Dashing Through the Snow: Europe’s Christkindlmarkets

By Dolly Michalczyk

In picturesque Oberammergau, Germany, Dolly Michalczyk, Bev Petrini, Ted and Jerry Blakeslee did some more shopping.

“Oh, goodie!  More shopping!” a former traveler (male!) exclaimed tongue-in cheek on one particular Christmas Markets trip through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  But this is about a different trip and “magical” describes this winter wonderland trip.  The charming buildings and landscape of the area are magical 365 days a year, but enhanced by Christmas markets, decorations, and huge carved, wooden, Nativity scenes they are even more special.

Although we have been on many Christmas Markets trips, this one stands out because our friends and past travelers Ted and Jerry Blakeslee joined us, along with Bev Petrini, who soon became one of my best friends.  She and I relive these warm, wonderful memories frequently.

Our most poignant memory is a train trip through the Black Forest, arriving in a gentle snowfall to a lit and decorated town, Seefeld in Tirol.  Magnificent horse-drawn carriages greeted us, where we nestled in cozy, plaid wool blankets and white fur throws. A glass of Schnapps added to the coziness!   

In the midst of the forest, we arrived at Hofgut Sternen – the Black Forest village whose roots can be traced back 700 years!  Located under an impressive viaduct in the Ravenna Gorge, our resort consisted of less than a dozen beautiful, traditional Black Forest buildings.  One looked like a large cuckoo clock and on the hour large figures, dressed authentically, danced out and across the roof.  

To our delight, we visited the Kuckucks Nest to check out one of the largest collections of hand-carved cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks, nutcrackers, and smokers.  At the GlasManufaktur we watched glass artists at work creating fascinating exclusive decorations, ornaments, and jewelry.  The best news – all were tax free and shipping was provided!

The three “Stuben” (parlors) – the places to eat – featured authentic and typical Black Forest interiors, decorated with a lot of wood and an original working tile stove. We cooked our dinner on hot stones, on the table, and finished with delicious homemade Black Forest Cherry Cake.

Following dinner, we joined authentically dressed staff as we climbed a mountain, following torches and flashlights to the ever-increasing sounds of Christmas carols. We arrived at the small, candlelit St. Oswald’s Chapel, the oldest (1148) church in the Black Forest. In the small darkened chapel, local carolers entertained us with a holiday concert.  We then trekked down the somewhat dangerous path and were greeted by lit decorated buildings, warming fires, and hot mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Common to all the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkts, first introduced in the Middle Ages, are open air wooden stalls or huts.  Many feature handcrafted wooden tree ornaments and traditional decorations, along with wooden candle pyramids and nutcrackers.

To keep warm, gluhwein–red wine spiced with cloves, cinnamon, orange, and lemon peel–is ever present.  It typically is served in a special souvenir mug unique to each yearly Christmas market, and shoppers can choose to keep and collect the mugs, or return them for a refund. 

Typical market fare includes wurst (sausages) usually bratwurst or weisswurst , served on hard roll with spicy German mustard and schnitzel, thinly pounded breaded and pan-fried pork often served on a stick or in a bun to facilitate shopping.  Other specialties include: kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes) with apple sauce or crème fraiche;  Gebrannte Mandeln (sugar-and-spice-roasted nuts); realistic looking  molded and decorated marzipan (a sweet almond paste); the German version of gingerbread, lebkuchen, glazed in sugar or dark chocolate, and highly decorated lebkuchenherzen, or gingerbread hearts.

Bavarian house paintings, “Lüftlmalerei,” colorful frescos decorate many old-world cottages and shops in Oberammergau. Home of the every-10-years Passion Play, the town features religious montages, Snow White scenes, Little Red Riding Hood, and other children’s colorful frescoes as well as the Christmas themes.   

Jeff. our tour manager, invited us to dinner at one of his favorite local restaurants.  I followed his recommendation and ordered pork knuckle, which was delicious until I turned it over and discovered bristles in my dinner!  The homemade strudel almost made up for it!

We were terrorized by Krampus on Dec.5th and 6th, the feast of St Nicholas. Known for his generosity and love of children, Nicholas fills shoes or stockings and leaves treats for small children on his feast day. In Germany, he is accompanied by Krampus, an ugly half-man, half-goat creature, carrying whips and chains, who helps St Nick deal with naughty children!   

In Innsbruck, Austria’s golden roof, ski jump, and St James Church were amazing, but Swarovski’s Crystal World captured our imaginations and wallets.  Tiny, unique crystal creatures and snowmen settling in loose snow just seemed to be the perfect present. Rooftop Santas and windows transformed into giant Advent calendars decorated the town.

After a panoramic tour featuring the Marienplatz, the Glockenspiel and Olympic Park we had time to explore Munich’s historic area and the Christmas market.  A winter wonderland was created in department store windows featuring charming, stuffed moving, miniature teddy bears, monkeys and other animals engaged in all sorts of winter activities.  We visited the Ratskellar and Hafbrau Haus for lunch, where dirndl-clad waitresses tended to our many needs and also sold huge pretzels to enjoy with our steins of beer, and oversized gingerbread hearts.

Red dolls are popular in the German town of Neuschwanstein.

Gliding swans and ducks greeted us on our visit to Nymphenburg Palace.  As we traveled the Romantic Road, we were looking forward to seeing the majestic white castle, tucked into the hills, Neuschwanstein Castle. The inspiration for  Disneyland‘s Sleeping Beauty Castle, proved to be a disappointment; it was entirely covered in white and under renovation. King Ludwig II’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau, provided a much better photo op.

On our visit to Alsace, we experienced the Roman, French, German and Alsatian influences in Strasbourg, France.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the Old Quarter, “Petite France,” featuring the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame before heading to the wonderful Christmas market and returning to Germany.

One of our favorite towns is the storybook-like Rothenburg in the Franconia region.  This town, the most well-preserved medieval walled town in all of Germany, is Christmas-like year-round with its half- timbered buildings, working Glockenspeil, and many Christmas stores.

In Würzburg we enjoyed a free evening shopping at the lively Christmas market which surrounded the 

Town’s church. Christmas songs and church bells filled the air.

Following a city tour of Nuremberg’s 900 year old ramparts, the Imperial Castle and Justice Palace, site of the War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, we headed to one of the oldest (1628) and most famous markets. The historic Nuremberg Christmas Market hosts over 200 wooden Christmas stalls, giving the market its name – “Little Town from Wood.”  Gluhwein, roast sausages, Nuremberg spicy gingerbread, fruit loaves, bakery goods, sweets, Christmas tree angels, and toys were offered everywhere.  Lunch at Bebbes, proved a challenge for Ted, who attempted a song on the very long alpenhorn with the hosts, dressed in cow hide patterned pants.

Dolly and Joe Michalczyk are shown with Bev Petrini at the Lucerne Chapel Bridge in Switzerland.

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh! My!”  Well, no tigers, but we did search for the bears in Bern, and visited the famous Lion Monument in Lucerne, one of the best known in Switzerland. A carving of a huge dying lion in the face of rock is a remembrance of the heroic death of Swiss guards killed during an attack on the Tuileries in 1792. 

 A visit to the beautiful Jesuit Church and photos on the medieval Chapel Bridge, one of the oldest covered bridges in Europe, was next on our agenda.  We were pleased to see it that after the devastating 1993 fire, it has been painstakingly restored, including the lovely, historic triangular paintings in its gables.

During our farewell dinner, we sadly said good-by to our wonderful Collette tour manager Jeff, after enjoying traditional fondue.

For those looking for a Christkindlmarket closer to home, a computer search will lead you to some great Pennsylvania Christmas markets to get into the holiday spirit in a big way, such as Christmas Village, Philadelphia; Christkindlmarkt, Bethlehem, and Mifflinburg Christkindl Market, and locally Clarks Summit and Moscow, to name a few.  Also, rumor has it that the Michalczyks may be leading a river cruise to the enchanting Christmas Markets of Germany, Austria, and Prague in 2023.

Michalczyks Celebrate 50th Jubilee

Joe and Dolly Di Rienzo Michalczyk, Dunmore, celebrated their 50th Anniversary on Oct. 2.  

Joe is the son of the late John and Sophie Michalczyk, Dickson City, and Dolly is the daughter of the late Felix (Phil, The Bricklayer) and Dolores Petrini Di Rienzo, South Scranton.

The Rev. Ron Murphy, S.J., a family friend, was the officiant at their wedding mass at the former St Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, South Scranton.

The bride’s attendants were: Marita Nealon McGoff, matron of honor; Linda Diamanti Wills, maid of honor, and bridesmaids Selma Etter, and the late Cindy Caffrey.  The groom’s attendants were Larry Michalczyk, brother of the groom, best man, and ushers Joe Obst, cousin of the groom; the late Michael Fuller, and the late Edward Ruddy.

The couple has been  blessed with three sons:  Joe Michalczyk and wife Anna Huzar Michalczyk, New York, NY; Mark Michalczyk and wife Diane Brown Michalczyk, Dunmore, and the late John Felix Michalczyk.   They were further blessed with four grandchildren: Maura Susan, Joel Matthew, and Kara Grace Michalczyk, all of Dunmore, and the late Ryan Mason Michalczyk

Dolly is a graduate of the former Scranton Central High School and Marywood College.  She is the former Director of S.H.I.N.E. -the Self-Help Information Network Exchange and the Prevention Director of the Lackawanna County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.  Dolly is retired and is a community volunteer and an oil painter.

Joe is a graduate of Cathedral High School and the University of Scranton. He is a former English and Drama teacher at Abington Heights High School. and several local colleges.  Joe is retired and is an active volunteer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, Dunmore.  Joe and Dolly are group travel leaders, having led groups all over the world for 40 years.

The couple celebrated with a renewal of their wedding vows at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, celebrated by Father John Doris. Their children hosted a party at La Buona Vita, Dunmore, and the Michalczyks are planning future trips to Italy and Poland.  

Artist of the Month: Dolly Michalczyk

June Artist of the Month Dolly Michalczyk is shown working on her abstract painting entitled “Long Island.”

By Dolly Michalczyk

Painting classes at the DCC have provided us with a creative outlet, contact with other like-minded folks, and friendships.  For a year-and-a-half our classes had been cancelled.  

At first, classmate Bev Petrini and I would paint outside, while a few of our braver classmates painted as a group.  Then it just got too cold. 

One would think that with all our free time we would have been painting up a storm, but in reality, most of us did nothing on our own.  Perhaps that speaks to the power of the group, or the need for our teacher’s input, or in my case, my laziness to drag out all I would need to paint in my dining room.  I did take a few online drawing and watercolor classes through The Greenhouse Project, as well as creative writing.  

I missed my friends and colleagues and our terrific teacher Jill Swersie.  May was my first time back.  Returning, it was wonderful to see a few dedicated painters, a few new faces, and even greater to hear of the return of our class on June 6. 

In reality, my only work in oils during this quarantine was touching up a huge commissioned piece of Long Island, as seen in the photo.  It is an abstract representation of that seaside area.  This is my first attempt at abstract painting, and while I enjoyed the freedom, I enjoy realism or impressionism best.  

I am currently working on a painting of my grand-puppies, my youngest granddaughter, Kara, in a dance recital, and my oldest granddaughter, Maura, running cross country.

Being back at the Dunmore Hub has been a joy.  We truly motivate each other.