One of the great joys I have had living in Europe is that there are so many levels in which you can experience it. As an American, the WWII landing in Normandy and subsequent march thru France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to help defeat Hitler remains one of the few moments in our own history which can still be viewed in a somewhat proud and patriotic light. I feel a deep connection to World War II sites and a profound appreciation that I can visit them so easily.
Living in Belgium, Decembers always make me think of the American soldiers trying to survive the bitter winter of 1944 in the Ardennes. And of course, Decembers also make me think of German Christmas Markets. It is a natural combination, isn’t it? The Ardennes are a geological relative of a region of western Germany called The Eifel which borders and encompasses part of Belgium and Luxembourg. It consists of low rolling mountains and small villages. Part of it is a national park.
What perfect way to explore this overlooked region than to experience both the wonders of German Christmas Markets and the somber but satisfying exploration into fascinating WWII sites in the area! This journey consists of a portion of a road trip I made a couple years ago as I was taking the long way home from the Cologne Christmas Market. Although some pictures from previous and subsequent visits have been included. I will highlight each in the order of the route I took.
This is a quaint town with old fortified city walls and towers still intact. The word Bad in the city name indicates it is a spa town. The Christmas Market is situated on the Markt and along Wertherstraße which runs parallel with the Erth river.
From Bad Münstereifel, a drive into the Eifel National Park to the next stop.
This massive complex was once a training center for Hitler Youth and future leaders of the Nazi party.
Adjacent to the Vogelsang is the Urft River and a great opportunity to take a wet, snowy hike and take in some of the Eifel views.
My Vogelsang Loop Hike
Komoot Link: Vogelsang Loop
- Starting Point: Ordensburg Vogelsang
- Ending Point: Ordensburg Vogelsang
- Distance: 14.1 km
- Time: 2 hrs 46 minutes
- Eating Place: None (in Winter)
The trail begins at the Victor-Neels-Brücke and follows the east bank of the river. This part of the trail is more like a road and easy to follow. As you wind along with the river, you will catch views of the Vogelsang and the upcoming dam. I was entirely alone on this hike surrounded by fog, the sound of melted drops of snow falling from tree branches, and the crunch of my feet.
After hiking across the dam, the hike becomes a little more messy in the winter. Trails are not paved and manicured. But the snow gave a nice touch of peaceful isolation to the already foggy blanket. This part of the loop had perhaps the most interesting feature. The area of the hike included a town called Wollseifen which was cleared by British Military in 1946 after WWII to create military training grounds. 500 inhabitants were suddenly forced to move during a three-week period. The houses that were left behind (keys still intact from residents hoping to return) were used for target practice.
Back to Christmas. Monschau is another cozy village right on the border with Belgium. It’s Weihnachtsmarkt is a popular day trip and along with Aachen, it is the closest traditional German Christmas Market to get to from Belgium. I have been to Monschau on a few occasions, drawn to its half timber elegance and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it daydreaminess. And if you like Christmas, one of the few sites in Monschau is the all-year-round Weihnachtshaus.
Monschau is worth an overnight stay just to be able to see the village without the usual tourist horde. The downside of both its being a solitary tourist center in a remote area and its closeness to Belgium is that it draws a ton of tourists and its streets and squares are hardly capable of comfortably containing them. I have spent the night on two occasions including during the Weihnachtsmarkt in order to see it in the morning when the streets are empty and quiet. The Weihnachtsmarkt itself is spread around different corners of the small village. The Markt has the main and busiest part of it.
Monschau at one time had its own brewery which spawned the beers Felsquell Pils and Monschauer Zwickel Bier. The brewing was stopped in 1994 due to ground water quality not meeting the German standards. So the brewery was turned into a museum. In 2012, the brewing was started back up but to my disappointment for this blog post, as from February 2019, both the museum and brewery are closed down again.
The brewing of both beers are currently taken over by Privatbrauerei Bolten. From what I could see walking around the village is that the Felsquell Pils can be drank at Restaurant Flosdorff am Markt and the Zwickelbier can be drank at Zum Haller, which is probably the best place to have a German-style dinner and beer in the village.
A couple other beers of the region which can be found in Monschau are the Eifeler Landbier and the quirky Caffeebier which is actually brewed in Belgium.
Siegfried Line Dragon Teeth
Monschau finds itself situated along a strategic WWII German line of defense called the Siegfried Line. Part of these defenses are “dragon teeth” concrete tank obstacles which can still be seen today. One of those is marked on the above map with the grey checkmark near Monschau. I have not visited those but noted them when I was making the map. The ones I visited were a drive south of Monschau.
Malmedy Massacre Memorial
On December 17, 1944, Kampfgruppe Peiper massacred 84 American prisoners of war by firing on them with machine guns. The main location of the massacre was the Baugnez crossroads in Malmedy (in the Belgian part of the Eifel) where today a memorial stands. The perpetrators including the unit leader Joachim Peiper were tried for war crimes at Dachau in 1946. The date of my visit was December 19 and the snow was a fitting reminder of how it may have looked at the time of the massacre 70 years ago.
Whether celebrating traditional Christmas culture, engrossing in history which is both tragic and heroic, taking a hike or a scenic drive, or just seeking to try new beers, this route had it all. I have been to many wonderful places around Europe over the years, but not many have encompassed so many enjoyable levels as this 3-day, 2-night trip. The great thing is that in Europe, the opportunities for this kind of multi-faceted trip are seemingly endless.