How to Create Your Own Christmas Market

German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances.  The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.

 

Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community?  When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities.  Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.

Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.

 

Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.

 

Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.

The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold.  Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses.  The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.

But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition.   Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice.  While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.

And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas.  This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉

After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.

The advocaat stand, selling homemade liquor

As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.

 

While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.

 

Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots.  Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.

 

Here are some recipes worth trying:

Glühwein (Spiced Wine)

Mead (Heisse Met)

Advocaat (Eierlikör)

Hot Granny (Heisse Oma)

Dresdner Landbrot

Langosch

Homemade Bratwurst

Crepes

Roasted Nuts

Dresdner Stollen

 

All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas.  A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.

 

New Trier, Minnesota

St. Mary’s Church in New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010

Coming back to the tourism scene and the coverage on German-named towns in Minnesota, we will take a look at the next town on tour, which is located near Hastings and Faribault. Albeit a really small town with a population of roughly 120 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest existing towns in the state and has a history that is enriched with triumph and tragedy. This village is called New Trier.

Named after the city located along the Mosel River on the border to Luxembourg, the settlement of New Trier started in the mid-1850s, with records dating as far back as 1855, when immigrants from the western part of Prussia and Luxembourg found a plot in the northeastern part of present-day Dakota County. Most of them had fled the region in Europe for it was besieged by warfare between Prussia and France, including the 30-Year War and the Revolution of 1848. Some of them actually originated from Trier, which was ransacked at least a dozen times by three different empires (France, Spain, and Poland) until the French finally conquered the city during the Revolution of 1794. Prussia later recaptured the city in 1815, while chasing Napoleon’s troops over the Mosel and back into France.

Most of the settlers in New Trier had once lived in Washington County; especially in Stillwater. However after months of earning money for hard labor in the industries they worked, they eventually found plots of land and incorporated the village. The majority of families living in New Trier today have ancestors who helped incorporate the village, including Schaffer, Gores, Landsberger, Siebenaler, Kranz, Moes, Doffing, Tix, Thien, Riplinger and Schweizer, just to name a few. Some of them contributed a great deal to the community in a certain way. For example, the Gores and Siebenalers were known assisting or even leading the congregation in the church, while the Schaffer clan was known for carpentry and masonry work, which was started by John A. Schaffer in 1855, mainly because his farm was located next to the quarry. Some of the members of the Kranz family would eventually establish the present-day town of Kranzburg in eastern South Dakota. Another interesting fact worth noting about New Trier is the fact that the decision to name the village did not take place until the middle of 1856, for there was a division between those who wanted to have the village named (New) Luxemburg and those who wanted it named New Trier. Finally the decision was made in favor of New Trier on 15 May, 1856 by the first pastor of the church, George Keller. This was important for not only did the church needed to be built later that year, but the community itself needed an identity that would satisfy everyone. Surprisingly, a Luxemburg was eventually established later on as a settlement in Stearns County in central Minnesota, only 10 miles from present-day St. Cloud.  More information on its origin will appear in the column on that particular town.

The St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is the main landmark anchoring New Trier, has been with this town almost since the time it was incorporated. The first church, built in 1856,  consisted of a log cabin. However, as the population grew, a larger church was needed, and it was subsequentially built in 1862. The third church followed in 1864 built mostly of stone brought in from the quarry. The rectory was added a year later. Both the second and third churches were in use until they were taken down in favor of a new church in 1909. Using quarry rock from the Kettle River region in northeastern Minnesota, and at a cost of $40,000, the new church was dedicated in 1912 and has been serving the community ever since. The majority of New Trier (about 90% of the population) are Catholic, which explains the fact that the  regions where their ancestors came from are predominantly Catholic; especially in Trier and Luxembourg, where the Holy Roman Empire dominated the area. The cathedrals and relicts from that period still exist in these two cities. St. Mary’s Church is the tallest building in New Trier, and one can see its steeple standing high in the sky when driving towards town on the main highway.

Despite the fact that New Trier was dependent on agriculture and it had its typical businesses, like the mercantile store and the saloons,  the biggest thorn in the city’s side was the fact that it was never serviced by a rail line during the period of railroad expansion between 1870 and 1915.  In fact, the nearest railroad lines ran east of town near Red Wing and to the west of town going past neighboring Hampton and heading towards Northfield and Faribault. The result of this was stagnation, both in population as well as commerce. Fortunately to this day, the city is served by it main highway, MN highway 50 between Red Wing and Hampton, which has helped businesses thrive in New Trier. Agriculture and commerce is still dominant in town.  It has two bar and restaurants- Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill- as well as other businesses selling implements and providing services for farming.

While the population has decreased from an all-time high of about 220 in the census of 1873 to about 120 as of present, the heritage of New Trier still lives on to this day. Apart from the Catholic Church, one can see some of the relicts today, as a reminder of the town’s past. This includes a water tower built on a concrete cylinder foundation built around 1900, many houses dating as far back as the late 1800s including one just off Hwy. 50 that was built using the Schaffer quarry stone, and a small fire hall located across from the Trophy House. Some of the unique features you will find in New Trier include a dart throwing league, where the teams of the Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill compete once a week with other teams from neighboring towns.  There is also the Euchre card game league, where Euchre is a rare card game but one which you can try yourself after clicking onto the link at the end of this column.  But the town also has a new tradition, which can serve as a remedy against cabin fever in the winter time, and that is the Schneetag festival. Created in 2005 by five women, the festival takes place every year in February, consisting of an outdoor softball tournament, a card tournament, and other unique events that draw a huge crowd to this one-day festival annually.

But apart from all the places and events that make New Trier unique, what especially stands out the most are the fourth and fifth generations of the original settlers and their families that still reside in and around the community and make up the majority of the population. Like their forefathers, they have maintained their traditions and contributed a great deal to the survival of New Trier, making it a unique little German town for people to visit and even live there.

This leads to the question of whether other communities originally settled by German immigrants have kept up the tradition that was either adopted from their former homeland or introduced at the time of their establishment, or if changing trends and other external influences have resulted in the loss of its original identity and its eventual integration into the American landscape.  According to research conducted by two professors at the University of Kiel (in northern Germany) back in the 1970s, it was revealed that despite the establishment of their community and their way of life as well as adopting the name from their German community they had once live in, most of these communities had lost their identities by the first half of the 20th century, resulting in the village just having the name but not having the typical resemblance.  We’ve already seen Bergen adopting to the changing environment while losing its identity despite being a farming community, but we have also seen a resistance to change and the fight to keep the identity, like with New Trier. What about the other German communities in Minnesota? Or in the USA in general?

Link to Euchre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euchre

Additional Reading Source: Brown, Patricia  (ed.)  ” The Church of St. Mary’s  New Trier, Minnesota: 1856-2006″ Hastings, Minnesota: Graphic Publishing, 2006

One of the original houses in New Trier made of stone- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Fire Hall- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Water Tower- Photo taken in December 2010
Trophy House: One of two bar and restaurants serving New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010