So, we travelled half way around the world to have one, but it looks like we’ll just have to come back another year…no white Christmas for the Henninghams in 2013! Despite being assured that the Bavarian Alps were a lock, as far as snow in December goes, we had a ‘green Christmas’ in Berchtesgaden. I couldn’t care less! The days were crisp, clear, cold and sunny. Perfect for enjoying European Christmas cheer, without feeling hemmed in by the weather.
Leigh and I arrived in Berchtesgaden just before dark (ie, about 3:00 pm) on December 23rd and after checking into our gemütlichkeit (go on, look it up) hotel went walking around the gorgeous medieval town, filled with people in puffer coats and wooly gloves, drinking gluhwein, eating weisswurst and wishing us ‘Frohe Weinachten’. The vibe was kind of like a town wide block party, which culminated in some spontaneous carol singing in the central market place. Lucy arrived from India later that evening, and more schnitzel and beer were tested.
Now, I know, based on some of the posts of my Facebook friends, that there was degree of defensiveness with regard to the merits of an Australian Christmas. Certainly, they do come highly recommended. But I maintain that a German/Austrian Christmas wins, because it has night Christmas markets, because it is cold so you have to wear clothes that disguise the effects of the comfort food you are eating and because the main, big celebratory meal is had on Christmas Eve.
That leaves Christmas Day free for doing stuff. Like skiing, or mountain climbing, or visiting amazingly beautiful lakes, like the Konigssee. Local myth has it that when the world was being created, God became impatient with the work rate of the folk in charge of creating the earth’s beauty spots so he told them to get a move on. To make up time they dropped them all in the one place – Berchtesgaden. It’s hard to dispute the myth.
(How did that get in here..?)
On Christmas Day, the Germans seem to get out and about except, perhaps, the young, quite hungover men running the chairlift and the boat rides at Konigssee, who, on a clear, calm day, insisted that a storm was coming so they wouldn’t be able to work. ‘Storm’ has now become an euphemism for ‘I’ve got a really bad headache and can’t be stuffed.’ So the rest of Bavaria was off Nordic skiing, or walking in the woods, or taking their kids to the equivalent of our nippers, only instead of in the surf they do it in the snow. I know that if the weather hadn’t been kind to us, we might have felt differently about the day, but it was and I don’t, and I like Christmas Days spent like that, especially when you come back to a dinner of pork dumplings served up by a Slovak waiter in lederhosen who spends his time flirting outrageously with Lucy, much to her embarrassment! Leigh and I found it pretty hilarious though.
Boxing Day was spent heading off to yet another extraordinary place. Melbournians flocked to the MCG; those of us in the Obersalzern of Bavaria headed off to the Dokumentation Museum, an interpretation of the region’s place in the development of Hitler’s rise to power. Designed in a way that attempts to contrast the natural beauty of the region with the horror that took place nearby in camps like Dachau and (further afield) Auschwitz, horrors that were planned in Berchtesgaden, Dokumentation is built on the ruins of Hitler’s favourite holiday place cum congress centre, where the ‘cult’ of his ‘personality’ first took shape, even before Nuremberg. Its reason for existing is to make sure that the ruins could never become a place of pilgrimage to the remnant and neo-Nazi groups that continue to look for a geographical location they can fix on. So they turned the ruins into a centre that describes, but doesn’t explain, what happened between 1933 and 1947 in graphic detail.
It seemed entirely appropriate that when we walked out to catch the bus back down the mountain to our hotel, the weather turned foul and the bus never showed. The more I read about that period, the more puzzled I become and the less I understand.