Christmas Market Tour 2019: Waldenburg (Saxony)

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We have read a lot about Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg, and Frankfurt and their large selection of goodies and entertainment. We’ve also looked at those in medium-sized communities with populations between 40,000 and 250,000 people, thus putting the likes of Flensburg, Kiel, Erfurt, Zwickau, Weimar and the like on the list. For those who don’t like big town settings and would rather narrow it down to more local traditions with a cozy atmosphere, these would be better options, especially if they include castles with their medieval market setting.

Yet smaller communities, namely those with 2,000 to 10,000 people can also surprise visitors with specialties that are homemade and are worth taking with to give to your loved ones. There is one market in particular that represents a classic example of one that offers a wide array of hand-made crafts and homemade goodies- all in one setting; and ironically, all in one castle.

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The community of Waldenburg in western Saxony, is located six kilometers northeast of Glauchau along the River Zwickau Mulde. It has over 4400 inhabitants and has a castle that dates back to the 12th century but whose current structure was built during the Renaissance era. The castle overlooks the river valley and parts of the community, yet it is located just down the hill from the town’s historic city center- characterized by its triangular shaped island surrounded by streets and historic buildings and decorated with a fountain. At Christmas time, a pyramid occupies the spot where the fountain is located. The square also has a couple shops and a historic town hall.

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Waldenburg’s Christmas market is located at the castle. For one weekend and at a price of two Euros per person, one can enjoy the whole day at the castle, looking at handcrafted items made of ceramics, fabrics, wood, glass, bee’s wax and stone, including incense houses, pyramids, mining set, ceramic money holders, figures from the Nativity set, bowls, dish set and the like. These items are locally made from Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. The examples are many but some examples can be found here as well as in the links at the end of the article. The market is arranged in a way that the front court yard is surrounded with huts arranged in a horseshoe fashion with huts extending along the longer, eastern end going down the hill. At the bottom of the hill where one can see the castle from below, scenes from the fairy tales line up along the path which takes you to the stairs leading to the castle from the river side. Most of the fairytales originate from the Grimm Brothers series. The booths don’t stop at the courtyard. As you walk into the castle, one will find more of them in the basement section on one side. On the other side, there are separate rooms where children can either bake their own cookies or paint a white ceramic product with tutors standing by to help. There’s a chapel where dances and concerts take place. Finally, when leaving the castle, one will not miss the giant, 3.5 meter tall Christmas tree in the entry hall (Halle).

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What’s untypical of Waldenburg’s Christmas market are the many kinds of Christmas punch served there, which are non-alcoholic. Normally, alcoholic beverages, including the many types of mulled wine, outnumber the non-alcoholic kind by a margin of 10:1. Here at this market, the ratio is only 2:1. There are many reasons for the wider than usual selection. One is because of no train service going through the community, thus limiting the options to either bike or car. The other is the wide selection of booths that sell their products; all but a couple of them are homemade. There are two types of punch that I would recommend: one with quince (Quitten) and the other with apple and cinnamon. Both are sweet but they keep you warm for awhile. It was a necessity for our visit as the town received a dusting of snow and was at the freezing point for much of the day. For those who cannot get away from the market without a warm drink, Waldenburg definitely has the selection.

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Another plus that is worth recommending are foods from France. At the time of our visit, Waldenburg and Noyelles-lès-Vermelles were celebrating their 50th anniversary of their partnership. And what is typical of France are the different types of cheese, wine and even beer. If many consider German beer to be good, they haven’t tried the French beer, like Leffe, Ste. Etienne or Jelain. Especially the Christmas beer as it had a herbal taste to it that was hearty and good with any meat or bread. Also special (but didn’t try it) was the chicoree soup, which is typical of French soups. The partnership has played a big role in Waldenburg’s education system, for the European School is located directly in town and offers classes in German, French and English, along with other languages of Asia and Europe. Students from different nationalities attend this school if they decline to attend the schools in Glauchau or Meerane; the former has the public school system, the latter has the Saxony International School.

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If you are not up to hot soups and dishes that are offered at the stands, a snack that is making its popularity at the markets are the potato-tornadoes. They consist of potatoes that are peeled to the middle, like a spiral, and then placed on a stick and fried. The crispiness is on the same level as the Hungarian Langosch but the taste is like potato crisps from Great Britain, especially if they are sprinkled with curry or paprika. It was the first time seeing this at a Christmas market but it will not be the last, especially if the likes of Friweika continue to be innovative and create different kinds of fried potatoes to compete with the likes of any meat roast (or wraps) with red cabbage.

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Inspite the positives that the Waldenburg Christmas Market has to offer, there are a pair of critical points to address to make the market much more attractive. As mentioned at the beginning, Waldenburg has around 4400 inhabitants, and its town setting is typical of that in Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse- very close with problems finding parking. With the Waldenburg market, parking is the biggest problem, for even though a parking lot exists across the castle, it is not only filled up almost instantly, the parking spaces along the side streets are filled to a point where it is almost difficult for cars to even drive on the streets. It’s comparable to the Rettungsgasse (Emergency Lane) that can be found on the German Motorway- one lane open and little room to maneuver, yet high risks of an accident if a car blocks your lane. And while one can face hundreds of Euros in fines and receive points in Flensburg for blocking the Rettungsgasse, it’s hard to fine someone if he parks as close to the curb as possible without ruining the tires or smacking a tree, while risking blocking the street for passing cars in general; that is unless there is a parking ordinance in place.

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As the Christmas market is on one weekend, there is a risk of overfilling it with people and cars. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the opening of the market, which was 10:00am. By the time we left, five hours later, the place was becoming overfilled. Part of it has to do with the fact that the market closes at 6:00pm on each of the days open. Given the proximity to the likes of Glauchau, Meerane, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Crimmitschau and Werdau, it is understandable to have a Christmas market on one weekend, coordinating it with the neighboring communities to allow local businesses and artists to attend. But sometimes one wonders if one weekend is not enough; especially as Zwickau and Chemnitz have theirs during the entire Advent period and Werdau and Crimmitschau have theirs for only a week. Only Glauchau and Meerane have theirs for one weekend.

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But what about if Waldenburg would have theirs for two weekends or even the entire time?

 

As I reported on Frankenmuth, Michigan, the policy of expansion and marketing by the likes of Bronner and Zehnder not only saved the Franconian community near Lake Huron, it also attracted more visitors every year. Even the Christmas Market, which was introduced in 2005, has become an attraction in the winter time, adding it to the tree with ornaments full of events to do in the community. Waldenburg already has an establishment of having two types of markets during the year: a pottery market and an arts and crafts market. Building off from that one can try and expand the Christmas market in the sense of space and time. For space purposes, it could include the historic old town and even the parking area, but it would come with closing off the area to all traffic and utilizing the open space at the castle grounds next to the river as well as some other parking areas for parking. Wishful thinking would be a shuttle service to the market from Glauchau or Meerane so that one can leave their cars at the respective cities and use the bus, without having to worry about parking. For time purposes, there are two options worth experimenting. The first is having it for 1-2 weeks, as seen in Crimmitschau and Werdau. The second is having it only on Advent weekends. This is practiced at the Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, which has been hosting the markets since 2009. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of traffic and business. Especially for the former, for only main highway passes through the city center enroute to Hohenstein-Ernstthal.

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To ensure the passage is cleared so that business can be conducted during the week, it is perhaps not a bad idea to have the markets on multiple weekends. There are three reasons behind expanding the Christmas markets onto weekends only: 1. There’s normally not much business in Waldenburg during the weekend, so the streets could be closed off during that time. 2. It’s more likely to attract visitors visiting the market and the castle on weekends than on weekdays; even if there are non-Christmas events at the castle, there is a chance to share space and time so that people can visit both- hence the expansion of the market to the city center. And lastly 3. There is a chance to coordinate services between Glauchau, Meerane, Crimmitschau and Werdau to encourage people to visit the markets without having to rush to one just because they are open during a weekend. People could visit all these markets during the Advent season while not losing commerce during that time but most importantly, not congesting the streets. To sum up, more space and more possibilities to visit the market in Waldenburg beyond the lone weekend will be beneficial to the community and businesses who would like to sell their products.

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According to sources, this is the third time Waldenburg has hosted the Christmas market at the castle. And given the number of people attending the market and its 50+ stands full of local goods and handcrafted products, this will not be the last one that will take place. The market has the potential of attracting many and competing with the neighboring markets. What it takes to succeed however require more than just one weekend to host it. It will requiring cooperation with other Christmas markets in neighboring towns plus a better infrastructure in order to attract more people by not just encouraging them to see all of them during the Advent period.

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For a market like Waldenburg, it requires a lot of time to spend there, enjoying the foods, buying local and even doing some crafting for your loved ones. For all ages, the market at Waldenburg is a must-see for Christmas.

 

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Aside from the markets, Waldenburg is also a guest of a Christmas market in Waldenburg/ Hohenlohe. It’s located in the Schwabian Hall district in Baden-Wurttemberg near the conglomerate of Heilbronn. That market is also held for one weekend in a castle and includes businesses from there, Waldenburg in Switzerland and its partner city, Sierck-les-Bains in France.

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You can see all the Pictures of Waldenburg’s Christmas Market at the Castle via

Google Photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/moQ4seMkQkKPAV698

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Flensburg-Files-421034214594622/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2872365279461491

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Frankenmuth’s Christmas Market: An Interview with Dietrich Bronner

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In connection with the article on the City of Frankenmuth (which you can click here to read), the city known as Little Bavaria is famous for its Christmas Market.  Created in 2005, it is one of the youngest of the ten festivals and events taking place annually in Frankenmuth. And despite its small size, it is one of the most popular of markets in the city. Shortly after the visit in July, 2018, I had a chance to interview Dietrich Bronner, who is the grandson of the late Wally Bronner, who founded the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s. He is the catalogue and product manager of the store who was also one of the driving forces behind creating the Christmas market in Frankenmuth.

The interview unfortunately happened right after the Christmas market ended in December. It only takes place on the first Advent Weekend, about the same time as Thanksgiving. This year, the interview is being posted in hopes that people wishing to see the market can do so, as it takes place November 29th- December 1st 2019.  Details of the Christmas market can be found here.

Without further ado, here’s what you can find at the Christmas market and how you can contribute to its ongoing success:

  1. Why did the City of Frankenmuth introduced the Christmas market? Who was the driving force behind this?  The Christkindlmarkt is hosted by the Frankenmuth Farmers Market.  We started the Market in 2005 and that year we added the Christkindlmarkt as a winter-time extension of the market.  This is the 14th year we are hosting it.  Frankenmuth is very much a Bavarian-themed town that attracts up to 3 million visitors a year.  The market is a nonprofit 501c3 organization.  A board of directors were the volunteers that started it originally with a paid market master.  Laurajeanne Kehn was the paid market master for 12 years and she is the one that had the driving force to start it.

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  1. How is the market in Frankenmuth plotted out- is it along the streets of Downtown or is there a certain spot where the booths are put up and arranged like in a typical German Christmas market?  Our Christkindlmarkt is in a large heated tent downtown.  We put the tent up just for the Christkindlmarkt.  Vendors have booths inside and outside of the tent.  We would love to have various booths outside more like a traditional German market, but we don’t have the funding or ideal storage to have those booths.  We may in the future.  In 2015 we built and opened a $2.1 building with a vendor pavilion outside.  Inside the building is a Gathering Barn for events, a Farm Store for year round sales of local products, an office, conference room, and a fully licensed commercial kitchen or incubator kitchen (Artisans Kitchen) which can be rented to make commercially sellable foods.  I am the chef there and we cook many various dinners, meals, and experience meals there.  The building is at the north end of town about 1 mile away from the downtown.

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  1. What do you offer for Food, beverages and Gifts at the market? Are there some German products sold there- if so, which ones and in particular, which one is the most popular? We or the vendors have offered sausages, baked goods of all sorts, specialty Germany treats (lebkuchen, stollen, pfeffernusse, springerle), popcorn, kettle corn, pasties (a Dutch/Michigan item), sauces and condiments, teas, coffee, fudge, roasted/glazed nuts, local chestnuts, salsas, and much more.  The German treats sell very well, especially the lebkuchen and springerle.

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  1. Many German Christmas markets have their Season during Advent, yet yours runs from Thanksgiving to the first Advent. Why is that? Ours coincides when we have the most visitors in town, which is the day/weekend after Thanksgiving which is a huge shopping “holiday”—Black Friday.   That weekend, on Friday night, we have a holiday lighting ceremony where the Chamber of Commerce hosts a program that thousands of people attend.  This is like the start to Christmas.  There is a singing program by the Gemuetlichkeit Club (I’m the president of that, too) and then local church choirs and the Christmas story is told and then the Christmas lights are turned on.  This weekend and the next weekend, there are thousands of visitors, so we run the Christkindlmarkt these two weekends.  It takes many volunteers to run it, so we only have it two weekends.

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  1. What Special Events does the market offer? We have carolers, a Christmas angel made a proclamation last year, we have live musicians that play Christmas music, we have meet and greets with Santa, but the main attraction is shopping because we want to support our local vendors.

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  1. How many People have visited the market each Christmas? We have about 20,000 visitors over the six days.

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  1. If there were some improvements to be made for the Frankenmuth Christmas market, which ones would you point out and why? We would love for it to be larger and have more vendors and a wider variety of products.  However, we are limited on space, the event requires much labor to manage it, and renting the tent is expensive.  We carefully select and screen our vendors and we only allow local vendors to support the local economy.

 

Author’s Note: A special thanks to Dietrich Bronner for supplying the photos and for the interview. Hope your Christmas Market is a success this year and beyond. 🙂 

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Frankenmuth, Michigan

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All photos taken in July 2018

From the Series On the Road in the States

If there is a stereotype that holds true for most German-named towns in the US, it is this: It has to be German no matter what. This applies for language, culture and tradition and especially architecture. And furthermore, one has to stand out in its identity. The city of Frankenmuth in eastern Michigan is one of these communities that fulfills both stereotypes. The city is located in Saginaw County, approximately 20 miles south of Saginaw and another 25 miles west of Lake Huron. The city is seven miles (14 kilometers) east of Interstate 75 and another five miles away from neighboring Bridgeport, home of the State Street Truss Bridge. The community has over 5,500 inhabitants and if adding Bridgeport and some communities in the township, the conglomerate has over 12,000 inhabitants.

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Oma’s Restaurant on the grounds of Bavarian Inn

When looking at Frankenmuth from an outsider’s perspective, it looks like a typical American community with rows of houses, large yards, a Main Street with business district and a river with some bridges over it. Yet, not all villages with German names are typical American towns that follow the tradition of farming, local festivals and events and American traditions that we are accustomed to. This one is typically German, going from names down to tradition and language. Settlers first came to the region in 1845. Consisting of Lutheran missionaries, the settlers crossed the Ocean on the ship Caroline before taking the Nelson Smith from New York via Detroit to Saginaw, going along canals and through the Great Lakes.  Records revealed that most of the settlers who founded Frankenmuth originated from the region Mittelfranken in central Bavaria and the shield representing the city features a combination of Bavarian and Franconian elements, including a falcon. Despite its creation, it took 59 years until the community was officially incorporated in 1904. The origin of Frankenmuth consists of the first half the region itself and the second half, “muth” representing courage- the courage of the Franconians who wanted to settle down in a new region and convert many nearby into Christians.   Like at the beginning, Frankenmuth today represents the largest of the German enclave in the region, which include Frankenlust, Frankenhilf (Richville) and Frankentrost, plus other communities, like Bridgeport. They all have the following common traits: the Lutheran faith, German language and Franconian tradition.

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Main Street in Downtown Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth would not be called that, let alone become a magnet for tourism and tradition had it not been for the following families that put the city on the map: Bronner, Fischer and Zehnder. All three families were of Franconian blood, All three of them knew the ways of marrying tradition with tourism.  Theodore Fischer and family started a restaurant and hotel in 1888 under the family name. Their son Hermann and his wife Lydia made their mark for their “All you can eat family style chicken dinner.”  In 1928, another family, William and Emilie Zehnder Sr. founded the restaurant bearing their name. Their son Tiny was a farmer and would collect the leftovers to feed the hogs. Faced with financial difficulties and a choice between expansion and sale, Elmer Fischer, who had acquired the family business from his parents, sold his business to Zehnder in 1950. Tiny quit farming to take over the restaurant and hotel business together with his wife Dorothy,  and the rest was history.

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Bavarian Inn’s Schnitzelbank and Biergarten

Despite relapses in earnings due to recession during the 1950s, Tiny untertook a half-century drive to expand and convert the restaurant into one that is a resort complex decorated with a taste of Bavaria.  The restaurant and hotel became known as the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Resort Complex. The new addition boasted an authentic Bavarian exterior-stucco walls, woodcarving, flower boxes and other German accents were blended with the new German entrees served by “Bavarian” costumed servers. A week long celebration with German entertainment was held in 1959 which today is known as the Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival. In 1967 the stunning 50-foot Glockenspiel was added, topped off with a 35-bell carillon. It became an instant Bavarian Inn landmark with its revolving figures that depict the legend of the Pied Piper of Hameln. During our visit in 2018, the Bavarian Inn, which features two restaurants, a hotel and resort complex and also ferry service along the Cass River, was well-received with hundreds of guests being served by waitresses dressed in their best Oktoberfest outfits, serving the best beer and Bavarian entrées. And yes, the all-you-can-eat Chicken dinner, invented and patented by Theodore Fischer, is still being served there and the taste is unbeatable- crispy with a little spice in there, but really good together with mashed potatoes and homemade sauerkraut! You can also find this at Zehnder’s Restaurant and Complex, located in the city center on the Cass River.

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Frankenmuth’s Covered Bridge

Tiny’s restaurant and hotel expansion did not stop at the Bavarian Inn. He was known as an expansionist with a German traditional flair and because of his successes at the Bavarian Inn, Tiny encouraged other businesses in Frankenmuth to revamp their buildings to include the Bavarian architecture that went all the way down to the lamp posts. Even a covered bridge with a Bavarian style architecture was built in 1979 and is still in use. In addition, many of the historic buildings that had existed since the establishment of the community were preserved as museums. Traditional Bavarian goods eventually replaced the common American ones. Frankenmuth eventually became Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Until his death in 2006, Tiny Zehnder continued to make the community the attraction for German goodies, yet there was one more person who came up with a business idea which resulted in Frankenmuth becoming the world’s capital, and that is Christmas ornaments!

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Inside Bronner’s Christmas Store

The visit to Frankenmuth is definitely not complete without a visit to Bronner’s Christmas Store. The store was founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner, who had just finished high school and was helping his parents with a local business. Wally discovered the talent of creating metal signs which later expanded to include Christmas ornaments. An avid Christian who enjoyed Christmas, Bronner would later expand the store, which would include a Silent Night Chapel and over ten acres of Austrian and Bavarian-style architecture, each building and section representing a country, holiday and even the American nostalgia that had their sets of ornaments. A detailed history on Wally Bronner, his life and the creation and expansion of the store can be found here.

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Inside Bronner’s Christmas StoreInside Bronner’s Christmas Store

Today’s Bronner’s Christmas Store is indeed the world’s largest Christmas store, housing tens of thousands of holiday ornaments from over 70 different countries, including Germany, Austria, parts of Asia and the Middle East and the US. Whatever a person is looking for, Bronner’s has it. If a person is an avid Christmas fan, like Wally, you can expect to spend hours in that store, stocking up on Christmas lights and ornaments. It was the case with our visit in 2018, where even some of the nostalgic Christmas lighting that I grew up with as a child were found there. They included bubble lights and C-7 glass lights, which we picked up- together with dozens of other ornaments to be decorated on the tree back home in Germany.

If one spends time in Frankenmuth, a day is needed at Bronner’s before doing other activities that the small farming community, well-known as Little Bavaria, has to offer.

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Frankenmuth has the taste of Franconian culture and tradition in itself. There are lots of activities to enjoy both in town as well as along the Cass River. Yet one needs a lot of time to spend in the community in order to understand how it was created, how it was marketed and how three families left their marks in the town’s history books. In comparison to the other German-named villages visited so far, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, Frankenmuth is considered one of the most German of communities, growing together, while maintaining their Bavarian heritage, and providing a magnet for tourists to stop by to shop and to visit.  Especially around the time of the festivals, like the Bavarian fest and the Christmas market (a separate article with an invertiew is enclosed and can be read here), will a person find Frankenmuth at its best- Little Bavarian in the middle of America’s heartland.

 

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Info:

For more Information on Festivals and other celebrations in Frankenmuth, check out ist City Website by clicking here.

There is a Bridge Guide on the Frankenmuth/Bridgeport Region via sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Click here and have a look. Three of Frankenmuth’s Bridges can be found there.

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From the Wall to New Technology: A Look at the new Volkswagen E-car

In response to the climate change movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg and in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, many German companies have jumped into the pool to champion change, the changes that people want so that future generations can enjoy the environment as much as we have so far. Volkswagen is one of them. It has recently been announced that the company is producing new electric cars and phasing out older models that are reliant on fuel (including diesel), with much of the production being planned in the eastern half of Germany. This commercial says it all: driving through the past in the present and looking forward to the future- all with a German soccer icon driving it.

Way to go, Yogi! 🙂

 

 

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Photo Flick 89: Nr. 9

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Many segments of the Berlin Wall still exist today, serving as a reminder of the city’s past, together with that of Germany, before and after the Fall of the Wall in 1989. One of the examples that a tourist in Germany must see is the East Side Gallery. This 1.4 kilometer stretch runs along the River Spree and Mühlenstrasse between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, going from Oberbaumbrücke to the Railway Station Ostbahnhof.  The former Wall was converted into an open-air Gallery in 1990 with the goal of mixing history and art into one.  Since that time, as many as 120 artists from around the world have displayed their works along the wall, where special themes are displayed, from the Time of the Wall to the Strive for Peace. Pop culture themes are also included in this gallery.  Here’s a sample courtesy of a friend and former high school classmate of mine from Minnesota, Kristin Krahmer, during her recent visit with her family. More examples and the history behind the Gallery can be found here.

Enjoy! 🙂

 

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Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 7: Hirschberg- Untertiefengrün

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Saale River Crossing connecting Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün built in 2009. Photos taken in May 2019

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Co-written with  bhc-logo-newest1

My father and I had an argument once over how Germany was bordered when I was a child growing up during the 1980s. He claimed a concrete wall surrounded only West Berlin while I claimed that there was also a concrete wall that divided the country into two.

Apparently, we were both right, especially when we look at the towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, located on the Thuringian-Bavarian border, with the former town in Thuringia. The two towns are separated by the River Saale (Sächsische Saale is the official name) with Hirschberg having the majority of the population (2200 inhabitants). By the same token, however, the small Bavarian community with 130 residents seems much more modern than its crossborder neighbor.

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Untertiefengrün taken from the bridge. 

According to history, the town of Hirschberg was first mentioned in the 12th century and had already built a castle and courtyard used for trading of livestock and crops. Untertiefengrün was first mentioned in the 14th century but became part of the community of Berg (Oberfranken) in 1978. Before the Berlin Wall existed, Hirschberg was well-known for its leather products, for a factory had existed for over 500 years, producing shoes, bags and leather pants, even during the times before 1989. In 1992, the factory went bankrupt and was forced to shut down. The entire 16 hectares of property was torn down, four years later. What’s left of the factory, became a museum for the town’s history and a park with lots of greenery.

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The Green Zone, where the border once stood. On the left is the River Saale; on the right, the road that used to be a Wall keeping people from fleeing to Bavaria

When people first think of Hirschberg in terms of German history, they think of the infamous East German border crossing complex located at where the Motorway 9 betwen Berlin and Munich is now located. The complex was located on the northern end of the Rudolphstein Viaduct, approximately five kilometers west of Hirschberg.  Yet as one digs even deeper into the town’s history, one can see that the town really suffered a great deal after World War II. When the war was over, the Soviets took over Hirschberg as part of their zone (which became the GDR or East Germany), whereas the Americans took Untertiefengrün. This is where the history of the Saale River crossing comes in.

 

1699-1948:

History books and postcards pinpointed the first crossing as being made of wood and built in 1699. Most likely it had been rebuilt many times over the course of 226 years due to wear and tear, combined with potential ice jams that damaged the structure. In 1925, a contract was let to build a concrete bridge. It featured a two-span arch design that was closed spandrel but whose arches featured step-like curves instead of the usual straight-line design.  The bridge was in use until right before the end of World War II, when Nazi soldiers, fleeing the encroaching American troops, detonated the bridge. At the conclusion of the war, only one of the two arch spans existed. American troops quickly built an improvisory span to temporarily connect Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün. However, this crossing was shortlived. Fearing the population drain caused by many residents fleeing Hirschberg and subsequentially, the Soviet Zone (later, the GDR), the bridge was subsequentially removed a short time later. Border fences were going up beginning in 1948 and culminated with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

 

1961-1989:

The Wall separating the two communities at the Thuringian-Bavarian border went up at about the same time as the Berlin Wall, but on the Hirschberg side of the River Saale! That means people could no longer flee to Bavaria unless by car and through the border crossings at Juchhöh-Töpeln via Fernstrasse 2 south of Hirschberg. The Rudolphstein Viaduct, rebuilt in 1966, became option number two if residents were clever enough to smuggle their way through without being caught, or spied upon beforehand. It later became the lone option after the closure of Fernstrasse 2 at the border.  It was double torture for almost a half century- not being able to cross freely,  let alone not being able to swim nor fish in the River Saale. While Hirschberg was still producing leather during this dark period (under the auspisces of the GDR government), these were dark times.

 

1989:

Fast forward to 30 December, 1989. It was over a month and a half since the Fall of the Wall and at 8:00am that day, another improvisory bridge was built at the location of the former crossing. Hundreds of residents crossed the bridge into Bavaria and back at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Their crossing was back, and the walls have come down. Yet it also marked the beginning of changes to come. Many who were scarred by the Wall and the attempts to be controlled by the government were the first to flee to the West. Others left when the leather factory closed down two years later.  It became the Bridge of Opportunity for many looking for a better life elsewhere, while leaving the dark past behind them for good.

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2019-present:

Fast forward to 2019, 30 years after the Fall of the Wall. A permanent crossing over the River Saale is 10 years old- a concrete slab bridge with Warren Truss railings. The towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün are united. But things are much different now. Changes in the economic structure combined with globalization has turned the two communities into “ghost towns.”  One can see people walking the streets, farmers harvesting their crops despite the droughts that have devastated Europe in its second year. Church bells are ringing. But on both sides of the River Saale stand dozens of empty buildings. Remnants of schools and the leather factory still stand on the Hirschberg side. Cafés and hotels that used to host American troops and tourists on the Untertiefengrün side are empty with “For Sale or Rent” signs on the windows waiting for the next tenants to take over.  While the former German border crossing at Rudolphstein Viaduct has become restaurants, hotels and service stations hosting thousands of commuters, truckers and tourists daily along the Motorway 9, the communities of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, once divided by the Wall along the Saale, have their bridge back but have long become forgotten communities that withstood the test of time, even when divided.

After many years of hardship caused by the division of Germany into two, the two communities are going to sleep now, hoping that the next generations that come will appreciate what the two have to offer, aside from their history, which is vast farmland with lots of hills and a deep, heavily forested River Saale- no longer a border between East and West but a river where people can hike and bike along it, swim or fish in it, and take pictures, all without the dangers of being watched.

 

More photos of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün based on my visit can be found here:

Link to Google Pics: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Uzw9UKy1fUgrVuQu8 

There is a website devoted to the former border between East and West Germanys, photographed in the 1980s. To access the website, click here. Some pics of the border and crossing in Hirschberg are included there. 

 

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Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 6: The Train Station at Probstzella (Thuringia)

Probstzella Train Station. Photo taken by Störfix in 2008 (WikiCommons)

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After Checkpoint Bravo and Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam, the next set of photos takes us down to Thuringia again, but this time to the border train station Probstzella. With a population of 1300 inhabitants, the city was located right in the middle of the inner-German border, which separated Thuringia and Bavaria. In the time before World War II, it used to be a popular railroad hub as it served traffic going west towards the Rennsteig Mountains, south towards Lichtenfels and north towards Jena and Leipzig. The existing train station at Probstzella dates back to 1885, when the line between Saalfeld (south of Jena) and Lichtenfels opened to traffic. The line going to the Rennsteig Mountains via Sonneberg opened to traffic in 1913 but was closed down by 1997.

It is at this station where the East German government took the most difficult task in keeping its citizens from emigrating to Bavaria. Because the town was located deep in the mountain areas with steep valleys heavily populated with forests, the government undertook the most massive efforts in the town’s history.  For instance, because the town was right in the middle of the 5-kilometer No-Go Zone, much of the residents at the border were forced to resettle inwards in an attempt to cut ties with their neighbors in the south and escape over the border.  The rail line between Jena/Saalfeld and Lichtenfels was reduced to one track  between Probstzella and the Bavarian border at Lauenstein- a stretch of 1000 kilometers.  And lastly, the train station at Probstzella was extended to include a border control building right next to the train station complex, plus many tracks that were heavily guarded by patrolmen on the East German side. From 1952 until November 12th, 1989, passage between Bavaria and Thuringia via Probstzella was restricted in accordance to the interzonal regulations that had existed during that time.

When the border reopened to traffic on 12 November, 1989, the train station in Probstzella lost its entire meaning. There, passengers could travel freely between Bavaria and Thuringia without having to be stopped at the border control station and sometimes held in the waiting room for hours before either being allowed to pass or being turned back. It was at that time that decisions needed to be made regarding the train station and the border control building. The 1885 station building was sold to a private group with the full intention of constructing a East German museum devoted strictly to the history of the station during that time. That was opened on 6 November, 2010, one month after Germany celebrated its 20th birthday. The border control building however was demolished in 2009 because the structural integrity was compromised due to its deteriorating state.

The remains of that building were converted into a memorial. Consisting of two sets of waves plus a stretch of fencing used to keep the people from leaving East Germany, this memorial was erected in April 2010. It is now a park for cyclists and tourists wishing to learn more about the history of the border that had separated the two Germanys for almost half a century.  The memorial is across the rail tracks from the train station, which now houses a museum. The station is considered a historical monument by the state of Thuringia.  The photo gallery enclosed here is the train station and former border control point as was taken in May 2010, during a bike tour through the Franconian region. From Saalfeld to Kronach, I had an opportunity to enjoy the nature of the mountains and forest but also learn about the history of this area, especially the border that had once kept people away from the western half but today, people can pass right through. Once a stopping point, Probstzella has become a forgotten place with a place in German history.

 

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  1. The interzone border agreements was introduced by the four powers that controlled and rebuilt Germany in 1945: The USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. It implied that residents were only allowed to leave their zones if they received special permission from the garrison of the occupied countries. This was eliminated by the creation of West Germany by the Americans, British and French forces in 1949, yet the Soviets tried many attempts in keeping the residents in their zone, culminating with the closing of the border and simultaneously, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The Interzonal Transit Agreement of 1972 between the governments of East and West Germany allowed for the laxing of restrictions, whereby residents who were on business or retired and wanting to visit family in the west were allowed to leave but for a given time span. That expired when the borders opened allowing free passage on 9 November, 1989.
  2. At the border at Lauenstein, there used to be a welcome station for those who entered Bavaria from Thuringia. It featured a train station and a restaurant on the road parallel to the tracks. The station has been decommissioned and is now privately owned, whereas the restaurant was operating at the time of the visit.
  3. The former border was eventually converted into a stretch of green trees, known as the Green Zone. This initiative was started in 1991 with the purpose of repopulating the trees and other forms of vegetation. At the same time, it was also a marker of the border that had separated the two Germanys. In one of the pics, there was such a strip shown draping the mountains at Lauenstein.
  4. Today’s rail service still serves Probstzella but only on the north-south axis. Currently, regional service between Jena and Nuremberg via Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg operate under three different providers, including the Deutsche Bahn, agilis and Erfurter Bahn. At one time, ICE-trains passed through Probstzella from 2000 until December 2017. Nowadays, only a pair of InterCity (IC) trains between Leipzig and Karlsruhe pass through. However, plans to reactivate the Fernverkehr (long-distance lines) are in the making. By 2023, a dozen IC-trains per direction are expected to use the line again, with the goal of making the Leipzig-Karlsruhe line the primary route, but also providing 2-trains-a-day-service between Munich and Berlin via Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels, which the ICE trains had used before being relegated to the new line which now runs through Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle.

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Photo Flick: 1989 Part 1

Author’s note: As Germany celebrates its 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall and its subsequent reunification, the Flensburg Files will be doing some coverage of the event and how Germany has changed in the past 30 years. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks and months ahead.

We’re going to begin with this Photo Flick and the region Bavaria and Saxony. This photo was taken in July of this year at the train station in Gutenfürst near the border. Today’s station is just an ordinary stop for all local trains between Plauen (Saxony) and Hof (Bavaria). It’s completely deserted and with only a few passengers boarding and disembarking daily, it will not be long until the station is taken off the rail network owned by the German Railways, Deutsche Bahn.

It’s hard to believe that this was the exact same train station that used to serve as a transit station between East and West Germany, 30 years ago. At this time, travellers wishing to leave East Germany through Saxony and Thuringia had to pass through this station in order to enter the west in Bavaria. Even when they tried to escape through Hungary and the Czech Republic during the summer of 1989, an agreement was made between the two governments and that of East Germany, which was ruled under Erich Honecker at that time, to allow the East Germans to leave their home for West Germany. The majority had to pass through this train station, in overcrowded trains, then travel through the country before reaching either West Berlin or the other West German states of Hesse, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.

When the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989 and the borders dividing Germany opened two days later, East Germans left the country in droves, with large numbers passing through this station in overcrowded trains, in order to reach Hof and receive their 100 Marks in Begrüßungsgeld (EN: Welcome Money).

It was afterwards that the transit station lost its usefulness as a station that stopped all trains that were crossing the border between East and West Germany, with police officers checking the passports and travel documents of every passenger wishing to enter or leave East Germany, taking them off the train for questioning and possibly imprisoning them temporarily, withholding western goods destined for the East for families to enjoy.

The station started off as a train stop when the Magistral Railway Route opened in 1851. It became a train station with the construction of the station building in 1905 with only one track. It survived unscathed through two World Wars, but the expansion into a transit station happened beginning in 1947, which included an additional track, guard towers and lighting to ensure no one escapes over the border, even though the station was only a kilometer away from it. The white buildings where offices, holding cells, customs and the like all came in the 1970s. This included the building of the observation bridge overlooking the two tracks.

Gutenfürst Station in 2010 with the Observation Bridge. Photo taken in 2010 for wikiCommons by Straktur

Today, as seen in the picture at the beginning of the article, the buildings still stand albeit empty, but the bridge is gone. It was removed in 2012 to make way for the electrification of the line from Zwickau to Hof. There are now three tracks, including the original one where trains from Erfurter Bahn and Vogtlandbahn stop daily.  But it’s hard to imagine that this small and rather insignificant train station had a major purpose so many years ago. Unbelieveable that tens of thousands of people would have to pass through in order to cross the border 30 years ago, but now trains can pass through without being stopped because of border controls and search warrants.

And only a handful of people can board the train and get off at this very quiet and desolate train station……

 

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The Magistral Route is a rail line that connects Nuremberg with Dresden with the line splitting at Steinpleis and a branch goes to Leipzig. Construction started in 1848 and lasted 25 years. The line serves regional trains today, but plans are in the making for InterCity trains to be reintroduced after the last ICE-train passed through in 2002 and the InterRegioExpress train in 2010. The start time depends on how long the electrification process will last. Currently the line from Hof to Dresden via Zwickau and Chemnitz as well as the Leipzig branch are electrified. The last segment to Nuremberg via Bayreuth is expected to be completed by 2025.

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Berlin Writes History in Soccer

The Stadium Altere Försterei, where FC Union Berlin plays at home. Photo taken by Christian Liebscher via wiki-Commons 

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FC Union Berlin advances to the German Bundesliga for the first time ever after ousting VFB Stuttgart in the Relegation Round.

BERLIN- In the end, only the strongest survived. The strongest in terms of nerves but also in coherency. The strongest is the one that makes history. This was done last night with FC Union Berlin. After a 2-2 draw against VFB Stuttgart, who had been sitting in 16th place during almost the entire 2018/19 Bundesliga season, all the iron men could have done is put the iron curtain in place- literally in front of goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz  and let Stuttgart fire their shots- to the left, to the right and right into the goalie’s hands. And while the offense was on autopilot, a 0-0 tie was enough for Berlin to make history.

For the first time ever FC Union will play in the premier league this upcoming season, competing with the likes of Bayern Munich- fresh off its seventh consecutive title but poised to lose its top two players in Frank Ribery and Ariel Robben- the Robbery Duo- similar to the Killer Bs of the Pittsburgh Steelers in American football before Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown left the team after the 2018/19 season and its lone B- the quarterback, Ben Rothlisberger. It will be facing other teams with multiple years of experience and armed with deep pockets for 1st class players, such as Frankfurt, Dortmund, Hoffenheim and Bremen. And while Freiburg, Cologne and Augsburg may be push-overs, like it was with Hamburg SV during its time in the second tier (winning 2-0 and tying 2-2), Union Berlin will have two rivalries to contend with:

  1. Inner-City Rivalry: FC Union Berlin will have to contend with Hertha BSC Berlin, which has been in the premier league for all but two seasons since 1997. While FC Union Berlin has had many soccer rivalries in the German capital, even during the Cold War era, this one will be the battle of the iron fists that will attract tens of thousands, and whose victories will be very close. While FC Union lost a close one 2-1 on 3rd September, 2012, the two teams finished tied at 2-2 on 11 February, 2013, the last time the two played. When the rivalry continues this upcoming season, it will be the first inner-city derby in the Bundesliga since the 2010/11 season with Hamburg vs St. Pauli.
  2. East German Rivalry: Apart from its western city rival, FC Union will have to contend with Leipzig. But not the Leipzig that many soccer historians are accustomed to. While Union and VfB Leipzig’s rivalry attracted thousands of fans during the 1980s and 90s, the Leipzig they will be facing is one that will have a new (and fiery) head coach and a talented group that is regrouping after losing the 2019 German Cup to Munich and finished third in the regular season- meaning RB Leipzig. Even they have played three games, FC Union has yet to beat Leipzig, having lost two and tied one- but all in 2015 and 2016.

FC Union Berlin will be the sixth East German team to be in the top league in almost three decades- the others were Dynamo Dresden, Hansa Rostock, VfB Leipzig (now FC Lok), Energie Cottbus and Hertha. It is the 56th team in history to reach the top tier. And after years of toil and disappointment, the team has entered chartered waters bound to make history. The team has the largest fan club in German soccer and its culture is implanted in Berlin soccer, with a stadium that has hosted soccer games, Christmas events and concerts and crowds that come to enjoy the game and not rampage it, like in some cities. This was noticeable with last night’s relegation game with Stuttgart- it ended in celebration and with no incidences! One could blame Stuttgart for its shortcomings, which will land them in the second league for the first time in three seasons, but the timing of FC Union Berlin’s rise to the top could not have come at a better time. All it needed was unity and the team got it.

And should this unity continue in the upcoming Bundesliga season, then FC Union Berlin will be making even more history as it climbs in the rankings at the expense of those who have been there for years. Seven years ago, one wondered whether professional soccer will return to the east. With first Leipzig and now Berlin, that question has been answered.

 

Congratulations to FC Union Berlin on making it to the big leagues! 🙂

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FC Union Berlin won the relegation based on the “Goal Away from Home” rule. This means the team that has scored more goals “away from home” wins, if the total goals scored by each team are otherwise equal. This is sometimes expressed by saying that away goals “count double” in the event of a tie. In this case, Berlin won against Stuttgart based on that rule by a score of 2-0 because of the 2-2 draw in Stuttgart. 

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From the Attic: Bonn- the Birthplace of the German Constitution 1949

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BONN- On this day 70 years ago, the German Constitution was ratified, thus ushering in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). It was the first democratic government since the Weimar Republic, which was created in 1919 but lasted only 14 years. It also brought in its first chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who until 1998, became the longest tenured chancellor in modern German history, having served from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. Bonn was its capital until 1994, when it was moved to Berlin, five years after East and West Germany reunited. Since 1999, all federal Offices and the German parliament are conducted in Berlin.

While Germany has some Milestones to celebrate, it is interesting to see how the West German government ratified the Constitution, which still remains in use and is discussed to this day (See the previous article on it here.). Two “Exemplars” on its ratification can be found in this article below; the first produced by the British channel Pathé, the other in German by Zeitzeuge Portal, which includes interviews with historians and political scientists in German. In either case, they are both interesting to see the reaction to the creation of West Germany from local and outsider perspectives.

Enjoy! 🙂

Pathé (UK):

 

Zeitzeuge Portal:

 

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