In the lead-up to Christmas, winter days are filled with hanging your stockings with care, trimming the Christmas tree and opening the first doors on your advents calendar. What is behind door number 1? Chocolate? A small gift? Or something bigger? How about opening the town hall's window for an advent calendar with thousands of others for full Christmas cheer?
For about 20 years the quaint town of Gengenbach in Baden-Württemberg, located in the storybook Black Forest, has transformed its entire rathaus (Town Hall) into the world's largest Advent Calendar House, or - auf Deutsch - "Das weltgrößte Adventskalenderhaus". The 24 windows (two rows of 11 plus 2 in the roof) are each decorated with a festive Christmas scene with a new window revealed every night until Christmas.
Adventskalendar in Gengenbach
After months of preparation, the soft pink18th century town hall is warmly lit and lies in wait like a package waiting to be opened. Around 100,000 visitors descend on this small town of just over 10,000 to celebrate each day of the Christmas season.
An enormous Christmas tree sparkles in front of the town hall as crowds gather in the darkness. Eager watchers arrive before 18:00 each night to await the magical show, though the calendar by the end of November.
The senses are awakened - first by scent as the spicy fragrance of glühwein wafts its way through the frosty air; then by sight as the 200-year-old town hall baroque façade is lit up and comes to life in Christmas-style. Among all this movement, the first door on the window swings open and a vignette from a world-famous artist, such as Andy Warhol, are revealed.
If you miss the 25 days of reveals, you can still see the completed Advent Calendar until January 6th. Scenes like those from the Gruffalo, Harry Potter, and Scandinavian favorite Pippi Longstocking appear. For impressive light shows in other German cities and towns, consider Berlin's Festival of Lights.
Christmas Market in Gengenbach
What is an advent calendar show without a Christmas market? Gegenbach's market opens on November 30th til the 23rd of December, 2019. Explore the over 50 market stalls with handcrafted gifts and seasonal delicacies like the world-famous Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte). This is also the land of the German cuckoo clock, as well as classic nutcrackers, smokers, and other wood crafts.
Along with intricate goods, there is a large manager scene. Life-size wooden figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the wise men and the farmyard scene are presented.
In addition, watch for the daily program of Christmas events starting on the 30th and ending on the 23rd. Events begin at 17:00 on weekdays and 15:00 on weekends with the full program available online.
- Gengenbach Christmas Market Hours: Monday to Friday 14:00 - 20:00; Saturday and Sunday 12:00 - 20:00
Gengenbach's Other Attractions
If you miss the Christmas season entirely or are looking for more to do in charming Gengenbach, go no further than the medieval old town center (Altstadt). Founded in in the 13th century, the city has a nickname of “pearl among the romantic half-timbered towns”. The center maintains its old defenses of rampart walls with imposing guard towers. For another example of gorgeous medieval architecture, consider a visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The Museum Haus Löwenberg has ever changing exhibitions and is another top attraction.
The town is also close to the French border, Cross over to explore this unique region that has been traded between the two countries for centuries and is now its own blend of French and German.
If you arrive during Carnival season, the town has another side to share. Gengenbach is famous for its Fasnacht celebration. Festival-goers dress in gaudy outfits with unique carved wooden masks. Discover more of the unique traditions of the town on Gegenbach's site or in the Fasnacht museum.
Directions to Gengenbach
Gengenbach is on the western edge of the Black Forest, about 40 kilometers south east of Strasbourg. The Black Forest Mountain Route (Schwarzwaldhochstraße), part of the Bundesstraße 500, runs nearby and offers easy access and a scenic drive.