Mystery Place: Comedy Square in Harrislee

City center of Harrislee. Photos taken in August 2020

The next mystery place takes us north- way up north to the northernmost town in Germany. Located just west of Flensburg with the Westtangente Highway (Highway B-200) separating the two cities, Harrislee has a population of 11,500 inhabitants and is located right at the border with Denmark. The city includes several small villages including those along the Flensburg Fjorde: Kupfermühle, Zollsiedlung and Wassersleben. Niehuus and Karlsberg are located north of the city at the border, with the former located in the Tunneltal (Tunnel Valley) along the Krusau River which empties at the Fjorde by the Bridge of Friendship at Wassersleben.  Two vehicle border crossings at Pattburg and Krusau as well as two pedestrian border crossings at Wassersleben and Zollsiedlung are known to exist.

Sunrise at the Fjorde in Wassersleben, part of Harrislee

The architecture of Harrislee is primarily modern with many brick houses that can be found in the city, yet the city is over 700 years old. It was first mentioned in 1345 and was once part of Flensburg, yet since 1971, it has become an independent community which later became part of the district Schleswig-Flensburg in 1974. Some historic places that exist in and around Harrislee pays tribute to the German and Danish culture that has remained largely unaffected by the changes in time, including the creation of the German-Danish border and World War II, where the city escaped most of the damages caused by arial raids; its eastern neighbor Flensburg took the brunt of the bombings albeit not as destructive as the ones that destroyed Hamburg, Berlin and even Dresden.  Such places worth visiting including the German House (Bürgerhaus), the Kupfermühle Complex- now a museum, Langbetten von Harrislee, the Meilenstein Stone at the Central School, and the Danish Church.

Then there is the Market Square in Harrislee, at Süderstrasse and Am Markt.  While the number of businesses are few in comparison with Flensburg, the market square is active with many people passing through, stopping for a coffee or dinner at one of a half dozen eateries in the city. The Square hosts many local markets and its Christmas market, which offers many handcrafted goods that are typical oft he region. As spacious as the place is, it can be comparable to some of the larger market squares that host Christmas markets, be it Gedarmenmarkt in Berlin, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden or the market in the Old Town in Nuremberg. 

Yet at this Market Square we have a mystery to solve and it has to do with comedy. At the corner of Süderstrasse and Am Markt, there is a series of flags carrying the colors of Harrislee, but at the foot of the pedestal is a group of statues of figures- all of them are laughing! Regardless of their outfit or even their age and appearance, each statue, made of metal, depicts a person that is laughiing- some rather hysterically.  Each one can be interpreted differently, just by taking a look at the figure.  The question is: „What are they laughing about?“

My question is who was behind the statues, when was it created and what was the motive behind this interesting work of art?  The reason behind that is there was no plaque that explained about the statue. Furthermore, there was no information on it in the history books. Given the appearance of the market square and the houses surrounding it, it appears that they may have been placed there during the 1970s or 80s because of the age that is appearing in some of the structural elements.

Yet, I may be wrong about this and therefore, I would like to know from you how this collection made its way to Harrislee’s city center. Tell us about it, either through social media or in the comment section below. I look forward to your stories.

For now, have a look at the gallery and feel free to comment on them- interpreting their faces and lastly:

What are they laughing about?  This one I don’t know except possibly a Dinner For One show they cracked up on and the famous comment:

„The same procedure as every year.“ 😉

Christmas Market Tour 2015: Pella, Iowa

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Author’s Note: This stop was taken last year during the tour through the United States. Due to illness on the part of the author upon his return to Germany, the decision was made to include it into this year’s tour.  Sincere apologies for the inconvenience. 

The next stop on the Christmas tour in the US is Pella, in south central Iowa. Located 45 miles southeast of Des Moines, the city with 10,400 inhabitants was established in 1847, when 800 settlers, led by dominee Henry Scholte moved to the area to make a living. The name Pella was derived from the village Perea, where Christians found refuge during the Roman-Jewish War of 70 A.D.  Today, Pella maintains its Dutch heritage in many ways than one. One can see that with the architecture, when driving past the town square and its Dutch-style facade and its double-leaf bascule bridge spanning an artificial canal. The Vermeer Mill is the largest Dutch-style windmill in North America. The Dutch “S”, a pastry with marzipan filling that is typical in the Netherlands, can be found at the Vander Ploeg Bakery, along with other Dutch-style pastries. And when visiting the city’s two meat markets (Ulrich and Veld), one can find imported cheese and meat products from the Benelux Region (Benelux consists of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).

And while the city is located north of Red Rock Lake, an artificial lake created in 1969 that is laden with recreational activities all year round, Pella has two important holidays that the people celerbate: Tulip Days in May and Christmas. Tulip Festival is a typical Dutch festival where tens of thousands convene for a weekend of celebrations and the crowning of the Tulip Queen.  Christmas in a Dutch setting, like Pella, on the other hand, is typically American- Christmas lights display in the city center as well as the countryside, as well as a display of Christmas trees in one house. There’s no Sinterklaas coming into the harbor by ship- how could they if the ship meets the Red Rock Dam and he has to take a truck up the road past Wal-mart and into the city? Even with his Black Peters as his helpers? 😉  A look at how Sinterklaas is celebrated (naturally on the day before St. Nicholas Day in Germany) can be found via link (here) and in the video below:

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But just because the Christmas season is more or less Americanized and makes Pella un-Dutch, does not mean a person should stay away from the city because it is not European enough nor has some European flair in the holiday season. There are many reasons to spend a few hours in this Dutch community which is anchored by three different Dutch institutes- Vermeer Manufacturing, Pella Windows and Central College, along with other Dutch-style stores. The Files has the top five places to visit during the holiday season that are worth visiting:

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  1. Vermeer Mill: Built by the Vermeer Corporation in 2002, the Vermeer Mill is the largest functioning flour mill in North America. Tours of the mill and demonstrations on how the mill works are available, but this place is a keeper for one can see how the mill works. Furthermore, as you can see in the picture above, the mill has a viewing platform where you can see all of Pella’s city center, including its famous Market Square. The Mill is part of the Museum Complex, which also features a miniature display of towns in a Dutch setting in the Interpretive Center section of the Mill. The model has existed for over 30 years, and one needs an hour to look at the details of the display.

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Grinding geers in the mill

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Winter scenery at the Interpretive Section of the Vermeer Mill

2. Historic Village: Inside the Museum Complex is a must-see attraction in the Historic Village. The Village consists of 24 buildings, many of them have existed since the founding of Pella in 1848, including the church, blacksmith shop and shoemaker. Others, such as the log cabin, one of the first built in Marion County, were brought in and restored. Even the street lamps at the complex originates from the bygone ear. Most likely gas-powered, the bulbs displayed are from the 1930s.

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One of the first log cabins in Marion County

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Vintage street light with 30s era light bulbs

Each building features a display or a demonstration, pending on which building has what. For instance, the shoemaker shop produces and displays wooden shoes, which are typical of Dutch culture. Examples and displays of these shoes, including a jumbo pair at the museum shop, can be see everywhere. Some places have displays with mannequins dressed in their Dutch apparel. The bakery offers a display and a plate full of cookies to try. And even a gallery with the displays of all the Tulip Festival dresses and a hall of fame of all the queens are a treat to see. We were welcomed with Christmas trees in the majority of the houses and buildings on display

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Dutch-style shoes after being wood-carved

3. Scholte House and Gardens: Located on Washington Street, the house is the first in Pella, being built by Hendrik Scholte in 1848 for his wife. One can see the rooms and exhibits pertaining to their lives and the history of Pella. While the house and the gardens are best seen in the spring time during the Tulip Festival as well as during the summer, the house itself has a wide display of 15 Christmas trees to see, each one has its own taste and history. While we saw the house but not the display because it was closed, a columnist visiting the house at Christmas time found the displays very impressive. Yet with the holiday season one should look at expanding their opening hours to include weekends and 2-3 more days in the week instead of only one day a week. But in either case, the house has maintained its original form and is impressive even from the business district.

4. Jaarsma Bakery and Smokey Row Café: Both located along Franklin Street, the shops are literally a block apart, but each one serves the finest pastries, bars and coffee products. The Jaarsma Bakery, located across the street from the Public Gardens, offers a wide variety of Dutch pastries, including the Dutch apple cake, almond bars and the Dutch “S”. They are excellent to take home for the holidays to share with family and friends, as we did just that.  The Smokey Row Café provides travellers and tourists alike with a wide selection of coffee with pastries to eat in a historic coffeehouse setting, as you can see in the pic below. The café is also a great meeting place for the young and old alike and has a family setting that makes a person stop there again and again.

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5. Market Square: Behind the Jaarsma Bakery is the Market Square, one of the most modern places in Iowa and one that mimics a Dutch setting, with its famous red brick buildings and Dutch facade . The square is the central point of entertainment, as the Opera House, the Cinnema, The Amsterdam Hotel and Conference Center and the Pella Showroom are all located in one block, divided by a man-made canal that is crossed by a double-leaf bascule bridge, typical of the bridges in the Netherlands. While the square is laden with flowers and other floral decorations, it would be a perfect place for a Christmas market, if city officials are willing to at least experiment with it. As Christmas markets are popular in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the city can benefit from having one at least for a couple week(end)s during the holiday season.

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After a few hours in Pella, it was time for us to move on, but not before collecting some thoughts and recollections on the city and its settings around Christmas time. Although Pella does have a lot to offer for Christmas events and places to visit during the holiday season, it is clear that the Dutch community is more focused on the Tulip Festival and other events in the summer months, which means the holiday events are like the ones in an American town: light festivals, music concerts in churches and shopping. But can you imagine what Pella would look like if they had a Christmas market in the Market Square and Public Gardens and events similar to what the Dutch have at home in the Netherlands? Could you imagine how Pella would stand out among the rest of the communities in Iowa during the holiday season? And can you imagine how it would be a big of a magnet for tourists?

Check out the photos and think about it. 🙂 ❤

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Author’s Note:  Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a series on the historic bridges in Marion County, including the bascule bridge in Pella, as well as historic bridges that existed over the Des Moines River before the Red Rock Lake was created in the 1960s. More on the bridges here:

Horn’s Ferry Bridge

Bridges at Red Rock Lake

Old Hwy. 14 Bridge near Cordova State Park

Pella Bascule Bridge

 

Fast Fact:  Pella was the childhood place of Wyatt Earp, the famous US marshal. All his brothers except Virgil were  raised near Pella.

 

 

Germany at 25: Pottery- Guessing Quiz

“…failure with clay was more complete and more spectacular than with other forms of art. You are subject to the elements… Any one of the old four – earth, air, fire, water – can betray you and melt, or burst, or shatter – months of work into dust and ashes and spitting steam. You need to be a precise scientist, and you need to know how to play with what chance will do to your lovingly constructed surfaces in the heat of the kiln.”- A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book

Germany has been known for its creativity, impressing visitors with their high quality products, carefully designed and built with handcraft to ensure that they last a lifetime. One of the products that has been raved by many in the past 25+ years has been ceramics. Over the summer, when you visit a market square in a German community, do not be surprised to find a pottery market taking place for 1-2 weekends between late June and middle of September, where one can find the right gift made of clay, regardless of where they originate. They can range from flowerpots to wine cups, animal figures to plate sets, gargoyle statues to even coffee cups. People buy them to add to their sets at home, while others like me, buy small pieces bit by bit, to build a set for a loved one. In my case, it was for my grandma before she passed away a few years ago. But even when she was alive, she adored the increasing pottery set featuring plates, cups, jars for jam and the like.

But handcrafting such items take vast amounts of time and effort, and many who embark on this adventure have to forego their full time job in the office to spend time creating pottery, in many cases being dependent on the partner for extra support to help cover the cost for clay, oven, other machinery and cutting utensils. But despite the shortcomings, such an occupation can be a fun experience if one sticks out and attracts the right crowd. 🙂

This two-part article will look at Germany’s obsession with pottery and why they are still popular even to this day. While the second part will feature the art of creating something using clay, the first part has a Guessing Quiz for you to try out. The answers will come when the second part is featured. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the questions for you to try out:

GUESSING QUIZ:

1. Which German states will you most likely find pottery places and markets? Name at least three of them.

2. Use the two pictures below and translate what the expression means in English. Remember, literal senses do not make the best sense. 😉

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3. What is a gargoyle?  Mark those that apply only.

a. goblin   b. angel   c. devil   d. monster   e. alien    f. human   g. borg

4. Identify this machine, both in German as well as in English and explain what it is used for.

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5. Ceramics can be produced using which kind of clay? Which rocks are best for ceramics?

6. What is this gentleman in the picture doing with one of the ceramic pots? What is the purpose of this process?

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7. True or False: Any bird can be made using clay. Please note, it is NOT ONLY in connection with pots, as seen in the picture below.  T/F

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8. Which product can you NOT imagine being made of ceramics?

Thing about these questions, discuss them in the forum, take a stab at the answers, even in the Files’ comment sections or on facebook. When part 2 appears later in the year, the answers will follow, some of which may take you by surprise. Sometimes a visit to a pottery market to look at the products available and research can help you answer the questions. In any case, if there is a pottery market in your neighborhood next time, take advantage of the sunny weather and visit it with your family and friends. Who knows? You might be lucky and have all your loved ones marked off your Christmas shopping list with one swift and impulsive shopping spree with two bags full of ceramic products they will be happy with.

Try it! 🙂

More to come on this topic soon……

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Christmas Market Tour 2011 Nr. 2: Weimar

The Statue of Goethe and Schiller at the National Theater

Weimar is one of those hidden treasures that we never know about until the first words come to mind: The Weimar Republic, the period between 1919 and 1932 where democracy was in its trying times because of hyperinflation and the rise of xenophobia, which reached its zenith when Adolf Hitler marched on Berlin and took control of the country starting his 13-year reign of terror. The name’s origin came from the fact that an assembly took place in and near the National Theater in 1919 to create the new constitution, which was passed on 11 August of that same year. The statues of Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller that stand in front of the theater symbolizes the meeting of the two scholars in the late 1700s.  The city is one of the most artistic in the country because of its architecture and fine arts, plus the fact that a music school and a Bauhaus University are both located there.  And lastly, an average of 2-3 million people visit the Onion Market, taking place at the end of September each year.

The signature of Weimar today that can be seen at the Christmas Market: The Onion Plait

Yet one should not forget the Christmas Market, for reasons that are stated on the Flensburg Files’ next stop on the Christmas Market tour for 2011. Weimar is located between Jena and Erfurt, both of which have large and very popular Christmas markets. Yet one should not underestimate what the town has to offer for goods that will make everyone happy. It is only a matter of 10 minutes by foot down the hill from the train station along Meyerstrasse, past various multi-cultural eateries, including El Nino (a Spanish Restaurant), a Greek specialty store, an American diner, and Subway, just to name a few. Then a couple twists and turns past the old Goethe Gymnasium and Musikschule, as well as the Atrium shopping center, plus various store-window art galleries and you will arrive at Goethe Platz- and the entrance to the market consisting of St. Nick selling Christmas trees near the post office.  While Weimar’s commerce is concentrated at or near the National Theater and Goethe Platz, most of the action is to the south and east of there, and if one believes that the Christmas market is located just at the National Theater and that is it, one is sorely mistaken.

National Theater and the Theater Square

In the past, most of the action did take place at Theaterplatz, where numerous huts, a carousel, Ferris wheel and other Midway-style places could be found. But today, most of the action can be found to the south and east of the National Theater, along the Wielandstrasse and Marktstrasse, where one can find numerous huts offering various products, some of which can be found outside Germany, like Finnish honey and specialties originating from the East. Part of the reason for the multicultural booths was in connection with the Advent Festival, which took place on the 3rd of December in all of Weimar, which featured entertainment by music groups originating from Weimar and elsewhere.  During the recent trip to Weimar with my wife and daughter, there was a vintage carousel located along Wielandstrasse which was operated by hand and the children can ride them for a small fee, while enjoying a few minutes of riding inside a relict of history which one will never see elsewhere.

The antique carousel on Wielandstrasse

With the book stores open even on weekends, one can purchase works from artists and poets who either originate from Weimar or happened to pass through, or even a tour guide to some of the most spectacular places of interest in the city, including Belvidere Palace and points of interest connected to Schiller and Goethe.
But the hottest spot on the Christmas market tour is the Market Square, located just off Marktstrasse to the southeast. While most of the booths offer traditional goods from Thuringia, including the food and the amphitheater, where most of the entertainment occurs during the market on a regular basis, the highlight of the place is the Gothic Weimar Town Hall, where building was converted into a life-size Advent Calendar with its 24 windows, one of which is open every day by the children selected at random and each one representing a theme of the day at the Christmas market. On this day, the number 11 was located on the third floor and therefore, a fire truck was needed to hoist two children selected and two firemen to the window. There, the kids who opened the window were greeted by St. Nicholas and were presented with a present for the day. What a way to make the Second Advent a memorable one. (Please refer to the Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts about Advent and Advent Calendars.)

Market Square and the Town Hall (left) masquarading as an Advent Calendar. The Pyramid Candle is on the right.

 

Kids being greeted by Santa Claus at the door to the 11th day of December

It would be a sin not to try any of the specialties at the Christmas market and therefore, at the conclusion of the tour of the Christmas market in Weimar, we tried one specialty that originates from the Medieval times, but one can easily make at home, which is “Handbrot.” It is a roll made of sourdough bread with filling inside it, namely cheese and one other ingredient, and topped with sour crème. One has to roll the sourdough out on a cookie sheet, add the filling, roll it back in, put it in the oven for 30-45 minutes and when finished, cut it up into slices. At the booth, there were three types of Handbrot one could try: cheese with ham, cheese with salami, and cheese with vegetables. And the dinner should not be complete without a cup of Met- honey wine with a high alcohol content (12%).  After two helpings and some met, we were full , but given the sites and sounds of the Christmas market, it was an afternoon worth spending in a small town of Weimar on the second Advent.

One of many booths along Wielandstrasse offering Christmas goodies from the region.

Weimar may be a small and somewhat quiet town, like Bayreuth, Bamberg and other medium-sized towns in Germany, but the city of 65,000 inhabitants is full of surprises. One should not only associate the city with its history, architecture, and the Onion Market, as they are the only characteristics of the city. There is much more to the city than meets the eye, and the Christmas market is definitely one of those surprises one will see when walking through the city during the holiday season.

Weimar had its annual Advent Festival on 3 December. Still one can see the posters and the programs around as a theme is presented every day until Christmas Eve.

 

FLENSBURG FILES’ FAST FACTS:
Advent is a big celebration in Germany as the Advent wreath, consisting of four candles and decorations resembling a Christmas wreath, is used to celebrate on each of the four Advents taking place on Sunday before Christmas. One candle is lit every Advent beginning with the first Advent until all four candles are lit on the fourth Advent, which is right before Christmas Eve. Most stores are closed on these days, leaving the huts as the main place of commerce. However, the laws regulating the store hours have been laxed over the years so that on one Sunday every month, the stores can open their doors to the customers, but these regulations vary from state to state.
Also common during this period is the Advent calendar, where there are 24 doors, each one representing a day beginning on 1 December and ending on Christmas Eve. Every morning, a door is open and a small gift appears for the taking. It is a treat especially for the children to open a gift every day in December. Weimar’s life-size Advent calendar at the District Court Building was the first one ever seen while on the Christmas market tour, yet there may be other towns that have similar calendars of that size.