Christmas has become the time where electronics have dominated our lives, literally. It seems that wherever we go, we always find that nothing works without the use of robots, internet or any sort of technology. Everything is all run electronically and we don’t have to use our brain. Did you know that we use only 30% of our brain on a daily basis, and we don’t know what for, aside from the basic motor skills, the usual routines and the like. The rest of the brain mass left aside is inert, like a vegetative state. With that majority we have our creativity, our logic and the problem-solving skills both on paper as well as in praxis. In other words, we have more convenience than logic
This leads to the question of what gifts are available that will train the person’s logic and challenge them with problem-solving WITHOUT the use of any sort of computer or electronics, whatsoever?
Enter two woodworkers who have teamed up to create some “hands-on” toys and other games for families to enjoy. The first one is Constantins Rätsel Werkstatt, located in Liel (Schliegen) in Baden-Württemberg. Its founder, Jean-Claude Constantin is a staunch opponent of massive production, internet sales and “big business” and as a result, he has used his expertise in woodworking, combined with the use of Querdenken (logical thinking) and a philosophy of human-to-human interaction to create some unique handmade games and other items which will lead people to spend time to break the codes, unlock the most impossible locks and solve some hard problems.
Joining him in the creation of some unique games is a woodworking firm deep in the heart of the German state of Thuringia called Kokolores Knobelwerkstatt. Founded in 2016, the company has a hand full of workers who have been supported by Constantin in creating some mind-boggling games, following his concept but having a lots of fun doing that and presenting people with a challenge at the Christmas markets.
Currently based at the Christmas markets in Wiesbaden, Mainz and Jena, there is a chance that if the sales are successful that they could expand to add a few Christmas markets, although the principle is to make the presence on a low scale to encourage people to visit their booths. There are enough reasons to do that.
Mazes, games that unlock “secret passages”, boxes with specials keys, locks that take a genius to unlock, and all kind of wild games- all of them have a duo purpose: to reactivate and make use of one’s logical thinking skills while requiring some creative thought and lots of luck, but also to give a person a chance to work with them with a lot of fun and passion for hours on end. All of them are handmade and put together with a lot of thought and passion to it.
I could go on forever talking about them and my experiences, combined with that that my wife and daughter both had, but it would take a couple more pages to write about the highlights. Plus it would spoil the fun for others wishing to find that perfect but challenging gift. Plus apart from what the cashier at the Christmas market in Jena mentioned: “They are really cool activities that you can spend hours of fun with,” it would be nice to allow others to go to the booths and try for themselves. So henceforth, have a look at the pics and if you are in the area of Jena, Mainz or Wiesbaden, go to the booth at their respective Christmas markets and give them a try. You will never go wrong with finding a present that requires the “natural” e-brain of a human to do the work and train it, instead of the plastic and metal version we see every day in front of us on our desks.
For the first Advent here’s a cool Photo Flick for you. Imagine this scene: An angel and Father Christmas, the more athletic and European version of Santa Claus are sitting at the table at a Christmas market. What do you think they are saying to each other?
Here’s an additional hint to add to the conversation:
Share your stories and take a guess at where in Germany will a person find the Christmas market where this scene takes place. The answer will come soon! 🙂
With the holiday season around the corner, we have Father Christmas (Santa Claus) in action, as seen in the Christmas commercial presented by German supermarket chain Kaufland. This was released shortly before Thanksgiving and even though it is a tradition over here in Germany to have food chains to release commercials with special themes just in time for the holiday season, this one is special as Germany, like many countries in Europe, is latching onto the Black Friday tradition, where people line up in front of malls and major stores to get the best deals for Christmas. The difference here is that Kaufland, like many store chains, are introducing Black Week. Taking place at the same time as Thanksgiving, Black Week shoppers can find the best deals both in stores as well as online- mostly through Amazon, who may have started this tradition. Whether it is a good idea to order online or not remains to be open, but if Father Christmas keeps huffing and puffing to get everything last minute, he won’t have to worry about weight loss come Christmas time. It’s just a matter of persuading people perceiving him as fat and jolly that being slim and active is a wonderful thing. 😉
So let’s shop and celebrate smart, shall we?
The Flensburg Files is about to go on tour to the Christmas markets again, as the first one opens after Thanksgiving. To look at the previous places visited, click here.
There is also a collection of other Christmas stories, films and poems in the Literature and Genre section. Click here and scroll down, there are some funny ones worth seeing.
While the Christmas market tour will include some catching up from last year (the author was sick during much of the holiday season last year), it will include some cool activities for you to try out, not to mention a couple things to think about- the author sometimes has to get them off his chest and many can benefit from it.
Despite having to put up with overcrowding trains as well as trains arriving two hours later, I did make it to the last Christmas market on my places to visit list- in Frankfurt am Main. A couple of interesting points about Frankfurt that one should know about: First and foremost, there are two Frankfurts- one in the western half of Germany in the state of Hesse, and one in the far eastern part of the state on the border to Poland. When the Iron Curtain sliced the two Germanys into two resulting in 45 years of hostility between the Communists and the Westerners, the people in the eastern part of Germany (known at the time as the German Democratic Republic) could not imagine that region to not have a town called Frankfurt. Therefore, they fought to keep the name Frankfurt, which after the Reunification of 1990 became known as Frankfurt an der Oder. Both Main and Oder are rivers that flow through the cities respectively. Another point about Frankfurt am Main that is well-known is the fact that the city is the third largest in Germany (in terms of the population), is the headquarters of the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange (DAX), but yet despite being the largest city in Hesse with a population of over 600,000 (minus the metropolitan area), it is not the capital of the state. That honor goes to the one of the Twin Cities straddling the Main and Rhein Rivers, Wiesbaden (ironically, its sister on the other side of the rivers, Mainz is the capital of Rheinland Palatinate).
The Frankfurt Christmas Market, which is located along the Main River at Römerplatz between the St. Paul’s and St. Nicolas Cathedrals was touted by many as the cream of the crop with regards to the Christmas markets in Germany- even more popular than the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Yet still, despite its size and various shops located in three different areas around the two churches, the market still offers the same goods as the ones in Nuremberg and Erfurt, which doesn’t really make it that spectacular to begin with. Furthermore, for those who are claustrophobic, most of the area is located in tight quarters, which does not provide for some breathing room to manoever; especially when it is on a Saturday, when most of the people do their Christmas shopping. It is even more depressing when the weather is gloomy, as it was the case when I visited the market. And finally, for those wanting to stay longer at the Christmas market- meaning beyond closing time for most shops- so that they can enjoy their last cup of GlÃ¼hwein, they are more or less screwed for when the clock strikes 9:00 at night, the shops and food/drink areas close almost simultaneously! It is not like in Bayreuth, where Winterdorf is open longer than the shops, or in Erfurt where every food and beverage stand is open longer than the shops (even at Domplatz). This caused some considerable anger among those wanting to grab one more Glühwein or visit one more food stand only to find that the lights are shut off and the windows and doors hastily shut right before their eyes! I found the experience to be rather disappointing for someone who has visited the market for the first time but has seen other Christmas markets that were more flexible and relaxed than this one. I can imagine when the market is open and in full action that a person can get a considerable amount of aggression after a short time, which is easily comparable to the market in Nuremberg although the latter is more genuine than the one 3 hours to the west (by train, that is). For a person living in or near Frankfurt and does not like to travel that much, this market will provide people with a taste of typical German goods, although almost all of them originate from the south and far northwest of the city. However, if one wants to see a real market and find genuine goods, than they should look elsewhere as there are enough places to go around. It does not mean that a person should avoid the Frankfurt Christmas Market altogether. One could use the place as a venue for meetings over Glühwein and pretzels or other local specialties from Hesse and the surrounding area. The people at the stands would benefit from listening to all kinds of negotiations that take place in front of them, while at the same time, listen and learn the different languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. It is also a place for any last minute Christmas shopping ideas, although you have to put up with some elbowing and some lectures on how to be polite, which is something that many in Frankfurt have forgotten about. But like the city itself, the Christmas market is something that you see only once and never again. It is like living in the city- you only live there for a short time and then you move on to greener pastures unless you are: 1. A naturally born city slicker, or 2. You were born and raised in Frankfurt and you would never trade it in for anything else.
With that said, I went back to the hotel where I could try and get a good night’s rest before taking off for home, which is in the great state of Minnesota. As I was going back by light rail and subway, I was thinking of the events that occurred earlier in the day, where I befriended a German police officer who originates from Saxony but works in Frankfurt, and her company I got while drinking a coffee and a Glühwein, while waiting for the next ICE Train to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought to myself that good company from someone you never met before can create paths that you never knew existed. Seeing the Christmas markets in Germany are only a side dish to having some good company from your family, friends, and people you meet along the way. There are times in your life that people come in and out and don’t think about who you really are until they’re gone. However there are some who come into your life and stay there because you are who you are and they like you for that. This was probably the most rewarding effects when you go to a certain event or place, like the Christmas market in Germany.
After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main). Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s The Langoliers- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.
However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film The Langoliers. There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nuremberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.
But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there.
And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays.
After enjoying some music over a Glühwein and listening to people talking about how Carl Zeiss Jena and Erfurt are struggling to make a name for themselves in the 3rd League of the German professional soccer league (DFB), the next stop on the Christmas market tour is Nuremberg (Germ.: Nürnberg). A brief overview of the city itself, the city of over 500,000 is the second largest city in Bavaria, behind Munich, and is the capital of Franconia. The city has a colorful history both positive as well as bad (and I believe we all know about the bad part, so I will not mention it here). It is the birthplace of the railroad in Germany, where the first rail line was created in 1835, and it is home to the German railroad museum. Furthermore, the FC Nürnberg from the German Premier League (1st Bundesliga) is a regional favorite as despite the fact that it does some league hopping between the 1st and 2nd leagues, it can be a royal pain in the butt to some of the elite teams, like Munich, Bremen, and Berlin, just to name a few.
But the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is perhaps the most popular and one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. Located in the heart of the city in the old town, the Christmas market ties together tradition, multiculture, and fun for the more than 5 million people who visit the place in the 1 ½ months that it is open, ending on Christmas Eve. The Christmas market is divided up into four parts. There is the main market, where every square meter of over 300 booths fill up the 350+ square meter market square, located in front of Frauenkirche (a catholic church). To the right of the main market is the Kindermarkt, located behind the church on the east side, where all the children’s rides and booths are located. There is the food market, located along Maximilianplatz, parallel to the Pegnitz River, where different varieties of food are served. And finally there is the Markt der PartnerstÃ¤dte located in front of City Hall at Rathausplatz, where each of Nuremberg’s 16 sister cities from around the world display their own products for sale. This includes some from Greece, Romania, France, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Cuba. There is also one from Cordoba (Spain), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Atlanta (USA). Even Gera, which is located in eastern Thuringia (about two hours east of Erfurt), is a sister city to Nuremberg and offers its local specialties at the market every year, including the typical Thuringian Bratwurst.
But there is more to the Nünberger Christkindlsmarkt than just the types of markets that are worth seeing. Since its first inception in 1610, the Christmas market in Nuremberg offers a wide array of homemade products which one will not find elsewhere, except at some of the other Christmas markets in Germany. In particular, handcraft products made of wood are very popular as Christmas decorations, Räucherhäuser (incense houses), and even mini toy products for the doll house, such as furniture, appliances, and mini-food products can be bought at the stands. Even alphabet trains are common to pick up and even my daughter has a set which resembles her name plus the locomotive and caboose. Another tradition that you will find in Nuremberg is the famous Lebkuchen, which are gingerbread cookies covered with a coating and whose bottom side is covered with a disk-like white sugar covering. All assortments of Lebkuchen can be found here as well as the other Christmas markets in Germany, at the booths throughout the Christmas market. However, if you want something rather warm and hearty, then the two products you should definitely try at the Nuremberg Christmas market are the Pfannkuchen and the Glühwein. The Pfannkuchen is a dough resembling a cross between a pizza and a tortilla but is filled with toppings at your request, and baked in the oven so that in the end, you can have it hot and crispy. Most of them consist of vegetables, cheese, and meat slices, but there are some with fruit and chocolate should you have a sweet tooth but want to forego the Lebkuchen and another specialty well-known to the Christmas market, the fruitcake. The Glühwein (a.k.a. spiced or mulled wine) from Nuremberg is the most popular throughout all of Germany and parts of Europe. There are different types of Glühwein that one can try, whether it is homemade, or if it is combined with other forms of liquour. This includes one with a shot of tequilla, which I tried at the stand representing one of Nuremberg’s sister cities, Cordoba, Spain. This is probably the most lethal as despite the taste (which was really good), it can put you out until the next week, even if you don’t feel the effects of it at first. This was the case with yours truly, as he suffered a hangover for a couple days, although admittedly, it was well worth the experiment.
Finally, one has to look at the origin of the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Christkind, when translated into English means Christ Child, and every two years, a girl is nominated to represent the Christ Child at the Christmas market. The girl must be between the ages of 16 and 19 years and must have a “clean record,” meaning the girl must be pure and rid of all the giddiness. She is responsible for opening the Christmas market with a processional, which attracts thousands of people, plus other events throughout the season, which usually starts at the end of November and ends on Christmas Eve.
Despite all this excitement involving the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, it does have an Achilles heel which may be fatal if the issue is not settled in the future. Despite the fact that over 5 million people visit the market every year, there is the problem of overcrowding , as many people push and shove their way through the markets, making the experience of visiting one of the most famous markets in Germany (and to a certain degree, Europe) rather uncomfortable. The worst time is during the weekend and especially on a Saturday, when people don’t work over the weekend and use this time to do the Christmas shopping. Whenever there is crowding in a public place, it is almost certain that there will be tempers flying from those who are impatient and sometimes inconsiderate towards others. It is worse after a few rounds of Glühwein or other warm drinks, because that is when most of the mischiefs happen. While we will never have the incident like we had with the Love Parade Dance in Duisburg (east of Cologne), where overcrowding resulted in a stampede and the deaths of 144 people and hundreds of injuries in July of this year, the overcrowding may have a potential of becoming dangerous in the future unless the city of Nuremberg either controls the flow of people going through the market through entrance fees, or enlarges the market to include other areas even outside the old town. However, until this problem is resolved, the author here can offer you some tips to make sure that your experience at the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt is a wonderful one and not a nightmare. These tips are based in my experiences visiting the market twice within a span of a year and whether they are useful or not will all depend on when you visit it and how you like it.
So without further ado, here are some useful tips to consider:
The best time to visit the Christmas market in Nuremberg is either on a weekday or weeknight, as this is when the activity is lightest.
The worst time to visit the Christmas market is on a Saturday; especially because many department stores and other permanent shops are open at the same time, many people like to push their way through to get to their goods they want. Plus one has to be aware of the overcrowding that is involved.
If you insist on visiting the Christmas market on a Saturday, you may want to consider lodging the night before so that you have enough time to spend the next day.
Always make sure you have enough money in your possession so that you don’t come up short and have to fight through the crowd just to get to an ATM machine
Make sure you be polite to others when getting through and show an example to the rest of the bunch so that it is known that pushing and shoving are just simply not allowed.
If it is too crowded and you cannot get through, always remember: the Christmas market is not going anywhere. It’ll be there the next time you visit Nuremberg.
Never rush through the Christmas market. Take your time, enjoy the booths, buy some things for your loved ones, and have some fun, and lastly,
Never try Glühwein with tequila unless you are man enough to take it and the hangover that accompanies it.
Keeping those points in mind and after trying some goodies, my next trip is north to another Christmas market, where I have friends waiting for me. Until next time folks and friends, enjoy the flicks provided by the author of the Files.
Well here I am, on the road again, this time to hunt down the finest Christmas Markets in Germany, and the first one on my to visit happens to be the one not far from my backyard, in the state capital of Thuringia, Erfurt. There are a lot of interesting points of interest which makes Erfurt one of the most preferred places to live. It has the oldest bridge in the state and the last of its kind in Europe with the Krämerbrücke; it has one of the largest cathedrals in Germany the Erfurter Dom, and it has two universities each located on opposite poles of the city with 250,000 inhabitants (minus the suburbs). But when it comes to Christmas time, all of the city is wild and crazy in its Christmas market. For those who have never visited the eastern part of the country, apart from trying its regional specialties, like Vita Cola (equivalent to Coca Cola) and Born mustard, one should take at least a half day to visit the Christmas market in Erfurt. Basically, the Christmas market is divided up into three different segments. There is one in the city center known as Anger. This is strategically located next to the shopping center Anger 1 and it is easily accessible by street car as the two main lines meet here. Going a bit further to the north, one will see another segment of the Christmas market at Wenigermarkt, which is located next to the Krämerbrücke at the east entrance to the structure. There and on the bridge itself, one will find the local specialties in terms of beverages and food, including a local chocolate store, which makes Brückentruffels (thimble-like chocolate lazmoges which melts in your mouth and not in your hand) by hand. But the main attraction is 10 minutes by foot to the west, where the Erfurter Dom is located. 250 square meters of food, folks, and fun are all located right in front of the steps going up to the doors of the cathedral. One can try almost everything at the booths, from Langos (a Hungarian specialty), to Eierpunsch (heated egg nog with whipped cream), to the local Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine). My favorite of these specialties are the Erfurter Domino Steine. To understand what a Domino Stein is, it is a chocolate covered pastry cube with a spread of filling inside it. Germany is famous for its western kind of Domino Stein, made in Lübeck (which is east of Hamburg and Flensburg) and Aachen (which is west of Cologne and Düsseldorf near the border to France). This is made with a thick layer of marmalade sandwiched with pastry on the bottom and marzipan (an almond-flavored paste) on top. However despite the fact that this type of Domino Stein was part of the East German culture and was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of many who just wanted to see a reunited Germany without the socialist mentality, the Erfurter version of Domino Stein exists at the Christmas market in Erfurt! The pastry is not so sweet and there is only a thin layer of marmalade sandwiched between two layers of pasty and covered in chocolate made locally! When I first tried it back in 2001, I fell in love with it right away. Recently, while having an Erfurt English Roundtable at the Christmas market, there were many students who had never tried this specialty before. Therefore, it was my duty to take them there so that they can taste it. Many of them really liked it and some wanted to buy them to take it home with them to share with their families. I usually take 3-4 bags of them to the US when I spend Christmas with my family in Minnesota as they too relish at trying something that is not common over there and can rarely be found in Germany.
But even if you don’t want to try the Erfurt Domino Stein or any of the specialties there, the landscape at Christmas time in Erfurt, and the holiday joy that goes along with that is something that you must see. One can get a picturesque view of the main Christmas market at Erfurter Dom at any hour of the day. Even when the Christmas market closes at 9:00pm at night and the booths are closed up waiting to be opened again the next day, there are still many people who celebrate over Glühwein and another Thuringian specialty that is very common, the Thuringian bratwurst, as the lights on the huts and the Christmas tree keeps shining through the night, the steam from the chestnut locomotive continues to emit the smell of holiday incense, and the cathedral is lit up to a point where one can see it from the plane when taking off or landing at the airport in Bindersleben (a suburb to the north and west of Erfurt). Going through the Christmas market at any time of the day, one will hear the bartender of the Glühwein booth holler at the top of his lungs “Ich habe Trinkgeld bekommen!” (I got a tip) every five minutes, or listen to local musicians play on the streets or in the shopping center Anger 1. Going into the cathedral, one can pay their respects to their loved ones by lighting a candle or see an annual Christmas tree display in the church cellar. Â And lastly, one can also see friends and family gathering at the tables of the booths, drinking a Glühwein and reminiscing about the past, talking about the present, and thinking about the future; especially when it comes to children and grandchildren. In either case, if there is an unwritten rule when it comes to visiting the eastern part of Germany, never forget to visit Erfurt; especially at Christmas time, because that is where the Fs are: food, family, friends and especially, fun!