G Hat

December 20 - 27

Click HERE for video clip

Click HERE to see photos of Christmas 2001 and HERE to see our return journey to Freiburg in 2013!

We had an unusual and unforgettable Christmas this year by leaving our comfy English environs for the frosty splendour of the Black Forest in Germany.

Sculptures in the Muensterplatz

B Freiburg
A view of Freiburg
B Snow
This was the only snow we saw the whole week!
 Our destination was Freiburg, where I studied music ten years ago, and our hosts were Nicola and Sara and their little boy Manuel. Nicola is the gregarious Italian clarinettist I lived with all those years ago, and home base was his newly refurbished three-storey house in Emmendingen, where we had the top floor all to ourselves. Just like old times, we stayed up late drinking grappa and conversing as best we could in German. Despite Nick's unfamiliarity with the language, I think he got to know Nicola quite well and we managed to have alternately deep and hilarious conversations.
Our first day in Freiburg, we met up with two other old friends Kayoko and Thierry for pesto salad and smoked ham in the Stadt Café before embarking upon some sightseeing German style. We visited the Musikhochschule where I used to spend so many hours in the practise rooms working on scales and etudes (shudder) and then walked back into town along the Dreisam river, which was full and muscularly energetic due to all the recent rain. B Kayoko
Me, Nick, and Kayoko
 G Practice
Emerging from a practice room
B Dreisam
By the Dreisam. You wouldn't believe what we had to go through to take this picture with our camera!
We shopped for Christmas presents in the bustling market that lies in the shadows of the thirteenth-century cathedral. Later on our journey, we braved the climb up 116-metre steeple for a panoramic, but blustery view of the surrounding town. The market in Freiburg is a daily event where people buy vegetables, flowers, and delicious sausages and it was even more festive at Christmas time. We bought wooden toys, kitchen equipment, and pottery from local craftsmen. I was assured by one German, eager to practise his English, that the beeswax candle I purchased is "good for sex." Muenster

Produce in the market

N Toys
Buying toys
At the Rathausplatz, we plunged straight into the sparkling Christmas market, enjoying the little pine-swathed huts and the smell of Glühwein and grilled onions that permeated the air. Each stall sold a different Black Forest speciality: wooden toys, gingerbread men, puppets, plump cherry-filled Dampfnudeln with vanilla sauce, antiques, and many other exciting goodies. It was at the market that we decided to start our own Christmas ornament collection and we bought some beautiful glass ones that are reminiscent of those in a Little Golden Book I had as a child. We returned to the Christmas market several times during our visit, to eat sausages, drink more mulled wine, and to soak up the atmosphere.
This year's Christmas cake. It's supposed to be a kilt. Click here to see last year's cake and celebrations
One of the ornaments we bought. Graham Norton would be proud.
The Christmas market
We did a lot of sightseeing on our trip. One afternoon we went to the modern art museum where we saw some interesting pieces including an installation made up of burned classroom furniture and a webbed network of black yarn that stretched from scorched chairs up to the ceiling. We also visited the Augustiner museum, which houses a wonderful collection of medieval artwork that I had never in my three years of living in Freiburg. It was there that we got to inspect some of the gargoyles that normally reside on the cathedral. I don't know if they are permanent residents of the museum or if they are only there temporarily while the cathedral tower is being renovated, but it was still fun to see the grotesque statues close up.
B Tornado
A tornado opportunity outside the new Freiburg Musikhaus
N Cafe
A great place for chocolates
Installation in the modern art museum
G Augustiner
The Augustiner Museum's courtyard
We went to Feirling, a micro-brewery that sells beer out of its large copper kettles, and also had drinks in Sonderbar, Freiburg's darkly-lit, camp gay bar. Another pleasant gay hangout in the town is the cleverly named Les Gareçons, a trendy little café located right in the busy centre of the main train station. Red drapes, bare tree branches decked with faux snow and white lights, candelabras and a frequent stream of Robbie Williams tunes (and a Pipi Longstocking movie!) made for a cosy atmosphere and it was a convenient place to wait for trains and buses. Feirling
Feirling micro-brewery
Les garecons
At Les Gareçons
Never miss an opportunity to include a Robbie pic.

On the 24th, we took the cable car on a 16-minute journey up the mountain to Schauinsland. It is always beautiful at the top of the mountain and we walked, photographed, and videoed the experience.
B Schau
Golden Bear

The oldest guesthouse in Germany, I think.
B Bahn
In the cable car at Schauinsland
Christmas Eve is the biggest celebration day in Germany and we spent it with Nicola and Sara's family at their home. A misconception about Germany is that people there "do Christmas in a big way." From our experiences, a German Christmas is modest but meaningful and nowhere near as commercialised or stressful as in England or America. Our meal was simple and prepared only a couple of hours in advance of the guests arriving with little hassle or bother. We had Italian vegetarian dishes in deference to Nicola and Sara's eating habits and only their child Manuel was given gifts (a total of four). Of course, we enjoy our Christmas morning stockings and elaborate gifts to each other, but seeing the ease and relaxed atmosphere of someone else's Christmas, it makes all those hectic Martha Stewart/Delia Smith list requirements seem a little silly. Next time I feel anxious about cards or last minute shopping, I'll try to remember that Christmas should be about togetherness.
Having said all that, our Christmas morning was fabulous, and our bedroom looked like Santa had just given up on the rest of the world and dumped his entire cargo at the foot of our bed in the night. Our stockings were filled with goodies including a remote controlled car, chocolate oranges, Body Shop products, and the traditional requisite sugar mice. Nick had some sterling silver cufflinks with photos from our Mykonos holiday on them, and I had some gizmos for my Palm and an Avengers comic book. Ah, nostalgia. Nicola and Sara were also given stockings, which may or may not have left them bemused when they awoke. Our other gifts included the new Robbie Williams CD, a fluffy hooded sweatshirt, DVDs, Joanne (Chocolat) Harris's French cookbook, and a book of stories about life in the barracks. Nick's big gift was a digital video camera, which we used to video highlights of our trip and mine was a tiny little MP3 player, which I look forward to using in the gym. Mioradas
Sara, Manuel, and Nicola
B Stockings
Christmas morning
After we opened our presents, we took the train to Basel, Switzerland, where we spent the rest of the day. We visited a couple of bars, Elle et Lui and Depf (where a female couple's children were happily playing table football), and spent a great deal of time in Sunny Days. Afterwards we ate a delicious meal of pork schnitzel with mustard sauce and an incredibly garlicky pizza before taking a walk over the Rhine.
B Basel
On the bridge over the Rhine
Basel tree
Christmas tree in Basel, Switzerland
Our last day in Freiburg, we left our luggage at the train station in these really cool automated lockers. You put your luggage in and then it gets automatically wheeled away to storage, retrievable later by inserting your ticket. I wondered if anyone had ever put themselves into a locker. The sun was finally out after a cloudy week and we took advantage of the weather by revisiting the market, seeing some more of the town, and walking on Schloßberg, which we reached by another cable car. As always, it was nice to be back home, but we will always have memories of our German Christmas together and Nick can now put faces and places to the things I mention. G Luggage
Efficient lockers
B City
The view from Schloßberg


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