This rather interesting black and white photo was taken at night right in the middle of Dresden’s Neustadt, with lights illuminating the birch trees lined up on both sides of the bike and pedestrian route which cuts the city center into half. What can you make out of this story? Good luck with that! 😀
Record-setting snowfall in southern and eastern Germany brings life to a standstill; features 2-meter high drifts
A friend of mine from Minnesota coined a term that many of us had not expected to witness for a long time, especially in light of the problems with global warming, a Snopocalypse! Since the beginning of this week, a storm front Benjamin roared through Germany, providing high winds and vast amount of precipitation- in the low-lying areas, rain and in the mountain regions, snow! With that, the northern and eastern parts of Germany, in particular the coastal areas, had to put up with coastal flooding because of high tides, high winds and rain. Places, like Wismar, Lübeck and Flensburg were flooded in many places, including the city center.
In the mountain areas, massive snowfall, combined with blowing and drifting and sometimes icy rain brought transportation services to a standstill in most places. Hardest hit areas were in the Alps region in southern Bavaria, but also in the mountain areas in northern Bavaria, as well as most of Saxony and Thuringia, where train services were shut down due to snow drifts. On the Harz-Brockenbahn Service route in Saxony-Anhalt, snow drifts buried a train causing rescue crews to work tirelessly around the clock to set it free. Parked cars became little mountains and hills due to the thick snow cover. Heavy, wet and sometimes sticky snow on trees caused many to fall under their own weight and their branches to break. Forests were blocked off in many parts of the Ore and Fichtel Mountains for safety reasons. Schools in Saxony and Bavaria were called off due to the snow, while other facilities were closed for safety reasons- some due to the heavy snow on Roofs; others because People living far away needed time to drive home. Yet with motorways and main roads blocked with cars and trucks due to accidents, the trip home was for many an Odessy. A collection of film clips with interviews of those affected will give you an idea how bad the Snowpocalypse is for much of the southern half of Germany.
Gallery of film and photos:
To give you an idea of how bad, here’s an example of the snow that piled up in the town of Schneeberg in western Saxony. Nearly a half meter of snow fell and drifts were up to a meter in height. Yet Schneeberg normally receives half of what Oberwiesenthal near the Czech Border receives for snow. And as seen in the videos above, the city near the Fichtelberg got three times as much snow, plus drifts of up to 2-3 meters high.
The good news is that milder weather is coming, with temperatures ranging from the freezing point to 8°C in some places. However, it will be short-lived, for another front in the coming week will bring more snow and high winds to Germany, thus excacerbating the situation in the mountain regions. A cold front will then come and drop temperatures to well below freezing.
For those who are tired of the snow already, hang tight, we will be in for a rough ride. The Files will keep you posted on the latest on the Snowpocalypse in Germany. Yet a guide on how to survive a winter like this is in the making and will be posted here. Stay tuned.
Our last stop on the 2018 Christmas market tour keeps us in the state of Saxony but takes us way out west, to the wildest of west, namely the Vogtland. The reason we say this is for three reasons: 1. The Vogtland region is laden with rich forests, a large number of reservoirs and lakes and hills. For some of the rivers in the region, such as the White Elster, Zwickau Mulde, Eger and other notable creeks, the region is their starting point. 2. The region is rustic with wooden houses along the countryside, buildings with wooden facades, etc. Despite it being a part of East Germany with its communist housing, the region has a lot of attractions, competing with the likes of the Fichtel Mountains in Franconia (Bavaria), Thuringian Forest and even the Ore Mountains (Czech and German sides). 3. As far as activities are concerned, the Vogtland is filled with outdoor activities year round, including skiing, horseback riding, biking and hiking, just to name a few. And lastly, the Vogtland is the archrival to the Ore Mountain regions in terms of woodcrafting. Especially with regards to Christmas arches (Schwibbogen), pyramids, and other figurines typical of Christmas, the Vogtlanders pride themselves on their work and there has been a debate as to which regions these products were made, let alone their origins.
But that is for another time.
The largest city in the Vogtland is our focus of the Christmas market and is one that has a tradition and a history. Plauen has a population of 65,400 inhabitants and is the second closest city in Saxony to the Czech border behind Oberwiesenthal. At one time, the population had been hovering over 120,000 inhabitants before the two World Wars decimated much of it. Since 1945, it has been under the mark and decreasing steadily as people have emigrated away for better jobs in neighboring Bavaria and in bigger cities. It is 30 kilometers northeast of the nearest city of Hof (also in Bavaria) but 45 kilometers southwest of Zwickau. The White Elster River as well as the Syra and Mühlgraben flow through the city, and the city is rich with historic bridges, big and small, spanning them in and around the city. They include (in the city) the Friendensbrücke, the second oldest known bridge in Saxony in the Alte Elsterbrücke (built in 1228) and the brick stone viaducts at Syratal and Elstertal. The Göltzschtalbrücke, which is located 10 kilometers to the north, is the largest viaduct of its kind ever built. Apart from three federal highways, Plauen is also served by the Motorway 72, as well as three different raillines, including the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate, the Elster route going to Gera and Leipzig as well as the Vogtland route going to Cheb (CZ).
Despite having lost 75% of its buildings during the waning days of World War II through ariel bombings, much of Plauen’s architecture has been rebuilt to its former glory and still functions for its original purposes. This includes several churches, such as the Johanniskirche, Lutherkirche, and Pauluskirche, the Nonnenturm, the castle ruins of Schloss Plauen, the two city halls- one built in 1385; the other in 1922 which features a tower with clock- and several other historic buildings flanking the two market squares- Altmarkt and Klostermarkt.
Plauen has a lot to take pride in- its green hills and valleys, its beer, its theater and orchestra, but it is world famous for its Plauener Spitze, a type of pattern fabric that is carefully orchestrated by needles and other cutting tools. An example of such a Spitze can be found here:
Inspite of this, Plauen is also famous for its Christmas market, which is the largest in the region. It covers three-fourths of the city center, covering Altmarkt, extending along Obere Steinweg and Rathausstrasse, part of Klostermarkt and ending at the shopping center Stadtgallerie. Yet most of the shopping and eating possibilities can be found at Altmarkt and the shopping center. Because of parking issues, only the tree and some street performances were found during my visit at Klostermarkt.
Another area in the city center that was somewhat left out was the area around the church, Johanniskirche. While church services commenorating the birth of Christ, combined with concerts, were taking place there, the lot was empty with no cars around. Given its size, there could have been some potential to have some religious exhibits and/or booths in and around the church to encourage people to visit them before or after visiting the church. This was something that was found at some other Christmas markets, most notably in Glauchau and Zwickau as well as in some places in Berlin, Dresden and Nuremberg.
To summarize in that aspect, the space availability for Christmas market booths and events is somewhat misaligned and the focus should be less on consumption and more on the holiday and religious traditions that Plauen offers and what is typical for the Vogtland region. That means aside from the church area, Klosterplatz should be filled in a bit with some booths and other holiday events and less glamour for the shopping area for Christmas markets are an outdoor event and not indoor. A note to some of the city planners for future reference.
Aside from this, the market itself features a combination of shopping possibilities in the Stadtgallerie and traditional products and foods in the Altmarkt. Both market appear to be well-decorated, with the Stadtgallerie having somewhat too much glamour with the Christmas decorations, thus creating more traffic for shoppers than what is needed at the market itself. Again, an imbalance that needs to be corrected. The Altmarkt itself is perhaps the nicest of the Christmas market in Plauen. The booths consist of small mahogany huts made with real wood from the Vogtland region, all decorated with spruce and pine tree branches as well as other forms of decorations. There are several picnic tables and benches, all made of cut-up wood; some of them have shelters in case of inclimate weather.
Much of what the Christmas market at Altmarkt offers is local specialties, such as the woodwork products made in the Vogtland, such as the pyramid, Christmas arch, incense products and figurines that are religious based. For eateries, the market offers not only local foods and drink, but also some international products. Most popular at the market include the Bemme- a bread with fat and pickles, in come cases with liver sausage. Then there is the Baumkuckenspitze, a layered, donut-shaped cake covered in chocolate; some of which with a thin-filling. Holzofenbrot that is cooked in a wood-burning oven is one that is most recommended, and one of the booths had a mixture of both local and international specialties. Especially in the cold weather, these bread products with are really good and filling.
As we’re talking about international specialties, the market offers products from the Middle East and parts in Europe. Included in the mix is from the Netherlands, where I had a chance to try different kinds of Gouda cheese- those that are sometimes 2 years old and more than ripe. Regardless of what kind, the cheese is highly recommended, and the salespeople selling them, we had a chance to talk about different cultures between Germany, the US and the Netherlands. Their booth features a good place to chat, where even Father Christmas and the angel can entertain themselves over cheese:
Apart from two different pyramids- one of which is over a century old, one can also spend time at the Spitzenmuseum at the older city hall, which by the way provides a great backdrop to the market together with the tower of the newer city hall, which one can tour the place and enjoy the view of the city and its landscape.
Plauen’s Christmas market features a combination of culture and history all in a historical setting. Culture is in reference to the local products that are offered, especially at the Altmarkt, and history is in reference to the historic setting the market has- to the south, the church and to the north, the two city halls. The market is well-visited and is not so crowded, although my visit was after the first Advent. Yet the magnet of the shopping center next door does raise some concern as to how to balance out the visitors and better utilize the space of Plauen’s city center. Having open but unused space makes a city center rather empty, especially at the time of the Christmas market. However, when planned better and through cooperation with retailers and property owners, Plauen can have a well-balanced Christmas market that is well-balanced in terms of visitors but also whose themes would make it attractive to visitors coming from Saxony, Germany, Czech Republic and beyond……
Photos of the Plauen Christmas Market can be viewed via facebook (click here) and Google (click here)
A couple years ago in 2016, I had a chance to tour the town of Zwickau and write about its Christmas market. Located in the city center at two different market squares, the Christmas market presented a combination of anything that is typical of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) combined with local folklore and local specialties that were not only typical of the region, but also very delicious. More on that you’ll find here. 🙂
Yet as the market expanded during my most recent visit in 2018, and in connection with the city’s 900th anniversary, there is another Christmas market in Zwickau that is just off the main highway and lured me there as I was with my family during a visit. Here, one needs no more than a 10 minute walk from the main market to this historic site…..
Mentioned for the first time in the history books in 1297, the castle used to be one of the centerpieces of Zwickau, housing three dynasties before it was vacated in 1770 and later converted into a prison, where prominent people, including writer Karl May, were locked up for their offenses. In the 1960s, the East German government converted the former complex into a washing complex, which lasted only 15 years. By 1980 the complex was abandoned, and for 26 years, it became a focus of a heated debate as to whether it was sensible to keep the complex and renovate it, or just tear it down altogether. Finally in 2006, the green light was given by the city council to restore the castle to its former glory, a project that took over two years to complete. The castle is a combination museum and center of the arts, featuring a courtyard, art gallery and an theater stage for performances by some well-known/ local personalities.
The Schlossweihnachten at the castle has been going on since 2010, but it is one that has received lots of visits and great reviews. The market takes place only on the Advent weekends from Friday through Sunday in the afternoon and evening hours. Originally, the market featured booths and eateries in the main court. The Christmas tree is flanked with Schwibbogen (Christmas arches) with the murals representing the cities in Saxony (Zwickau included) as well as the Ore Mountains, Vogtland and places along the Mulde, which flows through Zwickau. Booths offering food and handcraft items surround the tree in a circle.
Yet 2018 marked the first time that market extended to include the Schlossgraben on the west side, where the bridge to the castle is located. Some of the booths and other places were also at the eastern entrance facing the street and inside the building itself, thus allowing for people to have a closer look at the castle on the inside and out. Part of this extension has to do with the extensive renovations that were being carried out on one of the wings of the castle. Nevertheless, with parking scarce at the castle because of areas restricted to only customers of a local grocery store combined with residents of the nearby condos, it was highly recommended to use the city’s numerous parking garages encircling the market square and then take the 10-15 minutes to walk there. The nearest park house is at Centrum, just off the main highway.
Inside (and around) the castle there were a lot of products offered that had to do with handcrafts mainly from the region. Whether it was made from paper, stones or other materials, shoppers had a chance to either purchase them or even make some on their own. It depends on what they were looking for: Christmas cards, tree decorations, soap products, honey, braceletts and necklaces, or winter clothing. They even had ceramics either for dining or in a shape of figurines, such as Christmas angels and manger sets. Many of them carried white and red colors, which are typical colors for Christmas (alongside the green). And while woodworking was rare to find at this market, they also had the traditional Schwibbogen and pyramids on hand, both in the traditional form with candles and/or incandescent lights but also in LED. The main outtake from this tour was homemade and with some class from the locals who put a lot of time and effort into making them for the market.
And if it wasn’t enough, the market was loaded with fire bins, where people can warm their hands over the fire or even roast some of the local foods that were there. The market has a lot of meat and bread products that are handmade and from the fire-ovens, thus resembling memories of camping with an open bonfire. This was useful, especially for children, as the market had enough to offer them for both indoors as well as outdoors. For outdoors there is a sledding ramp, where kids can slide down with rafting tubes, yet they had outdoor performances on stage and were also greeted by Santa Claus, who came around to visit the kids daily. The visit is not complete without taking home a custom-made Christmas market ceramic cup with the slogan on there in either black or white with contrasting writing, again all homemade but a souvenir that represents a well-worth visit.
The Schlossweihnacht at Osterstein Castle in Zwickau represents a combination of history and locality, all in the city of Zwickau. It is different from the main market in a way that everything that is offered for eateries and products are homemade and from the region, but it is family friendly in a way that whatever the child (and the parent) is looking for that is not commercialized can be found here. Children can enjoy making or buying hand-made products, watching Christmas fairy tales on stage and doing some fun activities. Adults can enjoy a little bit of food and drink and some good company in a place that one can call “home” after many years of neglect. A visit to Zwickau’s Christmas market is definitely not complete without a couple hours at this castle- conveniently located so one cannot miss it.
More than 1.5 million visitors visited Zwickau to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2018. With a population of 98,000 inhabitants, the city is famous for its churches, culture and even the bridges. A guide on the city’s bridges you wll find here.
You’ll find more photos of this Christmas market by clickinghere. 🙂
December 28th of 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard that brought the World to a total standstill. It also marked the start of the Long Winter, whose combination of blizzards and high tides created havoc in both sides of Germany. Both of which have broken records and have remained in the top ten ever since.
On 28th December, 1978, a combination of a low pressure system from the Mediterranean Sea, which brought moisture and mild temperatures, and a high pressure system from Scandinavia, which featured frigid temperatures, collided over the Baltic Sea, unleashing what was considered at that time “The Blizzard of the Century!” Winds of up to 160 kph, combined with snow drifts of up to 7 meters (20 feet) and high tides that were half the height, literally brought everything to a standstill beginning on December 28th, 1978 and ending on January 3rd, 1979. An average of 70 centimeters of snow fell in most of the affected regions while 30 centimeters of thick ice were reported! The entire northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany were affected- from Flensburg and Hamburg to Brunswick and Cologne; Rostock and Neu Brandenburg to Leipzig and Erfurt. All were affected. The island of Rügen was cut off from the rest of the world for days until help arrived. Snow blocked transport of coal from the Lausitz region to the burning plants, thus bringing blackouts in electricity to wide areas in East Germany. And motorways were littered with stranded cars from Frankfurt/Main all the way to the Danish border near Flensburg and beyond. Hundreds of people lost their lives in that storm.
This blizzard was just the beginning of the winter that crippled everything in Germany, for another round of snow and ice of similar proportions fell later on February 18/19, 1979. The total amount of snow that fell during the entire period was over 100 centimeters, double the amount the region receives per year.
And while the government was late in response to the New Year storms and have since improved on providing emergencies in cases like these (and the numbers have increased over the last 10 years), many documentaries have been produced to describe the events in detail from eyewitness accounts. Three of which have been dug out of the attic for you to have a look, to see how powerful the storm really was. It still ranks as one of the ten worst winter storms on record since 1949. The first documentary looks at what happened in West Germany. The second is how the storm affected the eastern half. The third one looks at the storm from a photographer’s perspective, as he did a series of aerial photos of the regions of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg after the first storm hit the region. Both West German-states, combined with the coastal areas of Mecklenburg-Pommerania (and especially the islands of Usedom and Rügen) were the hardest hit regions by this New Year’s storm.
So sit back, have some hot cocoa and popcorn ready and be prepared to watch how 1979 entered both Germanys with a lot of ice and snow. Enjoy! 🙂
And to point out, the photos presented here were from the Winter storms that pummeled Europe and the US in 2010/11, which was half as bad as what happened here. Nevertheless, especially in the top picture, you can imagine the height and thickness of the snow drifts that left many land regions looking like those under water. Just to point this out. 🙂
Our next Christmas market tour takes us up the mountain- literally. Through “knee-to-waist-deep snow”, the heavily populated forest and lots of twists and turns along the road that is sometimes too narrow for cars to meet. However when up there, the town, its market and the views of the mountains will take your breath away.
Oberwiesenthal may be a very typical town in the Ore Mountains, that is also one of the most traditional when it comes to Christmas. However, do not be fooled with the fact that with a population of 2,600 inhabitants, it’s just a simple, quiet village, for the town is very popular for many reasons. At the height of 2,999 feet (941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest town in Germany, located at the foot of the Fichtelberg, the highest mountain point in the state of Saxony. It is only three kilometers east of the Czech border and only 22 kilometers from the nearest city of Karlsbad (Karoly Vary). And like the Czech town, Oberwiesenthal is not only a resort town, laden with hotels and resorts within a ten-kilometer radius, it is also a ski resort town- home to ski resorts, and all kinds of ski facilities available, from slalom to downhill, cross-country to alpine! It hosts several ski championships on the national and international levels annually, attracting over a million visitors, pending on how cold the weather is. And it is also anchored by traditional but nationally known ski-teams.
When it comes to Christmas and winter time in Oberwiesenthal, they go together like bread and butter. When looking at the Christmas arches alone, one will see that right away. The town has one of the highest number of these traditional decorations in Germany- every window in every house and building is occupied with these arches. Dozens of them can be found along the town’s streets, whether it is at the railroad viaduct on the east end, at the resorts,
…..or even at the Christmas market in the city center!
After fighting through snow drifts, snow piles and snow-packed streets, I found my way to the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal. It is located smack-dab in the market square in the center of town, surrounded by the city hall, several traditional shops and a historic mile-marker. The square is cut in half by a street going diagonally in the northwesterly direction, going up the hill. And with that, especially on weekdays where there is not much going on, cars can go through the market square, albeit at a snail’s pace.
The market itself consists of a traditional Christmas pyramid, a stage flanked by a Christmas arch and some other exhibits on the right-hand side, and eateries that flank the historic marker on the left. The eateries provide the most traditional dishes in the mountain regions, from its bratwursts to the goulash and its mushroom hotdishes. Beverages include hot drinks, like spiced wine (Glühwein) and Heisse Met (honey punch), but also children’s punch, hot chocolate and the basics in coffee. It’s not much but the market is the central meeting point for tourists who not only want to go skiing, but do some shopping while in town. Oberwiesenthal is connected with the Fichtelberg Ski Lift, which takes the people to the top of the mountain, seven kilometers away. It cuts down the travel time needed by the car by up to half of the 15 minutes needed.
There are no stores directly at the market due to space, yet there are traditional stores that sell virtually everything made of wood and from the mountain region within only a 2-3 minute walk, mostly along Markt and Bergstrasse where one can find most of the cafés and restaurants going up the hill. At least five or six stores have a wide array of products that are made out of this bountiful material. Even one store sells wicker products, including chairs and even lamp shades! 🙂 But the bulk of the wood products have to do with Christmas, and in particular, Christmas in the mountains, which makes Saxony special to begin with. And unlike some Christmas markets in the mountain regions, the sculpture work done on the figures is very detailed, enough to look at the figures in real like on a 1:25 or 1:40 scale. Apart from the arches and the holders (the latter of which is as well-decorated as the arches themselves, the stores sell incense men of all shapes and sizes (Räuchermänner), Christmas pyramids and the most popular of the products: a concert of figurines!
These consist of figurines that have a typical theme, such as angels performing a music concert, the traditional manger set of Jesus Joseph and Mary with angels and animal figures, the parade of miners and angels, skiiers and angels….. 😉 I think the reader can follow the pattern from there, right? Because of the town’s location in the Ore Mountains and the traditions of “Angels we have heard up high,” Oberwiesenthal is popular for their angels and angelic figures one will find everywhere. Even guardian angels are really popular in the stores, based on my observations. 🙂 It is unknown why, especially as the town has only one church in the Martin Luther Church, next to the market square. But the impression with the angels is that Oberwiesenthal is rather religious- predominantly Lutheran, which makes the community a traditional one of sorts.
Yet as far as fixed eateries are concerned, they are rather multi-cultural as restaurants offer not only traditional foods from the region, but also Italian, and even Anglo-Saxon culinary products. For the latter, one should check out the Kiwi Coffee-Bar-Lounge, located on Schulstrasse across from the Sparkasse Bank. Originating from New Zealand, this restaurant offers one of the widest varieties of coffee, burgers and other pastries in the region. They are usually open during the evening hours yet during my visit, there were only a handful there. On the weekends, they are sometimes filled to the brim, especially when the skiiers are around or if there are winter sport enthusiasts in the area.
When we think of Oberwiesenthal, we think of winter time and the feeling of Christmas time. It goes beyond the market, its city center and its popularity for winter sports. It has the sense of hominess to it. Even when passing through the villages enroute, they are laden with Christmas decorations for every house and apartment alike, with small villages having their own manger set with pyramids and arches set up at small parks along the way to encourage tourists to make a stop, especially in the evening when they are lit. And this was my overall impression of the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal- it is a very popular place for winter sports, but has a feeling of home for the holidays. And one can feel this while passing through. It is worth the couple hours of stopping and enjoying the snow.
The roads leading up to the market in Oberwiesenthal are narrow and sometimes treacherous, especially as the area receives the majority of the snowfall in Saxony. Therefore, one needs to plan ahead, pack accordingly and take the time getting up there to avoid an accident or going into the ditch. In Germany, it is required to have a warning vest, warning triangle and a first aid kit in your car just in case. However, highly recommended is a winter-survival kit. There you need a blanket, jumper cables, tire-repair kit and air compressor for the tires, flashlight, warm winter clothing, something to write, cigarette charger cable, emergency contact information, a fully-charged and functioning mobile phone and some dried food- all in addition to the above-mentioned items. It is not required by law in Germany but is mandatory in the US; this has to do with the population density of the former for in case you are stuck, your are more likely to get help quickly than in areas of the US, where the population and the towns are sparse. Still, in case of bad weather and no help arrives even while in the forest, it is handy to have it with.
The German word Fichtel is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to region. We would use the word Fichtelberg to describe the highest point in Saxony, at 1,215 meters. Oberwiesenthal is located at the foot of this summit, which can be called Mount Fichtel. However, the Fichtelgebirge (translated literally as Fichtel Mountains) is located in northeastern Bavaria and western Czech Republic, where the cities of Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weiden and Eger (Cheb), Czech Republic are located. Like in the Ore Mountains, the mountain region is known for its winter sports and is the starting point for some of the rivers and streams in Germany and the Czech Republic.
While the Fichtelberg is the highest point in Saxony, it is not the highest point in the Ore Mountains. That belongs to the Keilberg (Klínovec) in the Czech Republic, which is 12,44 meters above sea level.
Although founded in 1529, only a couple tiny relicts of Oberwiesenthal can be seen today. Among them is the historical Mile Post Marker, which can be found in the market square in front of the city hall Neues Haus. It was built in 1723 and was part of the mile marker system that connected Saxony with its neighboring states.
The Fichtelberg Ski Lift (a.k.a. Cable Railway) is the oldest ski lift in Germany. Built in 1929, it was renovated in 1956 and again in 1984. It connects Oberwiesenthal with the Fichtelberg.
Oberwiesenthal is connected by the historic railroad that connects the community with Cranzahl to the north. The 17-kilometer narrow gauge railway was founded in 1897 and is privately owned.
Two photo galleries of the Christmas Market in Oberwiesenthal can be found via facebook (here) and Google Photos (here).
This blog is the result of an idea that's in my head for already quite a time. I love languages, cultures, travel and lifestyle topics and would like to write articles about interesting topics related to these topics. This blog is more a project that I start for myself. Of course, I will be happy if my content is also a valuable source for others, so that we can share our ideas and experiences.