Friday, 22 December 2017

Travel: Bonn, Germany Part I - Christmas Markets, Castles and Beethoven's Birthplace!

So here we go again...

I have a reoccuring fear that our annual pilgrimage to a Christmas market each December has become so regular that it is in danger of becoming boring. Even though we usually pick somewhere away from the normal tourist crowds, I was still worried that wherever we chose this year would just be the same as every other trip - like some kind of Every-Weihnachtsmarkt, Germany ... with the same old stalls selling the same old items.

I would hate for that sameness to creep in to our trips, so we put a bit of thought and research into our destinations from year to year...

Bonn isn't on the list of names trotted out each year when people think about a city to visit at this time of year, especially when the tourist magnet of Cologne is just up the road. But as ever - and because of my above mentioned fear of boredom - we chose to venture on the less travelled path, and Bonn was somewhere we knew very little about so it ticked that box in my travel-needs list. That combined with its ease of access via a couple of decent airports and affordable - and available - accomodation, plus a walkable looking city centre with a decent sized market that sprawled across a few streets and squares, meant we took a chance...

And we were glad we did.

At the Christmas market itself the quality and variety of the stalls were superb, it seemed that the various stall holders were vying with each other to produce bigger displays or better products, all presented with that welcome bit of theatre that is essential at this time of year. Most noticeable was  that, apart from a couple of the usual suspects, most of what we saw was local or at least local-ish, plus the quality of everything from the food to the gifts and drinks were all excellent. We were impressed with all the handmade items such as jewelry, pottery and wood carvings, although admittedly a lot of it was in the higher price bracket but it still appeared to be value for money.

The food ranged from plank-cooked salmon (top right below) to flammkuchen and of course plenty of wursts! From vegetarian dishes to roast pork and bacon there was a food-type here for everyone. There was plenty for the sweet toothed too, with our favourite being the flavoured, marshmallow filled Schokoküsse ... we even saw a churro stand! As well as the usual mulled wine there were plenty of standard drinks available and I had my first mulled Belgian beer, a really good Liefmans Kriek served in the correct glassware!

The market stretches from Münsterplatz and Bottlerplatz, along adjoining streets to Friedensplatz and with 180 stalls there's plenty of choice ... but it gets very busy at night so I'd recommend heading out to a bar or a restaurant for a drink or a bite away from the city centre if it gets too hectic. (More on this option in my next post.) 

There's more than the Christmas market to see in Bonn of course, as there are plenty of sights too, although on this kind of trip I find that it's nice just to wander the streets and keep the agenda to a minimum. But one building that's literally impossible to miss is the huge multi-towered Bonner Münster - The Basilica of St. Cassius and Florentius - on Münsterplatz (obviously!) although sadly it was closed for renovations when we visited but we did get to look around the beautiful cloister. (Curiously enough they have built a glass office at the side of the church and placed someone in it whose only job appears to be telling people that the building is closed!)

Bonn is also the birthplace of Beethoven, a fact that's hard to miss given how his name is plastered everywhere and not-so-cheery statues of good old Ludwig abound, including the imposing one on Münsterplatz where he scowls down from his plinth at the christmas merrymakers. The self-guided tour of the museum and house of his birth (picture below) is quite interesting, and is full of items and pictures connected to him. It's a pleasant way to kill an hour or so and a must-do for anyone interested in such an important composer.

The city is a great place for retail therapy too with plenty of mid- and high-end brands available, and a nice touch for Christmas is that each of the main shopping streets in the main part of the city have their name in lights. Walking these streets you'll notice that most of the city was destroyed in the war but some old building remain such as the Knusperhäuschen (centre below), and there are plenty of interesting statues and fountains around to take that raw edge off the city. Bonn also boasts an excellent food market on Marktplatz ( More original naming!) and a nice little flower market close by.

There are many other sights too that we missed or hadn't time to see, I've included a link to the Bonn tourism website below to show what else there is to see and do.

Our other reason for staying in Bonn was to visit the magnificent Schloss Drachenburg with its stunning views over the Rhine. The castle is a wonderfully over-the-top, turreted masterpiece and certainly has a serious fairytale quality. It was built in just three years from 1882 to 1884 half way between the town of Königswinter and the older castle at the top of the hill called Drachenfels - Dragon's Rock! Sadly there was a lot of cloud and mist when we visited so we had to strain our eyes to see the river winding its way in either direction below us...

We got there by taking tram 66 from the city centre to Königswinter Fähre and then it's just a short walk to the funicular railway that take you up to the castle. We timed our visit to coincide with a Dickens' style Christmas market that was taking place in the grounds and a light show that bathed the building in colour. The house itself is full of wonderful stained glass, carvings and unbelievably detailed workmanship, murals and paintings. I'd imagine it's just as stunning in summer so whenever you visit Bonn it would be worth going, and perhaps in summer you can abandon the train and climb all the way to the top! (Check the website for opening times - I've included the link below.)

So ... Bonn might not have been on your radar up to now but I would seriously recommend a visit, and in truth we only scratched the surface of what can be seen, as time, the Christmas market and the need to eat and drink were our enemy as usual!

It could certainly figure in your Christmas market shortlist for next year ... don't forget to try the mulled kriek!

Next up will be a post about the beer and food we had during our visit...


Christmas Market
Bonn Tourist Information
Schloss Drachenburg

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Beer History: Genuine London Porter in Kilkenny - 1767

Here's a nice early-ish mention from 1767 of London porter being available in Kilkenny - hardly a shock but nice to see it in print. The Bartholomew Rivers mentioned here was a wealthy merchant who is perhaps best known for helping to transform Tramore just outside Waterford city into a seaside resort. In this advert from Finn's Leinster Journal (printed in Kilkenny) he says that he has 'fitted up a warehouse in the city [Kilkenny] to hold porter' and just porter by the sounds of it, which shows its popularity in the city. It ties in with a couple of my previous porter related posts here and here too.

What is also of some interest is the specific mention of hops in the advert in relation to his Waterford warehouse, a hardly surprising sign of how important hops were to the brewing trade, as they are mentioned here before tea and sugar. Perhaps Mr. Rivers was one of the bigger importers of them...


(With thanks as ever to the local studies room in my local library.)