Christmas Market Tour 2015: Gotha

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Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall). Photos taken in December 2015

The last stop on this year’s Christmas market tour takes us 70 kilometers east through the heart of the German state of Thuringia to the small town of Gotha. With a population of 44,000 inhabitants, the city, located between Erfurt and Eisenach may look appalling at first when getting off the train at the station.

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Gotha Railway Station with its bland modernized facade and dilapidated columns at Bahnhofsplatz

 

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Inside Gotha Railway Station with scenes from the 1980s.

 

Plus a quarter of the buildings in the city may appear run down, like this former publishing house:

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The Printing and Publishing House on Lutherstrasse.

Don’t let that scare you. 😉  Speaking from experience with other German cities, you cannot judge one just by the train station alone. One has to go further to see what it really looks like from the inside. 🙂  When walking or even biking towards the city center, you can see that  Gotha’s architecture, much of which originated from the days of the Renaissance and the Reformation have been intact. Only a small fraction of the buildings were damaged or destroyed in World War II, including the railway station. Another small fraction was neglected by the East German Socialist government during the Cold War, most of which have been restored since 1990.

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Belini im Ratskellar at Hauptmarkt/Rathaus

 

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Friedenstein Palace Complex

Gotha’s cityscape features not only a mixture of old and new buildings, but also seven- count them- SEVEN palaces located in and around the city center! :-O  The most notable ones are the Friedenstein Castle and the Friedenstein Towers, located on the hill overlooking the city to the north. Built in 1643, the palace was part of the duchy of Saxe-Gotha (later annexing Coburg) which ruled Gotha until Germany’s defeat in World War I. Ernest Pios of Saxe-Gotha founded the duchy three years earlier.  But apart from that, many of the historic buildings in Gotha that are still standing come from this time period, including the Historic Town Hall (built in 1574 and has still been used since 1665), the Ekhof Theater (built in the 17th Century and is the lone theater left that uses the original stage machinery), St. Margaret’s Church at Neumarkt (built in 1543) and one of the youngest from the era, the Insurance Museum at Bahnhofstrasse (built in 1820 and was the site of the Gothaer Insurance Company. Now a combination museum and labor court).

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Insurance Museum (1820)- site of the Gothaer Insurance Company

 

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St. Margaret’s Church at Neumarkt (1543)

But beyond the history, the insurance and even the distillery Gotano, which produces wermouth for the region, Gotha’s Christmas market provides tourists with a bunch of surprises that will keep them in the city for longer than planned.  When looking at the market itself, consisting of three different markets at Butterplatz, Neumarkt and Hauptmarkt/Rathaus, and by viewing the shopping areas in the background, one could say that the markets are nothing spectacular. Just typical small-town markets that come and go every weekend.

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Hauptmarkt

Guess again! 🙂

Each of the markets has at least one unique feature that one should visit while visiting Gotha. For instance, looking at Butterplatz, the place is flanked with two pubs but its main attraction is the Medieval theater, where plays and concerts are performed every evening and people can enjoy food directly from that period. It does serve as competition to the pubs, especially the Irish Pub, which is behind the stage, however people staying there can still enjoy the music and other performances while drinking their Snake Eyes and Newcastle Ale.

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Gothaer Schwibbogen at Hauptmarkt

The Hauptmarkt has their display of items in front of the historic town hall. The first impression of the market is that only small rows of red huts with eateries and mulled wine (Glühwein) make this a pure open-air restaurant. However, there is more to it than just that. This open-air site features the largest Schwibbogen in the world, as seen in the picture above, where visitors can walk in and enjoy a hot drink and a meal in the glass covered facility. The Schwibbogen is eight meters high, 13 meters long and 5 meters wide, providing 65 places for visitors to eat and drink. Opposite the place is the stage where cooking contests with prominent celebrities take place on weekends, competing with various German TV cooking shows that are broadcasted on frequent occasion. Adjacent to the Schwipbogen is a piece of artwork worth seeing. A manger set was created by Rüdiger Noldin and his friends depicts life-size figures of Baby Jesus, his parents Joseph and Mary and the animal figures, all woodcarved using chainsaws. The artwork is remarkable as the details are carved out, lookig like the real scene.

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And if you are tired of seeing the red-colored huts with the eateries, you can also purchase souvenirs typical of the town and region at the  Gotha Adelt. While not part of the market scene, it is highly recommended if you are looking for items for your loved ones that don’t represent the typical items found in a grocery store or bookshop, like mustard, local beer, Gotano wermouth, liquour, oil and spices, books on the history of Gotha and/or its palaces, refrigerator magnets and the like.

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Despite what the Hauptmarkt offered on the north side of town hall, I wished that there were more huts and small shops featured on the south side. Between the town hall and the Friedenstein palace along the former Leina Canal, there is a vast amount of space that is open and could potentially be filled for the holiday occasion. Why this space was not utilised is unknown but the area where the Leina Fountain in front of the Palace is located provides a splendid view of the buildings alongside the streets, leading directly up to the town hall. Looking at the picture below, could you imagine what the area woould look like if the Christmas market extended to here and not stopped in front of the town hall on the north side? 🙂

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Thinking about that while leaving Hauptmarkt, we head to the last market square, which is Neumarkt. Surrounded by a mix of historic and modern buildings, the market features a backdrop in the St. Margaret’s Church, which looks splendid at night. However the largest of the huts at the Christmas market are located here. This includes the bumper car  hut and this interesting place- a two-story hut that is a restaurant serving local specialties of venecin and wild boar and many varieties of hot drinks. At 7.5 meters high, 15 meters long and eight meters wide, Weisheit’s Schlossmühle, which is the only one known to the German Christmas market scene, can house up to 200 guest.

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Weisheit’s Schlossmühle

 

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Bumper car rink with the church in the background

But what stands out the most at this market place are the various foods that a person can try. It is a well-known fact that the Christmas market in Gotha is laden with stands serving Thuringian Bratwurst and its various sorts. The origin of the bratwurst and why they are very popular all over Europe is one to be written at another time. However another meat product worth trying is the Grillschinken, known as the grilled ham slices. The pork products are grilled on a rotating spit, similar to the one used for döner kebaps, which is typical in Germany. Slices are taken off and with the fixings (onions, barbeque sauce and cheese), become a tasty sandwich. 😀

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Having that together with the Erdbeerkönigin, a hot drink mix consisting of strawberry liquour and honey met liquour, it is very hearty and one that puts a crown on a couple hours exploring the market and purchasing last-minute items before Christmas. By the way, the Erdbeerkönigen drink can be bought at the honey stand, where other honey liquours and other honey products (spreads, candles, candies and bars) are available for purchase at the corner of the church.

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Honey stand. 

Given its location in the flat agricultural landscape, the Christmas market in Gotha is best described as one that features unique huts with a historic background, offering local goods coming from local farms which can attract the visitors, providing them with a chance to taste everything. And while everyone is familiar with the Thuringian Bratwurst, Gotha’s products, which one can rarely find, clearly depicts what the town has to offer to the people, when visiting the town. And it is a good thing too, after going through seven palaces and dozens of Renaisance-style buildings, one can use a break by trying something that is not typical for Germany but one for Gotha.

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As observed in my visit, Gotha has a lot to offer with the Christmas market, especially given its setting, and it definitely plays down the firsthand impressions of the city, as mentioned at the beginning. There are towns that deserve to be ignored because they are too modern or too dilapidated and unappealing. Then there are towns like Gotha, where going beyond the run-down train station, one can see some jewels of the town just by going 100 meters away from the station. When you see that, keep going. Chances are very likely that more will be found, and with that, more information on the history and culture of the town. So keep looking and start exploring.  A lesson learned for the trip home by train……

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Heading home on the ICE-Train from Gotha Railway Station.

 

Author’s note: This sums up this year’s tour of the Christmas markets in Germany. If you want to view the other Christmas markets, please click here and you will find a list of Christmas markets visited since 2011. If you know of a Christmas market the author should visit next year or in the future, please use the contact form and mention this. Chances are, the author will have a look at it and take whatever suggestion you give him. Many thanks and wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 😀

Flensburg Files logo France 15

Christmas Market Tour 2015: Chemnitz

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Christmas market at Alte Markt next to City Hall. Photos taken in Dec. 2015

The first place on the 2015 tour we’ll have a look at is Chemnitz. Located in western Saxony near the Ore Mountains between Dresden, Hof, Leipzig, Zwickau and Glauchau- in other words, smack in the middle of all the action, Chemnitz was first recorded in the 12th Century when Kaiser Lothar III established the Church of St. Benedict. The city plan of the town was presented over a century later. The city’s origin comes from the river running through it, whose name was derived from a Sorbian name meaning stone. The city was substantially destroyed in World War II and the people suffered a great deal afterwards, as it became part of the Soviet Zone, and the city was subsequentially renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1953, named after the founder of Socialism. Like many cities in the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic), the cityscape was transformed rapidly over the next 30 years, as architects placed high rise after high rise wherever the Socialist Party (SED) pleased. That is the reason why the city center and its churches surrounding them are flooded with more high rise buildings than necessary. Can you imagine looking at the city without these concrete slabs just for a second?

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Chemnitz Central Station: looks like an East German gym for sporting events. One needs to subtract the tracks and the platforms.

1990 and the people, fed up with the importance of Marxism and Leninism, were granted their wish, and the name Karl Marx Stadt was converted back to Chemnitz. Yet much of the architecture from the East German period remains today, and people can see them while driving past, especially the statue of Karl Marx at the corner of Brückenstrasse und Street of Nations. Even the Central Railway Station, despite its lounge looking more modern than 25 years ago, looks like a hangar gleaming with yellow sodium lighting. If one takes away all the platforms, it would resemble a sports center, with a wrestling ring and matches featuring the likes of Velvet McIntyre and Mathilda the Hun, two of the many professional wrestling stars during the 1980s. Yet it could also look like an ice skating rink, featuring the likes of Katarina Witt, Germany’s beloved figure skater who was born in the city.

However more modern architecture is popping up in an attempt to drown out the  architecture the SED wanted there at any cost. This includes the expansion of the Technical University in Chemnitz, where because of the increase in students, the campus has expanded to the south, thus leaving the former main campus next to the train station with a purpose of having extra space for classes.  Check your Googlemaps app if you have an appointment at the TU, to ensure you are at the right campus, please, or you will certainly get lost.

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The 1884 Chemnitz Viaduct serving the rail line connecting Dresden and Nuremberg via Hof

Yet despite the concrete settings, which resembles the scenes from the dystopian film The Cement Garden, Chemnitz has several features that standout. The city has the Opera House, Roter Turm at Neumarkt, historic buildings at Schillerplatz and several museums focusing on technology, archeology and art, as well as churches and castles. Even the river Chemnitz features many parks and historic bridges, namely the Railroad Viaduct built in 1884.

And lastly, the city is famous for its Christmas market. Located in the city center at Neumarkt, the market is laid out in three areas: Between the apartments along Am Neumarkt, between the Old and New City Halls and at Roter Turm.  Yet, getting there from the train station or other parts of the city, thanks to the maze of concrete one has to go through, takes lots of navigating, regardless of what kind of Verkehrsmittel a person uses. In my case, despite having my bike companion Galloping Gertie, which always gets me from point A to point B, my sense of orientation was lost in the concrete. So to the city council officials who want a word of advice from me: signpost the directions to the market next time, please!

Barring the author’s critique, I was told that the city had won the prize for the best Christmas market in Saxony. Given the architecture that drowns out the historic nature of the city center- at least the ones that were built before 1914, it was hard to believe at first glance. But then again, learning from my visit in Halle (Saale) and its Christmas market in 2012, one cannot judge the book by its cover but should read the first few pages before making the first judgements. This was why I wanted to take an hour to look through the place.

To read more about what the Christmas Market in Chemnitz has to offer, click onto the picture below, and you will be directed to the website. There, you will find more photos, history, delicacies and experiences the author had during his stay in Chemnitz:

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Flensburg Files logo France 15

The Abandoned Building on the Island of Rügen

All photos courtesy of Doc Harding
All photos courtesy of Doc Harding

 

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.

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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.

FF 25 Logo

Guessing Quiz Answers: Architectural History

Schoneman Park Bridge in Luverne, Minnesota. One of many bridges built by the Hewett Family. This lone Waddell truss bridge was built in 1908 by William S. Hewett

                                             Co-produced with Sister Column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

A few months ago, the Flensburg Files and sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles produced a two-article series on architectural and infrastructural history and their place in the educational curriculum, which included a Guessing Quiz for people to try out. While you can still try the quiz (click here), here are the answers you should have:

 

1.  In the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, structures made of iron melted like lava, which contributed to the destruction of hundreds of buildings made of iron and wood.  True or False?  False. Most of the houses and buildings that had existed prior to the fire were made of wood and iron. Iron had a low melting temperature which contributed to thousands of buildings to collapse in the heat of the blazing inferno that killed over 300 residents. Ironically, the city’s water tower survived the Great Fire, but the 100-foot tall structure was made of stone. It still remains today as the lone structure that had survived the fire

 

2. The Chicago School of Architecture was developed shortly after the Great Fire featuring which architects? Name three and how they contributed to architecture.  There were over a dozen well-known architects from this school, including William LeBaron Jenney (who invented the skyscraper), Louis Sullivan (who spearheaded the modernist architecture) and Frank Lloyd Wright (who invented the prairie home). A link with more architects and their contributions can be found here

3. Who created the first automobile in the world: Ransom Olds, Carl Benz or Henry Ford?

Carl Benz was the first person who created the first automobile in 1885; Ransom Olds created the first automobile dependent on gasoline in 1896; Henry Ford was the first to create the assembly line plant to create their automobile in masses in 1908. 

4. The Diesel Motor was created in ______ and is named after this German inventor?

The diesel motor was invented by Rudolf Diesel in 1893

 

5. List the following canals that were built between 1871 and 1915 in chronological order.

Panama Canal      Dortmund-Ems Canal    Danube Canal    Erie Canal   Elbe-Lübeck Canal   Baltic-North Sea Canal                            Berlin-Havelland Canal

Baltic-North Sea Canal (1887-95); Elbe-Lübeck Canal (1895- 1921); Dortmund-Ems Canal (1899); Panama Canal (1914); Erie Canal- new (1908-18); The Danube and Berlin Canals were built in the 1950s

 

6. Prairie Homes consisted of 1-2 story homes made of geometric shapes resembling circles and triangles.  True or False? Who invented the Prairie Homes (Hint: he was part of the Chicago School of Architecture).

False, rectangular and cube-shaped architecture were the features of the Prairie Homes invented by Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

7. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1878, yet Berlin received its first set of electrical lighting in this year?

Berlin received its first electrical lighting in 1884

 

8.  Which of the following bridge engineers did NOT immigrate to the US?

Seth Hewett, Lawrence Johnson, Gustav Lindenthal, John Roebling, Friedrich Voss, Wendel Bollmann

Seth Hewett and the rest of the Hewett family were born in Minnesota. William Hewett originated from Maine.

 

9. The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders emerged in the 1890s and later became a counterpart to the American Bridge Company conglomerate after the consolidation of _____ bridge builders in 1901. This School featured which family of bridge builders?

Hewett, Johnson, Bayne, Jones                      The Hewett Clan,  Alexander Bayne, Commodore Jones and Lawrence Johnson made up the Minneapolis School of Bridge Building, where over a dozen bridge building firms were located in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Hewett, Fink, King, Bayne

Voss, King, Jones, Humboldt

Hewett, Maillard, Lindenthal, Steinmann

 

10. The Rendsburg High Bridge was the first bridge in the world that used the loop trestly approach. True or False? If false, when and where was the first loop trestle approach used? (See video here)

 False. The Hastings Spiral Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota, built in 1895 by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company was the first structure that introduced the pigtail approach, located on the Hastings side. The bridge was replaced by Big Blue in 1951, which in turn was dismantled after Big Red opened last year.  

 

It is hoped that an extended version of the Guessing Quiz would be available for use in the classroom. That plan is still in the works and will be made available through an external source in the near future. Once it’s finished and posted, you will be informed here in the Files as well as in the Chronicles. Stay tuned.

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