There’s no place like home, both on Earth as in Heaven. When desparation strikes, hope comes when one least expects it, even during the holidays. And in the case of this Genre of the Week, when one falls, hope lies with the next kin, one who is closest to the fallen. Hans Christian Andersen wrote the Match Girl in 1845 while staying at the Gravenstein Castle near Sonderburg along the Flensburg Fjorde and the main theme of this short story was this symbol of hope in the face of desparation and in this case, death.
The story takes place during the holidays, towards New Year’s Eve. There, a young girl tries to sell matches to make money. She comes from a broken home and is afraid to return, fearing that her father would beat her. Shivering from cold and suffering from early onset of hypothermia, she seeks shelter in a pair of abandoned houses. There, she tries to warm up by using the matches, even though it was strictly forbidden. With each match, she sees a small light and a voice calling her name. When the flame goes out, she lights another match, and after a couple of them, the entire handful. She finds her grandmother, who had cared for her when she was little, her home, which was warm and filled with food, joy, laughter and love, and steps into that world as the flame goes out. The girl succumbs to hypothermia, but smiling because she is in a better place.
The story has been interpreted multiple times over the years by several countries. Even Walt Disney produced an animated film twice- in 1940 as part of the Fantasia series which was scrapped and as a standalone in 2006, which garnered several awards. In Germany, there were two different films based on the story by Andersen. This one was produced by Joé in 2012:
and this film in 2013 by public TV stations RBB and ARD as part of the series “Sechs in einem Streich” (Six in one Stroke), which started in 2011 and has continued ever since. In this version, a girl (Inga) and a boy (Emil) are living in an orphanage which is run by a ruthless headmaster, who abuses children and is greedy. After coming away with only a couple Thaler, Inga gives the money to Emil and sends him to the orphanage, while Inga keeps the remaining matches and tries desperately to sell them with no avail. She seeks shelter in a home that she had lived with her parents before they died, lights the matches only to see her parents again and she eventually joins them while she perishes peacefully from the cold. The small Emil befriends the police guard named Emil, who takes pity on the kids and in the end, arrests the headmaster of the orphanage. Years later, the younger Emil takes over the orphanage and makes it great again, thanks to help from the community. The making of this latest film, which has garnered a pair of accolades already since its release is below:
All of this happens at Christmas time, both as children as well as when Emil takes over the orphanage, years later.
There are many themes that can be taken away from the two film examples but it is best to allow the reader to watch them and get some impressions of his own. From the author’s point of view, the two stories follow closely to what Andersen wrote but with different situations, each one better than the other in terms of bringing hope home to those who need it.
If there is a list of stories and songs that relate to Christmas but not based on the Hallmark classics, then this one should be on the list of things to read (and filmwise, watch). It has all the elements in there that make the holiday seasons and even beyond a special one. And hence, the Files’ first Genre of the Week for 2019.
Our last stop on the 2018 Christmas market tour keeps us in the state of Saxony but takes us way out west, to the wildest of west, namely the Vogtland. The reason we say this is for three reasons: 1. The Vogtland region is laden with rich forests, a large number of reservoirs and lakes and hills. For some of the rivers in the region, such as the White Elster, Zwickau Mulde, Eger and other notable creeks, the region is their starting point. 2. The region is rustic with wooden houses along the countryside, buildings with wooden facades, etc. Despite it being a part of East Germany with its communist housing, the region has a lot of attractions, competing with the likes of the Fichtel Mountains in Franconia (Bavaria), Thuringian Forest and even the Ore Mountains (Czech and German sides). 3. As far as activities are concerned, the Vogtland is filled with outdoor activities year round, including skiing, horseback riding, biking and hiking, just to name a few. And lastly, the Vogtland is the archrival to the Ore Mountain regions in terms of woodcrafting. Especially with regards to Christmas arches (Schwibbogen), pyramids, and other figurines typical of Christmas, the Vogtlanders pride themselves on their work and there has been a debate as to which regions these products were made, let alone their origins.
But that is for another time.
The largest city in the Vogtland is our focus of the Christmas market and is one that has a tradition and a history. Plauen has a population of 65,400 inhabitants and is the second closest city in Saxony to the Czech border behind Oberwiesenthal. At one time, the population had been hovering over 120,000 inhabitants before the two World Wars decimated much of it. Since 1945, it has been under the mark and decreasing steadily as people have emigrated away for better jobs in neighboring Bavaria and in bigger cities. It is 30 kilometers northeast of the nearest city of Hof (also in Bavaria) but 45 kilometers southwest of Zwickau. The White Elster River as well as the Syra and Mühlgraben flow through the city, and the city is rich with historic bridges, big and small, spanning them in and around the city. They include (in the city) the Friendensbrücke, the second oldest known bridge in Saxony in the Alte Elsterbrücke (built in 1228) and the brick stone viaducts at Syratal and Elstertal. The Göltzschtalbrücke, which is located 10 kilometers to the north, is the largest viaduct of its kind ever built. Apart from three federal highways, Plauen is also served by the Motorway 72, as well as three different raillines, including the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate, the Elster route going to Gera and Leipzig as well as the Vogtland route going to Cheb (CZ).
Despite having lost 75% of its buildings during the waning days of World War II through ariel bombings, much of Plauen’s architecture has been rebuilt to its former glory and still functions for its original purposes. This includes several churches, such as the Johanniskirche, Lutherkirche, and Pauluskirche, the Nonnenturm, the castle ruins of Schloss Plauen, the two city halls- one built in 1385; the other in 1922 which features a tower with clock- and several other historic buildings flanking the two market squares- Altmarkt and Klostermarkt.
Plauen has a lot to take pride in- its green hills and valleys, its beer, its theater and orchestra, but it is world famous for its Plauener Spitze, a type of pattern fabric that is carefully orchestrated by needles and other cutting tools. An example of such a Spitze can be found here:
Inspite of this, Plauen is also famous for its Christmas market, which is the largest in the region. It covers three-fourths of the city center, covering Altmarkt, extending along Obere Steinweg and Rathausstrasse, part of Klostermarkt and ending at the shopping center Stadtgallerie. Yet most of the shopping and eating possibilities can be found at Altmarkt and the shopping center. Because of parking issues, only the tree and some street performances were found during my visit at Klostermarkt.
Another area in the city center that was somewhat left out was the area around the church, Johanniskirche. While church services commenorating the birth of Christ, combined with concerts, were taking place there, the lot was empty with no cars around. Given its size, there could have been some potential to have some religious exhibits and/or booths in and around the church to encourage people to visit them before or after visiting the church. This was something that was found at some other Christmas markets, most notably in Glauchau and Zwickau as well as in some places in Berlin, Dresden and Nuremberg.
To summarize in that aspect, the space availability for Christmas market booths and events is somewhat misaligned and the focus should be less on consumption and more on the holiday and religious traditions that Plauen offers and what is typical for the Vogtland region. That means aside from the church area, Klosterplatz should be filled in a bit with some booths and other holiday events and less glamour for the shopping area for Christmas markets are an outdoor event and not indoor. A note to some of the city planners for future reference.
Aside from this, the market itself features a combination of shopping possibilities in the Stadtgallerie and traditional products and foods in the Altmarkt. Both market appear to be well-decorated, with the Stadtgallerie having somewhat too much glamour with the Christmas decorations, thus creating more traffic for shoppers than what is needed at the market itself. Again, an imbalance that needs to be corrected. The Altmarkt itself is perhaps the nicest of the Christmas market in Plauen. The booths consist of small mahogany huts made with real wood from the Vogtland region, all decorated with spruce and pine tree branches as well as other forms of decorations. There are several picnic tables and benches, all made of cut-up wood; some of them have shelters in case of inclimate weather.
Much of what the Christmas market at Altmarkt offers is local specialties, such as the woodwork products made in the Vogtland, such as the pyramid, Christmas arch, incense products and figurines that are religious based. For eateries, the market offers not only local foods and drink, but also some international products. Most popular at the market include the Bemme- a bread with fat and pickles, in come cases with liver sausage. Then there is the Baumkuckenspitze, a layered, donut-shaped cake covered in chocolate; some of which with a thin-filling. Holzofenbrot that is cooked in a wood-burning oven is one that is most recommended, and one of the booths had a mixture of both local and international specialties. Especially in the cold weather, these bread products with are really good and filling.
As we’re talking about international specialties, the market offers products from the Middle East and parts in Europe. Included in the mix is from the Netherlands, where I had a chance to try different kinds of Gouda cheese- those that are sometimes 2 years old and more than ripe. Regardless of what kind, the cheese is highly recommended, and the salespeople selling them, we had a chance to talk about different cultures between Germany, the US and the Netherlands. Their booth features a good place to chat, where even Father Christmas and the angel can entertain themselves over cheese:
Apart from two different pyramids- one of which is over a century old, one can also spend time at the Spitzenmuseum at the older city hall, which by the way provides a great backdrop to the market together with the tower of the newer city hall, which one can tour the place and enjoy the view of the city and its landscape.
Plauen’s Christmas market features a combination of culture and history all in a historical setting. Culture is in reference to the local products that are offered, especially at the Altmarkt, and history is in reference to the historic setting the market has- to the south, the church and to the north, the two city halls. The market is well-visited and is not so crowded, although my visit was after the first Advent. Yet the magnet of the shopping center next door does raise some concern as to how to balance out the visitors and better utilize the space of Plauen’s city center. Having open but unused space makes a city center rather empty, especially at the time of the Christmas market. However, when planned better and through cooperation with retailers and property owners, Plauen can have a well-balanced Christmas market that is well-balanced in terms of visitors but also whose themes would make it attractive to visitors coming from Saxony, Germany, Czech Republic and beyond……
Photos of the Plauen Christmas Market can be viewed via facebook (click here) and Google (click here)
The newest episode of Karzl is here. In this one, we have our little incense guy who gets acquainted with Alexis (from Amazon) but in ways other than what was expected. A very funny episode courtesy of Huss. Enjoy!
There are countless numbers of Christmas songs that have been with us for a long time; some religious while others deal with Santa Claus and Winter Wonderland. Yet one of the most popular songs sung at Christmas time is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. That song deals with the birth of Jesus Christ and the symbol of peace that He brings to the people. The song we’re talking about is Silent Night.
Known in German as “Stille Nacht,” this song was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818. The lyrics to the song was originally written by Joseph Mohr that same year.
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor.
The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol. But what we do know is when the song was completed, the melody and the lyrics sounded like in the example that was performed by a choir group in Dresden:
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft; einsam wacht Nur das traute hochheilige Paar. Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar, Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh! Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Hirten erst kundgemacht Durch der Engel Halleluja, Tönt es laut von fern und nah: Christ, der Retter ist da! Christ, der Retter ist da!
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’. Christ, in deiner Geburt! Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Over the years, the song has been translated into 140 languages. It was first translated into English in 1859 by John Freeman Young of the Trinity Church in New York City, and his translated version has been used ever since. However, variations in other languages, such as the example above in French, have shown a slight difference in both the lyrics translated as well as the melody.
The song was even performed without the use of lyrics, be it by an orchestra, brass band, keyboard, or a combination of one of the two. The excerpt below, performed by the American music group Mannheim Steamroller, consists of a combination of keyboard, bells and strings. This became one of the most popular pieces that was ever produced by the group in its 43+ years of existence……
And here is the example of the English version of Silent Night in its version written by Young. Many colleges, including Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, have used this song every year as one of the key cornerstones of their own Christmas concerts. How they do it depends on the conductor, but in this case presented below, the piece features the college choirs and the orchestra…..
Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!
Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; Radiant beams from thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Silent Night has garnered a lot of success and popularity over the years that it was even used in film, the latest having been released in 2014. It was officially nominated as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. Yet two caveats have appeared lately which have caused a stir of some sorts. The first is that the song itself was credited to Gruber’s name even though part of the credit should have been given to Mohr because of the lyrics. The second is despite its universal usage, a newer German original and English translation was introduced by Bettina Klein in 1998, under commission of the Austrian Silent Night Museum in Salzburg. The new work was mostly the same except with some phrases that replaced the older English with the more modern. This has created some concern from groups wishing to keep the original.
Nonetheless, Silent Night has been played at any type of Christmas festival, big and small over the years and has become the symbol of Christmas but in connection with its religious meaning, which is the birth of Jesus and the coming of peace and good tidings that went along with that. There’s no Christmas without this song being played or performed, and no matter how it is presented, the song brings a lot of emotion out of the people; it is a powerful song that has us reflecting on the importance of Christ in our lives and the joy of Christmas that we bring to others.
And with that joy, we can all sleep in heavenly peace, even 200 years later. 🙂
The Files would like to congratulate Gruber and Mohr for their work, post humous. 200 years and many languages later, we still consider the piece a work of art representing the true meaning of Christmas. Zum Wohl und Gott segne Sie! ❤ 🙂
Our next Christmas market tour takes us up the mountain- literally. Through “knee-to-waist-deep snow”, the heavily populated forest and lots of twists and turns along the road that is sometimes too narrow for cars to meet. However when up there, the town, its market and the views of the mountains will take your breath away.
Oberwiesenthal may be a very typical town in the Ore Mountains, that is also one of the most traditional when it comes to Christmas. However, do not be fooled with the fact that with a population of 2,600 inhabitants, it’s just a simple, quiet village, for the town is very popular for many reasons. At the height of 2,999 feet (941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest town in Germany, located at the foot of the Fichtelberg, the highest mountain point in the state of Saxony. It is only three kilometers east of the Czech border and only 22 kilometers from the nearest city of Karlsbad (Karoly Vary). And like the Czech town, Oberwiesenthal is not only a resort town, laden with hotels and resorts within a ten-kilometer radius, it is also a ski resort town- home to ski resorts, and all kinds of ski facilities available, from slalom to downhill, cross-country to alpine! It hosts several ski championships on the national and international levels annually, attracting over a million visitors, pending on how cold the weather is. And it is also anchored by traditional but nationally known ski-teams.
When it comes to Christmas and winter time in Oberwiesenthal, they go together like bread and butter. When looking at the Christmas arches alone, one will see that right away. The town has one of the highest number of these traditional decorations in Germany- every window in every house and building is occupied with these arches. Dozens of them can be found along the town’s streets, whether it is at the railroad viaduct on the east end, at the resorts,
…..or even at the Christmas market in the city center!
After fighting through snow drifts, snow piles and snow-packed streets, I found my way to the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal. It is located smack-dab in the market square in the center of town, surrounded by the city hall, several traditional shops and a historic mile-marker. The square is cut in half by a street going diagonally in the northwesterly direction, going up the hill. And with that, especially on weekdays where there is not much going on, cars can go through the market square, albeit at a snail’s pace.
The market itself consists of a traditional Christmas pyramid, a stage flanked by a Christmas arch and some other exhibits on the right-hand side, and eateries that flank the historic marker on the left. The eateries provide the most traditional dishes in the mountain regions, from its bratwursts to the goulash and its mushroom hotdishes. Beverages include hot drinks, like spiced wine (Glühwein) and Heisse Met (honey punch), but also children’s punch, hot chocolate and the basics in coffee. It’s not much but the market is the central meeting point for tourists who not only want to go skiing, but do some shopping while in town. Oberwiesenthal is connected with the Fichtelberg Ski Lift, which takes the people to the top of the mountain, seven kilometers away. It cuts down the travel time needed by the car by up to half of the 15 minutes needed.
There are no stores directly at the market due to space, yet there are traditional stores that sell virtually everything made of wood and from the mountain region within only a 2-3 minute walk, mostly along Markt and Bergstrasse where one can find most of the cafés and restaurants going up the hill. At least five or six stores have a wide array of products that are made out of this bountiful material. Even one store sells wicker products, including chairs and even lamp shades! 🙂 But the bulk of the wood products have to do with Christmas, and in particular, Christmas in the mountains, which makes Saxony special to begin with. And unlike some Christmas markets in the mountain regions, the sculpture work done on the figures is very detailed, enough to look at the figures in real like on a 1:25 or 1:40 scale. Apart from the arches and the holders (the latter of which is as well-decorated as the arches themselves, the stores sell incense men of all shapes and sizes (Räuchermänner), Christmas pyramids and the most popular of the products: a concert of figurines!
These consist of figurines that have a typical theme, such as angels performing a music concert, the traditional manger set of Jesus Joseph and Mary with angels and animal figures, the parade of miners and angels, skiiers and angels….. 😉 I think the reader can follow the pattern from there, right? Because of the town’s location in the Ore Mountains and the traditions of “Angels we have heard up high,” Oberwiesenthal is popular for their angels and angelic figures one will find everywhere. Even guardian angels are really popular in the stores, based on my observations. 🙂 It is unknown why, especially as the town has only one church in the Martin Luther Church, next to the market square. But the impression with the angels is that Oberwiesenthal is rather religious- predominantly Lutheran, which makes the community a traditional one of sorts.
Yet as far as fixed eateries are concerned, they are rather multi-cultural as restaurants offer not only traditional foods from the region, but also Italian, and even Anglo-Saxon culinary products. For the latter, one should check out the Kiwi Coffee-Bar-Lounge, located on Schulstrasse across from the Sparkasse Bank. Originating from New Zealand, this restaurant offers one of the widest varieties of coffee, burgers and other pastries in the region. They are usually open during the evening hours yet during my visit, there were only a handful there. On the weekends, they are sometimes filled to the brim, especially when the skiiers are around or if there are winter sport enthusiasts in the area.
When we think of Oberwiesenthal, we think of winter time and the feeling of Christmas time. It goes beyond the market, its city center and its popularity for winter sports. It has the sense of hominess to it. Even when passing through the villages enroute, they are laden with Christmas decorations for every house and apartment alike, with small villages having their own manger set with pyramids and arches set up at small parks along the way to encourage tourists to make a stop, especially in the evening when they are lit. And this was my overall impression of the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal- it is a very popular place for winter sports, but has a feeling of home for the holidays. And one can feel this while passing through. It is worth the couple hours of stopping and enjoying the snow.
The roads leading up to the market in Oberwiesenthal are narrow and sometimes treacherous, especially as the area receives the majority of the snowfall in Saxony. Therefore, one needs to plan ahead, pack accordingly and take the time getting up there to avoid an accident or going into the ditch. In Germany, it is required to have a warning vest, warning triangle and a first aid kit in your car just in case. However, highly recommended is a winter-survival kit. There you need a blanket, jumper cables, tire-repair kit and air compressor for the tires, flashlight, warm winter clothing, something to write, cigarette charger cable, emergency contact information, a fully-charged and functioning mobile phone and some dried food- all in addition to the above-mentioned items. It is not required by law in Germany but is mandatory in the US; this has to do with the population density of the former for in case you are stuck, your are more likely to get help quickly than in areas of the US, where the population and the towns are sparse. Still, in case of bad weather and no help arrives even while in the forest, it is handy to have it with.
The German word Fichtel is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to region. We would use the word Fichtelberg to describe the highest point in Saxony, at 1,215 meters. Oberwiesenthal is located at the foot of this summit, which can be called Mount Fichtel. However, the Fichtelgebirge (translated literally as Fichtel Mountains) is located in northeastern Bavaria and western Czech Republic, where the cities of Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weiden and Eger (Cheb), Czech Republic are located. Like in the Ore Mountains, the mountain region is known for its winter sports and is the starting point for some of the rivers and streams in Germany and the Czech Republic.
While the Fichtelberg is the highest point in Saxony, it is not the highest point in the Ore Mountains. That belongs to the Keilberg (Klínovec) in the Czech Republic, which is 12,44 meters above sea level.
Although founded in 1529, only a couple tiny relicts of Oberwiesenthal can be seen today. Among them is the historical Mile Post Marker, which can be found in the market square in front of the city hall Neues Haus. It was built in 1723 and was part of the mile marker system that connected Saxony with its neighboring states.
The Fichtelberg Ski Lift (a.k.a. Cable Railway) is the oldest ski lift in Germany. Built in 1929, it was renovated in 1956 and again in 1984. It connects Oberwiesenthal with the Fichtelberg.
Oberwiesenthal is connected by the historic railroad that connects the community with Cranzahl to the north. The 17-kilometer narrow gauge railway was founded in 1897 and is privately owned.
Two photo galleries of the Christmas Market in Oberwiesenthal can be found via facebook (here) and Google Photos (here).
When Christmas is here, so are the Christmas lights. On the tree, on the houses and even on people, Christmas lights have become the cornerstone to any holiday celebration. For over a century, people have embraced them, cursed at them if things go awry, competed with neighbors for the best lighting and lastly (but most importantly), taken pride in their work of making things twinkle and flash.
Many of us don’t know much about the history of Christmas lighting, despite having materials being written about them. We do know that the invention of electrical Christmas lights came right after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Afterwards, the rest was history.
I’ve compiled a quiz on the history of Christmas lighting in the US and beyond, with the goal of challenging you all to guess at the answers and learn about how the Christmas lights have evolved into something where we cannot live without them, especially at Christmas time.
So switch on the bubble lights and set to work on these questions. Good luck and the answers will come before the end of the holiday season! 🙂