Travel in Germany: The Bavarian town inside a giant crater

A small city that stands inside a gigantic crater with an ancient, thick wall that protects it from invaders - sounds like something from a fantasy novel, right? Mike Stuchbery explores Nördlingen.

Travel in Germany: The Bavarian town inside a giant crater
A view of the Bavarian city of Nördlingen. Photo: Mike Stuchbery

The big bang

Nördlingen is a city that’s played a significant role in Germany’s history over the centuries. 

Around 14 million years ago, the region in which Nördlingen lies was the site of a close encounter of the extra-terrestrial kind. An asteroid with a diameter of 1.5 kilometres impacted with the explosive force of 1.8 million Hiroshima atom bombs. The explosion would leave a crater 24 kilometres wide, and up to 150 metres deep. Ejected materials from the event can be found as far away as the Czech Republic.

To this day, buildings made from stone within the Nördlinger Ries contain tiny diamonds created in the blast, that glitter in the sunshine. You can see examples of stone, and learn more about the catastrophic event that shaped the area at the RiesKraterMuseum. You can even buy your own little piece to take home!

Aerial view of the Nördlinger Ries Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Standing tall

Nördlingen’s status and wealth has long depended on its position along a number of ancient trade routes between larger cities. Beginning in the 13th century, it was the site of a large market fair that would bring craftsmen and traders streaming in, Merchants would settle in the newly-declared Free Imperial City in magnificent stone buildings, many of which still stand.

These proud inhabitants would reinforce their city with the Stadtmauer, or city wall that exists to this day – in fact, the walls are often used by locals to get around the town. Around the city exists a number of large gates to let traffic through, each with its own style. Subsequently, it’s very hard to get lost.

Nördlingen’s wealth and importance is also shown by the church that dominates the city’s skyline. The St-Georg-Kirche with its striking church tower known as ‘Daniel‘, can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and has served as its watchtower over hundreds of years. Inside, the church is a treasure house of medieval and Renaissance art and well worth an hour of your time.

Interior of the St-Georg-Kirche Photo: Mike Stuchbery

Tough times

The good times couldn’t last forever. As religious strife swept throughout Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Nördlingen could not help but be impacted. It was the site of not one, but two of the most significant battles of the Thirty Years War – one in 1634, and one in 1645. The first battle led to chaos across what is now southern Germany, after Catholic Imperial forces triumphed over Protestant Swedish forces. The  Nördlingen battlefield is only a short distance away from the city.

Inside the city walls, things weren’t doing much better. Starting in the late 16th century and extending into the 17th, witch trials were held in the city. Local women, including the celebrated innkeeper, Maria Holl were accused of witchcraft and tortured until they confessed. Holl managed to withstand 62 days of torture before she was released, and you can still find a memorial, the Maria Holl Brunnen, outside where her old inn once stood. The prison used to contain these alleged witches is part of the town’s historic Rathaus – look under the stairs, on the side of the building facing away from the street. 

The Maria Holl Brunnen (Left) & the prison used to hold alleged ‘witches’ at the city’s Rathaus (Right) Photos: Mike Stuchbery

A real hidden treasure

Today, a great deal of Nördlingen’s historic architecture still stands, and it welcomes visitors wholeheartedly. Overshadowed by other similarly historic cities in Bavaria, like Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl, you won’t find quite so many tourists in the streets, and you will have an easier time getting around. 

If you’re planning a day trip to town, we recommend Wengers Brettl, for filling, local dishes served in a family-run restaurant. For a real taste of the city’s medieval past (albeit, with 21st century furnishings), the Hotel NH Klösterle is situated in the very heart of the town, located in a 13th century monastery.

Nördlingen can be reached by rail from Aalen, Augsburg or Munch via Deutsche Bahn’s ‘Fugger Express’ Regio trains. The nearest domestic airport is Augsburg, and the nearest international airport is Munich. 


Member comments

  1. A really great place to stay and explore – the town itself and also the surrounding countryside. I must say I personally found it more interesting than the nearby ‘crowd pleaser’ towns of Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl, although those are worth a visit too.
    I went in July – probably better than going now, especially with Covid starting to bite in Germany once again! Maybe plan it for next summer?
    It’s possible to walk around virtually the entire town along an elevated walkway in the roofed town wall. It took me about 45 minutes. There’s even a town museum within it and a cafe butting up to it! The Ries Crater Museum is also very good, with well organised exhibits and an excellent video about the meteor impact.
    It’s also possible to walk up various flights of steps to near the top of the Daniel tower for superb views of the town and surrounding countryside. You can see the crater rim if you know where to look.
    The local people were very friendly during my 7 day visit and I really enjoyed my time there.

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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.