The Franconian Alps in Bavaria is one of the attractions that is a must-see when visiting Germany. Located between Bayreuth and Nuremberg, the region consists of high sandstone mountains with unique rock formations, forests and unique architecture, be it with churches and historic buildings, or in this case with Fachwerk Houses. Each town in the Franconian Alps has its own unique history, cultural identity and architecture that makes it highly recommended.
This is one of them that fellow Instagramer and photographer Martin Glas (Der_Heimatfotograf) brought to the attention of many people recently. It’s a small village of Tüchersfeld which is in the shadow of the mountainous cliffs as its backdrop. Tüchersfeld was first mentioned in the 12th Century, even though records had indicated that it had been settled 300 years earlier. According to legends and mentioned in his post by Glas, there used to be two parts of Tüchersfeld- Obertüchersfeld where a castle was erected in the 13th Century and Niedertüchersfeld, where the Jewish Court “Judenhof” was later established. The “Ober” part was part of the Catholic Church until it was abandoned by the 15th Century. The “Nieder” part is where much of the village still remains to this day, with Fachwerk houses literally “Glued” to the rocks, making Tüchersfeld a popular tourist attraction. It’s even shown on postcards and German stamps.
Apart from the rock formations, one should see the Judenhof, which was a series of Jewish settlements established in the 17th and 18th Centuries near the Lower Castle. The settlements were restored in 1982 and the Franconian Switzerland Museum is now located in one of the buildings at the Judenhof. Also noteworthy is the Synagogue and its late Baroque design, especially on the inside, which was also restored at the same time and is now open to the public. Then there is the Catholic Church, built in 1951 and features a painting by Otelia Kraszewska depicting Christ in a white robe as he turns to people of different ages. On the side altar is a painting by Anna Maria, Baroness of Oer which shows the Madonna and Child. The ceiling murals, included one of the Lamb of God and the Four Evangelists. The statues in the gallery and the Stations of the Cross are sculpted by Giovanni Bruno. All of the aforementioned artists originated from nearby Gößweinstein.
Tüchersfeld is now part of the municipality of Pottenstein and is located 25 kilometers west of Pegnitz along the Hwy. 470. It’s part of the District of Bayreuth though it is closer to Nuremberg than the Home of the Wagner Festival. Nevertheless, the village is a must-see when visiting Bavaria, or when even passing through. It’s like any town in the Franconian Alps- a town with its own history and culture, but also famous for its unique landscape. It serves as a reminder to stop for a while and stay for a few days, if you really want to explore a region. 🙂
What city in central Germany has the highest number of churches, bridges and people in the state of Thuringia and has two universities, dozens of parks, two main bike trails and miles of forest. It’s one of the oldest known towns in Germany and has the largest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany. It has a unique Christmas market which features its own domino stein cubes, homemade and very tasty. And it is this year’s venue for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa).
It’s Erfurt. With a population of 230,000 inhabitants, Erfurt is located near the junction of two major motorways- the A4 between Dresden and Aachen and the A71 between Sangerhausen and Bavaria. It is the northernmost city in the Thuringian Forest region, which extends to the south and west towards Oberhof, Eisenach and Meiningen. It has 247 bridges total, though the most famous is the Krämerbrücke (Merchant’s Bridge), one of four house bridges in Germany. And it has over three dozen churches in and around the city where the river Gera flows through. This includes the world famous Erfurt Cathedral, Erfurter Dom, which hosts its summer music festival every year and has a wonderful backdrop for the Erfurt Christmas Market. And right next door to the cathedral and the market square Domplatz is one of two venues for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa), the Petersberg Citadel, which used to house soldiers well into the 1900s.
Erfurt is the place to visit for the 2021 BuGa. The national event is held every two years in a year that ends in an odd number. And while this is the second BuGa in the state of Thuringia (the other event took place in Gera and Ronneburg in 2007), Erfurt is no stranger to gardening and horticulture for it hosted the garden show for East Germany in 1950, the very first show of its kind in the newly created Communist state. Furthermore, Erfurt is one of the places in Thuringia where you can find the herbs and spices all homegrown, together with wild flowers, plants and other vegetation.
The concept of the BuGa was introduced in 2011 while I was teaching at the University of Applied Sciences. I had the pleasure of seeing the place live with my family most recently, and the first and ever lasting impression I had with Erfurt’s BuGa is “Lokales ist alles.” (Local is everything). Yet it has two key themes to pay attention to: water and bees. What does the BuGa in Erfurt have to offer in comparison with previous BuGa’s?
The 2021 BuGa in Erfurt is laid out in two parts. The first part is located at the Petersberg Citadel, located next to the Erfurt Cathedral to the north. The Citadel was built in 1665 and is located on the hill that overlooks the city. The citadel was used first as a fortress to defend the city but was also a military compound that had been occupied by armies of eight different regimes until German Reunification in 1990. This included occupations by Sweden, Prussia, Napoleon, the German Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets and the Volksarmee- the East German army. The facility has underwent an extensive makeover since then and has been occupied by a combination of city and state agencies, including the Thuringia Archives. It also hosts local events on the complex, be it outdoors or inside one of the restored buildings. The area is protected by preservation laws and is a National Heritage Site. The Citadel presents a splendid view of the city center of Erfurt, including all of Domplatz and the Cathedral.
The second part of the BuGa is at Ega-Park on the western end of Erfurt. Known as the largest park in Erfurt, Ega-Park was once the site of another citadel, one that was the predecessor to the Petersberg. From the 12th Century until 1604, the Citadel Cyriaksburg once existed at the site and was used as a combination fortress and military complex. It lost its military importance when the Petersberg was built, and at the end of World War I, it was converted into a garden complex. The largest building remaining from Cyriaksburg was converted into a garden museum in 1995.
It was at this site that the first Garden Show in East Germany was hosted in 1950. 11 years later, the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) was created, but under the name International Garden Exhibition of the Socialist States. Although there had been previous international exhibitions, the current IGA exists to this day based on the Erfurt model. Ega-Park is conveniently located between the convention center Erfurt-Messe and the Media Park, where the German TV stations MDR and KIKA (Children’s Channel) are located. Some of the cartoon characters from KIKA can be found as statues throughout Erfurt, including not only EGA Park but also in the City Center, Anger. Ega-Park is reachable via street car, which also takes you to the Airport in Bindersleben, located about 10 km west of Erfurt.
PETERSBERG CITADEL EXHIBIT-
If you wish to visit the BuGa in Erfurt, you might want to visit the Petersberg first. It has nothing to do with its approximation from the City Center nor from the Cathedral, for stores are open during the daytime except Sundays in the City Center and at the Cathedral, there are markets and other events. The tour of the Citadel will take you, at the most, a half a day. Apart from being greeted with a variety of wild flowers and vegetation upon crossing the bridge into the facility, the Citadel features variety of displays and activities that will fulfill a person’s day.
After seeing some of the plants and getting a soaker with the spitting fountain at the court area, one can visit the origins of the garden through a combination of religious, spiritual and natural exhibit in the Paradise House, much of it presented in hologram. Adjacent to the Paradise House, one will find a combination of eateries and small shops in the long houses that stretch for up to 100 meters in length. Especially in the small shops will a person find everything that is made in Thuringia and one will almost never find in supermarkets, anywhere from herb liquours and mustards to homemade wines and marmalades. There are also seeds available as well as some books about Erfurt’s history. The eateries feature local specialties and you have the option of eating indoors as well as outdoors under the parasols. Given the current situation with the Covid-19 viruses and their variants, the outdoor areas are spread out and one can eat and social distance without risking infection.
To the north of the court area, one will be greeted with many forms of entertainment. This include many playgrounds and the long slides, with fancy, modernized playground equipment to satisfy everyone of all ages. Not far from there is the live events that take place going down the hill and behind the complex. This includes small concerts and even live chess. We had a chance to watch a game live with two opponents ordering their live armies to “move and attack.” This live chess event is sponsored by the German Chess Federation (DSB).
After watching the live chess match, one should not forget the Creative Gardens section, which features creative gardening and different flowers, all lined up along the northern gate and the Festwiese and includes a cultural section where various food and drink from different areas of the globe plus entertainment are found under the orange and white canopy.
Many people don’t know much about the Citadel Petersberg and its history when visiting Erfurt. Yet like in my very first visit in 2010, the Citadel is full of surprises for the young and old. One will find a lot about the place and the exhibits when being there for a few hours. It is one place that you will walk away from- more impressed with what it offers on the inside than when you enter the complex from the outside. And it goes well beyond the grand view of Erfurt’s City Center and Cathedral.
There is an old saying when it comes to a place like Ega: Come early and stay the whole day. As mentioned in the introduction of Ega, the park complex is the largest of all of Erfurt’s parks and it fits into the top 10 of the largest city parks in the state of Thuringia. It would be in competition with the best looking parks with the likes of Leipzig, Bad Muskau, Berlin and even Munich. When visiting the BuGa site at Ega, one needs a whole day- from opening time at 9:00am until its closing at 8:00pm.
Ega Park is spread out along the main street, Gothaer Strasse with two entrances on each end, plus another one on the opposite end. Twenty Gardens- each with different themes-, three exhibition halls, a half dozen parks, one swimming area and tens of thousands of different types of flowers, plants and trees dominate the 36-acre area. In addition to that, the German TV-Station MDR hosts its weekly Sunday Garden Show on these grounds, and its exhibit can be found on the grounds. And lastly, an observation tower, using the remains of the former citadel can be found on the southeastern corner, where one can view all of Erfurt and other areas, as far as the eye can see, from the Thuringian Forest to the plains area to the north and east. Even the tower of the former Buchenwald concentration camp and parts of Weimar can be seen- from 30 km away!
While it’s impossible to include everything into the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa Tour Guide, I’m only going to make a few recommendations for you to visit if you want to at least get to the most important places first.
ExhibitHall 1 (Halle 1): This is located at the main entrance to the Ega-Park complex and there, it hosts monthly exhibits, all of which have to do with gardening and horticulture. Whether it includes pottery or exotic vegetation, the exhibits provide a person with a detailed insight into the topic and provide some ideas for their garden.
Japanese Garden: This was probably our most recommended place to visit. The garden features a combination of Japanese architecture and rocky landscapes with a gorgeous waterfall. Many exotic plants that are typical of Japan can be found there, as well as a pavilion and a pair of bridges built using local architecture.
Sculpture Garden: Located next to the Observation Tower, the gardens feature a display of sculptures and plants- each sculpture representing a scene from a fairy tale written by German authors.
Danakil Desert and Jungle ExhibitionHall: This was the most impression of the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa for the exhibition hall was designated solely for the purpose of addressing the most important theme that we are facing increasingly today, which is water. The hall features an exhibit on the desert with a gallery of cacti and other plants that adapt to the hot and dry conditions. The other half features the jungle section resembling the Amazon Rain Forest. Each one feature rare live animals on display, including exotic butterflies and frogs, as well as desert prairie dogs. This hall itself, you need two hours to walk through and allow for the information to sink in on how important water really is for everyone.
Bee’s Exhibit: Located on the south end of Ega-Park, near the Rose Garden, the Bee’s Exhibit presents visitors with not only the history of bee-keeping, but also ways to help the bees through plants and other measures. It includes a gallery of “bee-friendly” plants. Bee’s are the other topic of interest for this year’s BuGa as they are facing an increasing threat of extinction caused by overfarming and urbanization. Yet the bees were plenty at the BuGa in general for one will see a bee pollinate for every third plant- on average. In other words, thousands of bees of different types can be found no matter where you walk in the BuGa.
Other noteworthy places to consider include the Gardens of Karl Foerster (1874- 1970), a gardener who popularized the use of grasses and other plants for gardening, the space observatory next to the Japanese Garden, which was also a venue for some concerts, the Iris Garden and Water Fountain, the Rose Garden and lastly, the large flower field that extends the entire length of the Ega-Park Complex. A garden featuring plants from its sister city, Mainz, must not be excluded from the list.
The 2021 Erfurt Garden Show (BuGa) brings together several themes that will have a person think about them after spending a couple days there. It goes well beyond tourism, which despite the ongoing fight against Covid-19, the city has attracted thousands since its opening in April. It brings together local culture and specialties that are typical in the region. It also brings forth the importance of our planet and the environment for the two main ingredients of human life- bees and water- will play an even bigger role in how we want to live in the coming decade and beyond. It brings children together as they are treated with lots of activities to enjoy. It brings together art and creativity for gardening and conservation brings out the best among people who work in these areas. And lastly, it brings out the appreciation and love that we have for our plants, both near and far. If there is a saying that best fits this BuGa, it would be this:
Plants bring us creativity. We find ways to protect them and let them grow, they will in turn find creative ways to help us. If we start finding creative ways to help them, we will be rewarded in the end.
Click here to find out how you can purchase a ticket for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa) in Erfurt. There are plenty of rates available for people of all ages and groups. They also include the free usage of public transportation, which includes all of Erfurt’s buses and trams, but also for the VMT, which includes train service along the Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Eisenach corridor as well as within Thuringia.
Hotels in Erfurt may be too expensive. Therefore other lodging possibilities in small towns between Erfurt and Weimar as well as to the north and west should be considered. As a tip, call the hotels and bed and breakfasts directly instead of booking through Booking.com for a direct call will give you cheaper rates than with online booking.
The 2021 German Garden Show in Erfurt runs from April 23rd through October 10th. Afterwards, the next Garden Show will be held in 2023 in Mannheim.
A photo exhibit of the 2021 BuGa taken by the author and his family can be found by clicking here. Enjoy the pics! 🙂
Author’s Note: This tour was taken in December 2019
There is an old saying: In a small town, creativity runs wild. Small towns don’t have the luxury of all the “good stuff” that big cities have, such as sports venues, places of entertainment, shopping malls and all. If you live in a small town, you make do with the limited resources you have. Sometimes when having that, you can be creative in making something that is either functional, fancy or both.
And this was something I learned during a brief stop in the town of Werdau. The small town of 23,400 inhabitants is located along the River Pleisse in the western part of Saxony. It’s the next door neighbor to Zwickau, yet it is located at the junction of two of the oldest rail lines in Germany: The Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate and the Leipzig-Hof-Munich lines, both of which are almost 180 years old. The town has four viaducts that are located either west or south of the city center. The city center itself consists of a straight line of a wide street, flanked by many historic buildings, such as the city hall, bank and St. Mary’s Church. The historic fountain is found on the southern end of the strip, which runs from Querstrasse in the south and Brühl in the north, where Highway 175 is located.
It’s along this stretch of street is where the Christmas market is located. Each side of the street is lined with huts made of oak with the stage for entertainment on the left, as seen in this picture. The tree is located at the fountain and behind that is Santa’s house, where kids could enter and leave him their wish lists. The fountain is decorated as an Advent Wreath with four lanterns, each one represents the week of Advent, though during the visit the lanterns were shut off, even though it was during the time of the Third Advent.
Up until 2018, Werdau’s market was held for only one Advent weekend and for a few hours on Sunday. Yet public demand called for the market to be held during the time of Advent from November 28th until December 22nd, to compete with the likes of the ones in the regions, including Zwickau, Crimmitschau, Schneeberg and even Glauchau/ Waldenburg. As you can see in the pictures, the market is well received by the visitors, though parking possibilities in and around the city center, given the infrastructural landscape of Werdau, could use some improvement for with the car, the possibilities are limited, yet with the bike and by foot, they are all within a three-minute reach.
Werdau’s market offers local specialties that are typical for the state of Saxony, yet one hut caught my eye which sold handmade goods, and it is the one of the Sonnenberg Schule. The school is a state-accredited institute and is a special school for students with developmental disabilities, The school is open for these students between the ages of four and 23. I was at the hut and found a wide array of handcrafted Christmas items, renging from bottle lanterns to ornaments made of nuts, clay and wood.
One of the items that caught my eye was the Guardian Angel (Schutzengel), as you can see in the box on the right side in the picture above. These angels are made with clay and are easy to make. It depends on what type of clay you have, let alone whether you need to “bake them in the oven”
Judging by the appearance, one needs to make a flat circle out of the clay, then slice the circle halfway through. Fold the pointed edges outwards and the center of the circle inwards. Then, as you can see in the close-up, extend the curve outwards to make it look like the angel is wearing a dress. The head can be added extra by rolling a small ball and placing it on top like in the picture. Paint, glaze and bake and voila! 🙂 The exact way it was made is unknown but these Werdauer Angels made for a very unique gift, with or even without facial features and other accessories. For the Sonnenberg School, this was a cool gift and one that I eventually bought for my daughter for she collects angels. A simple but lovely gift indeed.
After about a half hour or so, it was time to leave. But if there was a word to describe Werdau’s Christmas Market it would be that it’s local and full of Werdauer Angels bringing people together. While some improvements are recommended, the town’s market left a very lasting impression because of its setting, the Christmassy feeling shown among locals and the homemade goodies that you can get the last minute and even recommend making at home if and when one has the chance to do that. And for that, my word of advice to the smaller communities that hold Christmas markets in the future:
Make it local, make it unique, make it fancy but be creative, for creativity trumps all, especially for Christmas time.
Many of you have probably heard about Rick Steves and his European travels at one time or another. If not, he has been doing documentaries and tour guides on European Travel for over 30 years. Like the rest of us, Rick Steves was also grounded by the Corona Virus as it has shut down air travel between the US and Europe. Henceforth he is spending his first summer vacation in 30 years- at home. I have a pair of articles for you to read about his experiences and how Covid-19 will impact the way we travel in the future. In the link above is an interview done by the New York Times. In the article below by the Washington Post is the future of travel from his perspective. Both are something we need to take into consideration once the vaccination is developed and the virus disappears.
We have read a lot about Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg, and Frankfurt and their large selection of goodies and entertainment. We’ve also looked at those in medium-sized communities with populations between 40,000 and 250,000 people, thus putting the likes of Flensburg, Kiel, Erfurt, Zwickau, Weimar and the like on the list. For those who don’t like big town settings and would rather narrow it down to more local traditions with a cozy atmosphere, these would be better options, especially if they include castles with their medieval market setting.
Yet smaller communities, namely those with 2,000 to 10,000 people can also surprise visitors with specialties that are homemade and are worth taking with to give to your loved ones. There is one market in particular that represents a classic example of one that offers a wide array of hand-made crafts and homemade goodies- all in one setting; and ironically, all in one castle.
The community of Waldenburg in western Saxony, is located six kilometers northeast of Glauchau along the River Zwickau Mulde. It has over 4400 inhabitants and has a castle that dates back to the 12th century but whose current structure was built during the Renaissance era. The castle overlooks the river valley and parts of the community, yet it is located just down the hill from the town’s historic city center- characterized by its triangular shaped island surrounded by streets and historic buildings and decorated with a fountain. At Christmas time, a pyramid occupies the spot where the fountain is located. The square also has a couple shops and a historic town hall.
Waldenburg’s Christmas market is located at the castle. For one weekend and at a price of two Euros per person, one can enjoy the whole day at the castle, looking at handcrafted items made of ceramics, fabrics, wood, glass, bee’s wax and stone, including incense houses, pyramids, mining set, ceramic money holders, figures from the Nativity set, bowls, dish set and the like. These items are locally made from Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. The examples are many but some examples can be found here as well as in the links at the end of the article. The market is arranged in a way that the front court yard is surrounded with huts arranged in a horseshoe fashion with huts extending along the longer, eastern end going down the hill. At the bottom of the hill where one can see the castle from below, scenes from the fairy tales line up along the path which takes you to the stairs leading to the castle from the river side. Most of the fairytales originate from the Grimm Brothers series. The booths don’t stop at the courtyard. As you walk into the castle, one will find more of them in the basement section on one side. On the other side, there are separate rooms where children can either bake their own cookies or paint a white ceramic product with tutors standing by to help. There’s a chapel where dances and concerts take place. Finally, when leaving the castle, one will not miss the giant, 3.5 meter tall Christmas tree in the entry hall (Halle).
What’s untypical of Waldenburg’s Christmas market are the many kinds of Christmas punch served there, which are non-alcoholic. Normally, alcoholic beverages, including the many types of mulled wine, outnumber the non-alcoholic kind by a margin of 10:1. Here at this market, the ratio is only 2:1. There are many reasons for the wider than usual selection. One is because of no train service going through the community, thus limiting the options to either bike or car. The other is the wide selection of booths that sell their products; all but a couple of them are homemade. There are two types of punch that I would recommend: one with quince (Quitten) and the other with apple and cinnamon. Both are sweet but they keep you warm for awhile. It was a necessity for our visit as the town received a dusting of snow and was at the freezing point for much of the day. For those who cannot get away from the market without a warm drink, Waldenburg definitely has the selection.
Another plus that is worth recommending are foods from France. At the time of our visit, Waldenburg and Noyelles-lès-Vermelles were celebrating their 50th anniversary of their partnership. And what is typical of France are the different types of cheese, wine and even beer. If many consider German beer to be good, they haven’t tried the French beer, like Leffe, Ste. Etienne or Jelain. Especially the Christmas beer as it had a herbal taste to it that was hearty and good with any meat or bread. Also special (but didn’t try it) was the chicoree soup, which is typical of French soups. The partnership has played a big role in Waldenburg’s education system, for the European School is located directly in town and offers classes in German, French and English, along with other languages of Asia and Europe. Students from different nationalities attend this school if they decline to attend the schools in Glauchau or Meerane; the former has the public school system, the latter has the Saxony International School.
If you are not up to hot soups and dishes that are offered at the stands, a snack that is making its popularity at the markets are the potato-tornadoes. They consist of potatoes that are peeled to the middle, like a spiral, and then placed on a stick and fried. The crispiness is on the same level as the Hungarian Langosch but the taste is like potato crisps from Great Britain, especially if they are sprinkled with curry or paprika. It was the first time seeing this at a Christmas market but it will not be the last, especially if the likes of Friweika continue to be innovative and create different kinds of fried potatoes to compete with the likes of any meat roast (or wraps) with red cabbage.
Inspite the positives that the Waldenburg Christmas Market has to offer, there are a pair of critical points to address to make the market much more attractive. As mentioned at the beginning, Waldenburg has around 4400 inhabitants, and its town setting is typical of that in Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse- very close with problems finding parking. With the Waldenburg market, parking is the biggest problem, for even though a parking lot exists across the castle, it is not only filled up almost instantly, the parking spaces along the side streets are filled to a point where it is almost difficult for cars to even drive on the streets. It’s comparable to the Rettungsgasse (Emergency Lane) that can be found on the German Motorway- one lane open and little room to maneuver, yet high risks of an accident if a car blocks your lane. And while one can face hundreds of Euros in fines and receive points in Flensburg for blocking the Rettungsgasse, it’s hard to fine someone if he parks as close to the curb as possible without ruining the tires or smacking a tree, while risking blocking the street for passing cars in general; that is unless there is a parking ordinance in place.
As the Christmas market is on one weekend, there is a risk of overfilling it with people and cars. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the opening of the market, which was 10:00am. By the time we left, five hours later, the place was becoming overfilled. Part of it has to do with the fact that the market closes at 6:00pm on each of the days open. Given the proximity to the likes of Glauchau, Meerane, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Crimmitschau and Werdau, it is understandable to have a Christmas market on one weekend, coordinating it with the neighboring communities to allow local businesses and artists to attend. But sometimes one wonders if one weekend is not enough; especially as Zwickau and Chemnitz have theirs during the entire Advent period and Werdau and Crimmitschau have theirs for only a week. Only Glauchau and Meerane have theirs for one weekend.
But what about if Waldenburg would have theirs for two weekends or even the entire time?
As I reported on Frankenmuth, Michigan, the policy of expansion and marketing by the likes of Bronner and Zehnder not only saved the Franconian community near Lake Huron, it also attracted more visitors every year. Even the Christmas Market, which was introduced in 2005, has become an attraction in the winter time, adding it to the tree with ornaments full of events to do in the community. Waldenburg already has an establishment of having two types of markets during the year: a pottery market and an arts and crafts market. Building off from that one can try and expand the Christmas market in the sense of space and time. For space purposes, it could include the historic old town and even the parking area, but it would come with closing off the area to all traffic and utilizing the open space at the castle grounds next to the river as well as some other parking areas for parking. Wishful thinking would be a shuttle service to the market from Glauchau or Meerane so that one can leave their cars at the respective cities and use the bus, without having to worry about parking. For time purposes, there are two options worth experimenting. The first is having it for 1-2 weeks, as seen in Crimmitschau and Werdau. The second is having it only on Advent weekends. This is practiced at the Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, which has been hosting the markets since 2009. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of traffic and business. Especially for the former, for only main highway passes through the city center enroute to Hohenstein-Ernstthal.
To ensure the passage is cleared so that business can be conducted during the week, it is perhaps not a bad idea to have the markets on multiple weekends. There are three reasons behind expanding the Christmas markets onto weekends only: 1. There’s normally not much business in Waldenburg during the weekend, so the streets could be closed off during that time. 2. It’s more likely to attract visitors visiting the market and the castle on weekends than on weekdays; even if there are non-Christmas events at the castle, there is a chance to share space and time so that people can visit both- hence the expansion of the market to the city center. And lastly 3. There is a chance to coordinate services between Glauchau, Meerane, Crimmitschau and Werdau to encourage people to visit the markets without having to rush to one just because they are open during a weekend. People could visit all these markets during the Advent season while not losing commerce during that time but most importantly, not congesting the streets. To sum up, more space and more possibilities to visit the market in Waldenburg beyond the lone weekend will be beneficial to the community and businesses who would like to sell their products.
According to sources, this is the third time Waldenburg has hosted the Christmas market at the castle. And given the number of people attending the market and its 50+ stands full of local goods and handcrafted products, this will not be the last one that will take place. The market has the potential of attracting many and competing with the neighboring markets. What it takes to succeed however require more than just one weekend to host it. It will requiring cooperation with other Christmas markets in neighboring towns plus a better infrastructure in order to attract more people by not just encouraging them to see all of them during the Advent period.
For a market like Waldenburg, it requires a lot of time to spend there, enjoying the foods, buying local and even doing some crafting for your loved ones. For all ages, the market at Waldenburg is a must-see for Christmas.
Aside from the markets, Waldenburg is also a guest of a Christmas market in Waldenburg/ Hohenlohe. It’s located in the Schwabian Hall district in Baden-Wurttemberg near the conglomerate of Heilbronn. That market is also held for one weekend in a castle and includes businesses from there, Waldenburg in Switzerland and its partner city, Sierck-les-Bains in France.
You can see all the Pictures of Waldenburg’s Christmas Market at the Castle via
In connection with the article on the City of Frankenmuth (which you can click here to read), the city known as Little Bavaria is famous for its Christmas Market. Created in 2005, it is one of the youngest of the ten festivals and events taking place annually in Frankenmuth. And despite its small size, it is one of the most popular of markets in the city. Shortly after the visit in July, 2018, I had a chance to interview Dietrich Bronner, who is the grandson of the late Wally Bronner, who founded the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s. He is the catalogue and product manager of the store who was also one of the driving forces behind creating the Christmas market in Frankenmuth.
The interview unfortunately happened right after the Christmas market ended in December. It only takes place on the first Advent Weekend, about the same time as Thanksgiving. This year, the interview is being posted in hopes that people wishing to see the market can do so, as it takes place November 29th- December 1st 2019. Details of the Christmas market can be found here.
Without further ado, here’s what you can find at the Christmas market and how you can contribute to its ongoing success:
Why did the City of Frankenmuth introduced the Christmas market? Who was the driving force behind this? The Christkindlmarkt is hosted by the Frankenmuth Farmers Market. We started the Market in 2005 and that year we added the Christkindlmarkt as a winter-time extension of the market. This is the 14th year we are hosting it. Frankenmuth is very much a Bavarian-themed town that attracts up to 3 million visitors a year. The market is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. A board of directors were the volunteers that started it originally with a paid market master. Laurajeanne Kehn was the paid market master for 12 years and she is the one that had the driving force to start it.
How is the market in Frankenmuth plotted out- is it along the streets of Downtown or is there a certain spot where the booths are put up and arranged like in a typical German Christmas market? Our Christkindlmarkt is in a large heated tent downtown. We put the tent up just for the Christkindlmarkt. Vendors have booths inside and outside of the tent. We would love to have various booths outside more like a traditional German market, but we don’t have the funding or ideal storage to have those booths. We may in the future. In 2015 we built and opened a $2.1 building with a vendor pavilion outside. Inside the building is a Gathering Barn for events, a Farm Store for year round sales of local products, an office, conference room, and a fully licensed commercial kitchen or incubator kitchen (Artisans Kitchen) which can be rented to make commercially sellable foods. I am the chef there and we cook many various dinners, meals, and experience meals there. The building is at the north end of town about 1 mile away from the downtown.
What do you offer for Food, beverages and Gifts at the market? Are there some German products sold there- if so, which ones and in particular, which one is the most popular? We or the vendors have offered sausages, baked goods of all sorts, specialty Germany treats (lebkuchen, stollen, pfeffernusse, springerle), popcorn, kettle corn, pasties (a Dutch/Michigan item), sauces and condiments, teas, coffee, fudge, roasted/glazed nuts, local chestnuts, salsas, and much more. The German treats sell very well, especially the lebkuchen and springerle.
Many German Christmas markets have their Season during Advent, yet yours runs from Thanksgiving to the first Advent. Why is that? Ours coincides when we have the most visitors in town, which is the day/weekend after Thanksgiving which is a huge shopping “holiday”—Black Friday. That weekend, on Friday night, we have a holiday lighting ceremony where the Chamber of Commerce hosts a program that thousands of people attend. This is like the start to Christmas. There is a singing program by the Gemuetlichkeit Club (I’m the president of that, too) and then local church choirs and the Christmas story is told and then the Christmas lights are turned on. This weekend and the next weekend, there are thousands of visitors, so we run the Christkindlmarkt these two weekends. It takes many volunteers to run it, so we only have it two weekends.
What Special Events does the market offer? We have carolers, a Christmas angel made a proclamation last year, we have live musicians that play Christmas music, we have meet and greets with Santa, but the main attraction is shopping because we want to support our local vendors.
How many People have visited the market each Christmas? We have about 20,000 visitors over the six days.
If there were some improvements to be made for the Frankenmuth Christmas market, which ones would you point out and why? We would love for it to be larger and have more vendors and a wider variety of products. However, we are limited on space, the event requires much labor to manage it, and renting the tent is expensive. We carefully select and screen our vendors and we only allow local vendors to support the local economy.
Author’s Note: A special thanks to Dietrich Bronner for supplying the photos and for the interview. Hope your Christmas Market is a success this year and beyond. 🙂
If there is a stereotype that holds true for most German-named towns in the US, it is this: It has to be German no matter what. This applies for language, culture and tradition and especially architecture. And furthermore, one has to stand out in its identity. The city of Frankenmuth in eastern Michigan is one of these communities that fulfills both stereotypes. The city is located in Saginaw County, approximately 20 miles south of Saginaw and another 25 miles west of Lake Huron. The city is seven miles (14 kilometers) east of Interstate 75 and another five miles away from neighboring Bridgeport, home of the State Street Truss Bridge. The community has over 5,500 inhabitants and if adding Bridgeport and some communities in the township, the conglomerate has over 12,000 inhabitants.
When looking at Frankenmuth from an outsider’s perspective, it looks like a typical American community with rows of houses, large yards, a Main Street with business district and a river with some bridges over it. Yet, not all villages with German names are typical American towns that follow the tradition of farming, local festivals and events and American traditions that we are accustomed to. This one is typically German, going from names down to tradition and language. Settlers first came to the region in 1845. Consisting of Lutheran missionaries, the settlers crossed the Ocean on the ship Caroline before taking the Nelson Smith from New York via Detroit to Saginaw, going along canals and through the Great Lakes. Records revealed that most of the settlers who founded Frankenmuth originated from the region Mittelfranken in central Bavaria and the shield representing the city features a combination of Bavarian and Franconian elements, including a falcon. Despite its creation, it took 59 years until the community was officially incorporated in 1904. The origin of Frankenmuth consists of the first half the region itself and the second half, “muth” representing courage- the courage of the Franconians who wanted to settle down in a new region and convert many nearby into Christians. Like at the beginning, Frankenmuth today represents the largest of the German enclave in the region, which include Frankenlust, Frankenhilf (Richville) and Frankentrost, plus other communities, like Bridgeport. They all have the following common traits: the Lutheran faith, German language and Franconian tradition.
Frankenmuth would not be called that, let alone become a magnet for tourism and tradition had it not been for the following families that put the city on the map: Bronner, Fischer and Zehnder. All three families were of Franconian blood, All three of them knew the ways of marrying tradition with tourism. Theodore Fischer and family started a restaurant and hotel in 1888 under the family name. Their son Hermann and his wife Lydia made their mark for their “All you can eat family style chicken dinner.” In 1928, another family, William and Emilie Zehnder Sr. founded the restaurant bearing their name. Their son Tiny was a farmer and would collect the leftovers to feed the hogs. Faced with financial difficulties and a choice between expansion and sale, Elmer Fischer, who had acquired the family business from his parents, sold his business to Zehnder in 1950. Tiny quit farming to take over the restaurant and hotel business together with his wife Dorothy, and the rest was history.
Despite relapses in earnings due to recession during the 1950s, Tiny untertook a half-century drive to expand and convert the restaurant into one that is a resort complex decorated with a taste of Bavaria. The restaurant and hotel became known as the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Resort Complex. The new addition boasted an authentic Bavarian exterior-stucco walls, woodcarving, flower boxes and other German accents were blended with the new German entrees served by “Bavarian” costumed servers. A week long celebration with German entertainment was held in 1959 which today is known as the Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival. In 1967 the stunning 50-foot Glockenspiel was added, topped off with a 35-bell carillon. It became an instant Bavarian Inn landmark with its revolving figures that depict the legend of the Pied Piper of Hameln. During our visit in 2018, the Bavarian Inn, which features two restaurants, a hotel and resort complex and also ferry service along the Cass River, was well-received with hundreds of guests being served by waitresses dressed in their best Oktoberfest outfits, serving the best beer and Bavarian entrées. And yes, the all-you-can-eat Chicken dinner, invented and patented by Theodore Fischer, is still being served there and the taste is unbeatable- crispy with a little spice in there, but really good together with mashed potatoes and homemade sauerkraut! You can also find this at Zehnder’s Restaurant and Complex, located in the city center on the Cass River.
Tiny’s restaurant and hotel expansion did not stop at the Bavarian Inn. He was known as an expansionist with a German traditional flair and because of his successes at the Bavarian Inn, Tiny encouraged other businesses in Frankenmuth to revamp their buildings to include the Bavarian architecture that went all the way down to the lamp posts. Even a covered bridge with a Bavarian style architecture was built in 1979 and is still in use. In addition, many of the historic buildings that had existed since the establishment of the community were preserved as museums. Traditional Bavarian goods eventually replaced the common American ones. Frankenmuth eventually became Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Until his death in 2006, Tiny Zehnder continued to make the community the attraction for German goodies, yet there was one more person who came up with a business idea which resulted in Frankenmuth becoming the world’s capital, and that is Christmas ornaments!
The visit to Frankenmuth is definitely not complete without a visit to Bronner’s Christmas Store. The store was founded in 1945 by Wally Bronner, who had just finished high school and was helping his parents with a local business. Wally discovered the talent of creating metal signs which later expanded to include Christmas ornaments. An avid Christian who enjoyed Christmas, Bronner would later expand the store, which would include a Silent Night Chapel and over ten acres of Austrian and Bavarian-style architecture, each building and section representing a country, holiday and even the American nostalgia that had their sets of ornaments. A detailed history on Wally Bronner, his life and the creation and expansion of the store can be found here.
Today’s Bronner’s Christmas Store is indeed the world’s largest Christmas store, housing tens of thousands of holiday ornaments from over 70 different countries, including Germany, Austria, parts of Asia and the Middle East and the US. Whatever a person is looking for, Bronner’s has it. If a person is an avid Christmas fan, like Wally, you can expect to spend hours in that store, stocking up on Christmas lights and ornaments. It was the case with our visit in 2018, where even some of the nostalgic Christmas lighting that I grew up with as a child were found there. They included bubble lights and C-7 glass lights, which we picked up- together with dozens of other ornaments to be decorated on the tree back home in Germany.
If one spends time in Frankenmuth, a day is needed at Bronner’s before doing other activities that the small farming community, well-known as Little Bavaria, has to offer.
Frankenmuth has the taste of Franconian culture and tradition in itself. There are lots of activities to enjoy both in town as well as along the Cass River. Yet one needs a lot of time to spend in the community in order to understand how it was created, how it was marketed and how three families left their marks in the town’s history books. In comparison to the other German-named villages visited so far, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, Frankenmuth is considered one of the most German of communities, growing together, while maintaining their Bavarian heritage, and providing a magnet for tourists to stop by to shop and to visit. Especially around the time of the festivals, like the Bavarian fest and the Christmas market (a separate article with an invertiew is enclosed and can be read here), will a person find Frankenmuth at its best- Little Bavarian in the middle of America’s heartland.
For more Information on Festivals and other celebrations in Frankenmuth, check out ist City Website by clicking here.
There is a Bridge Guide on the Frankenmuth/Bridgeport Region via sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Click here and have a look. Three of Frankenmuth’s Bridges can be found there.
The next stop on the photo tour along the Inner-German border is a train station that played a key role through every era of railroad history in eastern Germany. First built in 1848 and expanded in 1880, the Hof Central Railway Station is a key strategic point for the region of Franconia and Vogtland. Considered by the German Railways (the Bahn) as a Category 3 train station, Hof Central Station is the starting and stopping point for all regional railroad services coming from Bavaria in the south and Saxony in the north. Prior to 2012, it had been a throughfare station because of regional trains passing through from Nuremberg and Bayreuth enroute to Zwickau, Leipzig and Dresden. Thanks to the electrification of the line between Zwickau and Hof via Plauen, the northern line now operated by Transdev going to Dresden; the Bahn operates the portion of the line going south.
As in the beginning, Hof was a central point for all trains passing through for it was a hub serving rail services to Munich in the south, Leipzig and Berlin in the north and Cheb (Eger) in the Czech Republic. Even some of the now abandoned raillines, like the Triptis-Marxgrün Line, found its place in Hof. Sadly though, after the end of World War II, Hof Central Station became an inner-German border station, just like it is today. All rail service from the south and west ended in Hof and those who wish to travel further to Leipzig and Berlin had to switch trains and use Transit Trains provided by the East German government. Sometimes passport and customs controls were necessary if you wanted to travel to East Germany, yet most of the action was done by East German border guards at the train station Gutenfürst.
The scrutiny of passport and people checks were nothing new when traveling in East Germany. Because the East Germans had to pay for reparations, many kilometers of tracks were removed because of the steel needed for other (military) purposes. This was the case for the rail lines north of Hof as some of the small lines were abandoned with some of the crossings between East and West barracaded. Along the main lines to Dresden and Leipzig, many stretches were one-track only instead of two, like in the time before World War II. From 1945 to 1989, the only way in and out of East Germany through Hof was via the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistral Route, which is still in use as of today.
The first set of refugees boarded a train later that evening and took the 254 kilometer trip through Saxony, via Bad Schandau, Dresden, Karl Marx Stadt (Chemnitz), Plauen and Gutenfürst, arriving at 6:54am on October 1st in Hof. Between 5200 and 5400 people left the country. The second set of refugees arrived four days later with as many as 8000 people on board the trains. It was after that, that more trains carrying refugees would follow suit, putting pressure on the East German regime to open the gates that had separated Germany and Berlin into two for too long. At the time of the Fall of the Wall, as many as 25000 residents had fled by train to West Germany through Hof. Hundreds of thousands of more people would follow when cars started crossing the borders on 9 November to receive their Welcome Money and buy the goods they had been deprived of. Only a fraction of those who fled to the West have ever returned. It was an escape from the repression by the likes of Honecker, who had vowed to keep the Berlin Wall standing for another 100 years but had been dethroned for losing touch with reality.
Enter post-1989 Germany. Attempts were made to convert Hof into a central hub for train services making it a throughfare station, just like in Leipzig or Berlin. This included the introduction of Inter-City and ICE-Trains along the Magistral Route between Nuremberg and Dresden. Sadly though, due to the age of the locomotives, combined with environmental concerns (air pollution), and the reconstruction of some of the tracks, the Bahn moved to eliminate that service by 2004 and instead has worked to electrify the key lines in order to make it a throughfare station again. The project has been slow going and is expected to be finished by 2030 with a line going along the Magistral branching off to include Bayreuth and Marktredwitz. Another one is expected to connect Regensburg.
Still, a lot has to be done to make Hof a central hub again. The station building has a lot of charm regarding its architecture and interior design that makes it a popular place to visit. The Main Hall, with its columns and the coats of arms from Bavaria and Saxony was restored to its original glory and has become a waiting area with a book store, Yorma’s Eateries and a place to dine while waiting for the train. The Royal Waiting Room has also been restored and a restaurant and conference room have taken its place. Still, the front entrance of the station as well as the restrooms are awaiting restoration and revitalization as they have fallen on hard times and need to updated to meet the increasing needs of the passengers who pass through. With its architectural character that had been a blessing, the first beacon of light for the East Germans that fled the run-down buildings and Communist-style „Plattenbau“ highrise apartments with a bland and boring taste, the station in Hof has seen better days, for creases and wrinkles from 1989 are noticeable. That the restoration has been ongoing since that time is a given.
Walking through the halls of Hof Central is like walking back into time, where I was one of many greeting the refugees that had gotten off that train from Prague to flee the eastern half and its years of neglect. Many filled with tears and joy and excitement. It is almost like the scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where the opressed had no choice but to leave for greener pastures inspite the rebellion to overthrow the oppressors. Like in the book, there were two different types- one to overthrow the Nazi Regime under Hitler and one that overthrew the communists who had defeated Hitler but imposed their will on others for their benefit. While many have fled for good, never to return except for some reminiscence, others returning to the former East have seen lots of changes for the better.
For many, Hof Central Station was the Symbol of Change that was needed to end the divide, bring Democracy and peace to the People and subsequentially reunite Germany. It is the same Hof Central Station that should serve as a reminder of the efforts taken to Change the landscape and the lessons that should be learned, which is to maintain Democracy and ist principles and never again have what Germany had dealt with in the past. This goes well beyond its structural character, which trickles down to even its lighting.
Many segments of the Berlin Wall still exist today, serving as a reminder of the city’s past, together with that of Germany, before and after the Fall of the Wall in 1989. One of the examples that a tourist in Germany must see is the East Side Gallery. This 1.4 kilometer stretch runs along the River Spree and Mühlenstrasse between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, going from Oberbaumbrücke to the Railway Station Ostbahnhof. The former Wall was converted into an open-air Gallery in 1990 with the goal of mixing history and art into one. Since that time, as many as 120 artists from around the world have displayed their works along the wall, where special themes are displayed, from the Time of the Wall to the Strive for Peace. Pop culture themes are also included in this gallery. Here’s a sample courtesy of a friend and former high school classmate of mine from Minnesota, Kristin Krahmer, during her recent visit with her family. More examples and the history behind the Gallery can be found here.