While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:
“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.” (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)
A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”
A burst of laughter followed. 🙂
Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?
It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.
My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso. Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?
Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.
However, this device can do the trick! 🙂
For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.
In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.) The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city. One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:
Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.
Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge…… 😉
Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.
Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.
And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉
Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉
Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here
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.
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: email@example.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! 🙂
After getting warmed up with the Sächsisch Deutsch, as shown in Part I of the Quiz (click here to get to the page) Part II takes us to the state of Saxony itself. Having spent quite a few months there as well as having a few contacts from all over the state, I found that there is more to Saxony than meets the eye. If you ask someone who has yet to visit Germany (or even has passed through there once) the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Germany, 90% of the respondents would say Bavaria. Sure, Bavaria is home of the beer, the Oktoberfest and the sports club Bayern Munich. It would be considered the German version of Texas and would better off being on its own if the likes of Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer had it their way. 😉
However, we have the German version of California in the state of Saxony- yes, that’s right, Saxony! 🙂
Saxony used to be part of the Kingdom of Saxony, which includes present-day Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Since 1990, it has become a free-state after having spent 40 years being part of East Germany and having been divided up into districts. With the population of 4.1 million inhabitants, Saxony is the birthplace of many products that we use everyday, both at home as well as on the road. Many personalities that have become famous and placed their names in the history books were either born in Saxony or have passed through leaving their mark. The Christmas market got its start in Saxony, most of the automobles we know started its business in Saxony because of its proximity to the mountains and its natural mineral resources. And most recently, many professional sports teams are climbing their way up the ladder in soccer, handball and even basketball!
Now that’s a lot right there about the state! :-O
But what do we know about the state? This is where Part II of the quiz comes in. Dividing it up into general information, personalities and its infrastructure (which was difficult enough as is, by the way), this guide will give you a chance to test your knowledge and do some research about the state, especially if you wish to visit the region someday. As Saxony is the where many people made their inventions, especially for the household and for the highway, a part III will be devoted to the inventors.
But for now, let’s test our knowledge and get to know the Saxe, shall we? 🙂 Good luck!
The Black Triangle, infamous for years of pollution and environmental destruction caused by strip mining, consists of three states meeting near which town in Saxony? Identify the three states and choose which city.
The three states: ______________, __________________, & ___________________
Hint: A beverage named after the region and this city, consisting of (10%) vodka, (40%) Vita Cola and (50%) Czech beer was created by the author in 2005.
Which cities are served by the ICE-train line? Which ones will be served by the InterCity line beginning in 2023?
Dresden Chemnitz Leipzig Glauchau Riesa Bad Schandau
T/F: The Leipzig-Dresden Railline, the first railroad line ever built, was completed in 1839
Mark the following cities that have a professional soccer team (1, 2 and 3rd leagues) with an X, a professional handball team (1st and 2nd leagues) with a check-mark, and check-mark the cities that have an American football team.
T/F: FC Dynamo Dresden is the only team from Saxony that has defeated FC Bayern Munich in a soccer match.
How many soccer teams does Leipzig have, including the Red Bull Team?
Information about the Christmas markets in Saxony:
The oldest Christmas market known to man can be found in which city?
a. Dresden b. Leipzig c. Bautzen d. Nuremberg e. Glauchau
The origin of the Stollen (the German fruit cake with raisins and powdered sugar) originated from which city?
a. Plauen b. Naumburg (Saale) c. Dresden d. Rochlitz e. Flöha
The shortest Christmas market in Germany can be found in this city?
a. Glauchau b. Crimmitschau c. Werdau d. Meerane e. Aue
Which region in Saxony was the birthplace of the Schwipbogen (Christmas arch)?
a. Ore Mountains b. Vogtland c. Lausitz Region d. Black Triangle
T/F: Customary of a Christmas market in Saxony is the parade of miners in the villages Ore Mountains. If true, name at least one town that does host this.
T/F: Räuchermänner were common but rare decorations during the East German Communist era.
T/F: Pulsnitzer Kekse is a cake with a jelly filling that can be found at a Christmas market in Saxony.
Which Christmas market does NOT have a castle setting?
a. Wolkenburg b. Glauchau c. Zwickau d. Crimmitschau e. Waldenburg
Who is the disco-king in this picture? Have a look in the activities below. 😉
Information on the Personalities from Saxony:
Look at the quasi-autobiography of these personalities of Saxony and guess who they are. The first and last letters of the names are given. Some research is required. Good luck! 🙂
I was born in Chemnitz, which was known at that time as ______________, and started ice skating at the age of six. I won several gold medals in the Olympics and the world championship in figure skating, while pursuing a side dish career in acting and sports commentator. I was not only the face of East Germany before the Fall of the Wall in 1989 but also one of the best models of all time. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden to a family of actors and became one myself. I also love writing and conducting musical pieces and playing golf. While I used to be one of the most outspoken opponents of Communism during the 1989 revolution, I settled down and became the well-known, politically correct, sometimes stuck-up and arrogant professor of forensic medicine in a well-known but very popular “Krimi-series” playing opposite a St. Pauli junkie of a police officer. Who am I?
J_______ – J___________F L_________________S
I was born in Leipzig but grew up in Potsdam. I started acting in 1982 and have continued this career ever since. I star in many krimi-series including a Tatort series, where the setting is my hometown of Leipzig, and I play the hot, saucy investigator who eventually dies in the arms of my detective partner in the very last episode played in 2015. Who am I?
I was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal in 1842. While I later became a teacher in Saxony, I started a life of crime which resulted in me losing my teaching license and being jailed many times. During my time in a prison in Zwickau, I became a librarian and was interested in reading books. It was then when I started writing, having produced several works focusing on the American Wild West, many of which had the character Winnetou in it. I continued writing until I died in 1912 and am buried in a tomb in Radebeul (near Dresden). Who am I?
5. I was born in Görlitz in 1976 to a father who was a soccer player and a mother who was a swimmer. I followed my father’s footsteps and started playing soccer at the age of seven, having played for Chemnitz and Kaiserslautern before making my breakthrough with the soccer team Bayer Leverkusen in 2000. There, my aggressive play brought forth many championships with Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and even Chelsea in England. I even became the captain of the German national soccer team before retiring in 2012. Who am I?
I was born in 1873 in Dresden. Even though I was a housewife, I became famous for inventing and patenting the modern coffee filter in 1908. Six years later, I founded the coffee company which still exists today, producing coffee and filters for the coffee machine. I relocated the firm to Minden (Hesse), where I lived to be 77 years old. Who am I?
I was born in a small village in Saxony 80 years ago, but I became famous for becoming the first German astronaut to fly in space in 1978. After working for the Potsdam Institute for Physics, I later worked for the Russian Institute for Space Education and later for the European Space Agency. I was a household name in East Germany as well as in films. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden and learned the trade as a massage therapist and remedial gymnastics teacher. I hated corsets and many of my female clients always had problems with their posture and their sensitive areas. Henceforth, I learned another trade as a seamstress and invented the modern Busenhalter (BH), which is bra in English, in 1899. Because of its simplistic design for these sensitive areas and its sexy appeal, it has since been revolutionized and one can find them in different shapes, sizes and forms, including sports bras and bikinis. Because I was the one who made the bra in Saxony, who am I?
Which of these statements are true or false?
T/F: Richard Wagner, composer and founder of the annual Bayreuth Festspiel which takes place in July, originated from Saxony.
T/F: Robert and Clara Schumann, a husband-wife piano duo of the 19th Century, were both born in Zwickau, but married in Leipzig. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
T/F: Frederike Caroline Neubert, born in Reichenbach, was one of the first female pioneers in acting, having done stage performances in the 1600s.
T/F: The Semper Opera House in Dresden is named after the world renowned composer, Gottfried Semper.
T/F: The Princes is a rockmusic band that was created last year in honor and memory of Prince.
T/F: Catherine of Bora, who married Martin Luther, originally came from Glauchau.
Information on the Bridges (and Bridge Builders) in Saxony:
1. When was the Dresden-Chemnitz-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate railline completed? How many viaducts in Saxony does this line have?
2. List the following railroad viaducts in Saxony based on the following (click on the highlighted names to see the pictures):
From shortest to longest
From oldest to youngest
Of which, which one(s) was built by Johann Andreas Schubert?
3. Which city in Saxony does not have/ never had a bridge builder/ bridge engineering firm?
Chemnitz Zwickau Glauchau Wüstenbrand Niesky
4. Bridge builder Johann Andreas Schubert who built the _________________________________________, was responsible for the building of Germany’s first _______________________ (multiple choice). The name of it was: S____________________A.
a. automobile b. steam locomotove c. typewriter d. steam ship
5. T/F: The Blaues Wunder Bridge in Dresden, the work of bridge engineer Claus Köpke, was built in 1893, but survived the Huns’ desperate attempt of blowing it up at the conclusion of World War I. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
6. Where are these bridges located? Match the pictures with the names below.
This mystery article takes us back to western Saxony and a village northeast of Glauchau called Waldenburg. With a population of close to 5,000 inhabitants, the town is located on the western bank of the Zwickauer Mulde, has a beautiful castle and historic city center, as well as an international European School. A link to the city’s homepage will show you what the town looks like and some of the things you can do there.
Aside from a 1940s style bridge that is the primary crossing in Waldenburg, the mystery lies behind a canal located between Waldenburg and a neighboring village Remse. There, two bridges- an arch bridge and a steel pony through girder bridge span this canal, which appears to be at least 60 years old, if not, older. The canal was built along the right-hand side of the Mulde, and it is unknown what its use was. One can make one of two conclusions:
The canal was built as a diversion canal, similar to the one built in Glauchau that encircled the western part of the city to alleviate the flooding. There, Heinrich Carl Hedrich had already established himself as the inventor of the city drainage system and may have been involved in the designing and construction of the Flutgraben. He had been the city engineer prior to the flooding of 1858 which caused considerable damage to Glauchau and all places to the northeast, including Waldenburg. It is possible that the canal at Waldenburg dates back to the timespan between 1860 and 1900, the time when Glauchau’s diversion canal was being built. As low as the two crossings were, it would be the most logical conclusion as it passage underneath was (and is still is) next to impossible. Yet having a concrete tiling at the bottom of the canal, plus the proximity of the canal to Waldenburg and the palace could lead to conclusion number…..
The canal provided passage for boats between Remse and Waldenburg. The Mulde is notorious for being shallow but also very muddy, thus making transportation almost impossible. Even water was transported over the river via pipes, thanks to the Röhrensteg in Zwickau, located south of Glauchau and Waldenburg. Therefore diversion canals were the easiest way to go for transporting boats between Glauchau and Waldenburg, having been built in places where the river made boat passage impossible. If this theory is true, then the bridges that exist today were built many years later, between the 1930s and 1950s, when boat traffic ceased because of the coming of the automobile, combined with World War II and its after-effects. However……
The canal may have been used for transporting drinking water between Glauchau and Waldenburg. The evidence behind this lies with the aquifers that exist at the dam where the canal starts in Remse combined with the water treatment station located west of Waldenburg, where highways 180 and 175 meet. As dirty as the river was (and still is to a degree today), the filtering complex was built in 1899 by the city of Meerane (west of Glauchau but owns Remse) where the dirt and other debris were filtered out and the water was cleaned of all harmful bacteria.
To sum up, the canal with the two bridges may have been used as a diversion canal, like the one in Glauchau, for boat passage between Glauchau and Waldenburg or for allowing the flow of drinking water to Waldenburg. The question is which one was used for what. When that is answered, then the question is who was behind both the canal and the two bridges and why?
You have the answers? You know what to do. For reference purposes, check out the Bridges of Glauchau and Zwickau (links highlighted) where you can read more about the Mulde and how it was tamed by crossings that transported water and diversion canals that protected at least Glauchau from further flooding.
The next Christmas market on the tour takes us back to the Erzgebirge Region- or should I say the gateway to the mountains to be specific? Zwickau is located in the southwestern part of Saxony, 17 kilometers south of neighboring Glauchau along the Zwickauer Mulde River. Access to the city of 100,000 inhabitants is easy, thanks to access to the Autobahn 72 that connects Hof (Bavaria) and Leipzig via Chemnitz and two key railways: The Nuremberg-Hof-Dresden Magistrate operated mainly by the Mitteldeutsche Railway (MRB) and the Franconian-Saxony Route connecting Leipzig-Halle and Hof with a branch extending to Zwickau from Werdau. Another rail route to Karlsbad (Karoly Vary) in the Czech Republic provides direct access to the mountains. Zwickau is the gateway to the Erzgebirge region (Ore Mountains) with the historic Silver Road being the western terminus that provides access through the mountains enroute to Freiberg (Saxony), offering tourists a glimpse of the story of the miners and how they lived, in places like Annaberg-Buchholz, Schneeberg, Schwarzenberg, and Tharandt. Zwickau is also the gateway to the heavily forested and hilly Vogtland region in the south, where Plauen, Greiz and Hof are located, but also the agricultural regions to the north, where Glauchau, Gössnitz and Altenburg are located. The landscape changes when passing through Zwickau, enabling people to choose which region to hike (or bike if you have two wheels). 🙂
Zwickau is also the birthplace of automobiles and infrastructure. Audi Motors, which was created in 1932 thanks to the fusion with Horch, had its start in the city. The beloved East German car Trabant was manufactured in Zwickau until 1990. Now Volkswagon handles most of the manufacturing of cars at its headquarters between Zwickau and Glauchau. The city is home of very unique bridges stemming from six different eras, including the Paradiesbrücke, Röhrensteg and Zellstoff Bridge (a tour guide of the bridges can be found here). It is unknown whether the largest bridge builder in Zwickau, whose history goes back 160 years may have had something to do with it, but it would not be a surprise. Yet a surprise to musicians and Germanists would be if they never knew that composer Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau and had his start there before becoming a famous pianist and music writer. The house where he was born is still standing and can be seen while in the city center.
Then there is the Christmas market in Zwickau. When compared to the markets in the Erzgebirge or Vogtland regions, let alone in the western half of Saxony (minus Chemnitz), the market is the largest with over 300 stands in two markets plus four different streets connecting them. From the author’s perspective, Zwickau’s market is one of the most centralized markets ever visited on tour, as one needs only two minutes walk between the two markets. It’s comparible to the ones in Leipzig, Halle (Saale), Nuremberg, Quedlinburg and to a certain degree, Freiberg. Yet in terms of access, when compared to the likes of Chemnitz, Glauchau, Freiberg, Frankfurt (Main) and Weimar, it is very difficult to reach, especially by bike but also by car. While one can be daring enough to bike the Zwickauer Mulde bike path and access it from Paradiesbrücke, which takes only three minutes to reach, from the train station, let alone the main highway B93, one needs 10-15 minutes to reach. The reason: The market is located deep inside the walls of the historic town, and that is located right next to the river! Allow some time and patience to find it and have your Google Map app handy.
I had two different opportunities to visit the market this year because of my commitments teaching English nearby combined with my plan to visit the markets in the mountain. Both times I came away with the same impression as before, which was very local but diverse, very historical but fancy, very religious but educational, and very wide in selection but also very tasty. In short, if you want a taste of Erzgebirge and Vogtland and have a time and money budget, you should take some time in Zwickau, as the city provides you with a glimpse of the markets you could (and should) visit when going deeper into the regions.
As mentioned earlier, the market is divided up into two different ones. The larger of the two markets is located at Hauptmarkt, which is between Alte Steinweg and Marienplatz. At this place, one will find everything typical of Saxony and the Erzgebirge. Like in Chemnitz and Freiberg, this market has its usual black Lichterbogen (lighted arch), laden with stands made of wood from the mountains, all of which have the usual yellowish-brown and mahogany colors and resemble log cabins and huts. The backdrop of the market features the Historic Theater (Gewandhaus) with its white and light brown Fachwerk design, the City Hall and the Robert Schumann House, where he was born. Looking towards the theater, one will see the large pyramid with its figures of the miners in the foreground; the Christmas tree is in the background. The former is a key eatery, serving traditional delicacies but also a dozen types of Glühwein (mulled/spiced wine), including apple and spice, sanddorn (sea buckthorn) and wildberry. It is also one of three places where a person can find a Christmas market cup in several different colors and designs. Two of them I have at home as souvenirs, btw. 🙂
Crossing Marienplatz and going adjacent from the Hauptmarkt, there is St. Mary’s Cathedral (the official name is St. Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). While visiting the church, one really needs to see the manger set, located behind the church in front of the museum and Brauhaus restaurant and brewery. While the market has more manger sets than any of the markets in eastern Germany (at least five of them are located at the Christmas market in general), this one is the largest as the figures are life-sized and depict the scene where the three wise men visit and bless Joseph and Mary, the proud parents, and baby Jesus. While the site is more visible in the daytime, one can play with photography at night, using the lights to depict the actual scene and the lighted church as the backdrop.
South of the church, going 300 meters, is Kornplatz. This section is the smaller of the two markets but serves as a symbol of the more traditional Christmas market on a wider German scale. This goes beyond the pyramid, which has a more modern mahogany appearance, as several gabled dark brown houses sell local clothing and cooked goods, including the Mutzbraten, which is smoked marinated pork that is cooked for 2-3 hours in a wooden stove and is a Thuringian tradition, like the Bratwurst. However there are two more local cooked specialties to be mentioned later that are even local than the Thuringian specialties offered at this Christmas market (no offense to those from Thuringia.) The market has a carousel and children’s railroad track for them to ride the train through the market. The market area itself is more suitable for families with children because of the space and some stands that are children friendly. Also as an incentive to visit the market is the children’s story alley. Located along Münzstrasse connecting the Korn and Haupt markets, it features a display of 3-4 fairy tales which are decided upon annually by the planning committee. The artists then construct the mural and the figures depicted in the story, which is recorded by the narrators and played by the tourists.
LOOKING AT THESE DISPLAYS, CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY ARE?
Other amusement rides can also be found at the Hauptmarkt, but across the streetcar tracks and on the opposite side of the statue of Robert Schumann. They were purposely placed there to provide better access for children and to avoid overcrowding. The planning of the Christmas market was perfect in a way that the children’s section was placed in the outer portions of the Hauptmarkt while the market itself can focus on local goods from the region. This plus its openness- meaning no fences and key entrances like at the one in Freiberg- enables people to enter and exit the market anywhere freely without overcrowding. It’s convenient and most importantly, it’s safe. This is probably the main reason why Zwickau’s market is so centralized- not to mention well organized. 🙂
As mentioned before, Zwickau’s Christmas market has a wide selection of food and drink- the more traditional Christmas market foods are at the Kornmarkt, while the more local goods from the region is found at the Hauptmarkt, with a few exceptions of foods from Switzerland and France at a couple booths, including Cheese Fondue. One of the prized goods worth trying is the Zwickau Brühlette. Based on a recipe dating back to the 1950s, the Brühlette is simply a meatloaf made of ground meet combined with flour, breadcrumbs and spices, but what exactly goes into there and how it is made has remained top secret since it was presented by a married couple who invented this in light of the food shortage during the days of Socialism in East Germany. After the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the unique delicacy became nearly an overnight hit among “Westerners” that eventually, a restaurant was established, which still sells the Brühlette- with or without bread and with or without topping. I tried one at the stand across from St. Mary’s Church during my visit with mustard and it topped all the Leberkäse (basically meatloaf slices) I’ve tried since moving to Germany in 1999! It was a bit spicy but really tasty and one that stands out! When visiting Zwickau, it is recommended to put this food on top of your list of delicacies to taste.
Not far from the top of the list of foods to taste is horse meat. Regardless of whether they are meat slices or sausage, horse meat is different from other forms of meat that people eat as it has a tender, hearty and somewhat tart-like flavor, regardless of how it is served. The place selling this is Ulrich Engelhardt, and the business has been selling horse meat since 1990, the same time the Zwickau Christmas market started up again! I tried one during my first visit in a form of a sausage on a bun and it tasted similar to Polish sausages, a common commodity sold in American supermarkets. Having that with my dad and brother while growing up, that was quite addicting and tasty! 🙂
Also recommended is the Dresden Landbrot. Originating from the capital of Saxony, the Landbrot is baked bread with filling, cooked in a wooden oven. Filling included cheese and meat, and can be served with sour creme and chives, just to name a few. This bread is best served hot with a good Glühwein to go along with that. 🙂
Despite all that is offered at the Christmas market, sometimes it hurts to say good-bye, especially when the market closes at 8:00pm. Zwickau usually ends its market day on a musical note, singing Christmas carols and a farewell song as a way to signaling the visitors mulling over some Räuchermänner made of Erzgebirge wood, accessories for a doll house, lanterns with a wooden frame, miner figures made of silver or wood and other typical local products to make the purchase and allow the merchants to close their doors to prepare for the next day. Believe it or not, I witnessed this on my visit, especially as the number of visitors had already reached its peak. But it was a way to look back at Zwickau’s market and summarize it in simpler terms:
Zwickau is one of the largest Christmas markets in a region where the city sits at the gateway to three different landscapes: Vogtland, Erzgebirge and the agricultural plains. Like the markets of the past, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides people with an opportunity to try and purchase products locally. In other words, the market is one of the more local ones when looking at the themes mentioned and the heritage that goes along with that. While some markets are really spread out, Zwickau is one of the more centralized of the Christmas markets, with two key markets, two corridors with only a three minute walking distance and a large church with the largest of the five manger sets to see. Even if it takes a long time to get to the city center where the market is located, the visit in the end is well worth it. Given its access to the three regions and its western terminus to the Silver Road going through the Erzgebirge, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides the tourist with a whiff of the city’s history with the miners and perhaps encourages the person to explore the other Christmas markets and places along the path to look at their history and heritage and learn a bit more about the history of Saxony and to a greater extent, Germany.
Because of that, I have a lot of towns along the Silver Road to explore, in addition to the Vogtlanders. And what will be interesting is seeing how these markets, like Annaberg-Bucholz, Schwarzenberg, Schneeberg, etc. celebrate Christmas and their miners. Will it be different or similar to what I visited during the tour? My bet is each market will be different but the miners’ legacy will be the same, affecting the lifestyles of the people in the Erzgebirge that is different than the rest of the country. And sometimes a different lifestyle opens new doors to knowledge and understanding. 🙂
Check out the Flensburg Files’ photo album with additional photos of Zwickau’s Christmas market, which you can click here. An ongoing collection of Zwickau at night, taken by the author, can be accessed here. Stop here occasionally as the collection will be bigger. Enjoy! 🙂
German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances. The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.
Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community? When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities. Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.
Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.
Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.
Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.
The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold. Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses. The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.
But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition. Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice. While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.
And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas. This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉
After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.
As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.
While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.
Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots. Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.
All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas. A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.
While traveling around in Germany at Christmas time, there are two key rules to keep in mind:
Take the best train offer that will get you around in a German state for a full day and
If you miss a connection or the trains are not going, put some time aside in a town you’re stranded in and take a look around.
Especially for Christmas markets in a small town like Glauchau (Saxony), by taking the second option, most times you will be in for a pleasant surprise. 🙂
Located just outside the Erzgebirge Region in western Saxony, Glauchau belongs to the Aue Region, where not only are there towns with the suffix ending of “-au” but their origin means island surrounded by river or wetlands. Other nearby towns belonging to this region include Werdau, Crimmitschau, Aue and neighboring Zwickau, but also other towns, like Meerane, Gössnitz, Mosel and Neukirchen, all of which are situated along rivers and in wetlands surrounding bodies of water. In Glauchau’s case, the city of 24,000 residents is located on the Zwickauer Mulde River, which is divided into one going through the city and a diversion bypassing the city to the west. In addition, the river feeds off a Lake (Gründelsee) near the castle, and the Glauchau Reservoir which is in the outskirts on the south end.
Glauchau’s topography is unique for even though much of the predominantly agricultural community straddles the Mulde River and is located in the valley, much of its commerce and key historic places are on the hill in the highest elevation on the east side of the valley. Much of that has to do with the founding of the city in the Middle Ages, where two sets of castles were built on the hill overlooking the river and regions to the south, and the only ways into the city was through the walled gates and several key bridges spanning deep valleys from the north end as well as one bridge on the south end. A guide on the city’s bridges can be found here. The north entrance from the train station still exists today as Leipziger Strasse and after crossing three valley crossings, one will enter the shopping scene, as shown in the picture above. With a half hour of free time before my next train, I decided to have a look at the city’s Christmas market to see what it has to offer.
To start off with the market, Glauchau has its market during the first or second Advent only. The reason behind it is not because of the town’s population but also competing schedules involving markets in other neighboring communities, like Waldenburg, Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Werdau and Crimmitschau. It is also sandwiched between two bigger cities, whose Christmas markets attract a larger crowd and are held during the holiday season: Chemnitz and Zwickau. Also behind the reason is the shopping one will find in the “Shopping Mile”, a pedestrian plaza along Leipziger Strasse, which used to be a thoroughfare for cars until a couple years ago. Many small shops selling clothing, food and other supplies can be found there as one walks toward the first part of the Christmas market, which is…..
The Market Square:
Unlike other Christmas markets seen so far on tour, Glauchau’s market square is not the main attraction during the holiday season. The reason behind this is that this year was the first year the Christmas market expanded to include the market square, given the increase in visitors to Glauchau and the need for space so that other merchants can sell their local goods. This was based on a referendum that was taken after the 2015 market, which received an overwhelming yes for the market. In its first year at the market the number of stands that encircle the large Christmas tree is about 10, but given the size of the market square and a stage for performances, it is not surprising that the need to limit the booths at this place was needed to accommodate the crowd during the weekend of the market. However, sometimes it is OK to have booths along the Shopping Mile and the corridor connecting the market square and the next attraction at the market, which is the church. It was seen at some markets including Flensburg, where rows of huts connected the city’s two markets along Roter Strasse.
Going past the city hall overlooking the market square we have the St. Georgenkirche (St. George Evangelical Lutheran Church) on the left side. This tall structure was built in 1728 replacing an earlier church that was destroyed in a fire. It underwent extensive renovations to return it to its original form beginning in 1988, which included the restoration of the building, pipe organ, pews, mural of the Madonna and lastly in 2002, the church bells. The white and gold color of the interior coincide with the white color of the outer siding of the building. But in this church there was a display of Räuchermänner, located along the wall on the right-hand side as one enters the church. Over six dozen different incense smokers, resembling miners, stoves, hunters, and even forest creatures were found encased in glass. There were many that were made by hand and over 80 years old. Others came from the East German times, although Christmas was not celebrated much at all because of the suppression of Christianity by the Communist regime. In fact, Räuchermänner were rare to find in any household during the age of the Cold War and if they exist, they were considered as sacred as Bible itself. Furthermore, information revealed that Räuchermänner were still being made during that time, but were either sold at Intershops or exported to West Germany- a real torture for the East German who prided itself on Christmas products made in the east. One could really sense elation and euphoria once the Wall fell and Germany was reunited because of such tactics like that- all for the purpose of being loyal to Socialism (Hilfe!!!).
Originally I had taken a few pics of the Räuchermänner on display until I was confronted by the church asking if I was working for a professional media outlet. When I mentioned I was an independent columnist doing a tour of the Christmas market, I was told not to post them on my page due to potential copyright issues. I learned that I had to register at the city office days in advance. So much for being a passer-by writer. As I could not post the pics, I hope you can imagine what the display looked like, otherwise the most practical alternative is to see the display itself to get some impressions of your own.
But the church did have a neat manger set with live animals and a few booths selling church-related items for both the church-goer and those interested in Christ or other religions, which best fit the scene with the church in the background. But as a small population goes to a church in Germany, the guess is that a quarter of the people stopped there, while the rest made their way to their final destination, which was…….
Museumsschloss (Glauchau Castle Complex):
Leaving the church ground and going 300 meters west, one will cross a bridge spanning a moat and enter the castle. Consisting of the Fordere and Hintere Schlösser (the western and eastern halves of the castle), the castle complex has been the centerpiece for the Christmas market in Glauchau, having hosted the event since German reunification. All of the eateries and local goods, combined with some Medieval-style entertainment and some amusement can be found in the courtyard. Unlike before the new format, most of the shops and huts were located inside and surrounding the castle. Yet since having expanded the market to include the market square, the castle has much more space, and people can better enjoy food and entertainment without having to fight for a little space, especially at night when the visitors are at their peak and as the temperatures go below zero.
Apart from some ceramics, home-grown honey and local spiced wine, I had an opportunity to try Martin Luther liquor from a distillery located in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt. Martin Luther was an avid beer drinker, and even his wife Catherine craft a homemade beer for him as he was spreading the 95 Theses throughout the church. The timing of the liquor was perfect as next year will be the 500th anniversary of his work that formed the Lutheran Church. As each of the liquors tasted hearty and sweet at the same time- be it herb or with fruit, then the distillery will hit a grand slam in sales, as hundreds of thousands of people convene on Germany to pay homage to the monk who ran amonk for the good of the people who refuse to be sent to purgatories without indulgences.
Apart from an antique carousel, picnic area and even an ice skating rink outside the castle, the Castle Complex is the main stage for the Christmas market, although because of its increasing size and number of tourists in the region, it is more likely that the market will shift more towards the market square in the next couple of years and even expand further in the future. However, from a columnist’s point of view, in order to avoid having a tsunami rush of people for one weekend, it would make sense to have the market like in Chemnitz and Zwickau- that is for the whole month. Even if the city decided for the market on the weekends during Advent and even Christmas, it would encourage people to plan ahead and choose when to visit Glauchau and when to visit the markets elsewhere. Combine that with a corridor of huts connecting the main areas like in Flensburg, which means huts along the street connecting the Castle Complex, The Church and the Market Square, plus some along the Shopping Mile, the city will have a win-win situation as it will be able to better accommodate tourists, bring in more income and make it more attractive than it is right now. Glauchau’s Christmas market is nice small market that is worth every minute of my thirty-minute tour this time around. However, sometimes more can be done to make it better for the future.
And as I board the train for my nex destination, I leave Glauchau with some impressions of a small agricultural city, priding on religion and culture, but with a potential to become more attractive in the future than it is now. And if you disagree with that, especially when you look at the photo gallery on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here), as well as those taken by the Glauchau City facebook page (click here), then maybe the town is worth your day’s visit so that you can see the impressions yourself. 😉
The Mulde consists of the Zwickauer Mulde, which flows through Glauchau and the Freiberger Mulde, which is east of Chemnitz. They make a confluence near Grimma and flow northwesterly to Dessau-Rosslau, where it empties into the Elbe River. The river, together with the Pleisse, which flows through Werdau and Crimmitschau, have had a history with flooding the flat plains in the valley, which makes the suffix Aue unique. In Glauchau’s case, a diversion canal was constructed after the flood of 1954 to keep the flow of water away from the city.
The German Railways (a.k.a. Deutsche Bahn) has a ticket available where you can travel throughout the state for one day. In this case, we have the Sachsenticket. For 23 Euros, you can travel around to as many destinations as you please between 9:00 am and 3:00 am the following day. It is valid for all regional trains as well as local tram and bus services. When travelling in Germany next time and you wish to travel cheaply, look at state ticket options.