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Celebrate Christmas in Germany
How about spending the holiday season in the country that invented the Christmas tree? Germany, with its snow-blanketed forests, crisp days and star-filled nights, offers a very romantic Christmas. Having just returned from a relaxing trip to the spa towns of Wiesbaden and Baden Baden, I'm bursting with news about the holiday season.
Tourism is nothing new for Wiesbaden. Centuries ago, the Romans found it a fine place to take the thermal cure, but it wasn't until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that the city rose to a place of honor in the eyes of European visitors. The original Kurhaus was constructed in 1810, complete with a gambling casino and glorious opera house.
At Christmas, Die Fledermaus is performed, and after the opera, the great hall is opened for a grand ball. The interiors of the State Theatre and Opera House are gold and white, with glittering crystal chandeliers. Even at Christmas, the warm thermal underground springs keep the streets snow free, although the nearby woods are laced with snow, enticing visitors to take long walks and sleigh rides.
Wiesbaden's most glittering hotel, the Nassauer Hof, has grown with the city for the past 163 years, hosting some of the world's most illustrious visitors. Its guest rooms are filled with antiques and the bathrooms are splendid. (I can't recall another hotel having two hair dryers for its guests.) Wine, fruit and chocolates await each guest, and Karl Nuser, Managing Director, makes sure everyone feels at home. A large spa pool overlooking the ancient city, health bar, exercise room and complete Lancaster Beauty Clinic promise to pamper and rejuvenate all guests.
Die Ente vom Lehel ("the Duck"), the hotel's premiere restaurant, captures the holiday spirit with its candlelight dinners; the lively Entenkeller hosts a New Year's Bavarian party; and a traditional ball is held New Year's Eve as well. Christmas carols, candlelight and flowers all lend the right spirit to the holiday festivities.
The city shoots off fireworks on New Year's Eve, and huge Christmas trees are lit and glisten in the wintry light. Mulled wine is sold at outdoor stalls, and the heady aroma of roasting chestnuts and popcorn floats through the crisp air. Wiesbaden captures the holiday spirit perfectly.
An hour or so away, the romantic Black Forest offers mysterious mountain castles, deep green forests and a fairytale town right out of a Strauss operetta: Baden Baden, glowing in its whiteness. Baden Baden has been drawing guests to its mineral baths for the past 2,000 years. Some of its Roman baths can still be seen.
The town is a popular summer resort, but I love the soft white winters with their blue skies and clear air, as well as the crisp fall days along the Lichtentaler-Allee. This unusual park runs for miles besides the little Oos River.
Its paths are planted with silver poplars and flowering bushes. At the end of the park sits the famous, snow-white casino built in 1821, which contains some of the handsomest rooms this side of Versailles. In the middle of the park stands the elegant Brenner's Park Hotel and Spa. This hotelis Baden Baden, and no visit would be complete without a stay here.
It's hard to define the perfect hotel, but Brenner's Park has all the requisites. Tradition and a fine staff (with Managing Director Richard Schmitz at its helm) have combined to create a harmonious whole. A perfect rosebud on your breakfast tray; a smile from the concierge as he inquires as to your plans for the day; a button sewn back on a tired coat without even a mention -- these are some of the reasons Brenner's Park remains one of the world's best hotels.
160 beds and 220 staff members offer favorable odds that even the nearby casino can't beat. Stunning guest rooms and enormous bathrooms filled with amenities make it hard to leave your room.
At Christmas, each guest room has its own tiny tree, and pine trees on the expansive lawn are alight with baubles.St. Nick arrives in a sleigh laden with gifts. On Christmas Eve, the staff and their children entertain guests with a musical play. The marble columned dining room bursts with cheer. A gingerbread house and home-baked cookies flow over the elegant tables. Christmas Eve dinner includes venison and other festive foods, all prepared under the supervision of Executive Chef Albert Kellner.
Christmas day, guests dine in the Schwarzwald Grill, decorated in the Black Forest tradition. Roast goose with glazed chestnuts, corn field salad and cinnamon ice cream are some of the traditional dishes served. On New Year's Eve, called Silvester, a midnight feast with pink champagne and Berliner Pfannkuchen is served indoors. While outdoors, fireworks blaze in the evening sky. The next day, a traditional hangover brunch is offered to all comers.
Smoked salmon, salads and fancy desserts test the dieters. Fortunately, Brenner's Park is well equipped to rid guests of any extra poundage added during this festive season. The Lancaster Beauty Farm, located on the hotel's first floor, pampers and provides guests with the best of cosmetic and exercise programs, including diet dishes served in the dining room.
The glassed-in Roman pool is ideal for exercise. Yoga and sports programs are organized. Skiing is available a few miles away at Black Forest ski resorts. You can also "take the waters" at three superb Baden Baden spas, spend an evening at the glittering casino and enjoy Baden Baden's holiday spirit. One usually returns from a holiday over-tired, over-weight and over-anxious. A holiday spent at Wiesbaden and Baden Baden may produce just the opposite effect. So enjoy and happy holidays!
Recipes for your own German Christmas
Black Forest Stollen
2 ounces candied lemon, finely diced
2 ounces candied orange, finely diced
12 ounces raisins
5 ounces red currants
1/2 cup dark rum
2 ounces compressed yeast
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
13 ounces butter at room temperature
4 ounces granulated sugar
2 pounds flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 tablespoon roasted almonds, finely ground
2 1/2 ounces sliced almonds
4 ounces butter
2 ounces vanilla sugar
2 ounces confectioners sugar
softened butter and flour for baking sheet
1.Combine the diced candied lemon and orange with the raisins and currants. Marinate in the rum for a few hours.
2.Place the compressed yeast in a large bowl. Warm the milk to lukewarm temperature and add to the yeast. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the yeast dissolves completely in the milk. Add flour and sugar, mix thoroughly.
Set in a warm place for ten minutes or until the yeast mixture is foamy.
3.Add 1/3 of the flour and beat thoroughly into a smooth paste. Cover and let stand in a draught-free warm place for about 30-minutes (to 1 hour), or until it raises and the yeast bubbles appear on the surface.
4.Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, salt, lemon juice, vanilla sugar, mace, cardamon and ground almond. Add the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly.
5.Incorporate the raised yeast mixture. Flour a board, then knead the dough evenly (about 10-15 minutes) or until the dough is soft and pliable. Set in a warm place for 1 hour or until it doubles in size. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes. Knead again on a floured board until smooth.
6.Press rum out of the marinated fruits and place on top of the dough. Knead until thoroughly mixed. Place the slivered and sliced almonds on top, then incorporate into the dough. Make sure the fruits and almonds are evenly
7.Divide the dough into two parts. Press out each piece to a long oval: 10x5x1 inches. Press a rolling pin lengthwise, at the center of the dough; roll out to three-quarter-inch from the edge. Press the thin part together
with the finger tips, then shape the thick edges into well rounded "stollen" shape. Pull out the ends to narrow them a little. Put fingertips between the two thick edges and pull the top edge gently up, rounding as you go; this will
form a crescent shape.
8.Place each loaf on a buttered and floured baking sheet. Allow to rise again for about one hour.
9.Bake the Stollen in preheated 350°F oven for 10 minutes, then at 325°F for another 30-35 minutes or until the Stollen sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter, then cool on a rack.
10.Finally spread butter on the baked Stollens, sprinkle first with the vanilla sugar, then with the powdered sugar.
* Stollen doesn't have the same flavor and the dough is more difficult to handle if active dry yeast is used. However, if compressed yeast is not available, substitute with one-quarter oz. packets, only one cup milk and the same amount of sugar and flour; same method as in step two.
Yield: 80 cookies
1 pound confectioners sugar
1 pound cake flour
1/2 of an anise seed, powdered
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
softened butter and flour for baking sheets
German cookie molds with Christmas motif (Springerle mold)
1.Coat four large baking sheets with butter and dust with flour. Shake off excess flour.
2.In a large bowl beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric hand beater for about 15 minutes, until they are thick, fluffy and lemon in color.
3.Add baking soda and anise, incorporate flour with a wooden spoon or hands, do not overwork dough.
4.Shape the dough into a ball, pat flour on top and bottom, then flatten. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour.
5.Quarter the dough and roll each quarter out into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured board. Press the cookie molds firmly down into the dough to print the pattern as deep as possible. Place cookies separately
on the prepared baking sheets.
6.Let rest in a cool place overnight, then bake in a 325°F oven for 10-15 minutes or until pale cream color.
7.Remove to wire racks and allow to cool.
8.Place in an air-tight tin or box. A piece of apple placed inside the tin will prevent the cookies from hardening, replace apple when necessary. A few crushed anise seeds inside the tin will improve the flavor.