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THE daylight is beginning to fade in Nuremberg – but one of Europe’s most spectacular Christmas wonderlands is just about to come to life.
Shoppers huddle together among a network of 200 wooden craft stalls, festive lights sparkle and the air is thick with the smell of grilled sausage and the warm, spicy aroma of mulled wine.
Children are munching their way happily through packets of lebkuchen – spicy ginger bread – while parents load up carrier bags with colourful Christmas decorations, handcarved toys and home-made gifts.
It’s another magical night at the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market (Chritskindlesmarkt), one of the oldest of its kind in Germany dating back centuries.
Each year the old town’s main Hauptmarkt square comes alive as more than two million visitors flock to soak up what is a truly festive atmosphere.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the star of the show. With her white and golden dress, long blond curls and her golden crown, the Christkind – or Christ Child – has been the symbol for the Christmas Market for decades.
This year, schoolgirl Franziska Handke has been handed the high profile and prestigious honour, acting as the ambassador for the town and visiting countries as far afield as the USA.
It’s little wonder why the market has become a popular winter destination with British tourists. Flights from Gatwick with Air Berlin are cheap and convenient, while access to the city from the glistening Nuremberg airport couldn’t be simpler thanks to a typically efficient German subway and tram system.
In the town centre and a short walk up from the market place, there are panoramic views of the city from its imperial castle (Kaiserburg).
History fans can also take in a stroll around the ancient city walls or visit the museum in the former house of Nuremberg’s famous artist, Albrecht Dürer.
The shadow of Adolf Hitler and World War II forms the darkest chapter of Nuremberg’s history.
After 93 per cent of the city was destroyed during the war, the council decided, unlike others in Germany, to rebuild it in the old medieval Bavarian architectural style.
Nuremberg makes no secret of its place at the heart of the rise of Nazism and many now visit the city to learn about its wartime history.
A short train ride takes visitors to see the physical remnants of this vision the outskirts of Nuremberg, next to its football stadium.
A newly built documentation centre on the side of Hitler’s uncompleted Congress Hall provides an informative exhibition on the rally grounds and rise of National Socialism.
Back in the city, there is a huge selection of warm, friendly eating establishments, serving up an array of bratwurst sausages, locally produced beers and sumptuous deserts.
The Schwarzer Bauer im Altstadhof offers up massive portions of roasted pork shoulder and sauerkraut and for dessert serves up its own scrumptious, beerbased version of tiramisu – Beeramisu.
But in the cold December night air and with Christmas carols playing in the background, there is perhaps no finer way to end a long day’s touring than joining the crowds in the market place for a steaming hot cup of Glühwein.