Weekend Wanderlust: Finding woodland and witches in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

Despite being the most popular holiday destination for domestic tourists, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is woefully under-visited by non-Germans. According to the Lonely Planet, 97 percent of tourists who flock to the region each year are German. If foreigners have visited, it’s most likely to have been to the seaside Stadt of Rostock and maybe to see the stunning Schloss of Schwerin, the capital. But few venture deep into the forests that cover the vast mass of the northeastern state. I spent a wintry weekend in the woods of this beautiful Bundesland to see what we have been missing out on.

Weekend Wanderlust: Finding woodland and witches in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
Fifty shades of green in the heart of the MWP forest. Photo: DPA

Seeking serenity from Berlin

On a quest for a couple of days of peace and quiet not too far from Berlin, my boyfriend and I picked an Air BnB in the little town of Lohmen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (as it is known in German) – a former East German region with a colourful history. 

It was a hotspot for witch trials in the 17th century and was the meeting point of the western allied and Russian forces in 1945. 

The 180-kilometre drive from Berlin took us through an almost uninterrupted two-hour panorama of spindly, red pine trees. These trees are the most numerous inhabitants of this area of Germany and spread over into the border with Poland – which is probably why for me, they conjured up imagery from war films, to which they have provided the backdrop on many occasions. 

As we cautiously rolled the last few kilometres towards our destination, we were struck by the sudden appearance of many triangular, thatched-roofed houses nestling in the woods – like something out of a Grimm Brothers’ Fairy-tale. 

Our own accommodation was disappointingly, however, an unattractive yellow slab of soviet architecture but its location on the edge of the Garder Lake (not to be confused with the much warmer, Italian Garda Lake) and in the middle of a blissfully quiet forest made up for it. The town of Lohmen has less than a thousand residents and its sparse population was palpable. 

November sunset by one of the many lakes in MWP. Photo: DPA

We took ourselves off for a walk around the lake, which is one of many thriving tourist attractions in this region in summer, with camping places and rental homes dotted about near the artificial beach. Our research told us that MWP is home to over a thousand such lakes – which perhaps partly explains its popularity with German tourists.

At the time of our visit however, the sand was black and the pedal boats stood cold and deserted on the low, grey waves. In the sub-zero temperatures, it was difficult to picture this being the sight of frolicking and splashing kids, but it certainly proved a very nice spot for a bracing winter walk.

We spent a cozy night by the fireplace and even dared to venture out again into the black, frozen forest again around midnight. We didn’t last long outside, however, finding ourselves slightly spooked by being the only souls around in the middle of this vast woodland area. 

Bewitched in the woods

The next day, we drove 83km to the western side of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, to visit the “Old Castle” in Penzlin. Having a penchant for the supernatural, I was very keen to see this 13th century site which is now a “Witch Museum”, on account of it having been the epicentre of the “Hexenverfolgungen” (witch hunts) which were rife in this area four hundred years ago. 

The castle cuts a creepy figure on a small hill within its walled grounds, but inside the museum the chilling atmosphere is quickly overpowered by the warm welcome of the mostly female museum staff in full 17th century costume.

The spooky Alte Burg witch museum in Penzlin. Photo: DPA

We were happily shepherded into the main hall and original site of many witch trials by our merry tour guide, where we were treated to an illuminating, fifteen-minute talk on the history of the place and of witch trials in general.

As well as being very informative, the talk also gave pause for thought as to the treatment of women in general in this era of European history and the interplay between religion and the justice system. The tour then took a gruesome turn, as we ventured downstairs to the “Hexenkeller” (witch cellar) to inspect reconstructions of torture instruments, which had been used both for interrogation and punishment purposes. 

The grizzly nature of this dungeon was, however, dampened by the playful delivery of the tour guide. It seems that, through its well-researched and presented tours, this Witch Museum has found a successful way to balance out the darkness of its history with an element of fun.

Before hitting the road home after this unusual visit, we made a brief stop in the quaint town of Penzlin for a delicious Erdbeer (strawberry) Bier. We were again warmly welcomed by the bar staff, who were curious about our distinctly non-German accents and thus concluded a very pleasant, if slightly unorthodox, flying visit to the region of MWP.

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Five of Germany’s most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021

Despite rising infection numbers, most of Germany’s Christmas markets will be open to fill our hearts with festive cheer this year. We give you a rundown of five of the country’s most magical Christmas markets.

Five of Germany's most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021
The entrance to the Stuttgart Christmas market in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Germany had to close or were scaled back massively because of the pandemic. This year – at least at the time or reporting – lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks. 

Here are five we love at The Local Germany. If you have any suggestions for magical Christmas markets in Germany, please leave a comment below. 

Maritime Christmas Market on the Koberg, Lübeck

Lübeck, the so-called “Christmas city of the North”, will be welcoming the festive season this year by lighting up its old town with over 500,000 Christmas lights.

The northwest of the old town island is where you’ll find the maritime-themed Christmas market which has been going since 2011.

Centred around the gothic, middle-aged church of St. Jacob, this Christmas market celebrates the city’s historical sea-faring residents by creating a cosy harbour atmosphere with old wooden barrels, nets and a stranded shipwreck as well as a Ferris wheel with an unforgettable view of Lübeck’s old town and harbour.

Culinary stands offer visitors sweet and savoury dishes, and beverages such as hot lilac punch, mulled wine and, of course, rum.

Extra info: The current rules for events and hospitality in Schleswig Holstein is that 3G applies (entry for the vaccinated, people who’ve recovered from Covid or people who show a negative test)  but from Monday, November 15th, indoor areas will be enforcing the 2G rule (excluding the unvaccinated).

The Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Christkindlesmarkt, Augsburg

With its origins in the 15th century, the Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg is one of the oldest in Germany, and the Renaissance town hall provides a particularly beautiful backdrop to this winter wonderland.

As well as a wide variety of stands selling handcrafted nick-nacks and tasty treats, the Augsburg market also has some especially magical features, including the “Heavenly Post Office,” and “Fairytale Lane”: an animated fairytale depicted in ten scenes in decorated shop windows around the market place.

Extra info: In order to keep dense crowds to a minimum, the Angel performance will not take place this year. The market will also be spread out over more locations in the historic centre and there will be fewer mulled wine stands than in previous years. The stalls will be distributed over the Hauptmarkt, Lorenzer Platz, Schütt Island and Jakobsplatz.

Meanwhile, masks will have to be worn due to the high Covid numbers in Bavaria – and there will be 2G rules around the mulled wine stands, meaning unvaccinated people will not be served alcohol.

READ ALSO: State by state – Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

Medieval Market and Christmas Market, Esslingen

The Medieval Market and Christmas Market in Esslingen, with its backdrop of medieval half-timbered houses, offers visitors a trip back in time, with traders and artisans showing off their goods from times gone by.

The stands show off the wares of pewterers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, broom makers and glass blowers, as well as some old-fashioned merchants selling fun themed goods like drinking horns and “potions” in bottles.

Extra info: This year the number of stands will be reduced from more than 200 to around 120 and the stage shows, torch parade and interactive activities will not be taking place.

View from above the historic Streizelmarkt in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Streizelmarkt, Dresden

No Christmas Market list would be complete without the Streizelmarkt – Germany’s oldest Christmas market in the “Florence on the Elbe”.

This market, which you will find in Dresden’s city centre, first took place in 1434, and since then it has acquired quite a reputation.

The ancient market is home to the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world, as well as the world’s largest nutcracker.

Amongst the dozens of traditional stands, visitors to this market must also try the Dresdner Christstollen: the famous fruit loaf that is baked according to a traditional recipe with chopped dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices and dusted with powdered sugar.

Visitors can also take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel and gaze down upon the lovingly decorated huts of the Striezelmarkt.

Extra info: This year there will be no stage program and the mountain parade has been cancelled.

Old Rixdorf Christmas Market, Berlin

Although not as well-known as some of Berlin’s other Christmas Markets, the Old Rixdorf Christmas market is a romantic and magical spot which is well worth a visit. In the south of city in Richardplatz, Neukölln the old village of Rixdorf was founded in1360.

This charming setting is home to historic buildings such as the Trinkhalle and the Alte Dorfschmiede, and is illuminated every year with kerosene lamps and fairy lights. The stalls and booths are run by charitable organizations and associations. There are homemade trifles and handicrafts, but also culinary delights such as fire meat, waffles, pea soup, and numerous varieties of mulled wine and punch.

Extra info: The Old Rixdorf Christmas Market will be following the 2G model, meaning that all visitors over the age of 12 will be required to be fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.