Christmas Market Activities

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The Christmas markets in Germany have a lot to offer for tourists and readers alike. Also for students learning English as a Foreign Language is this topic useful for learning new vocabulary and grammar- in this case, present simple vs. present continuous. Here are some activities that are useful for the classroom, regardless of setting.

Pre-reading exercises:

  1. With a partner, make a list of items you think would be found at a German Christmas market and why. At least three items, one of which has to be a Christmas gift, another a food item and the last one is a hot beverage. The more items, the better. 🙂
  2. Take some time to guess at the following 12 questions about Germany’s Christmas market by clicking here.

https://www.boombox.com/widget/quiz/fi9xdWl6emVzLzMyNTkxMw

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Reading:

Read the following text below about the Medieval Christmas market in Erfurt and answer the questions that follow.

Adventsmarkt at Erfurt Cathedral

For the first time ever, the medieval Christmas Market in Erfurt is taking place at the Cathedral Erfurter Dom. From 29 November to 30 December people have an opportunity to visit the market and witness German culture during the Middle Ages by walking behind the Cathedral and seeing the stands that sell goods from that period. The reason for the move is due to a lack of space combined with strict regulations at their previous location, at Wenigermarkt. City officials claim that they don’t have enough space to house the high number of stands. People that enjoy the sounds of bagpipes and watching sword fights between two knights, while drinking a hot mead,  are welcoming the city’s decision with open arms, and many are volunteering to help with the set up. Currently, construction crews are laying the foundations for the market behind the Cathedral. Signs and other information about the market, which is now being called the Adventsmarkt, are posted online. City officials hope that the market attracts at least half of the 2.2 million people that visit the main market every year. That market is located in front of the church at the market square Domplatz.

Source: Thüringer Allgemein Zeitung, 14 October, 2016. 

 

Questions:

  1. After having the  market at _______________, this year’s Medieval Christmas market is taking place at _______________.
  2. Where exactly at Domplatz is the market taking place?
  3. Why is the market relocating there? List two main reasons.
  4. How many people do retailers at the Medieval Christmas market hope to attract?
  5. What is typical of the Medieval Christmas market in Erfurt?  Find three items in the text.

Vocabulary Challenge:    What can a person find at a typical Medieval Christmas Market? Choose from the vocabulary list below. Which ones are mentioned in the text above?

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Grammar: 

Look for the verb patterns in the text. What differences can you see here?

The rules for simple vs. continuous and the usage of time markers can be found here.  As pottery is also a handcrafted item one can find at the Christmas market, including the Medieval one, some exercises and quiz can be found in the link, too. 🙂

Activity 1:

Look at the following sentences below, identify the time marker and the verb tense- present simple or present continuous

  1. The Christmas Market takes place every year during the time of Advent.
  2. At the moment, the mayor is cutting the stollen to open the market.
  3. People always love drinking mulled wine (Glühwein).
  4. Right now, the dancers are performing a music piece on stage.
  5. The Christmas carolers are singing in front of the Pyramid in a moment! Hurry!
  6. Traditionally, the brass group sings Christmas songs at the market at 5:00pm every day.
  7. We are eating Flammlachs (fried salmon) today at the booth next to the stage.
  8. Now the kids are riding the carousel.
  9. I’m trying a hot mead at the Medieval Market with some friends this evening.
  10. People mostly eat hot dishes, Langosch (fried batter) and bratwursts at the markets.

 

Activity 2. 

Using the verb in the bracket, complete each sentence in present continuous form.

  1. Harry:  Marv, what ____ you ________? (do)
  2. Marv: I _______________rum with wine, oranges and spices. (mix)
  3. Harry: You _______not_____________ about making that punch again, are you? (think)
  4. Marv: Oh yeah, Harry. I _________________  my recipe! (specialize) I___________ in some cinnamon schnaps, sherry and a few cherries. (put)
  5. Harry: So instead of helping me collect money from kids for the Salvation Army, you ______________ a toxic with a potential of knocking people out cold? (make)
  6. Marv: C’mon Harry, you know we _____________ beggar’s money with that, right? (earn)
  7. Harry: Better that than me ______________ you getting punched! (watch)
  8. Marv: Quiet, Harry! Look, there are two people. They _______________ us for a cup! (ask)
  9. Harry: I ____not _______ at this! (look) I ________ back to the booth. (go)
  10. Marv _____________ his punch to the young couple. (serve)
  11. As they __________ the punch (drink), the man tells the woman “I’m loving you!

The woman becomes furious, punches him out and walks off!

 

Question for the forum:  What is wrong with the man’s comment: “I’m loving you?” ❤

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Activity 3.

The following sentences are incorrect. Look at them and rewrite them, using the correct verb tense. Please note that the time markers are correct and must not be changed.

  1. The Christmas market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is taking place every year from the end of November to the fourth Advent.

________________________________________________________________

2. Hundreds of thousands of people are visiting the walls of this Medieval community at this time, annually.

________________________________________________________________

3. The Night Watchman greets us this evening for a tour through the town.

_________________________________________________________________

4. From March to New Year’s Day, he is guiding people and telling them stories about the town’s history.

_________________________________________________________________

5. At the moment, Sara and Leif eat the town’s well-known snowballs, made of cookie dough.

_________________________________________________________________

6. The Christmas Museum is opening every day including Christmas Day.

_________________________________________________________________

7. In front of the Doll Museum, a little girl currently cleans one of the Käthe Wohlfahrt dolls found on the window sill.

_________________________________________________________________

8. Right now, the Night Watchman tells a group of children to stop singing “Ring Around the Rosy” because it is being a curse to the town.

_________________________________________________________________

9. The sun rises soon, but the Watchman still talks about the town’s history.

_________________________________________________________________

10. As the stores open, the people now sleep in front of the church.

_________________________________________________________________

 

Activity 4. Group Exercise-  How to create your own Christmas market

Imagine you are the mayor of a small community and for the first time ever, you are hosting a Christmas market. How would you plan this? What would you sell? Check out this article as well as some suggestions and instructions from your teacher to help you. In the end, you should have a presentation of no more than two minutes where you will propose your Christmas market and your peers will help you.

Note: Good for groups of 2-4, pending on the class size. 

 

 

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The Christmas markets are proven to be very popular at this time of year. This includes the following Christmas markets that were used for these exercises which are highly recommended to visit when visiting Germany next holiday season:

Dresden and Nuremberg (for Activity 1)

Flensburg (for Activity 2)

Rothenburg ob der Tauber (for Activity 3)

Heilsberg near Rudolstadt (for Activity 4)

 

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ANS to the Vocabulary Challenge on the Medieval Christmas Market:  Hot mead, swords, blacksmith, pastor, knight, glass ornaments, bag pipes, handcrafted knives, broom-maker, beer, smoked meat.

 

 

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Zwickau (Saxony)

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The next Christmas market on the tour takes us back to the Erzgebirge Region- or should I say the gateway to the mountains to be specific?  Zwickau is located in the southwestern part of Saxony, 17 kilometers south of neighboring Glauchau along the Zwickauer Mulde River. Access to the city of 100,000 inhabitants is easy, thanks to access to the Autobahn 72 that connects Hof (Bavaria) and Leipzig via Chemnitz and two key railways: The Nuremberg-Hof-Dresden Magistrate operated mainly by the Mitteldeutsche Railway (MRB) and the Franconian-Saxony Route connecting Leipzig-Halle and Hof with a branch extending to Zwickau from Werdau. Another rail route to Karlsbad (Karoly Vary) in the Czech Republic provides direct access to the mountains.  Zwickau is the gateway to the Erzgebirge region (Ore Mountains) with the historic Silver Road being the western terminus that provides access through the mountains enroute to Freiberg (Saxony), offering tourists a glimpse of the story of the miners and how they lived, in places like Annaberg-Buchholz, Schneeberg, Schwarzenberg, and Tharandt.  Zwickau is also the gateway to the heavily forested and hilly Vogtland region in the south, where Plauen, Greiz and Hof are located, but also the agricultural regions to the north, where Glauchau, Gössnitz and Altenburg are located. The landscape changes when passing through Zwickau, enabling people to choose which region to hike (or bike if you have two wheels). 🙂

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Zwickau is also the birthplace of automobiles and infrastructure. Audi Motors, which was created in 1932 thanks to the fusion with Horch, had its start in the city. The beloved East German car Trabant was manufactured in Zwickau until 1990. Now Volkswagon handles most of the manufacturing of cars at its headquarters between Zwickau and Glauchau. The city is home of very unique bridges stemming from six different eras, including the Paradiesbrücke, Röhrensteg and Zellstoff Bridge (a tour guide of the bridges can be found here). It is unknown whether the largest bridge builder in Zwickau, whose history goes back 160 years may have had something to do with it, but it would not be a surprise.  Yet a surprise to musicians and Germanists would be if they never knew that composer Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau and had his start there before becoming a famous pianist and music writer. The house where he was born is still standing and can be seen while in the city center.

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A specialized oven cooking Mutzbraten at Kornmarkt

Then there is the Christmas market in Zwickau. When compared to the markets in the Erzgebirge or Vogtland regions, let alone in the western half of Saxony (minus Chemnitz), the market is the largest with over 300 stands in two markets plus four different streets connecting them. From the author’s perspective, Zwickau’s market is one of the most centralized markets ever visited on tour, as one needs only two minutes walk between the two markets. It’s comparible to the ones in Leipzig, Halle (Saale), Nuremberg, Quedlinburg and to a certain degree, Freiberg.  Yet in terms of access, when compared to the likes of Chemnitz, Glauchau, Freiberg, Frankfurt (Main) and Weimar, it is very difficult to reach, especially by bike but also by car.  While one can be daring enough to bike the Zwickauer Mulde bike path and access it from Paradiesbrücke, which takes only three minutes to reach, from the train station, let alone the main highway B93, one needs 10-15 minutes to reach. The reason: The market is located deep inside the walls of the historic town, and that is located right next to the river! Allow some time and patience to find it and have your Google Map app handy.

I had two different opportunities to visit the market this year because of my commitments teaching English nearby combined with my plan to visit the markets in the mountain. Both times I came away with the same impression as before, which was very local but diverse, very historical but fancy, very religious but educational, and very wide in selection but also very tasty.  In short, if you want a taste of Erzgebirge and Vogtland and have a time and money budget, you should take some time in Zwickau, as the city provides you with a glimpse of the markets you could (and should) visit when going deeper into the regions.

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As mentioned earlier, the market is divided up into two different ones. The larger of the two markets is located at Hauptmarkt, which is between Alte Steinweg and Marienplatz. At this place, one will find everything typical of Saxony and the Erzgebirge. Like in Chemnitz and Freiberg, this market has its usual black Lichterbogen (lighted arch), laden with stands made of wood from the mountains, all of which have the usual yellowish-brown and mahogany colors and resemble log cabins and huts. The backdrop of the market features the Historic Theater (Gewandhaus) with its white and light brown Fachwerk design, the City Hall and the Robert Schumann House, where he was born.  Looking towards the theater, one will see the large pyramid with its figures of the miners in the foreground; the Christmas tree is in the background. The former is a key eatery, serving traditional delicacies but also a dozen types of Glühwein (mulled/spiced wine), including apple and spice, sanddorn (sea buckthorn) and wildberry. It is also one of three places where a person can find a Christmas market cup in several different colors and designs. Two of them I have at home as souvenirs, btw. 🙂

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View of behind the manger set with a light resembling the star that led the three wisemen to Baby Jesus. Photo taken at St. Mary’s Church.

Crossing Marienplatz and going adjacent from the Hauptmarkt, there is St. Mary’s Cathedral (the official name is St. Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). While visiting the church, one really needs to see the manger set, located behind the church in front of the museum and Brauhaus restaurant and brewery. While the market has more manger sets than any of the markets in eastern Germany (at least five of them are located at the Christmas market in general), this one is the largest as the figures are life-sized and depict the scene where the three wise men visit and bless Joseph and Mary, the proud parents, and baby Jesus. While the site is more visible in the daytime, one can play with photography at night, using the lights to depict the actual scene and the lighted church as the backdrop.

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Side view of the manger set with the church in the background

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South of the church, going 300 meters, is Kornplatz. This section is the smaller of the two markets but serves as a symbol of the more traditional Christmas market on a wider German scale. This goes beyond the pyramid, which has a more modern mahogany appearance, as several gabled dark brown houses sell local clothing and cooked goods, including the Mutzbraten, which is smoked marinated pork that is cooked for 2-3 hours in a wooden stove and is a Thuringian tradition, like the Bratwurst. However there are two more local cooked specialties to be mentioned later that are even local than the Thuringian specialties offered at this Christmas market (no offense to those from Thuringia.) The market has a carousel and children’s railroad track for them to ride the train through the market. The market area itself is more suitable for families with children because of the space and some stands that are children friendly. Also as an incentive to visit the market is the children’s story alley. Located along Münzstrasse connecting the Korn and Haupt markets,  it features a display of 3-4 fairy tales which are decided upon annually by the planning committee.  The artists then construct the mural and the figures depicted in the story, which is recorded by the narrators and played by the tourists.

LOOKING AT THESE DISPLAYS, CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY ARE?

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Other amusement rides can also be found at the Hauptmarkt, but across the streetcar tracks and on the opposite side of the statue of Robert Schumann. They were purposely placed there to provide better access for children and to avoid overcrowding. The planning of the Christmas market was perfect in a way that the children’s section was placed in the outer portions of the Hauptmarkt while the market itself can focus on local goods from the region. This plus its openness- meaning no fences and key entrances like at the one in Freiberg- enables people to enter and exit the market anywhere freely without overcrowding. It’s convenient and most importantly, it’s safe. This is probably the main reason why Zwickau’s market is so centralized- not to mention well organized. 🙂

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The stand across St. Mary’s Church which sold Zwickau Brühlette. There were three at the market that sold this unique specialty that is typical of the city.

As mentioned before, Zwickau’s Christmas market has a wide selection of food and drink- the more traditional Christmas market foods are at the Kornmarkt, while the more local goods from the region is found at the Hauptmarkt, with a few exceptions of foods from Switzerland and France at a couple booths, including Cheese Fondue.  One of the prized goods worth trying is the Zwickau Brühlette. Based on a recipe dating back to the 1950s, the Brühlette is simply a meatloaf made of ground meet combined with flour, breadcrumbs and spices, but what exactly goes into there and how it is made has remained top secret since it was presented by a married couple who invented this in light of the food shortage during the days of Socialism in East Germany. After the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the unique delicacy became nearly an overnight hit among “Westerners” that eventually, a restaurant was established, which still sells the Brühlette- with or without bread and with or without topping. I tried one at the stand across from St. Mary’s Church during my visit with mustard and it topped all the Leberkäse (basically meatloaf slices) I’ve tried since moving to Germany in 1999! It was a bit spicy but really tasty and one that stands out! When visiting Zwickau, it is recommended to put this food on top of your list of delicacies to taste.

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Not far from the top of the list of foods to taste is horse meat. Regardless of whether they are meat slices or sausage, horse meat is different from other forms of meat that people eat as it has a tender, hearty and somewhat tart-like flavor, regardless of how it is served. The place selling this is Ulrich Engelhardt, and the business has been selling horse meat since 1990, the same time the Zwickau Christmas market started up again! I tried one during my first visit in a form of a sausage on a bun and it tasted similar to Polish sausages, a common commodity sold in American supermarkets. Having that with my dad and brother while growing up, that was quite addicting and tasty! 🙂

Also recommended is the Dresden Landbrot. Originating from the capital of Saxony, the Landbrot is baked bread with filling, cooked in a wooden oven. Filling included cheese and meat, and can be served with sour creme and chives, just to name a few. This bread is best served hot with a good Glühwein to go along with that.  🙂

Despite all that is offered at the Christmas market, sometimes it hurts to say good-bye, especially when the market closes at 8:00pm. Zwickau usually ends its market day on a musical note, singing Christmas carols and a farewell song as a way to signaling the visitors mulling over some Räuchermänner made of Erzgebirge wood, accessories for a doll house, lanterns with a wooden frame, miner figures made of silver or wood and other typical local products to make the purchase and allow the merchants to close their doors to prepare for the next day. Believe it or not, I witnessed this on my visit, especially as the number of visitors had already reached its peak.  But it was a way to look back at Zwickau’s market and summarize it in simpler terms:

Zwickau is one of the largest Christmas markets in a region where the city sits at the gateway to three different landscapes: Vogtland, Erzgebirge and the agricultural plains. Like the markets of the past, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides people with an opportunity to try and purchase products locally. In other words, the market is one of the more local ones when looking at the themes mentioned and the heritage that goes along with that. While some markets are really spread out, Zwickau is one of the more centralized of the Christmas markets, with two key markets, two corridors with only a three minute walking distance and a large church with the largest of the five manger sets to see. Even if it takes a long time to get to the city center where the market is located, the visit in the end is well worth it. Given its access to the three regions and its western terminus to the Silver Road going through the Erzgebirge, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides the tourist with a whiff of the city’s history with the miners and perhaps encourages the person to explore the other Christmas markets and places along the path to look at their history and heritage and learn a bit more about the history of Saxony and to a greater extent, Germany.

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Because of that, I have a lot of towns along the Silver Road to explore, in addition to the Vogtlanders. And what will be interesting is seeing how these markets, like Annaberg-Bucholz, Schwarzenberg, Schneeberg, etc. celebrate Christmas and their miners. Will it be different or similar to what I visited during the tour? My bet is each market will be different but the miners’ legacy will be the same, affecting the lifestyles of the people in the Erzgebirge that is different than the rest of the country. And sometimes a different lifestyle opens new doors to knowledge and understanding. 🙂

Check out the Flensburg Files’ photo album with additional photos of Zwickau’s Christmas market, which you can click here. An ongoing collection of Zwickau at night, taken by the author, can be accessed here. Stop here occasionally as the collection will be bigger. Enjoy! 🙂

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Flensburg

I would like to start off this tour with a story and a definition of the word punch. It happened at my cousin’s high school graduation reception in 1990 and I was 13. We had a large bowl of fruit punch that was based on a family recipe from my grandmother- basically, fruit juice with ginger ale and ice cream. I drained the lake and wanted more, but in response, my aunt (the proud mother of that high school graduate) decided to give me the punch I deserved, which went along the lines of this…..

You can imagine how I looked like minutes later, with a pair of Ozzy eyes (named after the famed rock singer Ozzy Osbourne)!  😉

The English version of punch is translated into German as Bowle, and with the exception of Feuerzangenbowle (a hot red wine punch with a sugar cone soaked in rum lit above it), a Bowle is a large bowl of sweet non-alcoholic beverage, served with or without ice cream (a typical German gets by without this).  However, punch can also mean Punsch in German, and that has alcohol in there.

The Christmas market in Flensburg is centered around this theme, as I had an opportunity to steal a couple hours to have a look at it. And believe me, having sampled at least five different types while up there, I felt like this afterwards:

I highly doubt Flensburg’s Roter Strasse, which is laden with shops connecting two markets was like Dodge City, Kansas in the Hollywood western films starring John Wayne, however if one is not careful with the punch, one could end up getting sobered up in the icy cold water of the Fjorde, located only 200 meters away. 😉

Overview of the Christmas market at Südermarkt with St. Nicolas Church in the background.

But getting to the real aspect here, Flensburg’s Christmas market is plotted out in a way that all of the  huts are located either in Südermarkt, where the St. Nicolas Church is located, or along the Roter Strasse. Basically, as a friend of mine (who is a Flensburger) suggested in an inquiry: Start at the market and work your way up the huts along the street. 😉 Normally, Flensburg has two markets- Südermarkt and Nordermarkt (at Schiffbrückstrasse). The reason Nordermarkt does not have any Christmas market huts is not just because of space issues, but also because seven eateries are located there. Another open area not used for the Christmas market is the Kanalschuppen am Hafenspitze (will be named Hafenspitze in this article), at the tip of the harbor. Some carnevals and markets can be found there in the springtime, and the space is technically suitable for a few huts and some form of amusement at Christmas time. However, that remained empty during my visit in November before the first Advent. Having the market directly in the city center at Südermarkt and along the main street definitely makes sense because of its location- with stores, museums and other public places lined up and down along the street, safety because of the high density of traffic encircling the city center via Norderhofenden, and convenience as people can shop and taste the punch, like going through revolving doors connecting the shopping center indoors and the huts and eateries outside at the market.

However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, the theme of Flensburg’s Christmas market is the punch. One will see a booth for every three that sells this unique drink. The origin of Flensburg’s punch is from over 230 years of producing rum by as many as 20 refineries and distilleries owned by 13 different families; the most famous ones were Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Braasch, Johannsen, Christiansen and Pott. One will see memorials, street names and businesses named after them today, while touring Flensburg.  And while one can take the Rum-Sugar Mile Tour, like I did during my first visit in 2010, that combined with the taste of rum or any form of punch with the beverage in there, provides the tourist with a unique treat at Christmas time. The lone caveat based on my personal experience: no matter what kind of punch a person tries, each one may have a different flavor but they one common ground, which is the ability to pack a punch with every sip. So please, be careful when sampling. 😉

I tried five different types of punch while at the Flensburger Christmas market. They included the following:

Johannsen Rum Punch- I tried this at the Johannsen hut along the main street and it was so powerful, that not even a slap in the face from a furious fraulein would surpass it. It had a citrus, cinnamon and dry red wine taste to it, but with the Johannsen Rum, one sip is enough for a good buzz. The hut was selling bottles of their signature punch when I was there. One of which was bought as a Christmas gift for a family member, who is a rum fan. We’ll see if he gets the same impression as I had. 😉

Braasch Rum Punch- Tasted at the booth near Südermarkt, this type of punch is a bit milder than the Johannsen as it had a taste of raisin, almonds and brown sugar in there. Still one does recognize the taste of rum when drinking it. For those who don’t like dried alcoholic beverage, like wine, this one is worth it because of its sweetness. This one is highly recommended. 🙂

Flensburg Special- This was purchased at a booth along the main street near Nordermarkt. Containing cinnamon schnaps and rum punch, this one has a very spicy but sweet taste to it, similar to cinnamon itself. If you have not tried cinnamon liquor, you don’t know what you’re missing. 😉

Fernwärme Punsch- Like the Flensburger Flotilla (a concoction featuring rum, Flensburger beer and apple juice), the Fernwärme Punsch, a.k.a. Hot Pipe Punch, features the signature products of Flensburg, minus the beer. In this case, Johannsen Rum with apple punch. The taste is sour as Granny Smith’s apples, but it is relatively mild.

Pott Rum Punch- Featuring a combination of der Gute Pott Rum, red wine and the spices that make up the spiced wine, this one is far different from the typical spiced wine because of its rum taste and its spiciness. Nevertheless, one will get a good dose of rum and Flensburg’s heritage with this sip, while trying this at the market.

But not everything is centered around rum at the Christmas market. Aside from the traditional German entrées that can be found at a Christmas market, like the goulash, bratwurst and kabobs, there were several huts that served some delicacies from outside of Germany, including Italy, Scandanavia and Turkey. One of the places worth visiting is a Turkish hut that serves Börek. Börek is a pastry that is made of a flaky dough called phyllo and is filled with either meat or a combination vegetable and cheese- namely spinach and Feta cheese. It can also be served with fruit pending on the appetite. I had a chance to try one while at Südermarkt and it tasted really delicious.

In spite of its fame in the rum industry and its multi-cultural foods the market offers, there are a couple of caveats about the market that the city government and organizers should take into consideration when planning the next Christmas market. One deals with the opening hours of the market, the other deals with spatial issues and possible expansion to make it more attractive.

The first oddity I found with the Christmas market were the hours. Flensburg’s Christmas market is one of a few in Germany that are open beyond Christmas- specifically, until the 31st of December. Most Christmas markets close before Christmas or even on Christmas Eve, thus sticking to the guidelines and observing the holidays, let alone families wishing to celebrate and then go on vacation. However, the opening hours of Flensburg’s market is even more odd. They are open until 10pm daily, even though most stores and shopping areas at and near the market close at 8:00pm sharp, unless some exceptions are noted. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect opportunity to visit during the evening of my visit in Schleswig-Holstein, there are some benefits and drawbacks to extended hours. The benefits include the possibility to eat and drink at the huts with friends, as well as buy any last minute gift items for Christmas, even if it was a bottle of a valuable rum, like Braasch or Johannsen. For many who work long hours or have to travel long distances, a brief stop at the market in Flensburg provides them with a chance to enjoy the view of the city center and harbor, while sipping one of their punches and eating a rare cuisine.

The drawbacks to having extended hours are two-fold. The first one is the conflict between the huts selling their goods, the retailers and the customers. While the market may be open until 10pm, many retailers may feel disadvantaged because of the loss of sales. In addition, many customers would like to do some nighttime shopping in addition to visiting the Christmas market and would see extended opening hours on weekdays as an advantage, especially as they do not have sufficient time to shop for Christmas. On the flip side, however, some huts I observed while touring Roter Strasse closed a half hour to an hour earlier because they didn’t have enough customers to keep their stores open. If a salesperson sees one or two customers stopping at a stand during the last two hours of the market in comparison with over 300 during peak times between 12:00 and 6:00pm, then the question remains if these two extra hours makes sense.  Roter Strasse is known to Flensburgers and tourists alike as the district that never sleeps- not just because of the lighting, but also the bustling nightlife that goes on even after 10:00pm. This is speaking from personal experience after visiting the city for the fifth time since 2010. Even at midnight, one will see people walking around or see some action in one form or another. It is also one of the busiest pedestrian pathways in northern Germany as thousands roam the streets during the day when all stores and eateries are open. Keeping this in mind, businesses and planners need to work on having transparent opening hours at the market. If the stores wish to close at 8:00pm, then the Christmas market should also follow suit and close their shops just like the other markets. If the Christmas market wishes to remain open until 10pm, then at least the shopping centers and key businesses should remain open to encourage shoppers to buy their gifts AND eat or drink at the market. Only with these uniform guidelines will Flensburg win more customers and leave no one out in the cold.

View of the market at Südermarkt and its pyramid from the steps of St. Nicolas Church.

Another critique point of the Flensburg market is the space. The market is concentrated at Südermarkt with some huts lined along Roter Strasse. Despite the main street connecting both markets, there are no huts at Nordermarkt because of its proximity to the numerous eateries nearby, let alone its size as it is at least half the size of Südermarkt. But as mentioned earlier, there is potential for expansion on the opposite end of Süderhofenden, the main highway passing through Flensburg. In the past, the highway was laden with traffic, and crossing the street to the Hafenspitze was dangerous. However, since the Deutsche Bahn has eliminated train service connecting the harbor with the train station a few years ago, plans are in the work to convert the rail tracks to a pedestrian path, thus encouraging more commerce around the harbor and possibly enlarging the Christmas market. Already in the works is the revitalizing of Angelburger Strasse from the former Comic/Bike Shop Bridge at Süderhofenden to Petersen’s Bike Shop at Bismarck Strasse by redesigning the businesses, renovating many of the historic buildings along the street to provide housing and new commerce and encouraging businesses and residents to move to the area, the city council, merchants and planners are working to attract more people and businesses and thus relieving the overcrowding that the business district has, especially at Christmas time. If successful, a row of huts and other forms of holiday entertainment, perhaps around a (cultural) theme could be provided to encourage people to visit there.

Former Restaurant Bellevue now called Heimathafen at Hafenspitze
View of Flensburg’s skyline from the Restaurant Heimathafen. This is the third picture at this site since my first visit in 2010. The Christmas tree is on the far left.

Another sign that an area of Flensburg is being revitalized came with the purchase and reopening of the former Bellevue Restaurant at Hafenspitze in June 2016. As the restaurant is fostering its growth in the number of customers, one could revitalize the area at Hafenspitze by adding an amusement section, like a theater or a few rides, and a few huts to provide food and drink for those interested. During my visit the area was completely empty and what was featured that constitutes a Christmas market was a lighted Christmas tree in the harbor. Great photo opportunity for a dedicated (night) photographer, but Flensburg can do better with utilizing and revitalizing the area, let alone a larger Christmas tree in the harbor.  With this development, the city can attract more businesses, especially from Denmark and parts of Scandanavia. There were only a couple stands selling goods from the region, despite its campaign of being the market with a Scandanavian flair. However, with some redeveloping of the aforementioned areas combined with some incentives, the city can bring in many businesses from up north- be it the ones in the north of the city, at the border in Pattburg or even in other parts of Denmark and beyond. Flensburg’s role as a border town, a multi-cultural community with the largest Danish minority in Germany and its great reputation in many fields makes it a magnet for more people, businesses, and in the end one of the most attractive Christmas markets  in the region. 🙂

Night photo of Flensburg’s City Center and Christmas tree at Hafenspitze

Flensburg’s Christmas market can be best summed up in this way. The market centers around its rum industry and its many types of punch a person can try. It does complement the businesses and historic places the city has to offer and it definitely makes the city center a rather attractive place morning, noon and night. It is a small market with a potential for greater and bigger things, especially in light of recent developments at Hafenspitze and Angelburger Strasse, but it is definitely not small enough to be missed while travelling north to Scandanavia. One just needs to start at Südermarkt and work their way along Roter Strasse. With a good punch in the hand, and a walk along the business strip, visiting each booth, one will not forget this trip. I personally didn’t. 🙂

Apart from this, more photos of Flensburg’s Christmas market, taken by the author, can be found on the Files’ facebook page. Just click here and you’ll be directed to the photo album.

  DO AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR? 

What things can be done to make Flensburg’s Christmas market more attractive? Do you agree with the author’s critique? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the Comment section below. But don’t forget, the city council, planners and merchants would also like to hear from you too. 🙂

Prost! Cheers! Salut! Mazeltov! From the two travel companions enjoying a good Flens beer: BamBam and CoCo (brown)

How to Create Your Own Christmas Market

German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances.  The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.

Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community?  When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities.  Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.

Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.

Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.

Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.

The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold.  Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses.  The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.

But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition.   Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice.  While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.

And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas.  This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉

After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.

The advocaat stand, selling homemade liquor

As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.

While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.

Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots.  Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.

Here are some recipes worth trying:

Glühwein (Spiced Wine)

Mead (Heisse Met)

Advocaat (Eierlikör)

Hot Granny (Heisse Oma)

Dresdner Landbrot

Langosch

Homemade Bratwurst

Crepes

Roasted Nuts

Dresdner Stollen

All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas.  A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.

2016 Christmas Market Tour: Glauchau (Saxony)

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While traveling around in Germany at Christmas time, there are two key rules to keep in mind:

  1. Take the best train offer that will get you around in a German state for a full day and
  2. If you miss a connection or the trains are not going, put some time aside in a town you’re stranded in and take a look around.

Especially for Christmas markets in a small town like Glauchau (Saxony), by taking the second option, most times you will be in for a pleasant surprise. 🙂

Located just outside the Erzgebirge Region in western Saxony, Glauchau belongs to the Aue Region, where not only are there towns with the suffix ending of “-au” but their origin means island surrounded by river or wetlands. Other nearby towns belonging to this region include Werdau, Crimmitschau, Aue and neighboring Zwickau, but also other towns, like Meerane, Gössnitz, Mosel and Neukirchen, all of which are situated along rivers and in wetlands surrounding bodies of water. In Glauchau’s case, the city of 24,000 residents is located on the Zwickauer Mulde River, which is divided into one going through the city and a diversion bypassing the city to the west. In addition, the river feeds off a Lake (Gründelsee) near the castle, and the Glauchau Reservoir which is in the outskirts on the south end.

Glauchau’s topography is unique for even though much of the predominantly agricultural community straddles the Mulde River and is located in the valley, much of its commerce and key historic places are on the hill in the highest elevation on the east side of the valley. Much of that has to do with the founding of the city in the Middle Ages, where two sets of castles were built on the hill overlooking the river and regions to the south, and the only ways into the city was through the walled gates and several key bridges spanning deep valleys from the north end as well as one bridge on the south end. A guide on the city’s bridges can be found here.  The north entrance from the train station still exists today as Leipziger Strasse and after crossing three valley crossings, one will enter the shopping scene, as shown in the picture above.  With a half hour of free time before my next train, I decided to have a look at the city’s Christmas market to see what it has to offer.

To start off with the market, Glauchau has its market during the first or second Advent only. The reason behind it is not because of the town’s population but also competing schedules involving markets in other neighboring communities, like Waldenburg, Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Werdau and Crimmitschau. It is also sandwiched between two bigger cities, whose Christmas markets attract a larger crowd and are held during the holiday season: Chemnitz and Zwickau.  Also behind the reason is the shopping one will find in the “Shopping Mile”, a pedestrian plaza along Leipziger Strasse, which used to be a thoroughfare for cars until a couple years ago. Many small shops selling clothing, food and other supplies can be found there as one walks toward the first part of the Christmas market, which is…..

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The Market Square:

Unlike other Christmas markets seen so far on tour, Glauchau’s market square is not the main attraction during the holiday season. The reason behind this is that this year was the first year the Christmas market expanded to include the market square, given the increase in visitors to Glauchau and the need for space so that other merchants can sell their local goods. This was based on a referendum that was taken after the 2015 market, which received an overwhelming yes for the market. In its first year at the market the number of stands that encircle the large Christmas tree is about 10, but given the size of the market square and a stage for performances, it is not surprising that the need to limit the booths at this place was needed to accommodate the crowd during the weekend of the market. However, sometimes it is OK to have booths along the Shopping Mile and the corridor connecting the market square and the next attraction at the market, which is the church. It was seen at some markets including Flensburg, where rows of huts connected the city’s two markets along Roter Strasse.

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St. Georgenkirche:

Going past the city hall overlooking the market square we have the St. Georgenkirche (St. George Evangelical Lutheran Church) on the left side. This tall structure was built in 1728 replacing an earlier church that was destroyed in a fire. It underwent extensive renovations to return it to its original form beginning in 1988, which included the restoration of the building, pipe organ, pews, mural of the Madonna and lastly in 2002, the church bells. The white and gold color of the interior coincide with the white color of the outer siding of the building. But in this church there was a display of Räuchermänner, located along the wall on the right-hand side as one enters the church. Over six dozen different incense smokers, resembling miners, stoves, hunters, and even forest creatures were found encased in glass. There were many that were made by hand and over 80 years old. Others came from the East German times, although Christmas was not celebrated much at all because of the suppression of Christianity by the Communist regime. In fact, Räuchermänner were rare to find in any household during the age of the Cold War and if they exist, they were considered as sacred as Bible itself. Furthermore, information revealed that Räuchermänner were still being made during that time, but were either sold at Intershops or exported to West Germany- a real torture for the East German who prided itself on Christmas products made in the east. One could really sense elation and euphoria once the Wall fell and Germany was reunited because of such tactics like that- all for the purpose of being loyal to Socialism (Hilfe!!!).

Originally I had taken a few pics of the Räuchermänner on display until I was confronted by the church asking if I was working for a professional media outlet. When I mentioned I was an independent columnist doing a tour of the Christmas market, I was told not to post them on my page due to potential copyright issues. I learned that I had to register at the city office days in advance. So much for being a passer-by writer. As I could not post the pics, I hope you can imagine what the display looked like, otherwise the most practical alternative is to see the display itself to get some impressions of your own.

But the church did have a neat manger set with live animals and a few booths selling church-related items for both the church-goer and those interested in Christ or other religions, which best fit the scene with the church in the background. But as a small population goes to a church in Germany, the guess is that a quarter of the people stopped there, while the rest made their way to their final destination, which was…….

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Museumsschloss (Glauchau Castle Complex):  

Leaving the church ground and going 300 meters west, one will cross a bridge spanning a moat and enter the castle. Consisting of the Fordere and Hintere Schlösser (the western and eastern halves of the castle), the castle complex has been the centerpiece for the Christmas market in Glauchau, having hosted the event since German reunification. All of the eateries and local goods, combined with some Medieval-style entertainment and some amusement can be found in the courtyard. Unlike before the new format, most of the shops and huts were located inside and surrounding the castle. Yet since having expanded the market to include the market square, the castle has much more space, and people can better enjoy food and entertainment without having to fight for a little space, especially at night when the visitors are at their peak and as the temperatures go below zero.

Apart from some ceramics, home-grown honey and local spiced wine, I had an opportunity to try Martin Luther liquor from a distillery located in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt. Martin Luther was an avid beer drinker, and even his wife Catherine craft a homemade beer for him as he was spreading the 95 Theses throughout the church. The timing of the liquor was perfect as next year will be the 500th anniversary of his work that formed the Lutheran Church. As each of the liquors tasted hearty and sweet at the same time- be it herb or with fruit, then the distillery will hit a grand slam in sales, as hundreds of thousands of people convene on Germany to pay homage to the monk who ran amonk for the good of the people who refuse to be sent to purgatories without indulgences.

Apart from an antique carousel, picnic area and even an ice skating rink outside the castle, the Castle Complex is the main stage for the Christmas market, although because of its increasing size and number of tourists in the region, it is more likely that the market will shift more towards the market square in the next couple of years and even expand further in the future. However, from a columnist’s point of view, in order to avoid having a tsunami rush of people for one weekend, it would make sense to have the market like in Chemnitz and Zwickau- that is for the whole month. Even if the city decided for the market on the weekends during Advent and even Christmas, it would encourage people to plan ahead and choose when to visit Glauchau and when to visit the markets elsewhere. Combine that with a corridor of huts connecting the main areas like in Flensburg, which means huts along the street connecting the Castle Complex, The Church and the Market Square, plus some along the Shopping Mile, the city will have a win-win situation as it will be able to better accommodate tourists, bring in more income and make it more attractive than it is right now. Glauchau’s Christmas market is nice small market that is worth every minute of my thirty-minute tour this time around. However, sometimes more can be done to make it better for the future.

And as I board the train for my nex destination, I leave Glauchau with some impressions of a small agricultural city, priding on religion and culture, but with a potential to become more attractive in the future than it is now. And if you disagree with that, especially when you look at the photo gallery on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here), as well as those taken by the Glauchau City facebook page (click here), then maybe the town is worth your day’s visit so that you can see the impressions yourself. 😉

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The Mulde consists of the Zwickauer Mulde, which flows through Glauchau and the Freiberger Mulde, which is east of Chemnitz. They make a confluence near Grimma and flow northwesterly to Dessau-Rosslau, where it empties into the Elbe River. The river, together with the Pleisse, which flows through Werdau and Crimmitschau, have had a history with flooding the flat plains in the valley, which makes the suffix Aue unique. In Glauchau’s case, a diversion canal was constructed after the flood of 1954 to keep the flow of water away from the city.

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The German Railways (a.k.a. Deutsche Bahn) has a ticket available where you can travel throughout the state for one day. In this case, we have the Sachsenticket. For 23 Euros, you can travel around to as many destinations as you please between 9:00 am and 3:00 am the following day. It is valid for all regional trains as well as local tram and bus services. When travelling in Germany next time and you wish to travel cheaply, look at state ticket options.

 

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Freiberg (Saxony)

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The next Christmas market to visit on this year’s tour takes us to the far eastern part of Germany. Specifically, what we are talking about is the city of Freiberg in Saxony. Located between Chemnitz and Dresden in the eastern part of the state, Freiberg is located in the top half of the Erzgebirge (translated freely as Ore Mountains), one can feel the ascension to the top while travelling by train or car. But when arriving in the city, one sees a maze of streets and historic buildings, where if one finds a way to go down hill, fighting curves and cars, one will reach the market square- Obermarkt. This is the stage of the Christmas market, where the city hall serves as a backdrop and the statue of Otto the Great is surrounded by 90 different huts, a stage, one of the tallest moving Christmas pyramids in the region and lastly, one of the tallest Christmas trees in the mountain region. Since 1989, the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Christmas market has been held here, which is ironic for most of the products a person will find at a German Christmas market come from the mountain which had once been part of East Germany and the socialist regime. This brought a question to mind: what was Christmas like during that period between the end of World War II and German Reunification, especially as the western half quickly reestablished its tradition? This would require some research which will surely mean some history lessons in the Files in the near future. 🙂

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And as Freiberg is located directly in the Erzgebirge, everything a person will see is clearly in connection with this theme: Gabled housing with several shades of brown and mahogany, statues of miners as well as chisels and lanterns, wooden products made locally such as pyramids, Räuchermänner, Lichterbogen (Christmas arches) and other Christmas decorations, local drinks including spiced wine and punch, and local eateries including Stollen and Pulsnitzer Kuchen (a fruitcake with cherries and almonds). In other words, simply Erzgebirgisch!

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Well, almost.

 

I found a couple stands that are worth noting for you on the next visit to the region. The first one was a Finnish stand, selling Grandma’s Manor House Cookies with filling. These are like our American Oreo cookies except they are made with a soft, sandy-like cookie dough and they come in several flavors, like vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut. There were other pastries that are typical of Finnland that are worth trying including mini-cakes and fruitcake. As I was trying each one from the lot, I had a chance to chat with the saleperson who originated from Afghanistan but has been living in Germany for over a year. A student at the University in town, she found the country to be a great place to make a living, but the language as one of the most difficult because of the grammar rules and vocabulary. If you look at this argument from a person having grown up with Arabic writing and Persian, one would agree. When asked about the amount of time one needs to learn German, my response is simple: Take your time. If you can speak English well enough to get around, German will come naturally, even if it takes a couple years to master it. This is speaking from experience. 😉

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After trying out and purchasing a package of goodies, I went onto my next booth, which is the Schloss Wackerbarth Winery. For 180 years, the winery, located inside a castle near Radebeul,  has been producing the finest wines and liquors in the state of Saxony. In connection with its celebration, one could find some stands in Mitteldeutschland, including some in neighboring Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. I had an opportunity to taste the winery’s finest spiced white wine, which tasted just right- not too sweet, but not like a typical  dry wine. The finest grapes are used for the wine and with that, just enough alcohol for flavor. No wonder why the wine is so good! 🙂

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And lastly, we have the crown of booths, the one selling silver accessories. Freiberger Zinngießerei (tin foundry). For over 500 years, Freiberg has prided itself in its mining of silver in the mountain regions near the city. Many foundries had existed to produce the goods needed for human needs, be it for the household or for defense. One of them was located in Freiberg. Even though its current foundry was established in 1992, its family tradition goes back many years. In 1998, the headquarters was relocated to Niederschöna where it has been ever since. According to the salesperson I talked to during my visit, silver is no longer mined, but the foundry still produces figures made of metal, which include several mining figures, animal figures, key chains, gargoyles and even an Amethyst Pyramid. As tin figures are exotic and difficult to find even in Saxony, it is highly recommended to visit the shop to find the best valuable gift. 🙂

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Yes, Freie Presse, I was the one who did this. And yes it was not cool. But it was also not cool to not have a bike rack available at the market.

Inspite of some great stands and events that take place at the Freiberg Christmas market, three key caveats were found that could help improve access to one of the most popular places in Germany. The first is providing signage and directions to the market. Given its maze-like infrastructure, it is very difficult to find the market, especially when there is a lot of traffic going through the city. Highways 101 and 173 cross in the city, but there is considerable traffic between the city center and the suburbs, including the train station, which sees 10 trains in both direction per hour per day. Therefore it is important to provide feasible directions and signage for drivers, bikers and pedestrians wishing to visit the market, even for an hour or two.

This brings me up to the second issue to settle, and that is access by bike. While the Christmas markets take place in December, people still go there by bike- even the author accessed the market by bike as had travelled by train to the station from the west. Biking to the city center proved to be a nightmare, for the streets were packed with cars, and in some cases, they were narrow enough that there was little space to pass. Regardless of time of year, it is important for Freiberg to follow the example set by the first city to do this: designate streets for bikes and push the traffic back as far away as possible to make the city center pedestrian and biker friendly. Have bike racks available for parking, instead of having to park it against the building of a local newspaper outlet, like the author did (and yes, I’m sorry to the Free Press for that). Also important: designate lanes on main streets for bikes so that they have space to share the road. We all know the city that started and even spearheaded this effort, and many other cities in Germany, including Saxony, have already taken steps to follow suit.

And lastly, as large as the Obermarkt is, it was quite disturbing to see the market blocked off with fencing and tarp with only one way in or out of the market- minus the city hall. Having such restricted access presents a feeling of isolation, especially as the market is in the middle of the shopping area, Freiberg’s city center has to offer, nor does it make much sense. During my visit in Kiel, the market (Weihnachtsdorf) at Rathausplatz was also restricted but had multiple entrances because of its proximity to the corridor connecting it with three other markets in the city center, as well as the port and train station.  Having more access to the market in Freiberg makes it feel more open to customers and enables them to move more freely than in its current feature. Plus in the event of an evacuation due to fire or storm damage, more access means more chances to escape and avoid any accidents.

Despite its shortcomings, Freiberg’s Christmas Market represents a typical but attractive Christmas market in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony. Most of the products sold there are made locally, yet a couple outliers are just as appealing and worth trying. The market is not so crowded, but better measures are needed for better access and to make the market safer. However, with one of the tallest pyramids in Saxony (at 15 meters), a good spiced wine with a good local sausage at the Bergbaude and some good company with the sales people from different regions, the Freiberg Christmas Market brings in many local specialties from the mountain region, and many locals and tourists alike, to honor the silver miners, celebrate hundreds of years of tradition, and talk about what Christmas was like in the region in the past, be it the East German period, or even before that. And with that, plus a good old-fashion lantern and chisel, I close with the slogan “Glück Auf”(Good luck), head to the next Christmas market, and like the miners, see how lucky I am. 😉

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2016 Christmas Market Tour Part I: Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein

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Photos taken in November 2016

Moin, Moin, Ihr Lieben! Our first Christmas market on a quite adventuresome tour of 2016 takes us far north to Schleswig-Holstein and the city of Kiel. Located along the Baltic Sea coast, the city of 245,000 inhabitants is the largest of the big three ports located on a fjorde, providing shipping from places in the north and east. The other two are Lübeck and Flensburg. Kiel is the state’s capital and has its state parliamentary building located on the western side of the coast. Apart from two universities, the city prides itself on its traditional handball team THW Kiel, whose stadium is directly in the city center. It also has the annual convention of sailboats, clipper ships and yachts in June- the Kieler Woche, where over 100 countries take part in competition and display their best ships.  And while parts of Kiel, especially in the city center, appear quite crowded, there are two bright spots that make the city quite convenient and attractive: everything is centralized- especially the city center, and there are some great natural spots along the Baltic Sea and the Grand Canal (Baltic-North Sea Canal (Ger.: Nord-Ostsee Kanal)), as well as along the Schwentine River, which empties into the fjord near the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule).

Maybe that Kiel Defense as practiced in a game of chess inspired the architects and city planners to be creative with their city designs…… 😉

As for the Christmas market, it is a whole different story.  The Christmas market is located only 300 meters north of Kiel’s Railway Station, beginning at Holstenplatz, but the market is spread out into three different places, all connected with a main shopping corridor known as the Holstenstrasse. A map at the end of this article shows you where the places are, starting with the train station and working the way up north.

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The Market at St. Nicolas Church- the church is in the background

Looking at the markets themselves, we’ll start off with the one on the northernmost end at St. Nicolas Church at the corner of Schlossstrasse and Schumacherstrasse. If one does some ice skating at the Ostseekai ice skating rink near the cruise liner port, the opportunity for a good Glühwein and something warm can be found at this place, as the huts serve as a compliment to the eateries nearby. This includes soups, fried fish sandwiches and even a Glühbier (mulled beer) or punch. For churchgoers, it is a great place to talk Luther and his Reformation of the Church while keeping warm. Yet apart from the spectacular view of the church at night, as well as at the Schwedenkai with its light-candied yacht overlooking the man-made pond, it’s all eateries with typical German delicacies-

unless you love beer, like this writer does. 😉

If so, just west of the market, there is the Kieler Brewery and Restaurant, located at Dänischstrasse on the north side of the market. Founded in 1988, the brewery has been producing its beer products including pilsners and those using beachwood directly at its original location. One can only purchase the beer there, which serves as another incentive to visit Kiel (apart from Kieler Woche and the handball games with the Zebras). The restaurant, which serves only local and seasonal specialties, has an interior that resembles a restaurant during the age of Luther: walled with stone with cast iron chandeliers and benches made of wood, making it look like knights, monks, reformers and musicians with bagpipes entering the scene, playing music and enjoying a good brew. I tried one of the originals (beechwood aged) and am pleased to say, the product aced the test because of its taste and thickness of the body. A solid 1,0 (A+) 😀

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Kieler Weihnachtsdorf at Rathausplatz

Moving further south along Holstenstrasse, laden with shopping centers and some huts, one needs to turn right at Fleethörn and Hafenstrasse and walk past two streets to find the Kieler Weihnachtsdorf, located at Rathausplatz near the city hall.  Flanked by the city hall to the south and the Opera House to the west, the market is rather traditional of German Christmas markets with its backdrop and settings. Unlike the uniformity in colors and hut design as one sees at a Christmas market in Bavaria and parts of Saxony and Hesse, this one was quite colorful, both figuratively as well as literally. Huts and stands of various sizes and colors blanket the whole market, decorated with white-lit natural green garland. The lining of lighted natural Christmas trees and other pine needle branches outside the market, combined with a unique entrance to the village, resemble a natural palace, made of wood. Since Kiel has a palace north of the Ostseekai in the old town, the theme of the Christmas market fits perfectly to one of the city’s prized historic landmarks.

As far as products being served at this village is concerned, I was somewhat disappointed that the majority of the products came from the western part of Germany, in particular Bavaria. No matter where a person went in this village, one will see one Bavarian site for every four. There were no stands that represented the other regions in Germany, in particular, Saxony, where most of the wooden products, like Räuchermänner, Pyramids and villages originate. There were a couple stands for Thuringian bratwurst and a couple stands providing products from Schleswig-Holstein, including a couple local eateries, but overall, it seemed to be typically Bayrish- too much Bavarian.  From a personal point of view, if you want to have a Christas market in a community, you should try and vary your products from regions, including areas unknown to others, as well as and especially local places. If you focus more on the commercial aspect- streamling certain regions over others, it will be rather monocultural. Having monocultural markets and events loses the appeal from others who can see similar markets and other events in other cities. This was my impression after seeing too much Bavarian at this place. One needs to dig deeper to find diamonds in the rough in terms of local and unusual goods- a very important rule of thumb for visiting a typical Christmas market. If you don’t want to see a Nuremberg Christmas market in a community, look hard for the localities, as they are there. Follow that with unusual places you will never find in a Christmas market elsewhere.

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How to make Flammlachs: Frying them to the fire before the fish is “pulled” and shredded.

There were a few cool places swimming in a pool of Bavarian goods at the Weihnachtsdorf. They included a liquour stand from North Rhine-Westphalia, a tea shop selling exotic teas some cooked in an “oven,”  a lobster stand from the island of Sylt, and a couple stands selling goods handcrafted  in and around Kiel (one of which I will mention in a later article). But have you ever heard of Flammlachs?

You have probably heard of pulled pork, as the recipe comes from America but has become very common here in Europe. Flammlachs goes along the same recipe, except you place your salmon or other fish on an oak board, and after adding the ingredients mentioned in the link above, put it as close to the fire as possible without burning the meat to be eaten. Then strip the meat, just like with pulled pork, leaving the fish bones behind, put them in a bun with lettuce and a twist of lemon and serve. While there is  sweet mustard and other sauces available, I took the advice of a local and ate it without it. All I can say is “Yummy!” 😀  Your trip to the Baltic Sea coast is not complete without trying a Flammlachs with a good local beer. Enough said!

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How to make Flammlachs: Sandwich with lettuce- best served without any sauce, according to locals

But as I made my trip to my last stop on the Kiel Christmas market tour, namely Holstenplatz, I found a few other local delicacies from Kiel and Schleswig-Holstein that are not only highly recommended, but in one case, very addicting.  The market at Holstenplatz is the longest market I had visited up until now, but also the most diverse of Kiel’s Christmas markets. A mixture of local products combined with handcrafted and international products from Estonia, Turkey and France can be found along three rows of huts that feature a various form of brown wood colors from mahogany to oak to even a light brown. The huts are far different in color patterns than the colorful display at the Weihnachtsdorf and the striped huts at St. Nick’s church, which makes them completely different, but attractive to the visitors. The market here is also decorated nicely with natural garland that is also lighted. Despite not having a Christmas tree, the trees lining along Holstenplatz are also lit at night, thus making the market not only colorful, but somewhat homey. 🙂

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Holstenplatz

Despite its very close proximity to the shopping areas and the main highway- Sophienblatt and Andreas Gayk Strasse- the market appears to be rather spacious, thus allowing for space to walk around and find a place to enjoy the specialties offered. The problem with space was one of the problems I’ve seen with many Christmas markets I’ve visited since starting the series in 2011, as many markets try to reduce “excessive” space by adding more stands and booths than necessary and in some cases, herding the people in and out of the markets like a person is in rush-hour traffic in a big city. This makes visiting a Christmas market more of a torture than fun. With the markets Kiel, space doesn’t seem to be the issue as there is enough. Given the proximity of the markets, this means that there is not so much crowding, especially on weeknights and weekends, which given the few people at the market, it was really comfortable to have a conversation with locals about goods worth tasting……

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A highly recommended local delicacy to try: Fliederbeersuppe with Griesklöße

……including this entrée, the Fliederbeersuppe (freely translated as currant soup). 🙂  Consisting of currant juice (highly concentrated), apple slices and Grießklöße (semolina dumpling), this soup is typical of Schleswig-Holstein and one that a person must try. I was skeptical when I first saw it and the response of the person selling this was a classic: “Are you diabetic?” My response was: “I’ve never tried it before, which is why I wanted to know more about it.” I later told her I was a columnist for the Files and talked about the series on German Christmas markets. I tried the soup in exchange for money and the address of this site. 😉 And there was no regret that it tasted really good. So good that it is sometimes addicting. A lady stopping at the stand as I was eating it with a hot cup of Lumumba (hot cocoa with rum) testified its addiction as she was going for her seventh bowl! Seven bowls is a bit over the top, but it shows that one really needs to taste it to believe it. 🙂

Before I got addicted, I left to check out the other goods, which included Kochwurst (cooked sausage) from a local butcher, and local pastry featuring filled donuts and Muzen, a boiling pastry with powdered sugar and also typical of the region. Unlike the donuts, which had apple, marzipan, advocaat, cherry and other fruit filling, this one is not filled and are small. Furthermore they taste best when they are hot- not necessarily from the deep fryer, but sometimes reheating them in the oven at 175°C for about 10 minutes should one decide to take them home to have the family try them, like I did (it was my last stop before moving on).  Given the fact that there was another stand serving Flammlachs, the market at Holstenplatz is your best place to try everything that is local and typical of Schleswig-Holstein, for the Weihnachtsdorf have predominantly Bavarian goods and the stands at St. Nick’s are mostly eateries and beverages- a hub for chatting monks and cheery families after having ice skated with Katarina Witt. 😉

Summing up the trip to Kiel, the Christmas market, featuring three different markets connected by the corridor Holsten Strasse is spacious and diverse. It’s an alternative to shopping at the shopping malls, for the huts and other shops provide some goods, eateries and beverages that are both typical of the region but also from other places in Germany and places in Europe. Given its closeness in the city center, they are easily accessible from the train station and the shipping ports, yet surprisingly, the number of people visiting the market is less than others. Given the fact that it was a weekday that I visited, comparing it to other Christmas markets, it is rather comfortable entertaining strangers and friends over a good local specialty. I bet it applies to weekend visits as well. Despite being surrounded by concrete, the market is easy to find because of the close proximity to the places in the city center, thus making it accessible by all means of transportation. In other words, even if the Christmas market is a diamond in the rough, it is easy to find.

And if found, that diamond is a lifetime’s worth; especially if you are a stranger in a strange land. 😉

More photos of the Christmas Market in Kiel:

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Tips on other Christmas markets the author has visited and written about can be found here. There, you will have some ideas on which places are highly recommended to visit.

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