Striezelmarkt at Altmarkt

The fourth and final stop on the tour of the Christmas market in Dresden (and the last stop on the 2011 Christmas market tour) is the Striezelmarkt. Located at the Altmarkt market square adjacent to the Kreuzkirche and across the street from the Medieval market at Frauenkirche, this market is one of the oldest known Christmas markets in Dresden, let alone Germany. Founded in 1434, the Striezelmarkt is the most popular of all the markets in Dresden as it is visited first by the majority of the millions of visitors who see the Christmas market yearly.  It has over 80 shops, two theaters, two carousels, one kiddie railroad located near the church and of course, the Altmarkt Gallerie, the largest shopping center in the city center.

When looking at the Christmas market in the daytime, one will be amazed at the architecture and exterior decorations that each hut has to offer, each theme being different but representing the true meaning of Christmas. One will have the opportunity to try the different entrées and Christmas treats in the daytime when it is not so crowded. At night one can enjoy a cup of mulled wine while watching some Christmas theatricals at either the small Christmas theater located next to the kiddie railroad or on stage at the east end of the market, where each number on the advent calendar represents a theatrical for people to enjoy. And if a child is looking for something special to give to his/her parents for the holidays, there is the opportunity to make homemade cookies at a cookie bakery located next to the theaters.

While one will see some familiar Christmas market products at the Striezelmarkt, like the snowballs of Rothenburg ob der Tauber or gingerbread cakes from Pulsnitz or Nuremberg, one of the most commonly found commodities that can be found at this Christmas market are the wood products made from the Ore Mountain region (Erzgebirge), located to the south and west of Dresden. In particular one can purchase a Lichterbogen, a lighted Christmas arch with various themes, for as much as 100- 200 Euros pending on the size and quality. These can be placed on the window sill of every house and apartment where the outside world can see it. These have become more and more popular over the past five to ten years, as many families have been able to put some money aside to add this value figure to their Christmas decoration.  However if one does not fancy such a lighted arch, there are also wooden Christmas decorations for the Christmas tree, pyramid candles and even Christmas villages that are worth considering.  I even remember purchasing some wooden decorations for my grandmother originating from the region in the first years I lived in Germany which made it look really nice on her Christmas tree.  A third of the total number of huts consist of these wooden products from the Ore Mountain region, even though one will find one or two at each of the other aforementioned markets in Dresden.

Another theme worth noting are the fairy tales that one can see at the Striezelmarkt regardless of shape or form. Anywhere from Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Little Red Ridinghood, one will see a bit of fairy tale there, no matter where they are at the market. This includes some of the themes at the kiddie railroad, underneath the market’s Christmas tree, or even a four-sided fairy tale tower at the church. If one does not know about the fairy tales and happens to see them at the market, it will serve as an incentive to read about them over the holidays.

It is very difficult to say when the best time to visit the Striezelmarkt is, but by judging the pictures that you can see below, there is no time of day where you cannot see the market as it is a real beauty during the holiday season, day or night. But from an author’s point of view, there are many places in Germany (and Europe) where one should see before moving on. Dresden is one of them, as over 5 million people pass through the city every year. However if one has some time during the holiday season, one should take a weekend and spend it at the city’s Christmas markets, for as can be seen at the Striezelmarkt, there’s more to the Christmas market than meets the eye.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Christmas market in Dresden runs up to Christmas Eve with mass service to follow on Christmas Day. The only caveat to this visit was the fact that there was no snow on the ground and since the visit during the weekend of 18 December, there has been no snow on the ground except for the mountain areas. Like in the Midwest (USA), Germany will close out 2011 as the warmest winter season on record, and there is a chance that this may be the first winter where absolutely no snow Germany.

PHOTOS:

 

Lichterbogen (Lighted Christmas Arch) on display

 

Fairy Tale Tower

Homemade Bakery House

Teddy Bear shop with a big surprise on top.

The Glühwein hut with people waiting for a drink.

Oblique view of the market overlooking the Kreuzkirche

2011 Christmas Market Tour: Dresden Part I General Information

Frauenkirche and the Christmas Tree

There is an old stereotype that many Americans go by when they hear of Germany, which is beer, bratwurst and Bavaria. Everything else is backwards and is not worth the time or money to visit. This was the stereotype I had encountered among my compadres during my days at my alma mater in Moorhead, Minnesota (Concordia College) and learned during a month long seminar on public policy when we visited Munich and Berchtesgaden. So it is no wonder why the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Munich are so popular among the Americans passing through the region.  Little do they realize is the fact that even though these markets- and in particular the one in Nuremberg- may be the most marketed and beloved by so many people, there is one Christmas market in Germany that tops the one in the district capital of Franconia in terms of size, diversity and even popularity.

Go three hours to the northeast by train on the Franconia-Saxony Express and you will end up in Dresden. With a population of over 400,000 inhabitants and located on the Elbe River, Dresden is the capital and largest city in Saxony. While it may be the meeting point for multi-culture and technology- thanks to its proximity to Poland and the Czech Republic and two technical institutions (the Technical University of Dresden and the Dresden Institute of Science and Technology), it is Germany’s crown jewels with regards to history and architecture as they both go hand in hand.  But when the holiday season comes around, millions of people from all over the world flock to this city of crown jewels to visit the Christmas market.  From the columnist’s point of view after visiting the place, the Christmas markets in Frankfurt and Nuremberg (which I saw last year) may be big in the eyes of the residents living there, but in Dresden, the Christmas market is huge! And when one sees all the places connected to this historic and most popular Christmas market in Germany, one can only say it is awesome!

Dresden’s Christmas market is the oldest in the world with the first one dating as far back as the 900s. The Striezelmarkt, located in Dresden’s Altmarkt, is the oldest annual market in Germany with its origins dating as far back as 1434. There are eight different markets throughout all of Dresden’s immediate city limits and dozens more in the city’s suburban areas, making it one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. And given the various themes and settings of each market, one does have the right to boast about it being perhaps the most multi-cultural of Germany’s Christmas markets, overshadowing the Nuremberg Christmas market by a long shot.

Given the size of the Christmas market in Dresden, there is really no choice but to cut them down to bite-size articles so that the reader can picture what the place looks like from the eye of both the columnist and the photographer. I will start with the Christmas market in general, which will feature the specialties that are offered in Dresden, using the smaller markets as examples- namely, the market at Dresden-Blasewitz, the corridor between Dresden Central Railway Station and the Striezelmarkt (but minus the latter as there is a separate article on that) and the one in front of the Residential Palace. The second article will feature the Medieval-style Christmas market, located in front of and along the Frauenkirche (Church of the Ladies) when facing the Elbe. The third article will deal with the Christmas market at Dresden-Neustadt, while the last article will explain about the Striezelmarkt, located in the Altmarkt.

 

 

Christmas market at Residential Palace

DRESDEN- RESIDENTIAL PALACE:

Walking towards the Elbe River and the promenade that runs alongside the river, if one wants to walk into or around the palace on the left side towards the Augustusbrücke, one will be greeted with a market similar to the one at Weimar’s Theaterplatz in terms of size, which features local specialties from Saxony. In particular, one can take advantage of the pastries from a bakery in Pulsnitz. Established in 1909, the Gräfe Pastries Company produces a wide array of pastries going beyond the beloved Dresdner Stollen, a fruit cake coated with powdered sugar, and Saxony’s only version of Lebkuchen (Gingerbread biscuits). It produces and sells a wide array of honey bars, Spitzen (small bars with filling in them) and Baumkuchen (a donut-shaped stacked cake with a chocolate covering). If one thinks that they taste the same as the ones at the Christmas market in Nuremberg, think again. Each Christmas pastry tastes different in each region and the one in Dresden is one that is unforgettable. That combined with a cup of Dresdner Glühwein (mulled wine) makes an afternoon lunch (Kaffeetrinken) a memorable one. The market at Residential Palace serves as a break spot for people touring the historic buildings or visiting the other markets in the city and is one that is a must-see if one wants to try the specialties from Saxony.

 

Schiller Garten Restaurant (right) and Blaues Wunder Bridge (left) at the Blasewitz Market Place

DRESDEN- BLASEWITZ:

This is one of a dozen examples of suburban communities holding a Christmas market during one or two weekends, but during the rest of the holidays, is a farmer’s market offering local specialties that is typical for the suburb.  This includes goods from local meat butchers, bakeries and the local produce stands. What is so special about this market apart from the Christmas tree?  Simple.  Apart from the  surroundings consisting of historic buildings dating back to the 1800s with its ornamental appearance, the market is located next to one of Dresden’s beloved bridges, the Loschwitz Bridge (a.k.a Blaues Wunder or Blue Wonder/Miracle), an 1894 cantilever bridge spanning the Elbe River that is famous for two reasons: 1. Legend has it that when one painted the bridge green, it turned to blue when the sun shone on it, and 2. A last ditch effort to diffuse the explosives- set by the fleeing Nazis during the last month of World War II in an attempt to prevent the oncoming Russian soldiers from marching into the city- was successful and the bridge was spared from becoming a pile of twisted metal and rubble. One can see the bridge today either from the market or from the terrace of the Schiller Restaurant located on the southeast end of the structure.

 

Christmas Tree at Dresden Central Station: the starting point of the Christmas Market along the Corridor

DRESDEN CENTRAL STATION AND CORRIDOR:

When getting off the train at Dresden Central Station, one will be greeted by a gigantic Christmas tree that is in the station building. Yet it is not the only greeting you will receive when you leave the station enroute to the city center. Just outside the the entrance to the station and along Prager Strasse to the Striezelmarkt one will be greeted with a row of Christmas market huts located along the corridor. If one chooses not to take the tram to Pirnaischer Platz (which is the stop closest to the Christmas markets at Altmarkt and in front of the Frauenkirche), one can walk straight to the Altmarkt along the corridor where  one can see the huts lining up on each side, offering specialties and merchandise pertaining to the city of Dresden. This includes Radeberger Beer, merchandise pertaining to the professional soccer team Dynamo Dresden, or souvenirs from the city. In either case, one can easily try the local specialties before entering the city center or pick up something to remember on the way out of the city, as a way of showing the friends and family back home that they were at the Christmas market in Dresden.

Going to Part II, the market at Frauenkirche……

Guttenberg Resigns- A consequence for cheating

After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin.  He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.

The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue.  This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible.  Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor  of the thesis Prof. Peter Häberle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.

While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years.  With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties?  This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.  In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.

From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.

So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve.   Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn,  Forests, …. you get the picture.

I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….

Links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/interaktiv/8287832-3.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8287421.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6454809,00.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/01/germany.politics/index.html?hpt=T2

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/world/europe/02germany.html?_r=1&hp

German Christmas Market Pic 5: Frankfurt/Main

Despite having to put up with overcrowding trains as well as trains arriving two hours later, I did make it to the last Christmas market on my places to visit list- in Frankfurt am Main.  A couple of interesting points about Frankfurt that one should know about: First and foremost, there are two Frankfurts- one in the western half of Germany in the state of Hesse, and one in the far eastern part of the state on the border to Poland. When the Iron Curtain sliced the two Germanys into two resulting in 45 years of hostility between the Communists and the Westerners, the people in the eastern part of Germany (known at the time as the German Democratic Republic) could not imagine that region to not have a town called Frankfurt. Therefore, they fought to keep the name Frankfurt, which after the Reunification of 1990 became known as Frankfurt an der Oder.  Both Main and Oder are rivers that flow through the cities respectively.  Another point about Frankfurt am Main that is well-known is the fact that the city is the third largest in Germany (in terms of the population), is the headquarters of the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange (DAX), but yet despite being the largest city in Hesse with a population of over 600,000 (minus the metropolitan area), it is not the capital of the state. That honor goes to the one of the Twin Cities straddling the Main and Rhein Rivers, Wiesbaden (ironically, its sister on the other side of the rivers, Mainz is the capital of Rheinland Palatinate).

The Frankfurt Christmas Market, which is located along the Main River at Römerplatz between the St. Paul’s and St. Nicolas Cathedrals was touted by many as the cream of the crop with regards to the Christmas markets in Germany- even more popular than the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Yet still, despite its size and various shops located in three different areas around the two churches, the market still offers the same goods as the ones in Nuremberg and Erfurt, which doesn’t really make it that spectacular to begin with. Furthermore, for those who are claustrophobic, most of the area is located in tight quarters, which does not provide for some breathing room to manoever; especially when it is on a Saturday, when most of the people do their Christmas shopping. It is even more depressing when the weather is gloomy, as it was the case when I visited the market. And finally, for those wanting to stay longer at the Christmas market- meaning beyond closing time for most shops- so that they can enjoy their last cup of Glühwein, they are more or less screwed for when the clock strikes 9:00 at night, the shops and food/drink areas close almost simultaneously! It is not like in Bayreuth, where Winterdorf is open longer than the shops, or in Erfurt where every food and beverage stand is open longer than the shops (even at Domplatz). This caused some considerable anger among those wanting to grab one more Glühwein or visit one more food stand only to find that the lights are shut off and the windows and doors hastily shut right before their eyes! I found the experience to be rather disappointing for someone who has visited the market for the first time but has seen other Christmas markets that were more flexible and relaxed than this one. I can imagine when the market is open and in full action that a person can get a considerable amount of aggression after a short time, which is easily comparable to the market in Nuremberg although the latter is more genuine than the one 3 hours to the west (by train, that is). For a person living in or near Frankfurt and does not like to travel that much, this market will provide people with a taste of typical German goods, although almost all of them originate from the south and far northwest of the city. However, if one wants to see a real market and find genuine goods, than they should look elsewhere as there are enough places to go around. It does not mean that a person should avoid the Frankfurt Christmas Market altogether. One could use the place as a venue for meetings over Glühwein and pretzels or other local specialties from Hesse and the surrounding area. The people at the stands would benefit from listening to all kinds of negotiations that take place in front of them, while at the same time, listen and learn the different languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. It is also a place for any last minute Christmas shopping ideas, although you have to put up with some elbowing and some lectures on how to “be polite,” which is something that many in Frankfurt have forgotten about. But like the city itself, the Christmas market is something that you see only once and never again. It is like living in the city- you only live there for a short time and then you move on to greener pastures unless you are: 1. A naturally born city slicker, or 2. You were born and raised in Frankfurt and you would never trade it in for anything else.

With that said, I went back to the hotel where I could try and get a good night’s rest before taking off for home, which is in the great state of Minnesota. As I was going back by light rail and subway, I was thinking of the events that occurred earlier in the day, where I befriended a German police officer who originates from Saxony but works in Frankfurt, and her company I got while drinking a coffee and a Glühwein, while waiting for the next ICE Train to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought to myself that good company from someone you never met before can create paths that you never knew existed. Seeing the Christmas markets in Germany are only a side dish to having some good company from your family, friends, and people you meet along the way. There are times in your life that people come in and out and don’t think about who you really are until they’re gone. However there are some who come into your life and stay there because you are who you are and they like you for that. This was probably the most rewarding effects when you go to a certain event or place, like the Christmas market in Germany.

Entering the honey shop, only to get the lights turned off as they entered and shown the door a second later.

German Christmas Market Pics 4: Bayreuth

Overview with the Christmas tree Photo taken in December 2010

After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main).  Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s “The Langoliers”- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.

However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film “The Langoliers.” There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nürnberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female  bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.

But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there….

And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays….

Feuerzangenbowle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle

Winter Dream:

http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/12678283/How-To-Make-The-Amaretto-Sunset

Glühwein (EN: Mulled or Spiced Wine):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulled_wine

Reference to the Langoliers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Langoliers

More pics:

West end overlooking the book store and old town hall.

Winterdorf at Sternplatz on the east end of the market

Inside Winterdorf, where the drinks run wild and the guest are even wilder.

Ah yes, the Feuerzangenbowle!

German Christmas Market Holiday Pics 3: Nuremberg

Frauenkirche view of the Main Market Photo taken in 2010

After enjoying some music over a Glühwein and listening to people talking about how Carl Zeiss Jena and Erfurt are struggling to make a name for themselves in the 3rd League of the German professional soccer league (DFB), the next stop on the Christmas market tour is Nuremberg (Germ.:  Nürnberg).  A brief overview of the city itself, the city of over 500,000 is the second largest city in Bavaria, behind Munich, and is the capital of Franconia. The city has a colorful history both positive as well as bad (and I believe we all know about the bad part, so I will not mention it here). It is the birthplace of the railroad in Germany, where the first rail line was created in 1835, and it is home to the German railroad museum. Furthermore, the FC Nürnberg from the German Premier League (1st Bundesliga) is a regional favorite as despite the fact that it does some league hopping between the 1st and 2nd leagues, it can be a royal pain in the butt to some of the elite teams, like Munich, Bremen, and Berlin, just to name a few.

But the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is perhaps the most popular and one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. Located in the heart of the city in the old town, the Christmas market ties together tradition, multiculture, and fun for the more than 5 million people who visit the place in the 1 ½ months that it is open, ending on Christmas Eve. The Christmas market is divided up into four parts. There is the main market, where every square meter of over 300 booths fill up the 350+ square meter market square, located in front of  Frauenkirche (a catholic church). To the right of the main market is the Kindermarkt, located behind the church on the east side, where all the children’s rides and booths are located. There is the food market, located along Maximilianplatz, parallel to the Pegnitz River, where different varieties of food are served. And finally there is the Markt der Partnerstädte located in front of City Hall at Rathausplatz, where each of Nürnberg’s 16 sister cities from around the world display their own products for sale. This includes some from Greece, Romania, France, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Cuba. There is also one from Cordoba (Spain), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Atlanta (USA). Even Gera, which is located in eastern Thuringia (about two hours east of Erfurt), is a sister city to Nuremberg and offers its local specialties at the market every year, including the typical Thuringian Bratwurst.

Children's section of the Christmas market

But there is more to the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt than just the types of markets that are worth seeing. Since its first inception in 1610, the Christmas market in Nürnberg offers a wide array of  homemade products which one will not find elsewhere, except at some of the other Christmas markets in Germany. In particular, handcraft products made of wood are very popular as Christmas decorations, Räucherhäuser (incense houses), and even mini toy products for the doll house, such as furniture, appliances, and mini-food products can be bought at the stands. Even alphabet trains are common to pick up and even  my daughter has a set which resembles her name plus the locomotive and caboose. Another tradition that you will find in Nürnberg is the famous “Lebkuchen”, which are gingerbread cookies covered with a coating and whose bottom side is covered with a disk-like white sugar covering. All assortments of Lebkuchen can be found here as well as the other Christmas markets in Germany, at the booths throughout the Christmas market. However, if you want something rather warm and hearty, then the two products you should definitely try at the Nuremberg Christmas market are the Pfannkuchen and the Glühwein. The Pfannkuchen is a dough resembling a cross between a pizza and a tortilla but is filled with toppings at your request, and baked in the oven so that in the end, you can have it hot and crispy. Most of them consist of vegetables, cheese, and meat slices, but there are some with fruit and chocolate should you have a sweet tooth but want to forego the Lebkuchen and another specialty well-known to the Christmas market, the fruitcake. The Glühwein (a.k.a. spiced or mulled wine) from Nuremberg is the most popular throughout all of Germany and parts of Europe. There are different types of Glühwein that one can try, whether it is homemade, or if it is combined with other forms of liquour. This includes one with a shot of tequilla, which I tried at the stand representing one of Nuremberg’s sister cities, Cordoba, Spain. This is probably the most lethal as despite the taste (which was really good), it can put you out until the next week, even if you don’t feel the effects of it at first. This was the case with yours truly, as he suffered a hangover for a couple days, although admittedly, it was well worth the experiment.

Mini-toy pieces for the doll house

Nürnberger Pfannkuchen

Finally, one has to look at the origin of the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Christkind, when translated into English means Christ Child, and every two years, a girl is nominated to represent the Christ Child at the Christmas market. The girl must be between the ages of 16 and 19 years and must have a “clean record,” meaning the girl must be pure and rid of all the giddiness. She is responsible for opening the Christmas market with a processional, which attracts thousands of people, plus other events throughout the season, which usually starts at the end of November and ends on Christmas Eve.

Despite all this excitement involving the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, it does have an Achilles heel which may be fatal if the issue is not settled in the future. Despite the fact that over 5 million people visit the market every year, there is the problem of overcrowding , as many people push and shove their way through the markets, making the experience of visiting one of the most famous markets in Germany (and to a certain degree, Europe) rather uncomfortable. The worst time is during the weekend and especially on a Saturday, when people don’t work over the weekend and use this time to do the Christmas shopping. Whenever there is crowding in a public place, it is almost certain that there will be tempers flying from those who are impatient and sometimes inconsiderate towards others.  It is worse after a few rounds of Glühwein or other warm drinks, because that is when most of the mischiefs happen. While we will never have the incident like we had with the Love Parade Dance in Duisburg (east of Cologne), where overcrowding resulted in a stampede and the deaths of 144 people and hundreds of injuries in July of this year, the overcrowding may have a potential of becoming dangerous in the future unless the city of Nuremberg either controls the flow of people going through the market through entrance fees, or enlarges the market to include other areas even outside the old town. However, until this problem is resolved, the author here can offer you some tips to make sure that your experience at the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is a wonderful one and not a nightmare. These tips are based in my experiences visiting the market twice within a span of a year and whether they are useful or not will all depend on when you visit it and how you like it.

Overcrowding at the Main Market. Note: The Lorenz Church is in the background

So without further ado, here are some useful tips to consider:

1. The best time to visit the Christmas market in Nuremberg is either on a weekday or weeknight, as this is when the activity is lightest.

2. The worst time to visit the Christmas market is on a Saturday; especially because many department stores and other permanent shops are open at the same time, many people like to push their way through to get to their goods they want. Plus one has to be aware of the overcrowding that is involved.

3. If you insist on visiting the Christmas market on a Saturday, you may want to consider lodging the night before so that you have enough time to spend the next day.

4. Always make sure you have enough money in your possession so that you don’t come up short and have to fight through the crowd just to get to an ATM machine

5. Make sure you be polite to others when getting through and show an example to the rest of the bunch so that it is known that pushing and shoving are just simply not allowed.

6. If it is too crowded and you cannot get through, always remember: the Christmas market is not going anywhere. It’ll be there the next time you visit Nuremberg.

7. Never rush through the Christmas market. Take your time, enjoy the booths, buy some things for your loved ones, and have some fun, and lastly,

8. Never try Glühwein with tequila unless you are man enough to take it and the hangover that accompanies it.

Keeping those points in mind and after trying some goodies, my next trip is north to another Christmas market, where I have friends waiting for me. Until next time folks and friends, enjoy the flicks provided by the author of the Files.

German Christmas Market Holiday Pics 1: The Erfurt Christmas Market

The Main Christmas Market at Domplatz at sundown.

Well here I am, on the road again, this time to hunt down the finest Christmas Markets in Germany, and the first one on my to visit happens to be the one not far from my backyard, in the state capital of Thuringia, Erfurt. There are a lot of interesting points of interest which makes Erfurt one of the most preferred places to live. It has the oldest bridge in the state and the last of its kind in Europe with the Krämerbrücke; it has one of the largest cathedrals in Germany the Erfurter Dom, and it has two universities each located on opposite poles of the city with 250,000 inhabitants (minus the suburbs). But when it comes to Christmas time, all of the city is wild and crazy in its Christmas market. For those who have never visited the eastern part of the country, apart from trying its regional specialties, like Vita Cola (equivalent to Coca Cola) and Born mustard, one should take at least a half day to visit the Christmas market in Erfurt. Basically, the Christmas market is divided up into three different segments. There is one in the city center known as Anger. This is strategically located next to the shopping center Anger 1 and it is easily accessible by street car as the two main lines meet here. Going a bit further to the north, one will see another segment of the Christmas market at Wenigermarkt, which is located next to the Krämerbrücke at the east entrance to the structure. There and on the bridge itself, one will find the local specialties in terms of beverages and food, including a local chocolate store, which makes Brückentruffels (thimble-like chocolate lazmoges which melts in your mouth and not in your hand) by hand. But the main attraction is 10 minutes by foot to the west, where the Erfurter Dom is located. 250 square meters of food, folks, and fun are all located right in front of the steps going up to the doors of the cathedral. One can try almost everything at the booths, from Langos (a Hungarian specialty), to Eierpunsch (heated egg nog with whipped cream), to the local Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine). My favorite of these specialties are the Erfurter Domino Steine. To understand what a Domino Stein is, it is a chocolate covered pastry cube with a spread of filling inside it. Germany is famous for its western kind of Domino Stein, made in Lübeck (which is east of Hamburg and Flensburg) and Aachen (which is west of Cologne and Düsseldorf near the border to France). This is made with a thick layer of marmalade sandwiched with pastry on the bottom and marzipan (an almond-flavored paste) on top. However despite the fact that this type of Domino Stein was part of the East German culture and was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of many who just wanted to see a reunited Germany without the socialist mentality, the Erfurter version of Domino Stein exists at the Christmas market in Erfurt! The pastry is not so sweet and there is only a thin layer of marmalade sandwiched between two layers of pasty and covered in chocolate made locally! When I first tried it back in 2001, I fell in love with it right away. Recently, while having an Erfurt English Roundtable at the Christmas market, there were many students who had never tried this specialty before. Therefore, it was my duty to take them there so that they can taste it. Many of them really liked it and some wanted to buy them to take it home with them to share with their families. I usually take 3-4 bags of them to the US when I spend Christmas with my family in Minnesota as they too relish at trying something that is not common over there and can rarely be found in Germany.

But even if you don’t want to try the Erfurt Domino Stein or any of the specialties there, the landscape at Christmas time in Erfurt, and the holiday joy that goes along with that is something that you must see. One can get a picturesque view of the main Christmas market at Erfurter Dom at any hour of the day. Even when the Christmas market closes at 9:00pm at night and the booths are closed up waiting to be opened again the next day, there are still many people who celebrate over Glühwein and another Thuringian specialty that is very common, the Thuringian bratwurst, as the lights on the huts and the Christmas tree keeps shining through the night, the steam from the chestnut locomotive continues to emit the smell of holiday incense, and the cathedral is lit up to a point where one can see it from the plane when taking off or landing at the airport in Bindersleben (a suburb to the north and west of Erfurt). Going through the Christmas market at any time of the day, one will hear the bartender of the Glühwein booth holler at the top of his lungs “Ich habe Trinkgeld bekommen!” (I got a tip) every five minutes, or listen to local musicians play on the streets or in the shopping center Anger 1. Going into the cathedral, one can pay their respects to their loved ones by lighting a candle or see an annual Christmas tree display in the church cellar.  And lastly, one can also see friends and family gathering at the tables of the booths, drinking a Glühwein and reminiscing about the past, talking about the present, and thinking about the future; especially when it comes to children and grandchildren. In either case, if there is an unwritten rule when it comes to visiting the eastern part of Germany, never forget to visit Erfurt; especially at Christmas time, because that is where the Fs are: food, family, friends and especially, fun!

Entrance to the Wenigermarkt part of the Christmas Market from Krämerbrücke

Stores and huts lining up towards the Anger 1 Shopping Center in the city center

Christmas tree overshadowing the huts at the Main Christmas Market at Domplatz

The Christmas tree and the chestnut locomotive oven in the middle of the Main Market at Domplatz

Christmas Markets in Germany! The Holiday pics for 2010

Classic example of a typical German Christmas market

Well, it is that time of year again! Christmas is creeping upon us and we are in a mad rush to buy as many presents for as many relatives and friends as possible. We have Christmas letters to rush. In cases like yours truly, there are lists to make regarding what to pack for the trip home to family and friends and a trip itinerary to put together.  Each country has its own holiday tradition which takes place before and during Christmas. In the US, the holiday season starts with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, where half the population lines up in front of shopping malls and retailers at 6:00am in the morning and fight tooth and nail to get that perfect gift for their loved ones. Families decorate their houses and lawns with Christmas lights and other decorations, and in some cases, there are holiday decoration contests to see which house is the most decorated of the entire neighborhood. Where no contests exist, there are people who love to tour the neighborhoods and are in awe with the bright colors and the designs.

In Germany, we are just as festive but in a different way. Sure we have the Christmas tree, although we usually do not decorate it until the 24th of December. We do some Christmas caroling throughout the holidays, like in the USA- even on the 6th of January in Bavaria. We have the Christmas pyramids, where the candles are lit causing the top wings to spin. We have incense men and houses, where the scent of Christmas roams around the house. But what is very typical during this time of year in Germany are the Christmas markets that occupy the market squares of over 6000 cities for one month, from the end of November until Christmas Eve. No matter where you go, you see a lot of Christmas goodies that are served during this time, from “Bratapfel” (baked apple) to roasted nuts, domino steins to gingerbread cookies, Thuringian bratwurst to roasted chestnuts….. Each Christmas market has its own theme. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is known as the oldest known Christmas market in Germany. The most common Christmas market is located in Nürnberg, which carries the name Christkindlsmarkt. But there are multiple numbers of Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. And Christmas markets in border cities, like Flensburg, Saarbrücken, Aachen, and Basel bring in people from outside Germany to try all the specialties that are available.

How different are the Christmas markets from one another? The author of the Flensburg Files has introduced Holiday pics, where five Christmas markets have been chosen and the author will visit them and put a small impressionist summary together to provide the tourists with a chance to visit them the next time he/she decides to visit Germany, be it this year, the next or sometime in the near future. The top five pics of 2010 are mostly centrally located in Germany, however, other Christmas markets, like the ones mentioned above are high on the author’s places to visit list in the next couple years.  Two states have two Christmas markets located near each other, which are Thuringia and Bavaria. They consist of the ones in Jena and Erfurt (Thuringia) and Bayreuth and Nürnberg (Bavaria). The fifth one is located in one of the most multicultural cities in Europe and also the most populated metropolis  in Germany in terms of population density, Frankfurt (Main) in Hesse.  All but Bayreuth have a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants, but like the cities themselves, each Christmas market has its own identity that helps shape the cities to what they are. We all know about Nürnberg’s popularity but the question is to what extent is Nürnberg’s Christmas market so popular in comparison with the other four candidates? Bayreuth is famous of Richard Wagner but the market in this small town makes it a treat for those visiting or even studying there (Bayreuth has a university which has contributed greatly to the city’s development). While Jena remains the central hub for the optical and technology industry in the easter part of Germany, every day at 5:00 in the afternoon, the brass plays the holiday tunes that make the Christmas market the most memorable for the people there. And then we have Erfurt, which combines traditional and medieval Christmas markets into one which tells a story to those enjoying a Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine) and a good old fashion Thuringian bratwurst.

But there’s more to the Christmas market in Erfurt than meets the eye, as the city’s Christmas market is the first candidate on the holiday pics list to be given honors and a standing ovation from those who either have seen it many times, like the author has, or who want to see it very badly because their friends and relatives have seen it, as is the case with many people the author knows who are reading this column right now.

So without further ado, here we go with a tour of Erfurt’s Christmas market…..