Genre of the Week: The Man Who Hated Christmas by Nancy Gavin

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What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? The tree? The market? Santa Claus? Presents? What aspect of Christmas do you like the most? For me, Christmas is about donating time, money and energy for a cause that is deep in the heart and one that has an everlasting effect on the community, whether it is helping out at the church on a Sunday, doing a fundraiser to help find a cure for cancer, working in a homeless shelter or even singing for money to be donated to a worthy cause. All of these we have done over the holidays because we know what it is like to either have witnessed certain events in our lives or know someone who has experienced hardships. Christmas is more about what you and heart and soul can do for others in the community and not about shopping for the largest gifts.

This is the central theme of this Genre of the Week entitled The Man Who Hated Christmas by Nancy Gavin. Originally published in the Women’s Day Magazine in December 1982, the story was based on the concept of the White Envelope in the Christmas tree, where as a gift to the family, one member donates her time, money and energy in donating to the right cause. The result was turning a sad face of a man who disliked Christmas because of the materialism involved into one who turned up the corners- way up- and hence, the project was launched, which has been going strong ever since. Gavin died two years after the story was published, but the white envelope tradition continues to this day. You can learn more about it by clicking here.  A youtube version of the story is here for you to learn why Christmas is important in ways that make that next computer, flatscreen TV and robot look like a thing to be left on the shelf. Listen to the story and then go out and do something for the community, not just this holiday season but also beyond. Enjoy! 🙂

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2013 Christmas Market Tour: Berlin- Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz Station, the entrance point of the Christmas Market Photos taken in December 2013

Berlin, the City that Never Sleeps. This is the one sentence that can be described about Germany’s capital. With 3.5 million inhabitants, the city is diverse in culture and history. It is full of people from different backgrounds meeting together at various bars and eateries that remain open through the night. One should not exclude various discotheks where people go dancing, and bookstores where you can buy books in the most exotic languages.  And even though it used to be divided by the Infamous Wall from 1961 to 1989, the city is considered home by many people who are either connected with the city or have moved here from all over the world, including many from the US.  So it is no wonder that Berlin’s diversity can not only be found while walking its streets (like the famous Unter den Linden), but also in the Christmas markets the city has to offer.

There are dozens of Christmas markets in and around the city, but the Files decided to focus on the main ones in the city centre Mitte, for each one, centrally located, have a different theme that makes it appealing to tourists wanting to spend time in the capital. The first stop on the Christmas Market Tour through Berlin is Alexanderplatz.

Alexanderplatz is located in the former eastern part of Berlin which was the capital of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 until German Reunification in 1990 (Berlin later became the capital of a reunified Germany when the government voted unanimously to relocate from Bonn, then the former capital of West Germany).  Alexanderplatz features a train station serving city and regional train services, two market squares straddling the tracks- one to the east at in the shopping district and the other near City Hall- and the TV-Tower, built in 1969 with a purpose to track down East Germans trying to flee to the West through the Wall. It is now the tourist attraction where people can see all of Berlin and places 30 kilometers beyond the border.

The Christmas market we’re looking at is the shopping area side of Alexanderplatz, where it is the most populous of the Christmas markets in Mitte.  How populous? In one sentence: If the market, which is 300 square meters in size is filled to a point where traffic is shoulder-to-shoulder at 5:30pm in the evening, then you do not want to know how crowded it is two to four hours later. In other words, visit this one at midday unless you are there alone at night for the colorful  lights that stream along the small huts, the Lichterbogen (Christmas arc) and the Christmas Pyramide, touted as the largest in Mitte with four floors containing different themes.

Lichterbogen (Christmas light arc)

The shopping area part of Alexanderplatz’s Christmas market is open to the public and features a wide-array of everything a person could ask for that is common for many Christmas markets in Germany. This ranges from gifts to eateries, to even beverages. Most of them are regional- meaning from Berlin and regions in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony. However you can find some exceptions, like the snowballs biscuits from Rothenburg ob der Taube in Bavaria or the famous Thuringian bratwurst (although there is the Berlin variant there.)  It is the midway point between the amusement park portion of the Christmas market located only 400 meters south of Alexanderplatz and the more cultural and homemade variant of the market on the other side of the tracks west of the station.

Yet not everything is as plain and ordinary as mentioned. Apart from the huts and other architecture being lit in various colors, they present different colors and designs that make it appealing. North of the streetcar tracks that go through the train station, most of the huts are made with typical German trusses you find on houses: white background with dark colored trusses that stick out. On the opposite end, most of the huts have a dark brown color, presenting its natural form. This is where the arc and pyramid are located. The double-decker carousel also conforms to the color code. And since the Pyramide features a shop where drinks are available, one can sit in front of the bonfire, sip on some mulled wine and enjoy the architecture that is featured at the market. And this after spending some time shopping in the Galleria Kaufhof shopping complex or even ice skating at the rink.

The market at Alexanderplatz is the largest and busiest of the Christmas markets, which explains the logic behind opening earlier than other markets (at 8:00am) and extending their season to New Year. The Christmas markets are a gathering point for family and friends, as well as a tourist attraction if you want to visit and write about them. Yet if one is encouraged to visit early in the morning and come around after Christmas to enjoy the shops as well as the food and drink, it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. A curse because if you want to visit the place at night, you will most likely not have a chance because of the crowd. A blessing because you have a chance to see it during the times when it is not as busy. Both because you might earn that extra Euro in drinks, food and goods, but it will cost you your last nerve, especially right before Christmas, when you have very little time to do your last-minute shopping for gifts for your loved ones.

So here’s a word of advice when tackling the largest Christmas market in Mitte: stop there early and beat the rush before going to the other markets. Speaking of other markets, let’s move on to the next one, shall we?

 

POP QUIZ:

As we’re on the topic of Christmas Markets, here are a couple questions for you to answer:

1. How many Christmas markets can be found in Berlin and all of its metropolitan areas (Potsdam included)?

a. 30     b. 50      c. 70       d. 90      e. 100     f. more than 120

 

2. Of this number, which ones are open until (and through) New Year?

 

3. Look at the picture below and to the right side. What is that and who was the mastermind behind this architectural wonder? Note: This one is one of the popular places to see while at Alexanderplatz, year round.

Look at the object on the right hand side of the picture and try and answer the question.

 

The answers will come after the article about the last Christmas market documented in Berlin (could take a while to complete, by the way).

You can also view the photos of the Christmas markets in Berlin via Flensburg Files’ facebook page, which you can access here. Note that there are more pictures to come that will be posted in this album.  Please note that you can like the Files to get more coverage on the Christmas markets and other themes on German-American relations presented in this column.

 

Black Friday- The Start of Christmas Shopping

Thanksgiving in America: A day of giving thanks. A day of spending time with family and friends. A day of feasting on turkey, stuffing and the like and watching football. A day to go shopping.

SHOPPING?!!  

Not quite. Thanksgiving is the the day before the start of the Christmas Shopping season, the day that is called Black Friday, because that is where many retailers provide the best deals for people to go shopping, so much that many of them would line up in front of the stores for hours until the doors open and people get what they are looking for.  But aside the fact that we finished celebrating our 150th Thanksgiving (President Abraham Lincoln declared the day a national holiday in lieu of the Gettysburg Address in 1863) plus the fact that the holiday is being shared with the Jewish holiday Haunakah this year, a first in at least two generations, this year’s Thanksgiving will go down in history as the holiday where people stood up to the retailers and said “No!” to shopping on that day.

While there had been a trend going in the last couple of years, where stores open in the evening of Thanksgiving, many of them, most notably Target and Wal-mart, plus some malls in America tried to open during the afternoon of this sacred holiday, at the dismay of many who just want to celebrate with friends and family. This trend goes away from the tradition I was used to, when growing up: where Black Friday started at 9:00am, in some cases (albeit a bit extreme), 6:00am.

Many people in other countries could not believe it. Some are of the assumption that it is typically American to consume around the clock. If that was the case, this whole world would be covered in plastic, and we would become the scapegoat. But deep down, the majority of Americans have stood up to the corporates, saying no to working or even shopping on Thanksgiving. Many of them look at us expats as examples and are envious. In Germany, despite having one Sunday open for shopping per month, all stores are closed on Sundays AND holidays, both religious as well as national. We close on the day of German Reunification (3 October), Pentecost weekend, Good Friday through Easter Monday, Epiphany and even on religious holidays in places like Bavaria, Saarland and Saxony Anhalt. This is just to name a good few. And there is a reason: we tend to use these days as the day of rest, going by the book in accordance to Genesis.  These are the days where streets like this one above are empty. It is unlikely that stores would be open on these days and the streets would be filled to the brim, because many of us want to spend time with family and friends, grilling food and feasting on what is typical for these holidays.

And that is why, despite attempts of the German government to provide exceptions to the rule, that we intend to keep our holidays and put the stores in check, forcing them to respect the wishes of the customers. This has resulted in Americans embracing the European culture in that aspect, for despite having 11 holidays where there is no work and the stores are closed (at least many), they really don’t have much time to spend except at the computer desk or on the road.  If we end up flocking into stores like the one below, only the corporates will be happy because of the profits, but not the Americans.

 

And this takes us back to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with a bit request to the corporates. Despite your attempts to keep your business running and increase profits, you are actually losing your customers in the long run, because you do not listen to them. Perhaps you should take a look at the holidays and their true meaning. Look at what other countries are doing and how they have profited from them. Adapt to the needs of the customer. Sometimes just returning to the old tradition of having Black Friday beginning at 9:00am helps a great deal, instead of having stores open on Thanksgiving or any day.  Holidays are meant to be the Day of Rest. The Day of Celebration. The Day for Family and Friends. So before the next holiday comes along, why don’t you think about that and make the changes that satisfy everyone?

For those who want to know more about Thanksgiving, a link is provided here.

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…..