Christmas Market Tour 2011 Nr. 2: Weimar

The Statue of Goethe and Schiller at the National Theater

Weimar is one of those hidden treasures that we never know about until the first words come to mind: The Weimar Republic, the period between 1919 and 1932 where democracy was in its trying times because of hyperinflation and the rise of xenophobia, which reached its zenith when Adolf Hitler marched on Berlin and took control of the country starting his 13-year reign of terror. The name’s origin came from the fact that an assembly took place in and near the National Theater in 1919 to create the new constitution, which was passed on 11 August of that same year. The statues of Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller that stand in front of the theater symbolizes the meeting of the two scholars in the late 1700s.  The city is one of the most artistic in the country because of its architecture and fine arts, plus the fact that a music school and a Bauhaus University are both located there.  And lastly, an average of 2-3 million people visit the Onion Market, taking place at the end of September each year.

The signature of Weimar today that can be seen at the Christmas Market: The Onion Plait

Yet one should not forget the Christmas Market, for reasons that are stated on the Flensburg Files’ next stop on the Christmas Market tour for 2011. Weimar is located between Jena and Erfurt, both of which have large and very popular Christmas markets. Yet one should not underestimate what the town has to offer for goods that will make everyone happy. It is only a matter of 10 minutes by foot down the hill from the train station along Meyerstrasse, past various multi-cultural eateries, including El Nino (a Spanish Restaurant), a Greek specialty store, an American diner, and Subway, just to name a few. Then a couple twists and turns past the old Goethe Gymnasium and Musikschule, as well as the Atrium shopping center, plus various store-window art galleries and you will arrive at Goethe Platz- and the entrance to the market consisting of St. Nick selling Christmas trees near the post office.  While Weimar’s commerce is concentrated at or near the National Theater and Goethe Platz, most of the action is to the south and east of there, and if one believes that the Christmas market is located just at the National Theater and that is it, one is sorely mistaken.

National Theater and the Theater Square

In the past, most of the action did take place at Theaterplatz, where numerous huts, a carousel, Ferris wheel and other Midway-style places could be found. But today, most of the action can be found to the south and east of the National Theater, along the Wielandstrasse and Marktstrasse, where one can find numerous huts offering various products, some of which can be found outside Germany, like Finnish honey and specialties originating from the East. Part of the reason for the multicultural booths was in connection with the Advent Festival, which took place on the 3rd of December in all of Weimar, which featured entertainment by music groups originating from Weimar and elsewhere.  During the recent trip to Weimar with my wife and daughter, there was a vintage carousel located along Wielandstrasse which was operated by hand and the children can ride them for a small fee, while enjoying a few minutes of riding inside a relict of history which one will never see elsewhere.

The antique carousel on Wielandstrasse

With the book stores open even on weekends, one can purchase works from artists and poets who either originate from Weimar or happened to pass through, or even a tour guide to some of the most spectacular places of interest in the city, including Belvidere Palace and points of interest connected to Schiller and Goethe.
But the hottest spot on the Christmas market tour is the Market Square, located just off Marktstrasse to the southeast. While most of the booths offer traditional goods from Thuringia, including the food and the amphitheater, where most of the entertainment occurs during the market on a regular basis, the highlight of the place is the Gothic Weimar Town Hall, where building was converted into a life-size Advent Calendar with its 24 windows, one of which is open every day by the children selected at random and each one representing a theme of the day at the Christmas market. On this day, the number 11 was located on the third floor and therefore, a fire truck was needed to hoist two children selected and two firemen to the window. There, the kids who opened the window were greeted by St. Nicholas and were presented with a present for the day. What a way to make the Second Advent a memorable one. (Please refer to the Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts about Advent and Advent Calendars.)

Market Square and the Town Hall (left) masquarading as an Advent Calendar. The Pyramid Candle is on the right.

 

Kids being greeted by Santa Claus at the door to the 11th day of December

It would be a sin not to try any of the specialties at the Christmas market and therefore, at the conclusion of the tour of the Christmas market in Weimar, we tried one specialty that originates from the Medieval times, but one can easily make at home, which is “Handbrot.” It is a roll made of sourdough bread with filling inside it, namely cheese and one other ingredient, and topped with sour crème. One has to roll the sourdough out on a cookie sheet, add the filling, roll it back in, put it in the oven for 30-45 minutes and when finished, cut it up into slices. At the booth, there were three types of Handbrot one could try: cheese with ham, cheese with salami, and cheese with vegetables. And the dinner should not be complete without a cup of Met- honey wine with a high alcohol content (12%).  After two helpings and some met, we were full , but given the sites and sounds of the Christmas market, it was an afternoon worth spending in a small town of Weimar on the second Advent.

One of many booths along Wielandstrasse offering Christmas goodies from the region.

Weimar may be a small and somewhat quiet town, like Bayreuth, Bamberg and other medium-sized towns in Germany, but the city of 65,000 inhabitants is full of surprises. One should not only associate the city with its history, architecture, and the Onion Market, as they are the only characteristics of the city. There is much more to the city than meets the eye, and the Christmas market is definitely one of those surprises one will see when walking through the city during the holiday season.

Weimar had its annual Advent Festival on 3 December. Still one can see the posters and the programs around as a theme is presented every day until Christmas Eve.

 

FLENSBURG FILES’ FAST FACTS:
Advent is a big celebration in Germany as the Advent wreath, consisting of four candles and decorations resembling a Christmas wreath, is used to celebrate on each of the four Advents taking place on Sunday before Christmas. One candle is lit every Advent beginning with the first Advent until all four candles are lit on the fourth Advent, which is right before Christmas Eve. Most stores are closed on these days, leaving the huts as the main place of commerce. However, the laws regulating the store hours have been laxed over the years so that on one Sunday every month, the stores can open their doors to the customers, but these regulations vary from state to state.
Also common during this period is the Advent calendar, where there are 24 doors, each one representing a day beginning on 1 December and ending on Christmas Eve. Every morning, a door is open and a small gift appears for the taking. It is a treat especially for the children to open a gift every day in December. Weimar’s life-size Advent calendar at the District Court Building was the first one ever seen while on the Christmas market tour, yet there may be other towns that have similar calendars of that size.

50 Years of Genuine Traffic Lights in Eastern Germany

 

This year has been the year of the roaring zeros in the eastern part of Germany, as many universities, private firms and organizations in the former East German states of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia are celebrating 20 years of existence and the nostalgia that had existed prior to the Revolution of 1989 managed to make its way to the main stream of German culture and international prominence; especially after 50 years.
Strangely enough, the pedestrian traffic lights in the eastern part of Germany happen to fall into the category of international prominence. 50 years ago this year, Karl Peglau of the Ministry of Transportation got a bit creative and tried to present the then German Democratic Republic with a mannequin figure, who stretched its arms out in red to alert the pedestrians to stop and waltzed across the street whistling his favorite tune in green, as seen in the photos taken below:

The Socialist Party eventually approved the introduction of the mannequin figure traffic light for the pedestrian crossings, and the first one was installed in Berlin in 1969 in the suburb of Mitte.  It became a ‘household product’ typical of East Germany afterwards as the drivers of the Trabant automobile (another East German product one can still see on the streets today but in fewer numbers) and pedestrians alike were awed by its appearance in the streets of Weimar, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Erfurt, Rostock, Potsdam, just to name a few.  Even more so is the fact that Peglau and later others did not stop there with their creative mannequin figure as it presented itself in many different forms; especially in green, which made it even more popular among the residents and visitors passing through the country- from the east, that is (the borders to the west were closed the same year Peglau invented the beloved mannequin figure).    Over the years, more than 30 different green mannequins appeared on the traffic lights ranging from a small girl carrying a Valentine’s heart to her sweetheart to a small child carrying a lantern at night to celebrate St. Martin’s Day (which is celebrated in November) or St. Nicholas carrying his bag full of toys to fill in the shoes of small children on St. Nicholas’ Day (which is celebrated on 6 December).  A gallery of examples the author photographed while in Erfurt in October of this year is provided below for the reader’s enjoyment:

 

The lady and the purse
St. Nicholas with his bag of toys for the children

 

Don't bike or walk unless signaled to do so!

While the mannequin was not popular in the western part of Germany and therefore not adopted after 1989, a person from Baden-Wurttemberg decided to market the beloved mannequin and today, one can buy a T-shirt with the  walking green mannequin figure on it, drink coffee in a cup with the red mannequin figure on it, or buy a poster with a drunken green mannequin on it as it tries for another bottle of beer (believe it or not, it exists.) But those are just to name a few.  It is highly doubtful the pedestrian traffic lights in western Germany or even the ones in the US would stand a match against the ones in eastern Germany and therefore be marketed in a way that people will buy them.

Typical western German traffic light with a bike signal. This is go....
....and this is the signal to stop!

But despite its popularity that exists in the eastern part of Germany and the fact that people elsewhere are embracing it through merchandise and photos, in the eyes of many people still (after 21 years), it is considered an “Ossie” product from the former Socialist regime, which stressed the importance of Marxism and Leninism and is therefore considered “evil.” More alarming is the fact that many people (even in the USA) believe that there are two Germanys still, even though they have been reunified for 21 years (3 October is the anniversary of the reunification of Germany and is declared a national holiday).  On the contrary though, despite our thinking of a “Wessie” (as the eastern Germans considered the westerners before and after 1989), many countries have embraced some of the products and structures that had existed before 1989. In particular, the Scandanavian countries  (Finland and Sweden) adopted the education system of the former East Germany because of its clear structure and learning levels that students can achieve in 13 years. Many countries still have government-owned health insurance and/or obliges the residents to have health insurance so that they do not have to worry about paying out of their pockets for the most important operations that can save their lives. And even in the western half of Germany, the people are embracing some of the TV programs that originate from the eastern part, like Sandman, the Fox and the Elster (a black and white bird found mostly in the eastern part), and other cartoon shows. During my trek to the Christmas markets last year in Nuremberg and Frankfurt (Main), one can see eastern German specialties there that are worth tasting, like the famous Thuringian bratwurst.


It is time that we crack open the books, travel to these regions, and put aside the differences that apparently still divides East and West and embrace the cultures of one another, perhaps even adopting them for the good of oneself and the rest of society.  Learning something new once a day will not harm the person but will make him/her more informative than before. This was the mentality that the late news anchor Peter Jennings took when he learned something new everyday and found ways of informing the public about it in his newscast World News Tonight, which he hosted for 23 years until he succumbed to cancer in 2006.  While the mannequin traffic light is the tiniest aspect that one would even dream of writing, it represents a fraction of the culture and history that is worth reading about, even if it came from the former East Germany. And with globalization dominating every aspect of life, one should embrace rather be inclusive, for learning about something every day will make a person more open to the world and wiser than the one who is ignorant.

OK, you can cross now- even by bike.

 

Link to the story (German): http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/Ampelmann100.html