed them,” our monastery guide, Barbara Gittinger, tells us as we roll out thin sheets of a shiny dough (note to those who don’t want to totally follow the ancient recipe—if you’re in Southwest Germany you can buy maultaschen dough at many of the markets; in the U.S., substitute egg roll wrappers instead) into perfect squares.

Seems one of the brothers took a delivery of meat during Lent. Not wanting it to go to waste, he chopped up the meat with vegetables and wrapped the mixture in dough. The idea was that God wouldn’t see the meat because of all the veggies and dough. Since that was centuries ago  and they’ve been eating maultaschen ever since the subterfuge obviously worked.P1010261

But there are other stories about the dish’s origins as well including the one about the scandalous Countess of Tyrol who earned the nickname Maultasch, meaning vicious woman (they said worse too but we won’t go there) because of her political machinations and marriage to one man before divorcing her current husband. But you know, these things happen. Anyway, said to be amazingly beautiful, the Countess was also a culinary traveler and she supposedly brought the maultaschen recipe to Maulbronn from Tyrol in the Austrian Alps.P1010342

 

As I listen to the origins of maultaschen, I’m busy mincing Black Forest ham, one of several “forbidden” meats typically used to make the filling, mixing it with leeks, onions and dried bread soaked in water and then squeezed dry. Gittinger says that her family makes theirs with a type of beef mixture that sounds a lot like suet, blood sausage and vegetables such as spinach.  Of course, maultaschen has gone modern and Gittinger says some substitute salmon for the meat.P1010310

I drop a tablespoonful of the mixture on the square of dough, fold it and pinch the seams tightly together (“so it doesn’t open up when cooking,” Gittinger tells me).

Originally, maultaschen would have simmered in a kettle of broth hanging over the open fire. Now, we use a gas stovetop hidden from sight.

Tasting maultaschen and schwäbischer kartoffelsalat (German potato salad), its traditional accompaniment, along with a glass of a dry red German wine) I reflect that the flavors must be different—the wheat milled for the flour to make the dough would be different from the wheat varieties we grow today. The same with the vegetables. But that’s not the case with the Black Forest ham, a variety of dry-cured smoked ham produced in this region since at least Renaissance times. Making and eating maultaschen at Maulbronn Monastery is a historic connection between past and present.

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Oh, and I received my diploma. I’m officially a maultaschen maker now.

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Swabian Maultaschen

2 2/3 cups flour (all-purpose)

1/2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon oil

3 tablespoons water

½ pound Black Forest Ham, American ham or bacon (or a combination of all—you can also use hamburger meat), cooked and chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic (chopped)

2 ounces day-old bread or rolls, soaked in water and then torn into small pieces

1 leek including the green stalk, chopped

2 ounces spinach, cooked and squeezed dry

1 large egg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pinch ​pepper (fresh, ground)

1 to 2 quarts broth (beef or other)

For the dough:

Mix flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 eggs, oil and just enough of the 3 tablespoons water to make a smooth dough.

Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until satiny. Form dough into a ball, oil surface, wrap in plastic and let rest for at least 1 hour.

For the Filling:

Cook bacon and remove from pan. Sauté onions, garlic and leeks in bacon drippings, butter or a little vegetable oil until translucent.

Mix remaining filling ingredients together until well mixed.

For the Dumplings:

Roll out half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness or thinner. You should have a sheet about 12 inches by 18 inches. (You also can use a noodle roller to make flat sheets with 1/5 of dough at a time.)

Score the dough with a knife, one time through lengthwise and five perpendicular cuts to make 1 dozen rectangles.

Place 1 tablespoon dough on each rectangle.

Fold rectangle over and pinch sides to close.

Repeat with the other half of dough.

Bring broth to a simmer and place 1/3 of the maultaschen in the broth. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and drain. Keep warm if not serving immediately. Repeat with the rest of the maultaschen.

Serve in a bowl with some broth. Serve with Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat (recipe below).

Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat

(Swabian Potato Salad)

3 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes of similar size, skins scrubbed and peels left on

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1½ cups beef stock or bouillon

½ cup white vinegar

¾ tablespoon salt

¾ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons mild German mustard (can use regular mustard)

⅓ cup vegetable oil

Fresh chopped chives for garnish

Boil the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water until tender. Allow the potatoes to cool until you can handle them. Peel the potatoes and slice them into ¼ inch slices. Put the sliced potatoes in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Add onions, beef broth, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, and mustard in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove from heat and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Cover the bowl of potatoes and let sit for at least one hour.

After at least one hour, gently stir in the vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. If too much liquid remains, use a slotted spoon to serve. Serve garnished with fresh chopped chives. Serve warm.

For more information, visit kloster-maulbronn.de