After a long hiatus, the Files is taking you back to Minnesota and the German-named villages. Just like with the villages of Bergen and New Trier, the next stop will look at the largest of the 12 villages in Minnesota that carries a name that is common in Germany, comparing the US town with the one straddling the Danube River at the borders between Baden Wurrtemberg and Bavaria.
New Ulm was one of the first villages established after the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851, which allowed the settlers to claim lands in the southern half of the state of Minnesota. The town was established in 1854, four years before the state entered the Union. The German equivalent, Ulm, dates back to the time of the Germanic tribes of the 11th Century. Yet thanks to the Napoleon Conquest combined with the rise of King Ludwig II, the city was subsequentially split along river lines in 1810. On the BW side, there is Ulm, on the Bavarian side, Neu-Ulm. Yet both the German communities and the one in Minnesota have parallel lives.
Before looking at the two communities further, here’s a Guessing Quiz for you to try out. One of which features a Mystery Building question. Without further ado, here are a few questions for you to try, with the answers to be given once the article is published:
Mark which cities has what for a place of interest, either with NU-G (Ulm/Neu Ulm, Germany), NU-US (New Ulm, US) or both.
Hermann the German Monument
Professional soccer team
American-style street patterns
Streets named after American celebrities
Fachwerkhäuser (as seen in the picture)
Canals that merge with a major river.
MYSTERY BUILDING: This building, features a water tower with a red-white checkerboard pattern located next to a shed. While the building is being used for residential purposes, the water tower is out uf use at the present time. The question is when this water tower was built and what was its original purpose? One clue to help: This is located near the Institute of Technology of Neu Ulm, in an area where the US Army was once stationed until 1991. What else do we know about this?
GUESSING QUIZ: This tower is located at the north end of New Ulm’s business district. What is its purpose? What is the name of the tower and who built it?
Both cities had their share of conflicts and celebrities. Can you name at least one conflict that each town faced? Can you identify two people from each town that became celebrities and in what way?
Good luck with the guessing attempts. The answers will follow.
Note: The bridges from both towns will appear in separate articles in the sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Each place has its share of history with these crossings.
Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles
FEHMARN, GERMANY- Last fall, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a segment on the preservation of the Fehmarn Bridge, the first bridge in the world that carries the now popular basket-handle tied arch bridge span. The battle is part of the series where residents of Fehmarn Island are fighting with both the German and Danish governments to stop a project where the Migratory Bird Route, connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen, would be widened- both the highway and the railway. This includes new bridges to replace the Fehmarn Bridge and a tunnel on the opposite end connecting Puttgarden (D) and Rodby (DK). And lastly an industrial areal was planned for the island. Unfortunately, despite the Areal being blocked earlier this year, the European Union, according to reports from the BBC, has given Denmark the green light to start the construction of the tunnel, by providing 589 million Euros in the next four years for the project.
Yet while the Danes are prepared to start work beginning this fall, residents of the island and the surrounding area along the Baltic Sea coast are up in arms against the project and have started their own initiative to stop the project.
Tourists and locals have seen the blue X’es popping up in neighborhoods, along highways and beaches and even in the skies between Hamburg and Lübeck and the island itself. The Blue-X Initiative was adopted by the group Beltretter, with the purpose of showing support for preserving the island and stopping the project from taking place. Almost one in every three households have this on their lawns as a way of demonstrating solidarity against the project. And there are many reasons for this initiative:
- The construction of the tunnel would coincide with the expansion of the highway and rail line going through the island as well as the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, resulting in the island becoming a construction site. As small as the island is, and with the economy being dependent almost solely on tourism, analysts predict a loss of up to 800 million Euros (or close to $1 billion) in revenue during the time of the construction because of loss of tourism and commerce, plus additional money to improve the island’s imagery once the project was completed, which could take years to complete.
The project would involve a loss of sensitive vegetation and marine life that would be immense and possible irreplaceable. This includes the plan to scrap the underground tunnel similar to the Euro-Tunnel connecting France and Great Britain in favor of one above the sea floor, similar to the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden), which could be devastating to marine life alone. The width of the construction area between Puttgarden and Fehmarn Bridge would average approximately five kilometers. The maximum width of the island is only 21.8 kilometers- and this given the size of the land to be 185 squared kilometers!
Some discreptancies in the environmental and economic impact surveys conducted by Denmark have resulted in rechecking the figures. Alone with the economic impact survey released in January 2015 led to a debate on the credibility of both the Danish government, the conglomerate spearheading the tunnel initiative Fehmarn A/S, and even the European Union. While both Denmark and the EU claim that the new crossings would produce a revenue of 4-5% of the gross domestic product in the region or approximately 3.48 billion Euros ($5.5 billion), other surveys indicate that the loss of revenue through construction combined with years of recovery, the new crossing would net an annual loss of 6.7 billion Euros ($8.2 billion). For the residents on the island, the risk would be too high to take.
While there is a one-track rail line that is suitable for transport between Hamburg and Copenhagen including the time needed to cross via ferry, there is another border crossing at Flensburg and Padborg, where they feature a freeway and a two-track rail line connecting Hamburg with Aarhus with a arm going to Copenhagen via Odense. At the present time, improvements are being made in the Flensburg area to make the crossing more attractive. While the logic behind expanding the line through Fehmarn is there, little do government authorities realize that Fehmarn is a vacation and natural area whose need for a freeway/ two-track crossing on both ends of the island would devastate the natural habitat and impact tourism negatively. In other words, better to go through Flensburg if you wish to stay on the freeway going to Denmark and not stop to go swimming.
While officials in Denmark are preparing to start building the tunnel from the Rodby end, officials in Germany are in the process of discussing the project with many parties involved. This after the application for the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, new freeway and tunnel was submitted to the state ministry of transport. The communities affected will have a meeting in September, followed by the environmental groups, including BeltRetter in November and residents affected by the construction afterwards. The ministry will then review the opinions and information provided by those affected before making their decision- a process that could take up to a year. Proponents of the project have already received a backing from The German Railways (The Bahn) and German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt, the former wanting to expand and electrify its rail line to run more ICE-Trains on there.
But with the opposition towards the project crystalizing and spreading beyond the region, problems will most likely excaberbate over the course of two years, especially when the blue X’es sprout up everywhere making the area as blue as possible. Since blue is the sign of clear water, the water people deserve to swim in and marine life to inhabit, it also is a sign of preserving things as they are. With more initiatives coming up and more support pouring in, there is a chance that the project could be stalled further or even scrapped. If this is the case, then there will still be some work to be done with its current infrastructure to keep it up to date, but residents will breathe a sign of relief, for having a mega-highway for the sake of expanding commerce is not necessarily what they want. In fact with all of information on the negative impacts, combined with questions involving the credibility of the sources, this project in the end will do more harm to the region than good. This is something no one is willing to gamble on.
The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are proud to support the initiative to preserve Fehmarn Island and its places of interest. Both columns will provide you with further updates on the latest involving the project. If you wish to take part in the initiative and want to donate for the right cause, please click on the following links. There you have information on how you can help.
Special thanks to Mirko Kaminski for the use of the photos, as well as Karin Neumann and Hendrick Kerlen for their help in contributing some valuable information for this story.
After a brief hiatus, the Files takes you back to the Quiz series on the 16 German States and to the next candidate: the state of Brandenburg. Located in the eastern part of Germany, where Potsdam and Berlin are located, Brandenburg is perhaps one of the greenest states in Germany, joining the ranks of Mecklenburg Pommerania, Hesse, Thuringia and Saxony. This is in part because of the combination of forests, natural landscapes and wildlife that cover about half the state, mostly in the northern and western parts. The state also has the largest mass of water in the country, with over 33,000 kilometers of river and canals plus 3000 bodies of water, including 860 lakes. Both account for almost a fourth of the number of lakes found in Minnesota, the author’s homestate, where 11,800 lakes and over 111,000 km of rivers and streams exist. Yet while Minnesota can pride itself with its Winter Palace, the state of Brandenburg can also pride itself with its share of palaces and churches . Yet there is more to the state than just that, especially as it is the main attraction of this year’s German Garden and Horticulture Show (short: BUGA). For those wanting to visit Brandenburg for that purpose or for a vacation, perhaps a small Guessing Quiz will both test your knowledge of the state as of now, but also get you more interested and acquainted with the state. Without further ado, here is the challenge for you to take:
1. Which city is the capital of Brandenburg?
a. Potsdam b. Burg c. Brandenburg/Havel d. Neubrandenburg e. Frankfurt
2. Rank the following cities from most populated to least populated.
Bernau Rathenow Prenzlau Neuruppin Frankfurt Cottbus Werder Senftenberg Brandenburg/Havel Eberswald Falkensee Potsdam Görlitz Oranienburg Schwedt
3. Apart from German, which language is also spoken in Brandenburg? (Hint: Cottbus is known as Chosébuz; Lausitz means Luzyca)
a. Czech b. Polish c. Hungarian d. Danish e. Sorbian f. Slovakian
4. Which states border Brandenburg? Mark all that apply.
Lower Saxony Mecklenburg-Pommerania Thuringia Saxony Hesse Saxony-Anhalt Schleswig-Holstein Berlin Hamburg
5. How many districts and independent cities exist in Brandenburg?
6. Which rivers are NOT found in Brandenburg? Mark all that apply.
Elbe Elster Spree Havel Saale Ucker Trave Oder Neisse
7. Before 1947, the state of Brandenburg was once known as the Margraviate, going by the name of ___________ Brandenburg.
a. Marge b. Jim c. Marcus d. Ulla e. Mark f. Maik g. Mork h. Paul
8. In reference to this Margraviate, the kingdom goes as far back as which century?
a. 10th b. 12th c. 16th d. 18th e. 19th
9. Berlin is part of the state of Brandenburg. True or False?
10. A German women’s soccer team is the only team from Brandenburg that is in the premier league of a sport. True or False?
11. The origin of Frankfurt is Vrankenforde and applies to this city on the Oder River as well as the city on the River Main in Hesse. True or false?
12. Jim Brandenburg, a world-renowned nature photographer from Minnesota, once visited and photographed the flora and fauna in the state of Brandenburg. True or false?
13. The German motion picture studios, where most of the films are made, can be found in Brandenburg. True or false? Name the city where you will find most of the action.
14. The annual Festival of Lights, where the castle and the grounds are lit up and musical concerts draw in a crowd of 40,000 visitors, is held at the Sanssouci Palace, which is located in this city?
15. The Brandenburger Klostersommer festival, which takes place every June and July, features music, art exhibits and other events taking place in which churches in Brandenburg? Name two of them.
16. Which of the local beers will you find in Brandenburg?
a. Beck’s b. Wusterhausen c. Kneipe Pur d. Potsdamer Weise e. Red Elephant
17. Brandenburg is famous for its pickles, which can be found in this region? (Hint, this region has been declared a biosphere and listed by UNESCO since 1990).
18. During the days of Communism, Brandenburg was dependent on two key commodities, one of which is still in use today. Choose from the list below:
Mining Tobacco Agriculture Fishing Nuclear Power Tourism
19. Which of the lakes in Brandenburg is the largest and where is it located?
20. There are 82 castles and palaces in the state of Brandenburg. Identify the following below:
a. Altogether (2 of them)
b. Potsdam (3 of them but NOT counting Sanssouci)
c. Spreewald (1)
d. Elbe/Elster District (2 of them)
21. How many churches will you find in Brandenburg with the exception of Potsdam and Cottbus? Estimate your numbers in tens.
22. Which bridge in Brandenburg is famous for its spy exchange during the Cold War? (Note: It is one of many that existed along the Berlin Wall before 1989 and is still in use today).
23. Which city has the highest number of bridges?
a. Potsdam b. Brandenburg c. Cottbus d. Frankfurt e. Görlitz f. Prenzlau
24. The Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam and the Seegarten Bridge in Brandenburg/Havel are the only two cantilever bridges left in the state that carry the same truss design. True or False?
25. Name two existing bridges along the Oder that are older than 75 years.
Have fun taking the challenge. An answer sheet with some interesting facts will follow. Good luck!
There was a request by one of the readers asking for just some interesting facts about Germany and some of the states instead of the Q & A that has been posted to date. My response is by taking the Q & A away, it will take the art out of finding out the most interesting facts about states, like this one: Lower Saxony. 😉 Admittedly there is so much to write about that even some questions had to be left out of this Quiz on Germany. But admittedly, the questions are a challenge and for those wanting the answers to the facts about this rather populous northern German state and their people, here they are below. Please note, the highlighted names contains links with additional information for you to click on and look at:
Variety Pack Questions:
- Eight German States and the Baltic Sea border Lower Saxony, making it the most bordered state in Germany. True of False?
False. Counting the enclavement of Bremen, Lower Saxony is bordered by NINE states (Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt, Hesse, Bremen, and North-Rhine Westphalia), plus the NORTH Sea. It also shares a border with The Netherlands to the west. Now that’s a LOT of states.
2a. Lower Saxony was officially established after World War II in 1946 and consisted of the mergers of four former kingdoms. Name two of the four kingdoms. Hanover, Schaumburg-Lippe, Brunswick and Oldenburg
2b. Of the four kingdoms, which one was the largest? Hanover
Note: It was suggested that a state of Hanover was created through the British Zone, but inspite of debates and protests, all four of the former kingdoms merged to become the state and was subsequentially renamed Lower Saxony. Today the names exists but as part of the 38 districts that exist in the state.
- Put the following cities in order based on population from largest to smallest:
Oldenburg Brunswick (Braunschweig) Stade Wolfsburg Hannover Lüneburg Uelzen Emden Osnabrück
ANS: 1. Hanover (518,386); 2. Brunswick (247,227); 3. Oldenburg (159,610); 4. Osnabrück (156,315); 5. Wolfsburg (122,457); 6. Lüneburg (73,581) 7. Emden (49,790); 8. Stade (45,317); 9. Uelzen (33,269)
- Lower Saxony is ranked SECOND in size behind Bavaria and FOURTH in population behind Bavaria, North Rhine Westphalia and Hesse, but is the state that is the most dense population of Germany. True or False (just the points in cursive and bold print)
Lower Saxony is ranked fourth in population behind Bavaria, NRW and BADEN-WURTTEMBERG (ans. for 1st part is false)
But the state is the most densely populated in all of Germany. (True)
- Which rivers flow through and/or in Lower Saxony? Name three of them.
ANS: Elbe, Oker, Ems, Weser, Aller, Seeve, Aue, and others.
- Braunkohl is a German vegetable that is well known in Lower Saxony and can be served with a local sausage. True or false?
TRUE: Never mistake this term with Braunkohle (brown coal) that you can find in the Ruhr River region and near Zittau in the Black Triangle Region. Both this rare cabbage type and the local (curry) sausage are a tasty combination.
- At Steinhuder Lake,located west of Osnabrück, you will find eels. True or false?
FALSE: True there is a Steinhuder Lake and the eels are easy to find (and delicious when eating them), BUT the lake is northwest of Hanover.
- Das Alte Land, located in the vicinity of the Elbe River north and west of Hamburg is Germany’s fruit garden. Name three fruits that grow there annually. Apples, Pears, Cherries, Berries, and other fruits.
Multiple Choice: Choose the correct city to answer the questions.
- Which city is home of one of the three automobile manufacturers in Germany. Choose the city and fill in the blank regarding the car brand. (Hint: Fahrvergnügend is still the most popular car brand in the world.)
a. Wilhelmshaven b. Wolfsburg c. Celle d. Lüneburg e. Hannover
The car brand? If you don’t know the car brand VOLKSWAGEN, Das Auto, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. 😉
- Which city in Lower Saxony does not have a college or university? How many colleges and universities does the state have? ANS HERE: 26; six of them are in Hanover.
a. Hildesheim b. Göttingen c. Hannover d. Cuxhaven e. Emden
f. Vechta g. Bremervörde
- In this town (A), you can try a drink with a spoon (B), but don’t forget to say your blessings first. 😉
a. Bad Zwischenahn b. Bad Brahmburg c. Leer d. Norden
e. Bad Oldesloe f. Brunswick
a. Braunschweiger Mumme b. Löffeltee c. Ammerländer Löffeltrunk
d. Angler Muck e. Toter Bruder
LINK: AMMERLÄNDER LÖFFELTRUNK
- Which city in Lower Saxony is not located in the Harz Mountains? (!: There are two different answers)
a. Goslar b. Clausthal c. Wenigerode d. Osterode e. Salzgitter f. Braunlage
- Which city does not have a premier league sports team?
a. Buxtehude b. Hannover c. Brunswick d. Emden e. Oldenburg
- The New York Lions in the German American Football League is actually located in which city?
a. Hannover b. Bremen c. Brunswick d. Göttingen e. Celle
- Germany has the only true transporter bridge in left the country. It is located in Lower Saxony in which community?
a. Ostende b. Hannover c. Wilhelmshaven d. Stade e. Brunswick
- The only combination cantilever-suspension-swing bridge left in Germany (and perhaps on European soil) is located in Lower Saxony. Where exactly is this bridge?
a. Göttingen b. Wilhelmshaven c. Lauenburg d. Stadland e. Hannover f. Wattenscheid
- Which town in Lower Saxony will you most likely find in the US?
a. Emden b. Bergen c. Hanover d. Oldenburg e. Berne f. Uelzen
FACT: There are 19 towns in the US that carry the name Hanover, as well as 23 townships. The largest of them is Hanover, New Hampshire, where the state university is located. That one has 11,800 inhabitants.
Celebrities and Birth Places: Determine whether these statements are true or false. If false, correct the statements
- Maria Furtwängler, an actress who plays Charlotte Lindholm in the Tatort-Hannover series originates from Hanover.
ANS: False. She was born in Munich and belongs to one of the most powerful dynasties that still exist in Germany today.
- Heiner Brand, head coach of the German National Handball Team, was born and raised in Brunswick.
ANS: False. Brand was born in Gummersbach in North Rhine Westphalia. He is the only German handball player and coach to have won the World Championship both as a player (1978) and a coach (2007). He was coach of the German National Handball Team from 1997 until his resignation in 2011, taking the team all the way to the World Cup Championship in 2007.
- In the film the Inglorious Bastards by Quentin Tarrantino, there were no German actors/actresses.
ANS: It would not be typical of the well-cultured producer and director to not have native-born German actors/actresses in a film, whose setting was in Nazi Germany. At least 25 people, including Daniel Brühl and Til Schweiger were casted alongside Brad Pitt in this film. This included Diane Kruger, who was born in Hildesheim (near Hanover) and played Bridget von Hammersmark in the film. A well-thought film produced by a well-known name, but the answer to this question is clearly FALSE!
- Gerhard Schröder, the successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel, was born in Mecklenburg-Pommerania but grew up in Lower Saxony.
ANS: False. He was born and raised in Lower Saxony and even started his career in politics during his university days in Göttingen, thus paving a path to chancellorship, which he ruled Germany from 1998 until his landslide defeat in early elections in 2005, into the hands of the country’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel.
- Herbert Grönemeyer calls Göttingen home. No wonder because he was born there.
ANS: True. Yet he was born there because his mother brought him into the world through a specialist in a very unusual way (read more here). He however was raised in Bochum in North Rhine Westphalia.
- The band The Scorpions was established in Hanover with the lead singer originating from there.
ANS: True. Klause Meine originated from Hanover. Together with Rudolf Schenker (who was born in Hildesheim), the band was founded in Hanover. It is the longest running band in Germany and second longest in the world behind the Rolling Stones, having been in business for over 50 years.
- The Creator of English for Runaways originally came from Emden.
ANS: False. Heinz Heygen was born in Frankfurt/Main.
- Chris Barrie, a Hannoverer who starred in the Tomb Raider movie, grew up in Northern Ireland.
- Prince Ernst Augustus of Hanover was born in Hanover.
ANS: It is logical that the Prince, who is married to Princess Caroline of Monaco, and has his residence in Hanover, must be naturally-born Hannoverer. Hence, True.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you guess what that building in Brunswick is?
The building is the site of the Tauch Center, located across the Oker River from the campus of the Technical University. When it was built and other details is unknown, but you are free to add some information in the comment section if you wish to do that.
Normally the Files would not be focusing on abandoned relicts in Germany, for it is not in the domain. There are enough websites that focus on this topic, regardless of where. This includes Abandoned Iowa, which I’m subscribed to and focuses on abandoned buildings and bridges. Not surprising as I grew up in Iowa and have a love for historic bridges.
Yet this entry takes us to the island of Rügen in the German state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania (in German: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) in northeastern Germany, and this building here. As I was doing research on information for the next Germany quiz on this rather sparsely populated state with lots of flora and fauna, one of the readers brought this item to my attention.
The island itself has a very beautiful setting, with steep chalk cliffs overlooking the Baltic Sea, acres of forest and wildlife habitat, and kilometers of beaches extending (30) kilometers. From Rostock, the state’s largest city, it is approximately 55) km. Yet the island has one eyesore, which is located at Prora. While McPomm (which is the abbreviated form of the state’s name) once belonged to East Germany and the communist state was famous for its construction of block apartments in every city and town with more than 3,000 inhabitants during its existence, the Prora building dates back to the age of the Third Reich, according to local sources.
Located north of Binz, the Prora Building itself is five kilometers long and has five stories. Its architecture resembles that of the Third Reich and may have been the works of architect Albert Speer, who was in charge of most of the architecture in Germany during the regime of Adolf Hitler. Born in Mannheim in 1905, Speer’s rise to fame came when he was anointed by Hitler to be his architect in 1933. There he was in charge of the construction of modern buildings and redesigning districts in German cities whose aesthetic features were geometric with only design patterns and the symbol of National Socialism as the only decoration. Much of his architecture still exists in Germany today, despite attempts by locals in states like Bavaria (where Hitler began his rise to power in the 1920s), to eradicate the buildings because of their associations with the Third Reich. Speer later became in charge of the artillery division but towards the end of the war, confronted Hitler because of his irrational decision-making in response to Germany losing the war.
Because his role was almost solely an architect and he had very little to do with Hitler’s genocidal machine designed to kill “non-Aryans,” Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison, in comparison to most of his Nazi colleagues receiving the death penalty. After his release from prison in Spandau, Speer maintained his residence for most of his life in Heidelberg, writing three still controversial novels about his life in the Third Reich and donating most of his royalties to Jewish charities. Shortly before his release in 1966, his son Albert Jr. established an architectural firm in Frankfurt (Main), whose geometrical modern architecture follows a similar pattern of his father’s, minus the decorative features.
And with that, we go back to Prora and the building complex, which has been sitting empty and intact but in a desolate state. Records show that Speer had been involved in a decree to relocate the Jews from their quarters to different areas, and this building may have been the place for placing them there. Yet by the same token, it would also have been a place to house the troops, especially as Germany had a strong Navy at that time. Record will not be able to show that for when World War II commenced in 1939, construction on the building stopped and remained in its original form all the way up to the present. We will never know whether Speer had anything to do with it, who was in charge of building this complex nor what it was used for.
Or will we?
Any ideas regarding the logic behind building this complex that is now considered an eyesore to many people, please place your thoughts and info in the comment section. If you wish to share photos of it, go ahead and do so. Sometimes a visit to the complex helps spurn a few ideas behind the history of this building, let alone a few ideas of what to do with the complex.
After a long and relaxing three weeks of Christmas vacation, followed by a rude greeting of the flu upon arrival back in Germany and finally, finishing some work regarding sorting out thousands of photos taken and finishing some business with the Ammann Awards for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, we will return to the Christmas market tour for 2014. As mentioned in the tour of Jena, the Files was going a different route with regards to the Christmas market tour, tying together travel with regional culture and family. Our tour continues on to the United States and the Christmas markets that not only exist, but have increased in numbers in the past three years. While Christmas markets have established their foundations in cities, like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York, other cities, like Austin (Texas), Philadelphia and even Minneapolis have recently introduced their version of the Christmas (or even holiday) market, catching on with the German trend. Even some of the smaller towns, like Kiel, Wisconsin and villages in Indiana have looked up to Germany and its five-plus centuries of tradition which has presented a holiday appeal.
But it is not necessary to copy the plans of a Christmas market by having the huts clustered in a market square and each one offering candies and crafts that can be found in Europe. Some of the Christmas markets seen so far on tour offer commercialized items and little local goods, thus making them not so appealing for the tourist but more of a gathering place to eat and drink mulled wine (Glühwein). As in the case of our next candidate, the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa, one can mix Christmas with their own customs and traditions, and the community can stand out among the rest at Christmas time. For the Colonies, the Christmas tradition is spread out among not only one, but seven communities.
Consisting of High Amana, Middle Amana, Homestead, Lower Amana, South Amana, East Amana and Main Amana, the villages were established in 1854 by the German Pietists, a local Lutheran group group formed 300 years ago in the German state of Hesse that stressed the importance of religious freedom and creativity. Persecuted in their homeland, the settlers of the Community of True Inspiration, as it was first coined, immigrated to the United States, where they first settled in West Seneca (near Buffalo) before resettling in the rich fertile lands along the Iowa River, 25 miles (45 km) west of presnet day Iowa City. There, they lived a communal life for over 80 years, where self-sufficiency and isolation on the one hand and religious freedom to practice their own beliefs on the other hand were practiced. The communal cluster discontinued its function in 1934, in response to the Great Depression, and created a for-profit organization named Amana Society. The Amana Corproation was established at the same time, which created electrical appliances, including refrigerators and air conditioners. That company, located in Middle Amana, is now owned by Whirlpool.
When visiting Amana Colonies, one can see traces of self-sufficiency at its best, as many local eateries and beverage companies have their own products people can try year round. The majority of them can be found in Main Amana, like the Ackermann Winery, which produces one of the best wines in the state of Iowa (such as the dandelion-flavored- highly recommended), and the Mill Stream Brewery, which produces one of the best micro-brews in Iowa (such as the chocolate-flavored, dark ale, and the pilsner). Many shops offer homegrown fudge bars and coffee with different flavors one will not see even here in Germany. The Ronneburg Restaurant offers the best German entrées for visitors to try in an environment similar to a typical Gastätte in western Germany. There is also the Amana Woolen Mill, where after 160 years, clothing is still being produced even today, using homegrown wool. Then there are many arts and crafts shops, each one having their own theme. Highly recommended is the Good Quilt, where handmade quilts and lawn ornaments made of steel can be seen even in the front yard.
While many towns in the US have their holiday events centered on Christmas lights and concerts, the Amana Colonies focuses their holiday tradition on their cultural heritage. After all, self-sufficiency sometimes has its rewards when after many generations, the people still continue produce local hand-made goods and practice some of their holiday traditions brought over from Germany. The main holiday event takes place during the time of St. Nicholas Day (the first weekend of December), named Prelude to Christmas. There, thousands of visitors have an opportunity to see the displays of goods locally produced, while at the same time, meet new people while embracing the events, such as the Amana Cookie Walk, caroling throughout the area, storytelling and singing at the Heritage Museum, watching a theatrical or madrigal at the Old Creamery Theater, and lastly, meeting Santa and his reindeer (yes- live reindeer). A video on the event below shows you an overview of the event:
But apart from finding the best local goods, as we did during our stay, or even seeing the villages lit up at night during the holidays, it would be a sin if one does NOT visit the Tannenbaum Forest. Located at the Festhalle Barn next to the Visitor’s Information Center in Amana, the Tannenbaum Forest showcases a wide display of Christmas trees, each one donated by a private business or organization in the Colonies and each one displays a different theme. Expect to spend at half hour to an hour in awe, looking at trees with themes, such as the pink flamingo, or from the films, like Frozen and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (the latter celebrated its 50th anniversary this Christmas), as well as ones traditional of their heritage both here as well as in Germany. Beware that you see everything inside, even the Christmas Pyramid, a German household for Christmas where lit candles allows for the blades of a fan to move and figures to move around like a merry-go-round. You’ll find this as you are finished looking at the display of trees and make your exit for the nearest cafe for fudge-flavored coffee or apple cider. The Tannenbaum Forest lasts from Thanksgiving until shortly before Christmas. If one misses the Prelude to Christmas, one should see this main showcase for Christmas as you stay for a few days to embrace the culture the Colonies have to offer.
Overall, in comparison to the Christmas markets seen so far, the Amana Colonies remains to this day as the jewel to be discovered. While many cities and villages showcase their display of lights and holiday events attracting thousands of locals and other communities have their set of Christmas tents in the market square to attract many people, the Christmas venture (as I call it because it is not really a market in German standards), with its row of small shops selling local goods and its main attraction with the Tannenbaum Forest, attracts a fair share of tourists, both during the Prelude festival as well as during the holiday season, but it is for the most part, rather quiet and peaceful, with streets lined with wooden and brick houses dating back to the 1800s all decorated with Christmas lights and other decorations typical of Christmas time for them. It allows for people to visit the places without having to fight through the crowds or trample on items belonging to the shops, as seen at many Christmas markets. When walking along the streets at night, you do not have to worry about people picking fights or stalking, which makes seeing the houses on display a more enjoyable experience. The Amana Colonies, especially at Christmas time, presents a warm feeling of home and family, where you can chat with locals over coffee and fudge bars and have a great time. The Colonies seem to be one of those places resembling the black home- you visit the place once, you are bound to do it again, many times until you finally decide to move there. This was the feeling we had during our visit. If it is like that for you, when visiting the Amana Colonies (or any community you visit), then look at it and take advantage of it. If anything, if it does not work, visiting Amana Colonies, especially before Christmas, will provide you with a prelude to the holiday season where the feeling of home will stick with you- right up until you can share the experience with your family. This was our experience, at least.
Fast Facts: The Amana Colonies celebrated the Year of the Four this past year. The religious movement that later resulted in the establishment of the Colonies was formed 300 years ago by Eberhard L. Gruber and Johann F. Rock. Middle Amana was built 160 years ago. Amana Corporation was formed 80 years ago, as with the Amana Society as a for-profit organization. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Colonies’ enlistment on the National Register of Historic Places.
To learn more about the history of the Amana Colonies, click here for details. Information on other events at the Colonies can be found on their main website, which you can click here for more details. There, you can find out the best deals for lodging and food. Have enough cash with you as it can be expensive.
The author has a collection of photos of Christmas at the Amana Colonies, which can be found on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page. Type it in or click here for more photos.
Our next stop on the tour takes us to a pair of Dutch clusters in Iowa. One of them has a very well-esteemed reputation, while the other has ghosts. In either case, lat’s have a look at them, shall we?
Our final stop on the Christmas market tour in Berlin- Mitte is Potsdamer Platz. Located one kilometer west of Brandenburg Gate, this square is one of the most highly developed areas in Mitte, most of which being constructed in the former West Berlin. This is the spot where several hotels were located. It was also the busiest intersection in the city prior to World War II, as roads coming from Potsdam Mitte, and other points met here. This is one of the reasons why the first traffic light in Europe was built in 1924. A replica of the light, which functions as a clock, still occupies this point to this day. After World War II, the area was completely in ruins, only to be cut in half by the Berlin Wall, when it was built in 1961. For 28 years, Potsdamer Platz was known as “No Man’s Land,” because of the Wall, as it was over 2 km wide, and the land was barren, filled with traps, patrolmen and watch towers. Despite it being one of the death traps, Potsdamer Platz was one of the first places to be breached, when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, and the gates were open, allowing many East Germans to flee to the western part of Berlin and Germany.
Construction started in 1991 to reshape the square, which included the construction of buildings that housed Daimler Corporation, German Railways and Kohlhoff, as well as the Sony Center- where the German version of the Academy Awards for Films takes place annually- and the Arkade Shopping center, which features multiple stories of shops including those underground. It proceeded at a snail’s pace not only because of the competition among designers and builders on how to reshape the square, but also the stagnation of the German economy as a result of the costs involving Reunification. Germany was in a recession for two years (1993-4), which hampered Helmut Kohl’s chances of reelection as German chancellor in 1994. He won the elections anyway for a fourth term but lost out on his fifth chance to Gerhard Schröder in 1998. When visiting Potsdamer Platz in 2000, it was still a construction zone, with much left to do.
Fast forward to the present: there are no traces left of the Berlin Wall, let alone the cranes and diggers that had dominated the scene for 15 years until 2006. Instead, we have three skyscrapers, an Entertainment Quarter which includes Sony Center, many modernized residential areas with stretches of greenery to the east. Since 2006, Potsdamer Platz has served as a regional hub for rail, subway and light rail traffic, the first being part of the North-South Axis connecting Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof with points to the south, including Südkreuz Station. In fact, when walking up the stairs from the underground stations, one will see the three skyscrapers, with the Christmas market in front of them.
Interconnected with the Christmas market at Sony Center, the main theme of the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz is: Lights! Camera! Action! With hundreds of thousands of lights shining in the complex, the best time to visit the market is at night, where the complex and the Sony Center is lit up, creating the oohs and aahs among those who love taking night photography while beating the crowd. One can enjoy the specialties from Austria, in particular Salzburg at the huts located in front of the Kohlhoff Tower. Mininature skiing and ice skating are also found next to one of the Salzburger huts for children wanting to have fun in the night light. Yet most of these activities can be found in the evening for it is the best time.
As far as visiting the market in daylight is concerned, not much activity is seen, for only a handful of huts serving drinks and food are open, whereas others are closed until 5pm in the evening. While it may serve as a temporary stop for business people to eat and drink something for lunch, it is an inconvenience for those wanting to beat the rush of the crowd that most likely will visit the market from 6pm on, making the visit to the market among the crowd of people difficult. Alone the market itself is the place that is open the longest, hosting the festival of lights from the end of November until right before the Day of Epiphany (January 6th)- a good strategy for businesses wanting to profit from the passers-by. Yet the customer is king, and perhaps a combination of a pair of measures could max out the profits:
1. Opening the market beginning at 3:30 or 4:00pm would provide people beating the rush with a chance to tour the lights and enjoy the specialties before the normal crowd comes around. This is during the time the sun sets and presents the photographer with a chance to photograph the lights at sundown.
2. Utilize the green space for expansion. While the green area is most likely occupied by people in the summer months as they can enjoy the breeze and the sunlight, it is also useful during the time of the Christmas market where huts could utilize the space and move the crowd away from the traffic that passes through the hub. Sometimes sacrificing the space for a month for a purpose like the Christmas market can save lives as people don’t have to worry about cars speeding past. Cooperation from residents and businesses would be key in embarking on this idea.
Overall, while the market is a quick stop for lunch for businessmen and tourists, the Christmas Market at Potsdam is clearly a night market, for the main attraction are the lights, which bring photographers and tourists together at night. Yet one has to find the best time to see it without having to fight the crowd. Therefore, come to the place early to take advantage of what it has to offer.
FAST FACT POP QUIZ:
1. We wanted to know from you how many Christmas markets Berlin has. Without further ado: here is the answer:
There is a total of 109 Christmas markets in the greater Berlin area. Of which 5 are in Potsdam and 20 are located in Mitte, including the ones mentioned in the Christmas market series. If we continue with the tour of Berlin’s other Christmas market, it would take 5-8 years to visit and profile 10-15 of them. A tall order and one can only recommend the ones that are popular among people of all ages. 😉
2. In connection with the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, have a look at the picture again on the right-hand side. Any guesses what that is?
Here’s the answer:
The Urania World Clock
The clock was developed by Erich John in 1969 and was part of the plan to redesign Alexanderplatz, which included the construction of the TV Tower. The clock features all 24 time zones and operates dependent on the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The aluminum clock is 2 meters tall and can be seen from the light rail tracks. More information on the clock can be found here.
Across the tracks from Alexanderplatz is another Christmas market with unique attractions. The Christmas market at Rote Rathaus (EN: Red City Hall) is located in the vicinity of several key attractions. It is located directly southwest of the famous TV-Tower. Once used as a spy weapon to keep track of East Germans trying to flee to West Berlin, the 1969 structure, dubbed as the tallest in Germany, is now one of the key attractions for people to see, as one can see the entire city and its suburbs for kilometers on end. To the west of the tower is The Church of St. Mary’s, a typical German catholic church with a lot of charm. Directly west of the TV-Tower is the Fountain of Neptune, named after the Roman god of fresh water and the seas. At this spot one can ice skate around the statue during the winter months and of course the time of the Christmas market. In the spring and summer months, the fountain is in use, with its high spraying water making it attractive for tourists waiting to go up the Tower. And lastly, to the east is the famous City Hall. Built in 1869 by Hermann Waessermann, the building was created in the form of high Italian Renaissance architecture, featuring a clock tower similar to Big Ben in London. With the exception of the Cold War period between 1950 and 1991, this popular attraction has housed the City Senate since its opening.
As for the market itself, despite its location in the sea of high-rise apartments along Unter den Linden, it has a feeling of small town and hominess, as the market is divided up into two parts: the smaller part which features a facade of old buildings from a small community and is enclaved by a sea of dark mahogany huts. They all have one thing in common: they sell a variety of local and international goods, including alpaca woolen boots made of llama fur, fabrics from Peru and even merchandise in connection with the German cartoon series The Mole. Plus there are homemade candles and ceramic ware to choose from. Even wooden products made of Ore Mountain wood can be seen at the huts as well as in the Pyramid Candle located next to the ice skating rink. In any case, locality can be found here and presents a person with a break from all the commercial items one can find at a primary Christmas market, like the one at Alexanderplatz, for example.
But apart from the huts, there are many displays that are made of wood, but resemble construction in an era where there were no saw mills. Many of these are located near the Ferris Wheel and feature a pair of mangers- one for the horses and one for displaying Baby Jesus- as well as a tent where horseback riding can be found. One can say the artwork resemble that of the time of Jesus’ birth, but that may be stretching it. Yet the Ferris Wheel, painted in a combination of blue and white is the glaring eyesore in that particular corner. Yes, one can see the entire market and all of the City Hall and the TV-Tower, yet the claim that it is the largest wheel in Germany is disputable. There is one a Janowitzbrücke that may be even larger, as well as others at the markets in other parts of Berlin that might eclipse it. When even comparing the two from the TV Tower, one can see that the one at Janowitzbrücke is bigger. But given the fact that the Ferris Wheel came from Bavaria (most likely Munich), it would not be surprising if the marketers learned a lesson on how to deceive the customer from former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, who stressed the importance of marriage before sex and women being the home-maker when he was involved in many scandals himself, which eventually forced him out of office in 2009. The right to brag about the largest wheel in Germany is a classic example of the lessons learned by the likes of Stoiber, which the Bavarians still maintain a loyal devotion of his party, the Christian Socialists (CSU) today, but the counterparts in the rest of Germany have long since figured out.
But enough of the bragging and the criticism, for it was a sunny day during the visit, what time is great but to teach my five-year old daughter how to ice skate. The fortunate part of this market is despite being open later than other Christmas markets in Mitte (11:00am to be exact in comparison to 8:00am at Alexanderplatz), the market had ice skating rentals, which featured a push-penguin figure weighing over 20 kilos. A heavyweight indeed, but it served as an incentive to push the penguin on the rink and learn to skate. It worked like a charm for after awhile, the penguin was relieved and she was on her way by herself. A pair of big steps on a rink that is sparsely populated right now, but will be crowded with people in the evening. It sums up how homey the market is, when there are a few people around in the day time, taking their time in finding the best gift, drinking a hot drink, such as Apple Punch with Rum, eating fried potato chips and watching your kids grow up on the rink to become the next Kati Witt. Apart from the one at Opernpalais, this one is my highly recommended place to visit during the Christmas season.
FAST FACT: The Mole is known as Krtek the little mole, which was the work of a Czech cartoonist Zdenek Miller. Created in 1957, it was common in the former East Germany until 1990 and later in Germany. The US is planning on introducing it in the toy and book market in the near future. More info can be found here.
More photos on the Christmas market at Red City Hall can be found here.
Not far from the heavily visited Christmas market at Alexanderplatz is the Entertainment market at Janowitzbrücke. Located on the north side of the tracks, some 300 meters away, this Christmas market provides all the fun for children who may be bored from visiting hut after hut looking for the right gift, or would rather warm up to some action instead of drinking non-alcoholic Glühwein. The market resembles an amusement park that is somewhat crammed when looking at it from a bird’s eye perspective- in this case, from the TV-Tower at Alexanderplatz. Yet looks can be deceiving and and one can bet that it is much bigger when there in person. From an author’s point of view, it is comparable to an amusement park in Iowa, located a few miles south from where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota, namely Arnold’s Park Amusement Park. Like the oldest historic landmark west of the Mississippi River, this park features a Ferris Wheel that is one of the largest in Mitte, a roller coaster that is taller than the one in Iowa, but definitely smaller, bumper cars, several carousels, and other rides to provide the kids with the ooohs and ahhs, the screams and jubilations, as well as the wildness and excitement that is worth remembering.
While located near residential areas with its typical GDR high-rise appearance, the market here is logistically located along the corridor that connects Alexanderplatz and the train station Ostbahnhof- one of five long-distance train stations serving Berlin. There, people can shop at various small shops and market huts along one side of the track, and do the rides on the other side, without having to travel by light rail from one end of the center to the other. In fact, even by foot, one can walk from Alexanderplatz to Ostbahnhof and see the sights without using public transport- this is speaking from experience as it took only 20 minutes to do that. It serves as a bit of relief for the overfilled market at Alexanderplatz and the one at City Hall in a way that each market is designated for certain purposes. For the one at Janowitzbrücke, it was meant for fun and rides. Through this form of segregation, it not only controls the crowd, but it protects businesses profiting from this holiday season from getting trampled by the crowd, especially when some have a little too much to drink.
While we didn’t see the place in version- we were on our way to the Holy Shit! Market at Ostbahnhof, which unfortunately was closed when we got there, a bird’s eye view of the market at Janowitzbrücke provides a great insight at what one could expect when seeing it in person: fun, rides and games. And thanks to our trip up the TV-Tower, it brought back fond memories of the amusement park that I grew up with. In either case, an amusement park between the market that provides everything and the market that provides shopping is what people need to take a break from shopping and drinking, and have some fun in the process.
1. There is the real Janowitzbrücke located 400 meters from the market- a combination of light-rail stop between Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof, a dike and dam that is travelled on by the rail lines and a bridge that was built in the 1940s replacing an 1890s through arch bridge that was destroyed in World War II.
2. Apart from Ostbahnhof, the other four long-distance railway stations include Central (Hauptbahnhof), Südkreuz, Gesundbrunnen (in the north of Berlin) and Spandau (in the former West Berlin). Since 2006, Ostbahnhof and Spandau serve East-West Traffic, whereas Südkreuz and Gesundbrunnen serve North-South Traffic. Hauptbahnhof , located at Europaplatz west of the German parliamentary complex, is the central meeting point.
3. The Holy Shit! Market, located at Ostbahnhof, featured extravagant shopping deals giving the shopper an incentive to buy a lot and pay less. Because of the competition from the markets and stores at Alexanderplatz, this is held for one weekend only.
4. The Arnold’s Park Amusement Park is located on the southern end of West Lake Okoboji. It was originally built in 1889 and was renovated in 1988. Apart from the Ferris Wheel, it features the Classic Roller Coaster, built in 1927 and is one of 13 wooden roller coasters left in the country.
Located two blocks south of Unter den Linden at the square surrounded by Französische Strasse, Mohrenstrasse, Charlottenstrasse and Markgrafenstrasse, the Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most popular of market squares in Berlin-Mitte, and a symbol of the German-French Friendship. It features a concert hall, built in 1821 and which houses the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and is flanked by two different cathedrals on each side. On the right features the French Cathedral, built in 1705 and now houses the Huguenot Museum. On the left, the German cathedral, built five years later and now houses the Museum of German History. At the center of the market stands a statue of one of the greatest German poets of all time, Friedrich Schiller. The place is where music comes to life and given its proximity in the French Quarter, one will see signs of a French-German relationship which has withstood the test of time and remains strong to this day.
This is why the market, named after the French regiment Gen d’Armes which was stationed at this site until 1773, is a really popular attraction for people passing through. And when Christmas time comes around, the market becomes an attractive beacon, luring people into the site filled with rows of white canopy tents topped with a yellow star each. When you pay one Euro to enter the market, one will have a taste of French delicatessen in the form of apple chips, cheese products and other French entrées, as well as other international dishes from regions in Europe, while being awed by some classical music and dancing by several local artists and groups. Most of these concerts take place in front of the steps leading to the Concert Hall and people can stop by and stay as long as they please. And this is in addition to the concerts that are held inside the building itself, which makes it an even more attractive destination for music lovers. Yet at night, it is even more attractive as the Concert Hall and the two Cathedrals are lit up with various arrays of colors, which makes it a very attractive site for photography, especially for those who happen to stop by at this spot after spending time at the Opernpalais, which is 300 meters away.
The idea of charging for entry to the market is a rather smart choice. One has to look at the fact that the Gendarmenmarkt is one of the smallest of the Christmas markets in Berlin. taking up only two thirds of the space that is offered at the square in general. Leaving it open for people to enter and go as they please would have resulted in the tents being trampled and the people selling goods being overwhelmed. So in a way, a fee would not only stem the flow of people visiting the market, but provide more income for the market and its vendors. Yet a substantial portion of the money raked in from sales and fees goes to charity, as the organizers are engaged in projects benefiting the poor and disadvantaged living in Berlin. With a 10% unemployment rate and half of them being homeless, Berlin is in the top three of all the states and city-states in Germany, competing with Mecklenburg-Pommerania and the city-state of Bremen. Yet they are going out of their way to make sure everyone gets a chance to learn and develop, especially the children of those affected by poverty. Some examples of how the market is helping these children can be found here. Given the problems Germany still has with poverty, problems with the education system and the inflexibility of the job market in hiring people, such measures can go a long way to ensuring that people can succeed. But if that is not sufficient enough, one can look at the advantages of charging fees to enter a Christmas market as a way of controlling the crowd of people entering. especially at night, when things can get out of hand because of too much alcohol consumption. Can you think of a Christmas market that has this scheme or should have one, and if so, why?
I would like to end this entry with a bang! That’s right, the Gendarmenmarkt will end its 11th annual run with a concert and fireworks on New Year’s Eve with a celebration at the market place. Up until 1am in the New Year, people can celebrate, watch fireworks and sing along as the market comes to a close. A fitting way to end it for this rather small but very popular market, that is until next year, when it opens again in November.