Planning a Christmas trip? Consider warm-hearted Munich

As autumn approaches for those living in the northern hemisphere, now may be the time to think about booking winter holiday travel.

You might wish to consider a Christmas visit to Germany.

Here's a travel diary from a trip to Munich that I wrote and posted on

"I had a feeling this was going to be a good business trip when in the crowded cab one of our co-workers told the driver, with a wink to the rest of us, that our female colleague had just been released from prison. Nodding at me, he added, "And the guy in the back there is enjoying his second day of wearing men's clothes."

Through the laughter, we were taking in the sights of Munich at Christmas time.

Lying close to the Bavarian Alps on the Isar River, Munich is an enchanting city in December. Our destination was the Marienplatz, in the center of town; a venerable old square. In a tradition that dates back to the 14th century, people come from all over to shop in the unique Christmas market in the square. If you want to get in the festive spirit and are looking for a few stocking stuffers, this is the place to do it. Under a gigantic Christmas tree, vendors sell hand-crafted nativity figures, Christmas candles and painted wooden decorations. At night the stalls are brightly-lit and the atmosphere is so friendly one almost forgets it's wintertime. People stroll around with mugs of mulled wine to ward off any remaining chill.

The square is a gigantic salon, a meeting place for teenagers, business people and lovers. Anyone, really. Think of it as an elegant outdoor mall, with the gothic town hall (the "Rathaus") as the main focal point. The square has hosted markets for hundreds of years (although the Munich food market has since relocated to another square). Tournaments were often held there during medieval times. So were executions and other less severe public punishments. For a long time, the Marienplatz used to be known by another name (Schrannenplatz), but the townsfolk renamed it to thank the Virgin Mary for protecting the town from a cholera epidemic (in English, it would be called "St. Mary's Square" ).

Fortunately, thoughts of plagues and diseases are safely buried in the past. If you meet a friend in the square today, you can go for a long stroll along an extensive pedestrian zone, flanked by stately old buildings. Cars are completely absent and the wide space beckons with an invitation to take life's moments slowly, one at a time.

So that is what my colleagues and I were doing. On a side street, we stopped for a casual dinner at the Franziskaner Restaurant, a traditional beer house with good, old-fashioned cooking. We hung up our coats on the many hooks on the wall, sat on the simple wooden benches and savored "Weissbier," or wheat beer, a smooth, silky brew, a local specialty.

Later, I continued exploring the area on my own, and discovered an outdoor ice skating rink, where people were enjoying themselves under Christmas decorations and colorful stage lights. That night, skaters were gliding over a palette of colors that seemed to be held in the hand of a giant who was mixing them at will: yellows, greens, reds and blues. (No, it wasn't a beer buzz.) Music played; more mulled wine for the spectators; church bells occasionally rang out in the distance.

On the way back to the Marienplatz, I watched a couple of happy-go-lucky musical comedians entertaining the last strollers of the night with jokes and improvised versions of popular songs. Guitars under the portico and laughter; a place where people connected with each other in the spirit of the season.

I'd go back in an instant. Even in women's clothes. "

Photos: rz

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