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Advent on an Island

| December 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

A Christkindlmarkt at the Chiemsee

by Jackie Guigui-Stolberg

Experience the time-honored holiday tradition in a truly unique setting.


n two weekends at the start of the Advent season, a tiny island in Germany’s third-largest lake, Bavaria’s Chiemsee, becomes a Christmas island. It is the very special setting for a Christkindlmarkt.

During the summer months, the lovely Fraueninsel or “Ladies’ Island,”named after the Benedictine abbey Frauenwörth, founded here in the 8th century, is a popular excursion destination mid-way between Munich and Salzburg, Austria. Of the three Chiemsee islands, the Fraueninsel is the only one which is inhabited. The population is about 300, still including thirty nuns who pursue a quiet life of ora et labora at the Frauenwörth convent. On the island in summer, roses cascade over picket fences in the yards of old houses, the convent garden blazes with sunflowers, pink phlox, and purple asters, and wind off the lake rustles through thousand-year-old lime trees. Ducks and coots paddle between docks and boat houses. Day-trippers stop for an island restaurant lunch or dinner of fresh Chiemsee fish and to visit the famous old Klampfleuthner pottery shop. Many are on their way to or from the nearby Herreninsel (Gentlemen’s Island), once home to a brotherhood of Augustinian monks and, more importantly, site of the royal palace Herrenchiemsee, Bavarian King Ludwig II’s answer to Versailles.

The Fraueninsel is colorful and cheerful in summer. In winter, it is misty and slightly—appealingly—melancholy. The Christkindlmarkt there bustles with activity during peak hours, and the handful of inns and restaurants on the island get steamy as market shoppers crowd in from the cold. But there are no streets or cars on the Fraueninsel, and no brightly lit shop windows. The island is only 620 meters long and 300 wide. After dusk, many parts of the island are cloaked in mystical darkness. Christmas market visitors fill the convent church (das Inselmünster) to hear concerts of Bavarian folk music or choir-singing, or gather in a tent to hear a storyteller tell a fairy tale by candlelight. They sit around campfires and drink mulled wine, Jagertee (a hot and heady elixir with black tea and rum), Honigwein (a modern version of medieval mead) and Heisser Holler, hot elderberry blosson syrup mixed with apple juice. The nuns in their black habits in the ancient convent church, as well as the darkness and general quiet of the island, remind us of how Advent must have felt for centuries when the pre-Christmas season was not a time for shopping, eating, and partying, but a peaceful time of fasting and prayer.

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