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Christkindlesmarkt’s Yule Spirit

<i> Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers</i> .

Nobody knows exactly when the first Christkindlesmarkt (Christ Child’s Market) began in this city, but early records indicate that it was about the time the custom of giving presents shifted from New Year’s Day to Christmas in 1564.

Nuremberg’s market is by far the world’s most renowned. This year it’s scheduled to open in medieval Hauptmarkt Square on Nov. 25, closing Christmas Eve. More than 2 million visitors come yearly from as far away as Japan.

Families have passed on ownership of the stalls for generations, the market’s workaday goods of turnips, teapots and bolts of cloth giving way to a magical wonderland of wooden dolls, toy trains, tin soldiers and yuletide baubles. All sparkle amid swags of greenery, shimmering lights and a festive air of the season carried out by daily programs of carolers, musicians and dancers from the region.

Now mix in the tantalizing aromas of Nuremberg’s famous bratwurst and gingerbread, and add the glittering snowflakes as they fall through the lights and you’re caught up in the real Christmastime spirit.

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One of the Christkindlesmarkt’s high points is a lantern procession during which as many as 2,000 schoolchildren carrying homemade lanterns stroll through the winding streets and up a hill to a creche in front of Imperial Castle. Their young voices raised in “Heilige Nacht, Stille Nacht” brought tears of joy to the eyes of many along the way.

Getting there: Fly Lufthansa’s daily nonstop to Frankfurt. You can also take Pan Am, TWA, Delta, American, Northwest and several foreign carriers with changes. From Frankfurt, Lufthansa will get you to Nuremberg in 40 minutes.

How long/how much? Two days should do it, perhaps another for the nearby Franconian towns of Erlangen, Furth or Schwabach. Lodging costs are high to moderate, good dining the same.

Fast facts: The German mark recently traded at 54 cents, 1.85 to the dollar. You can walk most of the city, but it’s a bit nippy in mid-winter. Cabs are fairly expensive. There is also a stagecoach tour of the town this season for $1.75.

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Settling in: Burghotel (Lammsgasse 3; $65 to $92 bed-and-breakfast double) gets more charming with the years. It’s very typical of the old town inside and out. In addition to the handsome furnishings and enchanting atmosphere, Burghotel also has a small indoor pool with bar, sauna and tanning room. The staff couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful.

Marienbad (Eilgutstrasse 5; $59-$81 with buffet breakfasts) is a new hotel near the railway station and Handwerkerhof (see below). Outside you won’t be too impressed, but inside it’s as bright and cheerful as you could hope. Contemporary bedroom furnishings and gorgeous baths all add up to elegance and great comfort. A family-owned place with good cheer reigning throughout.

Hotel am Josephsplatz (Josephsplatz 30; $56-$76 B&B; double) is a 150-year-old house at the heart of old Nuremberg, just given a complete renovation this year. This is a small place, nothing fancy, yet it has comfort, charm and an atmosphere all its own. Rooms are small and feather comforters most inviting. Offers a superb buffet breakfast.

Food and drink: Franconian cooking’s reputation doesn’t travel very well because it’s usually a simple and straightforward treatment of such as pork shoulder, pig knuckles, potato pancakes and dumplings, the world’s best bratwurst, sauerbraten and the local favorite, rostbraten . Most dishes are substantial, hearty, nourishing and have a distinct homemade flavor.

Christmastime swings the emphasis to roast goose with red cabbage. Franconian hochzeitsuppe needs no marriage or season to satisfy the craving for a rich broth with three kinds of dumplings. Even Franconian beer has its own character--a smoky taste that grows on you.

Moderate-cost dining: Bratwurst-Herzle and Bratwurstkuche are the two places to have a go at great platters of the town trademark, little bratwurst. We once watched one diner down 24 of these little wonders from her pewter plate at the former, which has been serving them since 1526.

The latter is a half-timbered Franconian house where you sit at long tables piled with bowls of sauerkraut, potato salad, mustard, shredded local horseradish guaranteed to clear your sinuses, and marvelous German bread. Expect to pay about $5 for half a dozen of these little wurst, garnishes included. Just ask anyone for directions to these two.

Alte Kuche-Im Keller (Albrecht Durer Strasse 3) is the town’s lustiest and most atmospheric--one might even say a bit touristy--restaurant, in a historic cellar done over as a dungeon with torture instruments, racks and the like. The menu is Franconian, with the big specialty being Bakkers --potato pancakes served with everything from bratwurst to cheese to applesauce. As for the lustiness, keep your eye on the stuffed prisoner impaled over a doorway.

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Bohm’s Herrenkeller (Theatergasse 19) is in an old home dating from 1498, with all-timbered ceilings, wood panels and a lovely porcelain stove. Potato soup is excellent. There is a full Franconian menu and marvelous game dishes. Nassauer Keller (Karolinenstrasse 2) is a very deep cellar. It’s a bit more formal than others above, yet the low, vaulted ceilings give it warmth and coziness. Best dish of the trip was the wilddiebpfannchen here, a “poacher’s feast” of game fillets in a creamed Calvados and wild mushroom sauce.

On your own: While the Christkindlesmarkt is a seasonal highlight, Nuremberg has a lot going for it all year. Start with the Germanic National Museum, which knocked us over with the country’s largest collection of the history of German art: Ostrogoth figurines dating from AD 500, the world’s first globe from 1491-92, 15th-Century tapestries, four Durer paintings, a 12th-Century arm bracelet with the Crucifixion scene and a treasury of centuries-old doll houses filling one room.

Handwerkerhof Nuremberg is a medieval craftsmen’s courtyard with shops, cafes and craftsmen at work in their studios. Take a walk along the Pegnitz River, pausing for the view of Hangman’s Bridge, then stop in at Durer’s house, the perfectly preserved home of a rich burgher in 15th-Century Gothic style. Durer is buried in St. Johannes Cemetery, with each plot covered with purple heather in winter, brilliant pansies in spring and glorious red roses in summer.

Don’t miss the Church of St. Lawrence with its magnificent alter pieces, stained glass and beautiful carving of the Annunciation done in 1517.

For more information: Call the German National Tourist Office at (213) 688-7332, or write, 444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071, for a brochure on Nuremberg and another on all of West Germany with a map. Ask for the Nuremberg package.


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