Flensburg Files Accepting Stories of Christmas’ Past

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While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.

Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas  Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.

During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles.  Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.

Specifically:

  • What foods were served at Christmas time?
  • What gifts were customary?
  • What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
  • What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
  • How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
  • What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
  • And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?

In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories,  some of which will be included there as well.

Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. 

The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.

Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.

And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂

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Mystery Building Nr. 8: The BrĂĽhl (Mile) District in Chemnitz

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Photos taken in January 2017

Our next mystery building article takes us to Chemnitz in central Saxony and in particular, this district. Located in the northern edge of the city center, 500 meters from Chemnitz Central Station (Chemnitz Hbf.), the Brühl Mile features a narrow street, flanked on each end with historic buildings- both those that survived the bombings of World War II as well as those that were constructed during the age of East Germany- and laden with lighting originating from the Communist era, where Chemnitz was once known as Karl-Marx-Stadt. Going from end to end between Georgenstrasse and Zöllnerstrasse, one will walk back into time to the period where everything seen is all in relation with this particular time period.  And while the Brühl district is bustling with activity during the summer, in the winter time, its true colors present itself in a form of a mixture of buildings filled with apartments and a handful of businesses as well as those that are empty but present themselves with artwork that is comparable with those presented in the large cities in Germany, like Berlin.

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While the empty buildings are scheduled to be renovated before the city celebrates its 875th anniversary in 2018, the question remains where the name BrĂĽhl originated. Here is what we do know about the Mile:

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The Mile was once a village named Streitdorf, which was owned by the lordship Blankenau in the 1300s. The village separated itself from the city of Chemnitz by a brook and a large field used for grazing. After the purchase of the village in 1402, it disappeared thanks to land encroachment and the eventual conversion to a hatchery for fish. Given its approximate location to the River Chemnitz, the area was ideal for this industry. The area was converted into a district which by 1795, it was named Anger. Planners proceeded to construct and expand the district beginning in 1835 to include 120 apartments at first. The numbers quadrupled over the next century, and the district eventually gained a theater house, church, textile factory, museum and lastly, a market square located at today’s Schillerplatz. With the draining of the brook came the establishment of a pond at the aforementioned present-day location. The last architectural work came with the public pool, which was built in 1935.

After the bombing of Chemnitz, which affected the BrĂĽhl district, buildings to the south and east were demolished to make way for Communist.based architecture, much of which can be seen along the Mile today. This includes statues, lighting and some of the characteristics that a person will see in an East German housing development in many cities today. Even the mural that exists at the Georgenstrasse entrance depicts what the district looked like before 1989.

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Yet there is a catch involved with the history of this district and that is with the name BrĂĽhl. When I first visited the district in January, my first impression was that it was part of an industrial district, where BrĂĽhl was a company. The slogan and lettering of the Mile, which can be seen at the Georgenstrasse entrance, clearly shows a trace going in that direction. Looking at the history of the industries that existed in East Germany, the connection of having residential areas near companies was considered the norm in those days, especially when looking at the relicts of the past today in many cities.

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Yet history books show that BrĂĽhl was first used in 1836 and the name has been stuck to this district ever since. This leads to the question of its origin and who created the idea. Furthermore, if one looks at the mural more closely, was BrĂĽhl located near an industry and if so, what was it? Given its location near the River Chemnitz and its history of being a fishery, it is likely that perhaps the fishing industry existed either solely or alongside any industries that happened to exist during the days of East Germany. But on the flip side, perhaps the housing district used the logo as a fancy way of drawing residents to then Karl-Marx-Stadt. The theory points to the second because of the SED having its regional party headquarters there in the 1970s before they relocated to the Congress Center, two kilometers south of the Mile.

But perhaps politics and industry could co-exist in one district, as potentially seen in the area along the Mile?  What else do we know about the BrĂĽhl Mile? Add your thoughts in the Comments page here as well as in the Files’ facebook page, which you can click here to access.

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The BrĂĽhl Mile is being repurposed and revitalized even as this article is being released with the purpose of having the district restored and brought back to life for businesses and residents in time for Chemnitz’s 875th birthday in 2018. Details on the project can be found via link here. At the same time, the City of Chemnitz is calling out to public on how to make the city prepared for this event. That is also in the BrĂĽhl page.

To close, here’s a little food for thought that a store owner along the Mile left that is worth thinking about. 🙂

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Mystery Building Nr. 6: A Globe Tower at a Former Mining Facility

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Antiques from the past are always the most unique, both in terms of their unusual shape but also their function in their histories. It can be large or small, geometric or Picasso-like, rusty or gleaming, designed by the likes of Dali or a total psychopath. The mystery building profiled here is a tower that is tall and rusty, but originating from the bygone era, where the purpose was unknown but was part of a complex only a pyschopath would concoct.

Located south of Leipzig along the River Pleisse near the town of Deutzen, this tower was once part of a mining complex, which altered the landscape with its extraction of brown coal, which was used for electricity. Stretching along the line between Markkleeberg and Wieratal and between Belgershain and Hartmannsdorf, the mining area was once the largest in East Germany, covering an area of over 610,000 square meters. The process of strip mining and burning coal produced pollution that is comparable to the Black Triangle Region near Zittau, where Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic meet. Thousands of residents suffered from respiratory diseases and other forms of mental illness. The soil was contaminated to a point where it was no longer fertile.

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The browness of the Pleisse as seen at this crossing near Rötha, south of Markkleeberg

Even the effects of soil and water pollution is still noiceable in the River Pleisse, which has a caramel brown color between Deutzen and the southern suburbs of Leipzig, making it non-drinkable. Even when the river was rechanneled during that time- and the river was straightened for 10 kilometers from Markkleeberg to Böhlen, much of its past can still be seen in its very murky water which has not had any underwater life for over five decades since the start of mining. Strip mining was discontinued in 1992, and much of the area is now owned by ARE Inc., based in Deutzen, which is responsible for soil treatment and environmental clean-up, including revitalizing the areas mined, converting many mined areas into lakes.

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Yet relicts, like this tower serve as a reminder of an era that one should not forget. The tower is about 60 meters tall and has a globe-like top, surrounded by a ringed platform, and easily accessible through flights of stairs zig-zagging its way inside the steel-caged support tower. One of the hints that indicates that it used to be in the mining area are the signs banning trespassing on the premise because it is a mining area. But even though it was part of history and now owned by ARE, what was its actual function? Was it a watchtower, a water tower, a chemical tower, maybe a radar tower like the one guessed at in the article of the building near Altenburg? For the last one, given its proximity to Leipzig-Halle and Altenburg Airports, this guess is justified. In either case, no one knows what this tower is.

 

Or do you have an idea?

 

If so, let’s start the idea and photosharing. Feel free to post here or on the Files’ facebook pages. It will appear in the Leipzig Glocal’s page because of its proximity to Leipzig. Let’s piece together the history of this tower, no longer in use except as a monument- serving as a reminder of a period that has passed, but should not be forgotten, for the period where strip mining existed- namely, the Cold War, has forever changed the landscape of the region.

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Lake Rötha

And while much of the area has been revitalized and converted into lakes, others will need more time to recover because of the chemicals that are still in the water and soil that will take decades to disappear. But once it happens, other bodies of water, including the River Pleisse will return to what it was before 1945, something that many people wish for because of the memories of fishing and boating along the river.

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Mystery Building Nr. 5: A Silo or An NSA Complex?

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Photo taken in July 2016

In the run-up to the next quiz series on Thuringia and Saxony, I came across a phenomenon that will spark a discussion regarding what this structure really is. Located between the towns of Altenburg and Gössnitz on the Thuringian-Saxony border, this building is located smack in the middle of corn and wheat fields with a few trees surrounding it. It is difficult to tell how high or wide this building is. We do know that despite it sitting on the drifting hills which includes the valley of the Pleisse River and its tributaries, the building is high enough to be seen high above the trees from the train travelling on the line connecting Gera and Gössnitz, like in the picture below:

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Ibid.

It is also tall enough that a person can photograph it from a distance of over 25 kilometers, as seen in the photo at the beginning of this article.  That was taken near the Thomas MĂĽntzer Siedlung, located south of Hauensdorf and east of Lehndorf.  Keeping this in mind, let’s estimate the height to be at least 30 meters.

It appearance is rather spooky as the base features a cylindrical shape, but the top quarter has a spherical appearance with pentagonal patterns. Separating the two shapes, both of whom have a grayish green color, is an observation deck which a person can access with a flight of stairs zig-zagging its way to the ground. A housing complex is located just to the north of the tower.

This leads to one of three theories:

  1. Central Intelligence Tower: The tower is part of the central intelligence complex, which collects information for use. The design would make the most sense, given the fact that spying has been part of the livelihood of the people living in the region. Altenburg was part of the former East Germany, and the Honnecker Regime cooperated with the Soviets regarding collecting information from the western half of Europe as part of the plan to protect its borders from a nuclear attack. With the events involving the Berlin Wall, Prague Spring and the NATO Weapons stationed in West Germany before Reagan, having a tower in the middle of nowhere served as a out-of-sight complex protecting the East Germans. To keep them from fleeing to the West, it was probably used as a spy tool to keep them in tact and within their borders.  Since Germany and America’s NSA have an agreement on data-collecting, the tower probably has been used since 1989 for that purpose- especially now because of the potential threat from Russia and the terrorists, something that many people on both sides don’t agree with. Privacy has become more and more tabu these days because of the willingness of Berlin and Washington to pry open the activities of their normal citizens…..
  2. Water Tower: The tower is nothing more than a water tower, collecting and storing water for the towns along the Pleisse and its tributaries. Logistically speaking, this would make the best sense as the region is surrounded by farmland, and water is needed to foster crop-growth. Perhaps despite its unusual design, the water tower was conceived out of the “spy tower” after 1989 after it was rendered useless. As many water towers have different shapes, especially after a lengthy discussion about the water tower in Glauchau (see article for more), this idea may not be far from the truth.
  3. Communal Silo: The same applies for the silo concept, where crops are stored there. What would support the argument here is the housing surrounding it, resembling a farmstead. What would make this argument redundant is the fact that silos are rare in numbers in Germany. Unlike in rural America, where one in two farmsteads have at least one silo, in rural Germany, it is most likely one in 10,000 because of the population density, combined with limited space for farming. If a silo exists, then most likely as a communal one owned by the city of Altenburg.

There could be other opinions to this, like an army complex, power plant, grain elevator, etc., but having an unusual shape makes these arguments questionable. This leads to the question of what exactly this tower is, when it was built and for what purpose, and lastly, is it still in use.

Any ideas? Feel free to comment…… 🙂

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Featured Literature of the Week: Danielle

As mentioned at the time of its relaunch as a website, the Files will present featured literature to be posted on a weekly basis to provide readers (and in this case, viewers) with an opportunity to look at the genres written or produced in the English language with a focus on life in Germany.

Our first profile looks at feminism and sexual liberation in the form of poetry and film. Danielle was written by Robert Grant and produced by B-Street Productions based in the Berlin suburb of Neukölln. It had made its debut in 2005 but was dedicated in honor of its 10th anniversary a few weeks back. It focuses on a girl living in an apartment in Berlin, who had just broken off a relationship with another man, despite the fact that they had a close relationship, on the brink of something hot and intense. The film presents two very contrasting sides of the story. On the one hand, there is a girl in her mid to late twenties, who had just returned from a late night rendezvous, feeling liberated after having produced a closure with her ex-boyfriend. The video shows even more as she strips down from her tight clothes and dress and slips on loose clothing, as if she had been given new breath of life and a sense of freedom she had never gotten before.

On the other hand, there is the narrator who cites the poem and is heartbroken. He looks back at the affair with the girlfriend, describing all the joys and pain of making love, only to see it disappear with the girl walking out the door, but not before leaving a scar that he has to wear, even when he now loves another woman. The man is lost and confused, not knowing what had happened and why it ended after enduring the love he encountered with the girl in the apartment, let alone the friendship he had that was just as memorable. And even when he falls in love again, he will always remember the rendezvous, asking himself what and how the love would have been like had he not broken off the relationship.

The poem and the video looks at the sexual liberation and the ability to love freely between the man and the woman. What is not surprising is the setting of the piece, which was in Berlin- or any city in the eastern half- to be exact, for after the Revolution of 1989, there was the revolution of the sexual liberties, as many young people of that time, tired of the repressive East German communist regime, engaged in free loving in ways that would make an average American household living in the Bible belt, let alone many parts of Bavaria, to close their blinds and switch off all forms of media and bury themselves in the Book of Genesis.

According to sources on the Fall of Wall and life in East Germany (or GDR), the Politburo tried controlling the population and their way of life, even in the case of romance. Many partners were ripped apart, others were suppressed in order to please the Communist party the SED. Those who tried fleeing were arrested and imprisoned. When the Wall fell, so did the machine that tried to control the way the population lived their lives, and even made love. Many people wanting that freedom to choose who they want to love got that wish. And while this free loving mentality is still being looked down upon in some parts of the western half of Germany, the ability to experiment with romance, mixing it with a sense of hedonism, as seen in the poem with the girl being free from a broken-hearted man, is still predominantly strong in many parts of the eastern half of Germany, let alone in some of the big cities, like Berlin, Cologne and Leipzig, just to name a few.

This video and poem that you are about to watch represents a classic example of this liberation and freedom that both partners received in the end. I hope you enjoy this clip as the first of many literary features to come on the Files.  Viel Spass beim Anschauen! 🙂

 

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