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.

 

Flensburg Files Holiday Moments: A Boy With PANDAS

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During the holiday season, The Flensburg Files has been posting some memorable holiday moments on its facebook page, as a way of showing holiday spirit, as well as the true meaning of Christmas, which is showing how much we love and care about the other person(s)- family, friend or neighbor alike. This article in the series hits home for the author, as a close friend and former classmate, who also sang together in a barbershop quartet in high school, and his family are facing a rare enemy that is affecting one of their own. This is their story…..

When one thinks of a panda, we look at the furry black and white bear, who live in Asia and feast on bamboos, shoots and leaves. In fact, Lynne Truss started her book on the use of commas and punctuations with this anecdote:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.

Jamison Nestegard is nine years old and the youngest of three children belonging to the parents, Sid and Rebecca.

Jamison has P.A.N.D.A.S, but not the furry bears that you can keep as pets- especially in a town, like Jackson, Minnesota, which has its really cold and snowy winters. P.A.N.D.A.S love warm and humid regions.  The P.A.N.D.A.S we’re talking about here is a serious disorder that starts with a physical illness in a form of strep bacteria and later affects the nervous system.

The full meaning of P.A.N.D.A.S is Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococci. It was discovered by  Dr. Susan Swedo, Dr. Henrietta Leonard, and Dr. Judith Rapoport in the 1990s and is characterized by the body’s own antibodies to streptococci which attack the basal ganglion cells of the brain. In short, the body’s own autoimmune system cannot respond to strep bacteria resulting in its build-up in the brain, causing several psychological abnormalities, such as obessive compulsive disorder (short, OCD), tics, anxiety, enuresis or urinary frequency, sleep disorders, behavioral regression, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, hallucinations, eating disorders, wide pupils, increased sensory responses, deterioration of fine motor skills, short term memory loss, and gastro-intestinal complaints.  Patients with P.A.N.D.A.S have at least 75% of these symptoms, yet research revealed that most patients with P.A.N.D.A.S have all of the above-mentioned symptoms.  Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 5-7, but can begin as early as 3 years of age, yet as the bacteria builds in the brain, the symptoms progress over time. According to the P.A.N.D.A.S Network, the disorder affects one in every 200 children in the US alone.

According to Rebecca in an interview with the Files, Jamison’s symptoms started at the age of six and started from there. “Jamison’s case started with tics and progressed from there.” She added “His symptoms dramatically increased over the next few months.  His latest list of symptoms include tics, OCD, anxiety, sleep disorders, wide pupils, increased sensory responses, deterioration of fine motor skills, short term memory loss, aggressiveness, gastro-intestinal complaints, and behavioral regressions (severe separation anxiety, baby talk, etc.).”  After visits to countless physicians and specialists in the last two years, Jamison was diagnosed with P.A.N.D.A.S last month. Yet the discovery of the disorder came by chance. The reason: “We saw behavioral therapists, counselors, pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, and occupational therapists. He was seen in offices, E.R.s, extensive outpatient programs, and even hospitalized. No one had an answer or offered a direction to go in.”  The discovery of P.A.N.D.A.S came through an employee working for the county human services via colleague who had received an e-mail about this debilitating disorder. After reading the information, it was revealed that Jamison had all but one of the symptoms of P.A.N.D.A.S. Research later led to a specialist in Chicago, who, after a visit, confirmed the diagnosis after undergoing tests for the disorder. Miroslav Kovacevic, MD FAAP is the practitioner who has been working with the disorder for almost half of the 40+ year career and has received numerous accolades for his research and discoveries. His research has identified the symptoms and possible causes of P.A.N.D.A.S, as well as possible treatments.

Currently, Jamison is undergoing treatment for P.A.N.D.A.S with his mother at his side in Chicago, while her husband Sid and the rest of the family are working on a fundraiser and have already set up a fund to collect money for the treatment. According to Rebecca, for one treatment alone, it costs $13,000! P.A.N.D.A.S is a relatively new disorder but one full of controversy as many specialists in the fields of medicine refuse to recognize the disorder. Health care providers in Minnesota and the region have never heard of P.A.N.D.A.S. Even insurance companies will not cover the costs of any of the treatment. This includes that of the Nestegard family.

Fortunately, the family is not alone. As tightly knit as the community of Jackson is, let alone the southern half of Minnesota where the author was born and raised, friends and family members as well as those who have a direct connection with P.A.N.D.A.S have come together to understand the disorder, address it to the public and give Sid and Rebecca some much-needed support so that they can help Jamison overcome the disorder. With the identification of the disorder already confirmed, the goal is for the public to understand the gravity of P.A.N.D.A.S and encourage parents, whose child has symptoms similar to Jamison’s, to come forward and share their stories and provide them with whatever treatment is available, no matter where or how.

Already in place are a few groups that advocate for the diagnosis and treatment of P.A.N.D.A.S. They include the P.A.N.D.A.S. Parent Support group, P.A.N.D.A.S. Network, and  Parents/Caregivers of Children With P.A.N.D.A.S. All of these groups are from the Chicago area.  A Midwest P.A.N.D.A.S. Conference was launched in 2015 at the Washington University in St. Louis, where parents, caregivers and physicians convene to share ideas and information on the symptoms and causes of this rare disorder. Other P.A.N.D.A.S groups exist in the US but only rarely, according to information in the interview. In Europe, there exists no such organization to date, nor has it been confirmed as a disorder or even disease by the World Health Organization.  Because of its rarity, the plan is to bring Jamison’s experience to the forefront to provide awareness and options available. “The more attention we draw to the disorder the more likely we are to pass through legislation providing insurance coverage for patients and support for their families,” Rebecca stated in the interview.  Already launched is a blog bearing the same name, she has been keeping a diary with information and hardships dealing with Jamison and his fight with P.A.N.D.A.S. A link to the blog can be found here. Letter campaigns to schools, pediatricians and legislature will follow. Blood drives are being considered as “….the treatment uses IV immunoglobulin (IV), which is made from plasma through blood donations,” Rebecca states. With Jamison as an ambassador, it is hoped that with each drive and speech, the attention pertaining to P.A.N.D.A.S will come to the forefront also through the media outlets, including TVshows and documentaries and even social media.

As for Jamison’s cause, a fund-raiser is being established for him, which is scheduled to take place on:

18th December, 2016 at Riverside Elementary in Jackson, Minnesota from 9:30-12:30 (map enclosed here)

In addition, a fund has been set up where you can donate money and resources to help with the expenses with P.A.N.D.A.S. You can donate your money to Bank Midwest. The address: 509 3rd St, P.O. Box 49, Jackson Minnesota, 56143 Please make your checks payable to The Jamison Nestegard Benefit Fund.

A GoFund Me account has also been set up to help pay for the expenses involved with the treatment and other costs associated with it. To donate, you can click here.

Family is the core of one’s life, the source where the individual grows up with love. When threatened by such a debilitating disorder, like P.A.N.D.A.S, the family finds the causes and treatment, so that the individual can have a fulfilling life, no matter what the cost or the distance. When there is a will to live, there is a way to have a fulfilling life. With Jamison living a life as he is living- with close family and friends, Sid and Rebecca, as well as the rest of the family and friends are doing all what they can to ensure that he can live to tell others of his experiences. And this is an example of how we should devote our time for our loved ones, especially for the holidays.

An excerpt of the diary of Jamison’s experience with P.A.N.D.A.S can be found in the wordpress version of the Files, which you can access here and subscribe to follow. It is also hoped that when read on the opposite side of the Atlantic that many Europeans and people in other regions are willing to step forward to help.

 

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The Day When the Temperature Went Under Zero

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Prepositions. They can serve as a compliment to an adjective or verb, yet with over three dozen of them in the English language (more in German and other languages), they can be a nuisance as the meaning and usage of them are sometimes confusing, especially when a person learning English as a foreign language wants to know the equivalent in the native tongue. Sometimes there are pairs of prepositions, which mean the same in general but are used for different purposes, such as over and above, through and via, ….

or this one: under and below.

While both prepositions mean anything below average, below the line or even below zero, one deals with moving down towards and beyond the threshold- which is under- while the other stays under the threshold- below.

For example, one can say “I went under water” or “I crawled under the bed”, for movement and “The sunken ship is 300 meters below sea level”, or “The neighbors living below us are noisy”, to describe something stationary and still. Yet, can we make the difference with the thermometer?

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As a general rule, a temperature can be below zero or a certain degree because it implies that the mercury is constantly at this mark and cannot move at a fast pace. This is independent of the real air temperature which can be warmer or colder, pending on the humidity and the dew point.  That means the temperature may be -1° Celsius (34° Fahrenheit), but can be warmer because of the high humidity and the sun, or colder because of the dry air, low humidity and the wind. Since the 1990s, the Real Feel Temperature Index has been using several factors to compare the temperature on the thermometer and how it feels on the person in reality, based on light, wind and moisture.

But can a temperature go under zero?

As a general rule, you cannot use under when you describe the temperature because the mercury is so slow that it would take many hours for it to fall. The same applies to over and above when describing the increase in temperature, which is why we use above only. However, as history presents itself, there are some exceptions to the rule.

If a student asks you (as a teacher) why we use below zero, instead of under zero, you can share him/her a pair of stories of how certain regions actually went under zero- in a very short time, during two very tragic events in the United States. Here they are in summary:

  1. November 11, 1911:   According to weather historian Jim Lee, a very strong cold front carrying first strong thunderstorms with rain and tornadoes, and afterwards sleet, snow and blizzard conditions struck the Central Plains region, causing temperatures to plummet by double digits within an hour. This included Springfield, Missouri, where temperatures dropped by as much as 40° F in 15 minutes. From 80°F (27° C) before this drammatic drop at 3:45pm, to 40° F (4° C) fifteen minutes later, to its bottoming-out low of 13° F (-11° C) by midnight, the city was one of over two dozen, whose record high and low temperatures were recorded on the same day, which included Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Over a dozen tornadoes followed by blizzards in this Great Blue Norther, caused over $3 million in damages- the heaviest hit areas were in the Ohio River valley, as well as in Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. 13 people lost their lives with over 50 people injured.
  1. November 11, 1940:  Known as the panhandle hook, this tragic  event reshaped the way forecasts are given. On this day, hundreds of people took the day off from work to go hunting for ducks and pheasants with temperatures in the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit (18-20° C), many of them were underdressed for the occasion. During the afternoon, the temperatures dropped dramatically to a point where by midnight, they were at or below 0°F (-20° C)!!! Many hunters were taken by surprised and tried to seek shelter from the cold, icy wind, combined with heavy snow and white-out conditions. Fifty degree drops were recorded in a region of over 1000 kilometers long, including states like Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, where 1-2 foot snowfall combined with 20 f00t (6 meter) drifts were recorded. Collegeville, Minnesota set a record for the most amount of snow in a storm with 27 inches (69 cm). 145 people perished in the snowfall, many of whom froze to death. 49 of the deaths were recorded in Minnesota, of which half of them froze to death. Rescue efforts by pilots Max Conrad and John Bean by locating stranded hunters and providing aid saved many lives. The storm resulted in changes in weather forecasting as 24-hour mandatory coverage and improved technology was later introduced, which is still in use today but with advanced technology.

These two events show that temperatures can go under zero if the mercury moves quicker than it should, even though in a grammatical sense, one should use below as it shows consistency on a longer termed basis. If your students ask why below is best used for temperatures below the mark instead of under, it is best to say that under is used for movement purposes but in quicker form and also on a temporary basis. It is unknown how (long) a mole can live and dig under the ground, but treasure and cellars can be found below the ground (level) because they are permanent. Yet when it comes to temperatures, especially after reading the examples of the storms that occurred on Veterans Day in the States, some exceptions do apply, although they very rarely happen. So use below zero instead of under zero unless you want to be that brave duck hunter wishing to hunt while in the snow. 😉

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For Jacob

porch light

On a cold fall night a porch light is on

All is silent, the sun makes its leave

Onto the next morning, leaving us behind

We wait and we wait for our child to come home

But still we feel alone……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are talking memories as the stars come out

It gets colder and lonelier as we wait for our child

To come home to a warm house and open arms

But still he’s out and about……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

People are out, armed with torches and flames

We become worried, filled with regret and remorse

Wondering what went wrong as it gets darker.

We call out his name as the street lights are lit

But still, not sound or a whimper…..

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The media is now in force,

Collecting facts and faces and getting the word out

But still, not a sign, not a trace……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

All our family and friends gather around

Over an open fire, and it’s completely dark,

Talking about a child’s dreams and ambitions

But all on the fritz because he’s been gone like a blitz……

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

The police are involved, the suspects are questioned,

We speculate and assume, we start campaigns

For justice and humanity but with one purpose:

To bring our child home even though he’s not there yet….

 

On a cold fall night, another porch light is turned on

Politicians and children’s advocates storm the capital

Demanding changes to laws to protect children’s rights

And put those responsible behind bars for good

We do this in our child’s name,

Though he still has not come home.

 

Every cold fall night, porch lights everywhere go on

We all call out our child’s name, never giving up

It’s colder and windier but the town lights are the brightest

In hopes he’ll be home soon….

 

On a cold fall morning, a porch light goes out

The sun has risen, the sky all blue and hue.

Our child has come home and into our hearts

We don’t know what happened, or who or how.

The bottom line is he’s home for good

And we can now forever be at peace.

Amen.

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This poem is written in memory of Jacob Wetterling, whose remains were found on 1 September, 2016 after having been kidnapped on 22 October, 1989 and gone missing for almost 27 years. I was 12 years old when the incident occurred in St. Joseph, Minnesota, located three hours north of Jackson, where I grew up. The kidnapping sparked an outcry by parents and children’s advocates demanding tougher laws to protect children from predators and register sex offenders after having spent time in prison. Still, thousands of children are reported missing in the US and Europe every year, more than half have yet to be found. Jacob had many dreams of being an athlete, just like everybody else. However Jacob did much more as he helped us define what a good parent can and should be- protective of their rights but also fostering their growth so they can be whatever they wanted to be. From a parent’s point of view, he has our thanks. While the person, who led police to his remains, has been put in custody and will most likely be put away for life, the bottom line is Jacob has come home to rest. It is in my hope as well as others, that the Wetterling family, who have been proud advocates of children’s rights for almost three decades, finally find peace after many years of searching for him. Our porch lights will forever remain on in Jacob’s memory……

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To the unknown person who created this with many thanks….

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Parting Ways With Garrison Keillor

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Sinclair Lewis’ Place of Birth in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Photo taken in 2009

When I was a child spending time with my grandmother in a rural Minnesota community, I would spend my time in her basement, building and enacting a small community called Warnerville. Fictitiously located between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the town of 22,000 inhabitants was an oasis surrounded by mountains and desert, located next to a lake and priding itself on professional sports. While everything was built together and up, using old boxes, metal rods and wooden boards, I brought it to life with a weekly newspaper, depicting scenes one would find in Minnesota, not California. That means, the model town was a deadman’s town, similar to my recent visit to the German town of Glauchau, in western Saxony, but its stories were typical of the ones that could be found in a local Minnesota newspaper, such as pen and plow-style gossip, crops and weather, local racing on the streets of downtown and a creative mentality that makes a traditionalist share the laughing and crying pillows!  🙂 While my grandma made sure her entire basement was not an urban sprawl (my town took up half her basement floor) and my dad dreamt up concoctions of the town being destroyed by natural disasters and toxic waste spills, my idea of the town and its stories came from my aunt, whose third husband was an art teacher at a small city college in Minnesota (specifically, Marshall), and up until their divorce in 1996, were passionate about listening to public radio, and in particular- A Prairie Home Companion. 🙂

Before diving into this topic, here’s a question for the readers out there, including those residing outside the US:  Have any of you heard of A Prairie Home Companion?

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A Prairie Home Companion was started as a morning show in 1974, being broadcast live from a theater at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was later relocated to the Fitzgerald Theater in 1978, where it has been its home ever since. The show’s structure originally followed that of several shows in Germany, in particular, the NDR Comedy Club (now known as Comedy Contest): live performance with acting and music combined with a little taste of home. While NDR’s show originates from the north of Germany, A Prairie Home Companion has a taste of Minnesota, with the likes of Guy Noir- Private Eye, The Lives of the Cowboys, News from Lake Wobegon, and all kinds of performances, capped off by the piece “Tishomingo Blues“, composed by Spencer Williams but the lyrics were added by the creator of the show himself, Garrison Keillor.

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If there is a general rule for Americans, especially Minnesotans residing overseas or in Canada, you never know what American culture really is unless you listen to two hours of Garrison Keillor’s show and Lake Wobegon stories every weekend. Since being connected to internet at our home in Germany in 2009, my wife, daughter and I have been listening to a Prairie Home Companion on Sundays in the evenings at supper time, listening to fiddlers on the roof, people with Minnesota accents talk philosophy in the corn fields, celebrities impressing the audience with their solo performances, and Keillor advertising fictitious products, such as Powdermilk Biscuits, Guy’s Shoes and the Barn Machè Beauty Salon, all in beautiful Lake Wobegon.  If one is wondering, Lake Wobegon is a fictitious town on a lake in central Minnesota between Sauk Centre and St. Cloud in Stearns County, even though Keillor in his show names it Mist County. A story behind the creation of Lake Wobegon can be found here. The show in general shows American culture, especially in the Midwest, that has been rarely shown in the classroom but should. The theatricals are scripted on one hand, but looks so real to the audience that after watching a live performance, the people become attached to American life from the eyes of the creator. All scenes are lively and the performers are really relaxed and into the scenes, sometimes intermingling with the audience. It is a combination of theater and madrigals into one, with some special guests making the show even more enjoyable to watch. Sometimes, the show gives the expats a sense of home that they miss but also have in their home country.

To give you an idea of what you are missing, here are some examples:

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Despite all this, 2 July, 2016 will be remembered as the day people leave Lake Wobegon forever. Its creator Garrison Keillor is retiring from the show after 42 years. Born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota in 1942, Keillor is both a writer and a broadcaster, having graduated with a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Minnesota and starting his broadcasting during his time as a student for a campus radio station, known today as Radio K. After graduating from college, he started his career at Minnesota Educational Radio (now known as Minnesota Public Radio- MPR) in 1969, where he hosted a few programs, including the forerunner to the popular show, A Prairie Home Entertainment, which featured music that veered away from the classical music MPR had played  before. The show was later changed to A Prairie Home Companion in 1971 and it remained a radio show until it was launched as a show with live musicians three years later. Keillor was the host….

…..and the rest was history.

Minus a two-year hiatus, Keillor was a host for 40 years, and omitting the four years in New York City, all of the shows have taken place in Minnesota, which he has called home. And it is good that way as when one calls a place home, it is the place where the person does his best. This was the signature of A Prairie Home Companion and even more so as a writer. Keillor has 21 novels to his credit, ten of which come from the Lake Wobegon series, which started with the first one published in 1985. A Guy Noir novel was produced in 2012. Three poetry anthologies and three poems are included in the mix.  He also created The Writer’s Almanac, a daily post by Minnesota Public Radio which features a poem by a famous author, combined with some interesting facts about famous people, including writers, politicians, inventors and historians, just to name a few.  Keillor intends to continue writing and producing for A Prairie Home Companion, yet come this fall, the show will become the care of another host, who will carry the torch and create his new version of Lake Wobegon. But even if the host, Chris Thile,  has large shoes to fill and the show will be different, his previous experience with the show when Keillor was hosting will help him bridge the gap between the patrons who came to love Keillor over the years and those who listen to MPR and have heard of Keillor’s work, but are looking forward to a new chapter in A Prairie Home Companion.

For Keillor, there is this:  Lake Wobegon brought the Minnesotan in this author, listening to his show and following the Writer’s Almanac from Germany. Like the works of Sinclair Lewis, including his famed literary work,  Main Street USA, Lake Wobegon allows a person to close his eyes for a couple hours, head to a rural Minnesota town and enjoy the company of some interesting but friendly local people, while giving the author some ideas of what to write about in terms of articles, pieces for newspapers and even novels. And while I’m doing the first two, his ideas and stories from the shows are contributing to a concoction of events for a novel which I will get to soon. If published, I owe you a copy with a round of thanks, for bringing the two homes together for two hours on a Sunday night.  🙂

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Before doing this send off, I asked some readers if they knew about A Prairie Home Companion and what they remembered about Garrison Keillor and a lot of ideas came about. I decided as a way of closing to provide the top Garrison Keillor Greatest Hits for you to watch and listen. Most of the Prairie Home Companion shows can be found on youtube, while you can subscribe to A Prairie Home Companion and  The Writer’s Almanac via the Files’ Educational and Cultural Links (scroll down to the end and on the left).

Greatest Hits:

This four-part series is the oldest to be found to date on youtube, dating back to 1987, shortly before Garrison Keillor took a brief hiatus. Strangely enough, during his hiatus, two shows bore out of A Prairie Home Companion, one of which is All Things Considered, which is still being broadcasted on MPR today. (Click here)

A friend of mine (from Minnesota) once mentioned that he was involved in a concert featuring Keillor and the theme on Halloween. This one’s for him, even though this is an earlier version and he was in the concert with his choir about five years ago.

Holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas were Keillor’s main targets for themes in his shows but also when he is live and in person at several venues, like this one.

It’s no secret that Keillor is a lefty in terms of politics. Still he enjoys adding some humor to all the political themes, some of which would never be discussed at the dinner table these days. On his last day of performance on 2 July, 2016, he received a congratulations and best wishes by President Obama, whom he supported during the elections and his presidency. Obama was a regular listener of A Prairie Home Companion and enjoyed Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories while dealing with political issues at the White House.

Keillor has not kept one handicap back in his career, which is his highly functioning form of autism, which he was diagnosed a few years ago. He was never a person who looked at another person straight in the eye, and was a loner. Yet, he still enjoyed the company of many people from different backgrounds. From an author’s point of view, it never shows. And as a secret ingredient: the best people, and especially story tellers of fiction happen to be the most gifted. 🙂

Guest stars have been welcomed for over a decade, including frequent visitors, such as the Civil Wars duet, who stopped by Lake Wobegon for a dinner and entertainment in 2011.

Keillor could not escape the parody of the Simpsons, like in this episode (he was played by another actor, by the way). Just wished that Homer would take in the entertainment from a different perspective. He will before the TV series finally signs off.

An excerpt from a typical Prairie Home Companion show with The Lives of the Cowboys.

And Keillor’s final News from Lake Wobegon on July 2nd at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Over 18,000 people attended his final performance and an additional 10+ million listeners honed in on his final performance of his 42-year career.

Long Live Lake Wobegon  <3   🙂

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