While we are starting the sometimes painstaking task to take down the Christmas tree, put away the ornaments and work off our holiday fill which had gone over the waist line, there are some last minute ideas for Christmas which should’ve been about during the holiday season. However, if put down properly, one will have enough time to put them all together for the next holiday season.
Apart from family calendars, a collection of poems, a personal guide book with some quotes, exercises and food for thought, Christmas cards and the like, one can make a personal photo gallery for that particular person(s) who has a knacking for pictures and anything typical of the giver whose photos the receiver likes or anything the receiver likes.
One of the ways to have the person remember Christmas is Christmas art. Whether it has to do with Christmas trees, decorated houses, or in this case, Christmas lights, one can turn an object targeted by the camera lens into a work of art. I learned this one as I took some close-up shots of our Christmas tree in Germany before starting the process of taking it down. The origin is simple: we bought a couple sets of American Christmas tree lights, together with some decorations of clear, silver and white, combined them with our collection of birds and bells we’ve collected over the years, and made our tree similar to the nostalgic American tree that one would have seen until the ushering of the LED lights a decade ago. In order to have an 80s style tree, one needs an international converter and adaptor to ensure that there are no power outages or electrical shortages that could catch fire on the tree.
And then, after admiring the tree, take a good camera and do some close-ups, doctor some of the bests and here are the results:
One can also do this with LED lights if they are in color. The same applies for Christmas stars which one can hang on the window sill. But the best close-ups of Christmas lights are best with the right combination of Christmas ornaments and the best settings. The most recommended is to bring the light to the forefront and have a dark background. Yet one can also experiment with the variables. It’s a matter of the amount of imagination and creativity a person has, combined with a passion for photography.
Once it is done, one can make a gallery online or even use some of them for a print-version album, as well as Christmas cards, coffee cups, anything that will capture the attention of the person receiving the gift.
Yet doing this will require some time and patience, something that is lacking in today’s society where commercialized items far outweigh personal items. Yet if there is a lesson learned from this holiday season, it is this:
Personal gifts are more valuable when a lot of time and thought is put into them. Therefore, start early, give it time and make it special. Sometimes starting your gift hunting early and finishing before feasting on the next turkey or goose at Christmas time will make the person appreciate what you’ve done.
It’s difficult but when you follow through, you will have more time for who you love the most, which is family and friends. 🙂
When Christmas is here, so are the Christmas lights. On the tree, on the houses and even on people, Christmas lights have become the cornerstone to any holiday celebration. For over a century, people have embraced them, cursed at them if things go awry, competed with neighbors for the best lighting and lastly (but most importantly), taken pride in their work of making things twinkle and flash.
Many of us don’t know much about the history of Christmas lighting, despite having materials being written about them. We do know that the invention of electrical Christmas lights came right after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Afterwards, the rest was history.
I’ve compiled a quiz on the history of Christmas lighting in the US and beyond, with the goal of challenging you all to guess at the answers and learn about how the Christmas lights have evolved into something where we cannot live without them, especially at Christmas time.
So switch on the bubble lights and set to work on these questions. Good luck and the answers will come before the end of the holiday season! 🙂
The Schwibbogen, one of the landmarks a person will see while visiting Germany at Christmas time. Consisting of an arch with holders for candles, the Bogen is more commonly known as the Lichterbogen, and has its traditions going back to the 18th Century. The first known Bogen was made in Johanngeorgenstadt in the Ore Mountain region in Saxony, in 1740. It was made of black metal, which is the color of the ore found in the mountain range, was made out of a forged metal piece, and was later painted with a series of colors, adding to the piece 11 candles. This is still the standard number for a normal Bogen, but the number of candles is dependent on the size. The smaller the Bogen, the fewer the candles. Paula Jordan, in 1937, provided the design of the Bogen, by carving a scene. At first, it featured 2 miners, 1 wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, 2 miner’s hammers, 2 crossed swords, and an angel. The light shining in represented the light the miners went without for months as they mined the mountain. However, since World War II, the scenes have varied. Nowadays, one can see scenes depicting the trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, a historic Christmas village, and nature scenes, just to name a few. Here’s a classical example of a Bogen one will find in a window sill of a German home:
Going from the Ore Mountains, 7,400 kilometers to the west, one will see another form of the Schwibbogen, but in the state of Iowa. During the Christmas trip through Van Buren County, Iowa, and in particular, Bentonsport, several houses were shining with candles of their own. But these are totall different than the Schwibbogen we see in German households and Christmas markets. Each window had three candles, with one in the middle that is taller than the two outer ones. This is similar to the very top picture in the article, even though it is a mimic of what was seen at the village. When attempting to photograph the houses, the author was met with this:
Even though there is not much to see from there, it shows how the candles are arranged in front of the window, closed with a curtain. Van Buren County was predominantly Dutch (more on that will come when looking at the Christmas villages), but it is unknown what the meaning behind the three candles are, let alone who was behind the concept and why. Could it be that the Dutch were simply mimicking the Schwibbogen from Saxony but just simply using three candles instead of eleven and subtracting the designed arch holder? And what does the design of the three candles stand for?
Any ideas are more than welcomed. Just add your comments or use the contact form to inform the author what the difference between the three candles and the Schwibbogen are in terms of origin and meaning. The information will be provided once the answers are collected and when looking at the Christmas villages in the county. They are small, but each one has its own culture which has been kept by its residents. The three candles are one of these that can be seen today at Christmas time, even while passing by the houses travelling along the Des Moines River, heading northwest to Des Moines. Looking forward to the info on this phenomenon. 🙂
Author’s Note: Check out the Flensburg Files’ wordpress page, as a pair of genres dealing with Christmas have been posted recently. They are film ads produced by a German and a British retailer, respectively. Both are dealing with the dark sides of Christmas, as the German one looks at loneliness without family (click here) and ways to get them home for the holidays (even though the technique presented is controversial), and the British one deals with a girl meeting a man far far away (click here), who is lonely and wants company, which is given in the end. Both have powerful messages, so have your tissues out. 🙂
Our final stop on the Christmas market tour in Berlin- Mitte is Potsdamer Platz. Located one kilometer west of Brandenburg Gate, this square is one of the most highly developed areas in Mitte, most of which being constructed in the former West Berlin. This is the spot where several hotels were located. It was also the busiest intersection in the city prior to World War II, as roads coming from Potsdam Mitte, and other points met here. This is one of the reasons why the first traffic light in Europe was built in 1924. A replica of the light, which functions as a clock, still occupies this point to this day. After World War II, the area was completely in ruins, only to be cut in half by the Berlin Wall, when it was built in 1961. For 28 years, Potsdamer Platz was known as “No Man’s Land,” because of the Wall, as it was over 2 km wide, and the land was barren, filled with traps, patrolmen and watch towers. Despite it being one of the death traps, Potsdamer Platz was one of the first places to be breached, when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, and the gates were open, allowing many East Germans to flee to the western part of Berlin and Germany.
Construction started in 1991 to reshape the square, which included the construction of buildings that housed Daimler Corporation, German Railways and Kohlhoff, as well as the Sony Center- where the German version of the Academy Awards for Films takes place annually- and the Arkade Shopping center, which features multiple stories of shops including those underground. It proceeded at a snail’s pace not only because of the competition among designers and builders on how to reshape the square, but also the stagnation of the German economy as a result of the costs involving Reunification. Germany was in a recession for two years (1993-4), which hampered Helmut Kohl’s chances of reelection as German chancellor in 1994. He won the elections anyway for a fourth term but lost out on his fifth chance to Gerhard Schröder in 1998. When visiting Potsdamer Platz in 2000, it was still a construction zone, with much left to do.
Fast forward to the present: there are no traces left of the Berlin Wall, let alone the cranes and diggers that had dominated the scene for 15 years until 2006. Instead, we have three skyscrapers, an Entertainment Quarter which includes Sony Center, many modernized residential areas with stretches of greenery to the east. Since 2006, Potsdamer Platz has served as a regional hub for rail, subway and light rail traffic, the first being part of the North-South Axis connecting Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof with points to the south, including Südkreuz Station. In fact, when walking up the stairs from the underground stations, one will see the three skyscrapers, with the Christmas market in front of them.
Interconnected with the Christmas market at Sony Center, the main theme of the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz is: Lights! Camera! Action! With hundreds of thousands of lights shining in the complex, the best time to visit the market is at night, where the complex and the Sony Center is lit up, creating the oohs and aahs among those who love taking night photography while beating the crowd. One can enjoy the specialties from Austria, in particular Salzburg at the huts located in front of the Kohlhoff Tower. Mininature skiing and ice skating are also found next to one of the Salzburger huts for children wanting to have fun in the night light. Yet most of these activities can be found in the evening for it is the best time.
As far as visiting the market in daylight is concerned, not much activity is seen, for only a handful of huts serving drinks and food are open, whereas others are closed until 5pm in the evening. While it may serve as a temporary stop for business people to eat and drink something for lunch, it is an inconvenience for those wanting to beat the rush of the crowd that most likely will visit the market from 6pm on, making the visit to the market among the crowd of people difficult. Alone the market itself is the place that is open the longest, hosting the festival of lights from the end of November until right before the Day of Epiphany (January 6th)- a good strategy for businesses wanting to profit from the passers-by. Yet the customer is king, and perhaps a combination of a pair of measures could max out the profits:
1. Opening the market beginning at 3:30 or 4:00pm would provide people beating the rush with a chance to tour the lights and enjoy the specialties before the normal crowd comes around. This is during the time the sun sets and presents the photographer with a chance to photograph the lights at sundown.
2. Utilize the green space for expansion. While the green area is most likely occupied by people in the summer months as they can enjoy the breeze and the sunlight, it is also useful during the time of the Christmas market where huts could utilize the space and move the crowd away from the traffic that passes through the hub. Sometimes sacrificing the space for a month for a purpose like the Christmas market can save lives as people don’t have to worry about cars speeding past. Cooperation from residents and businesses would be key in embarking on this idea.
Overall, while the market is a quick stop for lunch for businessmen and tourists, the Christmas Market at Potsdam is clearly a night market, for the main attraction are the lights, which bring photographers and tourists together at night. Yet one has to find the best time to see it without having to fight the crowd. Therefore, come to the place early to take advantage of what it has to offer. 🙂
Photos of the Christmas market can be found here and here. Information about the history of Potsdamer Platz can be found here. Information about the Salzburger specialty foods can be found here.
FAST FACT POP QUIZ:
1. We wanted to know from you how many Christmas markets Berlin has. Without further ado: here is the answer:
There is a total of 109 Christmas markets in the greater Berlin area. Of which 5 are in Potsdam and 20 are located in Mitte, including the ones mentioned in the Christmas market series. If we continue with the tour of Berlin’s other Christmas market, it would take 5-8 years to visit and profile 10-15 of them. A tall order and one can only recommend the ones that are popular among people of all ages. 😉
2. In connection with the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, have a look at the picture again on the right-hand side. Any guesses what that is?
Here’s the answer:
The Urania World Clock
The clock was developed by Erich John in 1969 and was part of the plan to redesign Alexanderplatz, which included the construction of the TV Tower. The clock features all 24 time zones and operates dependent on the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The aluminum clock is 2 meters tall and can be seen from the light rail tracks. More information on the clock can be found here.