Christmas Market Tour: Werdau (Saxony)

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Author’s Note: This tour was taken in December 2019

There is an old saying: In a small town, creativity runs wild. Small towns don’t have the luxury of all the “good stuff” that big cities have, such as sports venues, places of entertainment, shopping malls and all. If you live in a small town, you make do with the limited resources you have. Sometimes when having that, you can be creative in making something that is either functional, fancy or both.

And this was something I learned during a brief stop in the town of Werdau. The small town of 23,400 inhabitants is located along the River Pleisse in the western part of Saxony. It’s the next door neighbor to Zwickau, yet it is located at the junction of two of the oldest rail lines in Germany: The Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate and the Leipzig-Hof-Munich lines, both of which are almost 180 years old. The town has four viaducts that are located either west or south of the city center. The city center itself consists of a straight line of a wide street, flanked by many historic buildings, such as the city hall, bank and St. Mary’s Church. The historic fountain is found on the southern end of the strip, which runs from Querstrasse in the south and Brühl in the north, where Highway 175 is located.

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It’s along this stretch of street is where the Christmas market is located. Each side of the street is lined with huts made of oak with the stage for entertainment on the left, as seen in this picture. The tree is located at the fountain and behind that is Santa’s house, where kids could enter and leave him their wish lists. The fountain is decorated as an Advent Wreath with four lanterns, each one represents the week of Advent, though during the visit the lanterns were shut off, even though it was during the time of the Third Advent.

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Up until 2018, Werdau’s market was held for only one Advent weekend and for a few hours on Sunday. Yet public demand called for the market to be held during the time of Advent from November 28th until December 22nd, to compete with the likes of the ones in the regions, including Zwickau, Crimmitschau, Schneeberg and even Glauchau/ Waldenburg. As you can see in the pictures, the market is well received by the visitors, though parking possibilities in and around the city center, given the infrastructural landscape of Werdau, could use some improvement for with the car, the possibilities are limited, yet with the bike and by foot, they are all within a three-minute reach.

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Werdau’s market offers local specialties that are typical for the state of Saxony, yet one hut caught my eye which sold handmade goods, and it is the one of the Sonnenberg Schule. The school is a state-accredited institute and is a special school for students with developmental disabilities, The school is open for these students between the ages of four and 23. I was at the hut and found a wide array of handcrafted Christmas items, renging from bottle lanterns to ornaments made of nuts, clay and wood.

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One of the items that caught my eye was the Guardian Angel (Schutzengel), as you can see in the box on the right side in the picture above. These angels are made with clay and are easy to make. It depends on what type of clay you have, let alone whether you need to “bake them in the oven”

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Judging by the appearance, one needs to make a flat circle out of the clay, then slice the circle halfway through. Fold the pointed edges outwards and the center of the circle inwards. Then, as you can see in the close-up, extend the curve outwards to make it look like the angel is wearing a dress. The head can be added extra by rolling a small ball and placing it on top like in the picture. Paint, glaze and bake and voila! 🙂 The exact way it was made is unknown but these Werdauer Angels made for a very unique gift, with or even without facial features and other accessories. For the Sonnenberg School, this was a cool gift and one that I eventually bought for my daughter for she collects angels. A simple but lovely gift indeed.

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After about a half hour or so, it was time to leave. But if there was a word to describe Werdau’s Christmas Market it would be that it’s local and full of Werdauer Angels bringing people together. While some improvements are recommended, the town’s market left a very lasting impression because of its setting, the Christmassy feeling shown among locals and the homemade goodies that you can get the last minute and even recommend making at home if and when one has the chance to do that. And for that, my word of advice to the smaller communities that hold Christmas markets in the future:

Make it local, make it unique, make it fancy but be creative, for creativity trumps all, especially for Christmas time.

More photos of my visit can be found here.

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Happy Holidays!

Photo Flick Nr. 41- Covid Special

EN: From November 2nd on, we must, unfortunately according to Merkel’s legal guidelines close our fitness studios. We are very sorry. We do not accept this decision and will therefore use all measures possible to appeal.

12 million voters train in 8800 fitness studios in Germany for their physical and general well-being, as well as 240,000 employees work there to provide for their families. And we have to close unnecessarily,even though there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19? We do not understand because there is no scientific evidence. All figures and facts point otherwise.

Pure Incompetence?

We hope for your support and solidarity in the coming Corona months!

A sign of frustration that is best compared to a cup of coffee that gets fuller to the brim. This fitness studio, where this sign was located, is not the only place that is facing the brunt of the shutdown due to the Covid-19 epidemic, let alone the fitness sector. Other sectors have had to express their frustration over the “senselessness” of the closures without having done the research on how Covid-19 is being transmitted and where people can easily be infected by it. This includes the eatery and hotel sectors, the entertainment and events sectors, and even the vendors who had hoped for at least some business during the time of the Christmas market but had to fold when they were cancelled due to the dangers of being infected.

It’s a sign that the patience is running extremely thin, while others have lost them and have either given up on their business or are looking for channels to vent out their frustrations and find ways to make their voices heard.

Upon seeing this sign, one of the first reactions was that the owner is probably looking forward to next year’s federal elections and will take his anger out by voting for the party that was opposed to the lockdown to begin with. There are two parties that have indeed put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition to scale back and let the businesses run despite the epidemic: the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) and the FDP (Free Democrats). The elections are scheduled to take place in September 2021 and even though Merkel is expected to retire from politics and has announced she is stepping down, her political party CDU and its coalition partner SPD will be put to the test in the face of voters whose mixture of reactions consists of those who are satisfied with the Corona policies and those who are not.

And this takes us to the current situation: With the number of daily infections still steady at between 12,000 and 18,000 since the November 2nd Lockdown Light, the restrictions are expected to be extended into January, with the exception of Christmas time, where families can still celebrate but under certain guidelines. Information can be found here.

And with that comes the race between patience and aggression. The vaccines are being made available but with 82 million residents in Germany, the innoculation will last a year, as with the restrictions even though they may be lifted by next spring. Social distancing and masks will be mandatory as well as possible restrictions of businesses, including this fitness studio.

And that may be the last drop that sends the coffee over the rim.

We know the frustration but imagine if you have 30 customers coming a day during the epidemic under normal conditions and next year you lose a third of them to Covid-19, and with that a third of your yearly profit…..

Dresden: 13 February, 1945

Dresden Old Town

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75 years ago on this day, the beginning of the end came for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. It was on this day, February 13th, 1945 when the city of Dresden, with over 640,000 residents, plus tens of thousands of refugees who had fled bombed out cities, was reduced to rubble thanks to the air raids by British and American troops. While a total of 15,000 tons of bombs were used, many of them were advanced technology designed to destroy blocks and entire buildings. Fires raged throughout Dresden with thousands of people fleeing, most of them burning. Between 30,000 and 200,000 people perished during the air raids that lasted through the 15th. 90% of Dresden’s city center was destroyed, including many known landmarks- Semper Opera, Church of Our Lady, the Castle, many buildings dating back to the Baroque Period. The attack could be compared to the atomic bombs that would later be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two that would end World War II in its entirety.

In commemoration of the tragedy, there are two films that feature the attack in its entirety. In the short clip produced by Pathé, the film looks at the strategy behind the attacks and the plan to drive Hitler out of the places he wanted to hide his government in the event Berlin falls. Dresden was option number two until the events of February 13-15. When Germany surrendered less than three months later, it was Flensburg, but not before the Führer and much of his cabinet (and their families) had killed himself.

The second one features a recollection of the events, which included the motives behind attacking Dresden and the survivors who told of the horrors of the events. Basically, it looks at Dresden from all aspects, both in black and white as well as in color.

The purpose behind this is to serve as a reminder of what wars can do to civilizations and that such events should not be repeated again. When looking at what happened to Germany in the final year of World War II and the current situation facing (for example) countries in the Middle East- in particular Iraq, Yemen and Syria, we can see the experience the countries have dealt with, especially when they have to rebuild their cities and the livelihoods of their residents. We also see the standpoint and the drive never to let this happen again. Yet others who have not paid attention to the effects of war on others but focus on their interest, maybe watching such films will garner questions regarding the legitimacy of war and the impact it has on both the instigator and the victims. After all, after watching this, one thing is certain: We all lose in a war.

 

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Christmas Market Tour 2019: Waldenburg (Saxony)

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We have read a lot about Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Hamburg, and Frankfurt and their large selection of goodies and entertainment. We’ve also looked at those in medium-sized communities with populations between 40,000 and 250,000 people, thus putting the likes of Flensburg, Kiel, Erfurt, Zwickau, Weimar and the like on the list. For those who don’t like big town settings and would rather narrow it down to more local traditions with a cozy atmosphere, these would be better options, especially if they include castles with their medieval market setting.

Yet smaller communities, namely those with 2,000 to 10,000 people can also surprise visitors with specialties that are homemade and are worth taking with to give to your loved ones. There is one market in particular that represents a classic example of one that offers a wide array of hand-made crafts and homemade goodies- all in one setting; and ironically, all in one castle.

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The community of Waldenburg in western Saxony, is located six kilometers northeast of Glauchau along the River Zwickau Mulde. It has over 4400 inhabitants and has a castle that dates back to the 12th century but whose current structure was built during the Renaissance era. The castle overlooks the river valley and parts of the community, yet it is located just down the hill from the town’s historic city center- characterized by its triangular shaped island surrounded by streets and historic buildings and decorated with a fountain. At Christmas time, a pyramid occupies the spot where the fountain is located. The square also has a couple shops and a historic town hall.

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Waldenburg’s Christmas market is located at the castle. For one weekend and at a price of two Euros per person, one can enjoy the whole day at the castle, looking at handcrafted items made of ceramics, fabrics, wood, glass, bee’s wax and stone, including incense houses, pyramids, mining set, ceramic money holders, figures from the Nativity set, bowls, dish set and the like. These items are locally made from Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg. The examples are many but some examples can be found here as well as in the links at the end of the article. The market is arranged in a way that the front court yard is surrounded with huts arranged in a horseshoe fashion with huts extending along the longer, eastern end going down the hill. At the bottom of the hill where one can see the castle from below, scenes from the fairy tales line up along the path which takes you to the stairs leading to the castle from the river side. Most of the fairytales originate from the Grimm Brothers series. The booths don’t stop at the courtyard. As you walk into the castle, one will find more of them in the basement section on one side. On the other side, there are separate rooms where children can either bake their own cookies or paint a white ceramic product with tutors standing by to help. There’s a chapel where dances and concerts take place. Finally, when leaving the castle, one will not miss the giant, 3.5 meter tall Christmas tree in the entry hall (Halle).

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What’s untypical of Waldenburg’s Christmas market are the many kinds of Christmas punch served there, which are non-alcoholic. Normally, alcoholic beverages, including the many types of mulled wine, outnumber the non-alcoholic kind by a margin of 10:1. Here at this market, the ratio is only 2:1. There are many reasons for the wider than usual selection. One is because of no train service going through the community, thus limiting the options to either bike or car. The other is the wide selection of booths that sell their products; all but a couple of them are homemade. There are two types of punch that I would recommend: one with quince (Quitten) and the other with apple and cinnamon. Both are sweet but they keep you warm for awhile. It was a necessity for our visit as the town received a dusting of snow and was at the freezing point for much of the day. For those who cannot get away from the market without a warm drink, Waldenburg definitely has the selection.

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Another plus that is worth recommending are foods from France. At the time of our visit, Waldenburg and Noyelles-lès-Vermelles were celebrating their 50th anniversary of their partnership. And what is typical of France are the different types of cheese, wine and even beer. If many consider German beer to be good, they haven’t tried the French beer, like Leffe, Ste. Etienne or Jelain. Especially the Christmas beer as it had a herbal taste to it that was hearty and good with any meat or bread. Also special (but didn’t try it) was the chicoree soup, which is typical of French soups. The partnership has played a big role in Waldenburg’s education system, for the European School is located directly in town and offers classes in German, French and English, along with other languages of Asia and Europe. Students from different nationalities attend this school if they decline to attend the schools in Glauchau or Meerane; the former has the public school system, the latter has the Saxony International School.

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If you are not up to hot soups and dishes that are offered at the stands, a snack that is making its popularity at the markets are the potato-tornadoes. They consist of potatoes that are peeled to the middle, like a spiral, and then placed on a stick and fried. The crispiness is on the same level as the Hungarian Langosch but the taste is like potato crisps from Great Britain, especially if they are sprinkled with curry or paprika. It was the first time seeing this at a Christmas market but it will not be the last, especially if the likes of Friweika continue to be innovative and create different kinds of fried potatoes to compete with the likes of any meat roast (or wraps) with red cabbage.

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Inspite the positives that the Waldenburg Christmas Market has to offer, there are a pair of critical points to address to make the market much more attractive. As mentioned at the beginning, Waldenburg has around 4400 inhabitants, and its town setting is typical of that in Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse- very close with problems finding parking. With the Waldenburg market, parking is the biggest problem, for even though a parking lot exists across the castle, it is not only filled up almost instantly, the parking spaces along the side streets are filled to a point where it is almost difficult for cars to even drive on the streets. It’s comparable to the Rettungsgasse (Emergency Lane) that can be found on the German Motorway- one lane open and little room to maneuver, yet high risks of an accident if a car blocks your lane. And while one can face hundreds of Euros in fines and receive points in Flensburg for blocking the Rettungsgasse, it’s hard to fine someone if he parks as close to the curb as possible without ruining the tires or smacking a tree, while risking blocking the street for passing cars in general; that is unless there is a parking ordinance in place.

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As the Christmas market is on one weekend, there is a risk of overfilling it with people and cars. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the opening of the market, which was 10:00am. By the time we left, five hours later, the place was becoming overfilled. Part of it has to do with the fact that the market closes at 6:00pm on each of the days open. Given the proximity to the likes of Glauchau, Meerane, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Crimmitschau and Werdau, it is understandable to have a Christmas market on one weekend, coordinating it with the neighboring communities to allow local businesses and artists to attend. But sometimes one wonders if one weekend is not enough; especially as Zwickau and Chemnitz have theirs during the entire Advent period and Werdau and Crimmitschau have theirs for only a week. Only Glauchau and Meerane have theirs for one weekend.

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But what about if Waldenburg would have theirs for two weekends or even the entire time?

 

As I reported on Frankenmuth, Michigan, the policy of expansion and marketing by the likes of Bronner and Zehnder not only saved the Franconian community near Lake Huron, it also attracted more visitors every year. Even the Christmas Market, which was introduced in 2005, has become an attraction in the winter time, adding it to the tree with ornaments full of events to do in the community. Waldenburg already has an establishment of having two types of markets during the year: a pottery market and an arts and crafts market. Building off from that one can try and expand the Christmas market in the sense of space and time. For space purposes, it could include the historic old town and even the parking area, but it would come with closing off the area to all traffic and utilizing the open space at the castle grounds next to the river as well as some other parking areas for parking. Wishful thinking would be a shuttle service to the market from Glauchau or Meerane so that one can leave their cars at the respective cities and use the bus, without having to worry about parking. For time purposes, there are two options worth experimenting. The first is having it for 1-2 weeks, as seen in Crimmitschau and Werdau. The second is having it only on Advent weekends. This is practiced at the Osterstein Castle in Zwickau, which has been hosting the markets since 2009. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of traffic and business. Especially for the former, for only main highway passes through the city center enroute to Hohenstein-Ernstthal.

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To ensure the passage is cleared so that business can be conducted during the week, it is perhaps not a bad idea to have the markets on multiple weekends. There are three reasons behind expanding the Christmas markets onto weekends only: 1. There’s normally not much business in Waldenburg during the weekend, so the streets could be closed off during that time. 2. It’s more likely to attract visitors visiting the market and the castle on weekends than on weekdays; even if there are non-Christmas events at the castle, there is a chance to share space and time so that people can visit both- hence the expansion of the market to the city center. And lastly 3. There is a chance to coordinate services between Glauchau, Meerane, Crimmitschau and Werdau to encourage people to visit the markets without having to rush to one just because they are open during a weekend. People could visit all these markets during the Advent season while not losing commerce during that time but most importantly, not congesting the streets. To sum up, more space and more possibilities to visit the market in Waldenburg beyond the lone weekend will be beneficial to the community and businesses who would like to sell their products.

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According to sources, this is the third time Waldenburg has hosted the Christmas market at the castle. And given the number of people attending the market and its 50+ stands full of local goods and handcrafted products, this will not be the last one that will take place. The market has the potential of attracting many and competing with the neighboring markets. What it takes to succeed however require more than just one weekend to host it. It will requiring cooperation with other Christmas markets in neighboring towns plus a better infrastructure in order to attract more people by not just encouraging them to see all of them during the Advent period.

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For a market like Waldenburg, it requires a lot of time to spend there, enjoying the foods, buying local and even doing some crafting for your loved ones. For all ages, the market at Waldenburg is a must-see for Christmas.

 

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Aside from the markets, Waldenburg is also a guest of a Christmas market in Waldenburg/ Hohenlohe. It’s located in the Schwabian Hall district in Baden-Wurttemberg near the conglomerate of Heilbronn. That market is also held for one weekend in a castle and includes businesses from there, Waldenburg in Switzerland and its partner city, Sierck-les-Bains in France.

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You can see all the Pictures of Waldenburg’s Christmas Market at the Castle via

Google Photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/moQ4seMkQkKPAV698

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Flensburg-Files-421034214594622/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2872365279461491

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Seasons eatings

First German Astronaut Passes at 82

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The East German Fighter Plane which Sigmund Jähn flew during his time prior to going into outer space. On display at the German Space Museum and Jähn Exhibit. Photo taken in 2017

 

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Sigmund Jähn made history by being the first German astronaut to fly into outer space.

 STRAUSBERG, GERMANY- If asked who comes to mind when it comes to Germany and space travel, the first name that comes to mind would be Alexander Gerst, the first person who traveled to space….. twice!

But if asked who was the first German to enter outer space, the answers may vary: Renate Brümmer, Hans Schlegel, Gerhard Thiele, Heike Walpot, Ulrich Walter, Klaus-Dietrich Flade and Reinhold Ewald. Yet many people may not know Sigmund Jähn.

That is unless you see the schools, streets and parks named after him in the German state of Saxony. But at the German space Museum in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz, located in the Vogtland region along the Zwickau Mulde River, you can see him and his short life as a Cosmonaut.

The Files is paying tribute to the person who became the first German to enter outer space, even though he came from the former East. Sigmund Jähn was born on 13 February, 1937 in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz, to a father who was a lumberjack and a mother who was a housewife. Jähn did his apprencticeship as a book binder after finishing school at the Volksschule in 1951 before going to the Zentralschule in Hammerbrücke in 1952 to lead the East German Pioneer Organization (FDJ). In 1955 he joined the Volksarmee (the East German Army) in 1955 and started his career in the field of flying, having received his training in Preschen, and Kamenz before he started flying military planes in Bautzen. After he completed his primary education in 1965, he attended the Juri Gagarin Air Force Academy in Monino in the Soviet Union, where he graduated in 1970. From 1970 to 1976, he worked in the administration of the East German air force, responsible for pilot education and flight safety.

Jähn’s rise to stardom began in 1976, where he was selected for a mission into outer space as a cosmonaut. For a year, he trained for this important mission before he boarded the Soyuz 31 Space Rocket on August 26, 1978 and took off for space. For seven days 20 hours, and 49 minutes, Jähn conducted several experiments in space in the fields of biology, (geo-)physics and medicine, before returning to Earth on 3 September. For East Germany, under the helm of Erich Honecker, it was a victory against its western neighbor West Germany, which later sent its first astronaut into outer space. It was also a response to the Americans landing on the moon, nine years earlier. Little did the Germanys realized at that time, it would become a first for the reunified country as a whole when East and West merged in 1990.

The problem with Jähn is that hardly anyone talks about it in German and/or history class anymore, because of the ever so existing stereotype that it’s an East thing. Whatever comes from East Germany should not be brought up in the classroom or talked about on West German streets. To those who lived in the eastern half of Germany, Jähn was hailed as a hero. He was the face of East Germany until Katarina Witt stole the show in 1984. When he left the academy in Moscow in 1990, he was ranked Major General but no one recognized his importance, except for that mission, which in turn put Germany on the map. And while he reappeared to reprise his role as the cosmonaut- turned president- in “Good Bye, Lenin,” he disappeared into the limelight after his time in space, leading a quiet life but with people remembering him for the mission that became part of the history books- first for East Germany, but now, slowly but surely also for the western half.

Sigmund Jähn died on 21 September at his home in Strausberg at the age of 82, having pioneered the way for other German astronauts to make their way to space. Many of them have done so. There will be many more that will follow down the road. If there was one thing that would best describe him at best, it would be that he was one of the key figures that brought Germany together, even if the competition between West and East was fierce during his time in space. Still, he brought hope and peace for the two Germanys as people looked up to him as a role model and found many ways to make the dream of a peaceful existence of a whole Germany, and the world, a reality. That in itself is one even bigger leap for mankind.

There are two videos devoted to Sigmund Jähn’s time in space. One was a black and white documentary filmed in 1978 shortly after his mission. The other was a documentary produced in February 2017 by MDR in connection with his 80th birthday celebration. Both are included below.  For information on how to reach the German Space Museum at the site of his birthplace, click on the link here:

https://www.deutsche-raumfahrtausstellung.de/

 

Documentary (1978):

Documentary (2017):

 

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Photo Flick: 1989 Part 2

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This next Photo Flick in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall takes us to the Drei-Freistaaten-Stein.  Here is where the states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia meet. The marker is legendary for this is the exact location of previous kingdoms and countries. The original marker was placed here in 1840, marking the boundaries of the following Kingdoms: Saxony (KS), Bavaria (KB) and Reuss (FR). The agreements with KS and KB was made on 13 August, 1840 and with FR on 23 October, 1854.  While the Kingdoms were folded into the German Republic under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck in 1871, the boundaries were divided again after World War II, with Thuringia and Saxony going to the Soviet Union and thus becoming part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Bavaria went to the US and it eventually became part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).  From 1949 until the Fall of the Wall in November 1989, this area became part of the Death Strip, with armed guards patrolling both Germanys with the East German guards trying to keep people from fleeing to Bavaria. One can see the markings of what was the border when walking to the monument after parking  at the site between Grobau (Saxony) and Münchenreuth (Bavaria). What used to be barbed wire fences, ditches, watch towers and concrete paths has now become a green strip of land, aproximately 500 meters wide. The concrete  paths where tanks and jeeps used to drive on has become part of the hiking trail that runs along the former border. And even though the ditches still exist, they are being covered with trees and other vegetation.

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And of the marker?

It still exists but in a different form. A new marker and picnic area was created and opened to the public in November 2007. The initiative was spearheaded by the State of Thuringia and supported by the other two states. There, a marker duplicating the one from 1840 was created and placed in the middle of a concrete triangle panel which spans a ditch but points at the direction of each of the three states. Each side, representing a state, has a bench and refuse can.  What surrounds the three state corner nowadays are windmills and cornfields, plus some wind as the area is on higher elevations near the Fichtel Mountains.  It’s a quiet place to reflect on the past and present, but also provides a great view of the entire Vogtland Region.

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More on the history of the marker can be found here.

 

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Photo Flick: 1989 Part 1

Author’s note: As Germany celebrates its 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall and its subsequent reunification, the Flensburg Files will be doing some coverage of the event and how Germany has changed in the past 30 years. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks and months ahead.

We’re going to begin with this Photo Flick and the region Bavaria and Saxony. This photo was taken in July of this year at the train station in Gutenfürst near the border. Today’s station is just an ordinary stop for all local trains between Plauen (Saxony) and Hof (Bavaria). It’s completely deserted and with only a few passengers boarding and disembarking daily, it will not be long until the station is taken off the rail network owned by the German Railways, Deutsche Bahn.

It’s hard to believe that this was the exact same train station that used to serve as a transit station between East and West Germany, 30 years ago. At this time, travellers wishing to leave East Germany through Saxony and Thuringia had to pass through this station in order to enter the west in Bavaria. Even when they tried to escape through Hungary and the Czech Republic during the summer of 1989, an agreement was made between the two governments and that of East Germany, which was ruled under Erich Honecker at that time, to allow the East Germans to leave their home for West Germany. The majority had to pass through this train station, in overcrowded trains, then travel through the country before reaching either West Berlin or the other West German states of Hesse, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.

When the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989 and the borders dividing Germany opened two days later, East Germans left the country in droves, with large numbers passing through this station in overcrowded trains, in order to reach Hof and receive their 100 Marks in Begrüßungsgeld (EN: Welcome Money).

It was afterwards that the transit station lost its usefulness as a station that stopped all trains that were crossing the border between East and West Germany, with police officers checking the passports and travel documents of every passenger wishing to enter or leave East Germany, taking them off the train for questioning and possibly imprisoning them temporarily, withholding western goods destined for the East for families to enjoy.

The station started off as a train stop when the Magistral Railway Route opened in 1851. It became a train station with the construction of the station building in 1905 with only one track. It survived unscathed through two World Wars, but the expansion into a transit station happened beginning in 1947, which included an additional track, guard towers and lighting to ensure no one escapes over the border, even though the station was only a kilometer away from it. The white buildings where offices, holding cells, customs and the like all came in the 1970s. This included the building of the observation bridge overlooking the two tracks.

Gutenfürst Station in 2010 with the Observation Bridge. Photo taken in 2010 for wikiCommons by Straktur

Today, as seen in the picture at the beginning of the article, the buildings still stand albeit empty, but the bridge is gone. It was removed in 2012 to make way for the electrification of the line from Zwickau to Hof. There are now three tracks, including the original one where trains from Erfurter Bahn and Vogtlandbahn stop daily.  But it’s hard to imagine that this small and rather insignificant train station had a major purpose so many years ago. Unbelieveable that tens of thousands of people would have to pass through in order to cross the border 30 years ago, but now trains can pass through without being stopped because of border controls and search warrants.

And only a handful of people can board the train and get off at this very quiet and desolate train station……

 

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The Magistral Route is a rail line that connects Nuremberg with Dresden with the line splitting at Steinpleis and a branch goes to Leipzig. Construction started in 1848 and lasted 25 years. The line serves regional trains today, but plans are in the making for InterCity trains to be reintroduced after the last ICE-train passed through in 2002 and the InterRegioExpress train in 2010. The start time depends on how long the electrification process will last. Currently the line from Hof to Dresden via Zwickau and Chemnitz as well as the Leipzig branch are electrified. The last segment to Nuremberg via Bayreuth is expected to be completed by 2025.

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Photo Flick 12

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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! 😀

 

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Snowpocalypse in Germany

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Record-setting snowfall in southern and eastern Germany brings life to a standstill;  features 2-meter high drifts

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MUNICH/CHEMNITZ/SCHNEEBERG-

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.

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Christmas Market Tour 2018: Plauen (Vogtland)

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.

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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:

Source: Tex8 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
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.

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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.

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Johanniskirche and Kirchplatz, next to Altmarkt

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.

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Stadtgallerie Shopping Center

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.

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Altmarkt

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.

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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:

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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.

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Christmas tree on the side of the Old City Hall/ Spitzenmuseum with a century-old pyramid

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……

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Rathausstrasse going to Stadtgallerie

Photos of the Plauen Christmas Market can be viewed via facebook (click here) and Google (click here)

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