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.

 

In School In Germany: Strange American Accent

 

Friday afternoon in an English Fachdidaktik (English subject teaching) Course at the university. Our first meeting of the semester brought forth a lot of impressions of our first two weeks in class. Yet while there were some positive experiences shared in class, there were some students who did not have some spectacular moments while observing some English classes.

One of those came from a student colleague, who was in an English class at a Gymnasium (high school), where a pupil was asked to respond to a question in British English instead of American English, even though he had previously spent time in the States. When he answered using an American English accent, he was told to repeat it with a British accent.  Not a nice thing to do to a pupil who is learning the language in the first place.
Yet this story opened a large wound on the part of moi here, for despite coming from the US, I too was criticized for using an American accent in my English class, being asked to speak Oxford English. More insulting is when laid off from a university (together with another American colleague) and being replaced with a British colleague was the excuse of being let go was I spoke with “a strange American accent that is not understandable.” This sour taste still remains to this day, especially as the arguments were unsubstantiated and one would always assume that American English is more understandable, recognizable and even clearer, right?
Yet the story and the memories that came along with that brought up three key points that I want to address in this blog entry:

 

1. English is Universal in the Classroom: There is no such thing as British and American English differences in the classroom.
2.There is no such thing as an American English accent that is understandable unless you come from the Deep South and….
3. Even if you come from that region, any American can teach English to non-natives without having any difficulties in understanding.

 

There is always a hidden preference in an educational institution as to how to teach English, as I had just mentioned with my experience teaching English as that particular university. Some universities in Germany prefer American English over others, and vice versa. Part of it has to do with the historical aspect, where the northwestern and southern parts of West Germany were occupied by Brits and Americans respectively during the Cold War, whereas British English was preferred by East Germany as the Soviets were at war with the US. Traces of Americanism and British culture remained after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the influence prevailed everywhere, including academia.  When moving to Germany in 1999- ten years later- the preferences for one over the other was still there, but a new trend was taking shape- a form of universal English where there is no difference between British and American accents, just the vocabulary and how the words are stressed.
Fast-forwarding to the present, we are starting to see an unusual trend where the distinction of American and British English is disappearing faster than we think.  Over a billion people speak this universal form that is now considered international English, which has no direct distinction regarding accent and vocabulary. Instead words originating from the native language are being integrated into the structure and the people who speak it, have a accent that is typical of the native language they come from. That means in the case of Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, English is the second language for many people whose native tongue is rarely spoken outside their country of origin, like in the Czech Republic, Uganda, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and other countries for example. The trend is increasing, compared to the nearly 400 million native speakers of English in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and countries of the former British Commonwealth, which is holding steady but likely to decrease over the next 80 years. As this trend continues, we will more likely see non-native speakers of English roaming the streets of Berlin, London and Paris, with many of them speaking perfect English and teaching the language in the classroom. These people may still have their own native accent, but more likely will not adopt the American or British one, making it easier for students to understand the language in the classroom and learn the grammatical structure exactly the way it has been taught by native speakers.
The difference in British and American English brings me up to the second point, where one has to define what exactly is an American and a British accent, for the difference in communicating in both lies clearly in the region where the people originate from. There are some dialects of English that are even difficult for native speakers to understand, such as Scottish, Welsh, South London and Cornwall. Yet most Brits prefer the standard London dialect as the primary language of teaching.
In the US, there are many regions whose distinction lies clearly on the accent and dialect. Speaking from a northerner’s point of view, it is much more difficult to understand someone with a southern dialect originating from an area like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia than one from the New England and East Coast states. Yet it does not mean that they cannot teach English in the classroom of a school in a foreign country.  Many American teachers abroad have chosen what I call the Chicago dialect, which is the primary language of the northern half of the country because it is clear and understandable, despite some over-usage of strong accents, like the words with R, E and/or A, for example . In other words, it is important for us to be a Chicagoan than a Texan if we use American English in the classroom.  Some examples of both British and American dialects can be found in the videos below:

Still, many non-native speakers of English have problems understanding the American form for several reasons. Apart from the dialect difference, we love to roll our Rs and Es, while talking fast and continually like hives of bees. And this can turn off many participants in the classroom right away, even if we are as loud and boisterous as the typical American stereotype.  Speaking from experience, a teacher cannot expect the students to keep up with the pace without them having to ask him/her to slow down. Henceforth, there are some tips for all American teachers to ensure that the experience teaching English in the classroom is an enjoyable one, instead of a nightmare.
Mr. Smith’s Teaching Tips for Communicating in the Classroom:
Speak slowly and clearly. If you need to, over-enunciate some words. It is very important that you speak at a pace where the students can understand you but you feel comfortable with the tempo. It will be difficult enough for them to pick up everything you say. Pending on the learning level, you may need to speak extra slow if their English knowledge is limited.

IDEA: Should you have problems keeping the tempo, or even enunciating the words, try speaking with a partner or group of people prior to your entrance into the classroom and allow them to give you some tips. Having some constructive criticism helps you to learn how to maintain your tempo.  Also useful is speaking with a wine cork in your mouth, placed between your teeth. A quirky exercise, but after a few sessions, it will help you speak more slowly and clearly.
If you have a regional dialect that is difficult to understand, try speaking with the universal accent that is known. America has its Chicago dialect. Britain its London. Germany has its Hamburg and Frankfurt dialects. Switzerland: Bernese for German, Genevan for French and Locarno for Italian.  You don’t need to be perfect in those, but using them as reference can help you better speak with a dialect that is understandable with your students.  Remember though, you don’t need to live in these regions in order to adopt it. It takes 10 years to do that, and by the time you’ve mastered it, you will most likely move onto another region with a different dialect.

 

Make sure you ask your students if they understand everything or have any questions. Asking is free and both students and teacher will benefit from it, whether it is for clarifying something that is confusing or elaborating further on a theme that is difficult to understand. As a rule of thumb, explain your concepts and the like as if you’re explaining it to a child- this quote should ring a bell, if you are a Denzel Washington fan.

 

And most importantly, never assume everyone will understand everything. Lower your expectations and plan according to their learning knowledge. Assumptions, speculations and guessing are costly to the teacher and his reputation towards the students, as well as the students  who will perceive him as arrogant and thinking too much of himself.

 

By following these simple tips, teachers will be able to have an enjoyable class with students who will benefit from a little learning. After a long day, students expect some relaxing entertainment from the teacher when learning English, and if the teacher can make it fun for them, the students will come away learning some new things about the language every day, be it vocabulary, grammar or anything pertaining to culture.
With that I would like to leave with a simple note. If someone tells you, as a teacher, that you need professional help because you speak too fast or have a strange dialect or accent that if not understandable to others, even if it is an American one, don’t take it seriously. That person probably hates you because you wanted to take her job away, which is not what teaching foreign languages is about. And perhaps it’s a sign to look for another teaching job in a friendlier environment. Upon consulting with a teacher of speech communication at a German university (whose name I will not elaborate because of privacy purposes), speech therapists only work with people with issues pertaining to lisps, malformed or even malfunctioning Adam’s Apples and accents in one’s native tongue that are caused by physical ailments or psychological issues.  Most problems in the world are treatable by working on it on your own and not through that of a therapist. Save the therapist for issues that you cannot control, yet if in doubt and people really have problems understanding you (not just a couple but numerous others), talk to a friend, trusting colleague or family member about it. Nine times out of ten you can take care of it yourself just by making a few minor adjustments or even practicing.