Flensburg Files Accepting Stories of Christmas’ Past

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

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

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

Specifically:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Germany Quiz 8: Saxony Part II

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The skyline of Dresden, the capital of Saxony

After getting warmed up with the Sächsisch Deutsch, as shown in Part I of the Quiz (click here to get to the page) Part II takes us to the state of Saxony itself. Having spent quite a few months there as well as having a few contacts from all over the state, I found that there is more to Saxony than meets the eye. If you ask someone who has yet to visit Germany (or even has passed through there once) the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Germany, 90% of the respondents would say Bavaria. Sure, Bavaria is home of the beer, the Oktoberfest and the sports club Bayern Munich. It would be considered the German version of Texas and would better off being on its own if the likes of Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer had it their way.  😉  

However, we have the German version of California in the state of Saxony- yes, that’s right, Saxony! 🙂

Saxony used to be part of the Kingdom of Saxony, which includes present-day Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Since 1990, it has become a free-state after having spent 40 years being part of East Germany and having been divided up into districts.  With the population of 4.1 million inhabitants, Saxony is the birthplace of many products that we use everyday, both at home as well as on the road. Many personalities that have become famous and placed their names in the history books were either born in Saxony or have passed through leaving their mark. The Christmas market got its start in Saxony, most of the automobles we know started its business in Saxony because of its proximity to the mountains and its natural mineral resources. And most recently, many professional sports teams are climbing their way up the ladder in soccer, handball and even basketball! 

Now that’s a lot right there about the state! :-O

But what do we know about the state? This is where Part II of the quiz comes in. Dividing it up into general information, personalities and its infrastructure (which was difficult enough as is, by the way), this guide will give you a chance to test your knowledge and do some research about the state, especially if you wish to visit the region someday.  As Saxony is the where many people made their inventions, especially for the household and for the highway, a part III will be devoted to the inventors. 

But for now, let’s test our knowledge and get to know the Saxe, shall we? 🙂  Good luck!

General Information:

What is the capital of Saxony?

Leipzig               Meissen                   Zwickau                Dresden                 Görlitz           Wilkau-Hasslau

 

Which city in Saxony does NOT have an equivalent in the USA? Mark all that apply.

Dresden          Zwickau          Zittau              Leipzig           Meerane         Waldenburg

 

Which city in Saxony does NOT have a sister city in the USA?

Glauchau      Dresden      Freiberg     Leipzig    Zwickau   Riesa

 

Which rivers do NOT flow through Saxony?

Elbe             Mulde                Saale            Neisse              Danube

 

Which city does NOT have nearby lakes/reservoirs? Mark all that apply.

Leipzig                   Glauchau                  Plauen                 Meissen                Reichenbach

 

Which city does NOT have a castle or palace?

Zwickau            Dresden             Leipzig        Glauchau        Markkleeberg      Schneeberg

 

Which city in Saxony is located at the Polish-German border and is named in both languages?

Zittau         Bautzen          Oberlausitz           Cottbus        Görlitz       Grimma

 

Which city is the hub of the porcellain industry- you can see their products at the pottery markets throughout all of Germany?

Meissen             Riesa             Hoyerswerda           Werdau           Crimmitschau            Leipzig

 

T/F: The village of Amerika (near Penig) was created in 1839 and was based on the founder’s visit to the USA.

 

Germany has one of the oldest race tracks in the country, where race cars and motorcycles convene yearly to this city in Saxony……

a. Görlitz               b. Hohenstein-Ernstthal                     c. Leipzig       d. Hoyerswerda

 

Which of the two cities in Saxony were the site of the infamous beer war in 1731?

  1. Werdau and Crimmitschau
  2. Meerane and Glauchau
  3. Zwickau and Aue
  4. Leipzig and Halle

 

Mark the following cities that have a brewery with a check mark and circle the cities that have a liquour distillery.

Chemnitz              Meerane                Zwickau             Leipzig                   Dresden              Plauen                  Reichenbach         Zittau

 

The Black Triangle, infamous for years of pollution and environmental destruction caused by strip mining, consists of three states meeting near which town in Saxony?  Identify the three states and choose which city.

The three states: ______________,  __________________, & ___________________

The city:

  1. Bautzen
  2. Görlitz
  3. Zittau
  4. Dresden

 Hint: A beverage named after the region and this city, consisting of  (10%) vodka, (40%) Vita Cola and (50%) Czech beer was created by the author in 2005.

 

Which cities are served by the ICE-train line?  Which ones will be served by the InterCity line beginning in 2023?

Dresden            Chemnitz            Leipzig              Glauchau           Riesa               Bad Schandau

 

T/F: The Leipzig-Dresden Railline, the first railroad line ever built, was completed in 1839

 

Mark the following cities that have a professional soccer team (1, 2 and 3rd leagues) with an X, a professional handball team (1st and 2nd leagues) with a check-mark, and check-mark the cities that have an American football team.

Aue        Dresden         Leipzig          Meerane        Zwickau            Chemnitz           Glauchau

 

T/F: FC Dynamo Dresden is the only team from Saxony that has defeated FC Bayern Munich in a soccer match.

 

How many soccer teams does Leipzig have, including the Red Bull Team?

 

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Information about the Christmas markets in Saxony:

The oldest Christmas market known to man can be found in which city?

a. Dresden    b. Leipzig    c. Bautzen       d. Nuremberg             e. Glauchau

 

The origin of the Stollen (the German fruit cake with raisins and powdered sugar) originated from which city?

a.  Plauen   b. Naumburg (Saale)    c. Dresden      d. Rochlitz      e. Flöha

 

The shortest Christmas market in Germany can be found in this city?

a. Glauchau     b. Crimmitschau     c. Werdau       d. Meerane     e. Aue

 

Which region in Saxony was the birthplace of the Schwipbogen (Christmas arch)?

a. Ore Mountains      b. Vogtland        c. Lausitz Region       d. Black Triangle

 

T/F: Customary of a Christmas market in Saxony is the parade of miners in the villages Ore Mountains.  If true, name at least one town that does host this.

 

T/F: Räuchermänner were common but rare decorations during the East German Communist era.

 

T/F:  Pulsnitzer Kekse is a cake with a jelly filling that can be found at a Christmas market in Saxony.

 

Which Christmas market does NOT have a castle setting?

a. Wolkenburg          b. Glauchau         c. Zwickau                  d. Crimmitschau                             e. Waldenburg

 

Who is the disco-king in this picture? Have a look in the activities below.  😉

Information on the Personalities from Saxony:

Look at the quasi-autobiography of these personalities of Saxony and guess who they are. The first and last letters of the names are given. Some research is required. Good luck! 🙂

 

  1. I was born in Chemnitz, which was known at that time as ______________, and started ice skating at the age of six. I won several gold medals in the Olympics and the world championship in figure skating, while pursuing a side dish career in acting and sports commentator. I was not only the face of East Germany before the Fall of the Wall in 1989 but also one of the best models of all time. Who am I?

K_____________A   W_______T

 

  1. I was born in Dresden to a family of actors and became one myself. I also love writing and conducting musical pieces and playing golf. While I used to be one of the most outspoken opponents of Communism during the 1989 revolution, I settled down and became the well-known, politically correct, sometimes stuck-up and arrogant professor of forensic medicine in a well-known but very popular “Krimi-series” playing opposite a St. Pauli junkie of a police officer. Who am I?

J_______ – J___________F  L_________________S

 

  1. I was born in Leipzig but grew up in Potsdam. I started acting in 1982 and have continued this career ever since. I star in many krimi-series including a Tatort series, where the setting is my hometown of Leipzig, and I play the hot, saucy investigator who eventually dies in the arms of my detective partner in the very last episode played in 2015. Who am I?

S__________________   T__________________A

 

  1. I was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal in 1842. While I later became a teacher in Saxony, I started  a life of crime which resulted in me losing my teaching license and being jailed many times. During my time in a prison in Zwickau, I became a librarian and was interested in reading books. It was then when I started writing, having produced several works focusing on the American Wild West, many of which had the character Winnetou in it. I continued writing until I died in 1912 and am buried in a tomb in Radebeul (near Dresden). Who am I?

K____________   M_____________

 

5. I was born in Görlitz in 1976 to a father who was a soccer player and a mother who was a swimmer. I followed my father’s footsteps and started playing soccer at the age of seven, having played for Chemnitz and Kaiserslautern before making my breakthrough with the soccer team Bayer Leverkusen in 2000. There, my aggressive play brought forth many championships with Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and even Chelsea in England. I even became the captain of the German national soccer team before retiring in 2012. Who am I?

M____________L    B______________K

 

  1. I was born in 1873 in Dresden. Even though I was a housewife, I became famous for inventing and patenting the modern coffee filter in 1908. Six years later, I founded the coffee company which still exists today, producing coffee and filters for the coffee machine. I relocated the firm to Minden (Hesse), where I lived to be 77 years old. Who am I?

M_____________A  B_____________Z

 

  1. I was born in a small village in Saxony 80 years ago, but I became famous for becoming the first German astronaut to fly in space in 1978. After working for the Potsdam Institute for Physics, I later worked for the Russian Institute for Space Education and later for the European Space Agency. I was a household name in East Germany as well as in films. Who am I?

S_____________D   J________N

 

  1. I was born in Dresden and learned the trade as a massage therapist and remedial gymnastics teacher. I hated corsets and many of my female clients always had problems with their posture and their sensitive areas. Henceforth, I learned another trade as a seamstress and invented the modern Busenhalter (BH), which is bra in English, in 1899. Because of its simplistic design for these sensitive areas and its sexy appeal, it has since been revolutionized and one can find them in different shapes, sizes and forms, including sports bras and bikinis. Because I was the one who made the bra in Saxony, who am I?

CH_______________  H___________T

 

Which of these statements are true or false?

T/F:  Richard Wagner, composer and founder of the annual Bayreuth Festspiel which takes place in July, originated from Saxony.

 

T/F: Robert and Clara Schumann, a husband-wife piano duo of the 19th Century, were both born in Zwickau, but married in Leipzig. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)

 

T/F: Frederike Caroline Neubert, born in Reichenbach, was one of the first female pioneers in acting, having done stage performances in the 1600s.

 

T/F: The Semper Opera House in Dresden is named after the world renowned composer, Gottfried Semper.

 

T/F: The Princes is a rockmusic band that was created last year in honor and memory of Prince.

 

T/F: Catherine of Bora, who married Martin Luther, originally came from Glauchau.

 

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Amerika Bridge spanning the Zwickau Mulde

Information on the Bridges (and Bridge Builders) in Saxony:

 

1. When was the Dresden-Chemnitz-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate railline completed?  How many viaducts in Saxony does this line have?

 

2. List the following railroad viaducts in Saxony based on the following (click on the highlighted names to see the pictures):

  1. From shortest to longest
  2. From oldest to youngest
  3. Of which, which one(s) was built by Johann Andreas Schubert?

 

Syratal Viaduct near Plauen Syratal Viaduct near Plauen 

Goltschtal Viaduct in Mylau

 Göhren Viaduct

     Werdau Viaduct

  Chemnitztal Viaduct in Chemnitz

Elstertal Viaduct near Elsterberg

 Steinpleis Viaduct near Zwickau

Hetzdorf Viaduct near Freiberg 

 

3. Which city in Saxony does not have/ never had a bridge builder/ bridge engineering firm?

Chemnitz        Zwickau          Glauchau        Wüstenbrand              Niesky

 

4. Bridge builder Johann Andreas Schubert who built the _________________________________________, was responsible for the building of Germany’s first _______________________ (multiple choice). The name of it was: S____________________A.

a. automobile         b. steam locomotove        c. typewriter           d. steam ship

 

5.  T/F: The Blaues Wunder Bridge in Dresden, the work of bridge engineer Claus Köpke, was built in 1893, but survived the Huns’ desperate attempt of blowing it up at the conclusion of World War I.  (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)

 

6. Where are these bridges located? Match the pictures with the names below.

Little Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz)     Dresden      Mylau      Chemnitz    Glauchau       Zwickau     Leipzig     Rochlitz

7. Of these eight, which one is slated to be demolished and replaced in the next five years (unless the locals have enough petitions to stop it)?

 

And now, the third part of the quiz series focusing on the inventors from Saxony who created and helped revolutionize the things we use today, both at home as well as on the road. 🙂

 

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Zwickau (Saxony)

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The next Christmas market on the tour takes us back to the Erzgebirge Region- or should I say the gateway to the mountains to be specific?  Zwickau is located in the southwestern part of Saxony, 17 kilometers south of neighboring Glauchau along the Zwickauer Mulde River. Access to the city of 100,000 inhabitants is easy, thanks to access to the Autobahn 72 that connects Hof (Bavaria) and Leipzig via Chemnitz and two key railways: The Nuremberg-Hof-Dresden Magistrate operated mainly by the Mitteldeutsche Railway (MRB) and the Franconian-Saxony Route connecting Leipzig-Halle and Hof with a branch extending to Zwickau from Werdau. Another rail route to Karlsbad (Karoly Vary) in the Czech Republic provides direct access to the mountains.  Zwickau is the gateway to the Erzgebirge region (Ore Mountains) with the historic Silver Road being the western terminus that provides access through the mountains enroute to Freiberg (Saxony), offering tourists a glimpse of the story of the miners and how they lived, in places like Annaberg-Buchholz, Schneeberg, Schwarzenberg, and Tharandt.  Zwickau is also the gateway to the heavily forested and hilly Vogtland region in the south, where Plauen, Greiz and Hof are located, but also the agricultural regions to the north, where Glauchau, Gössnitz and Altenburg are located. The landscape changes when passing through Zwickau, enabling people to choose which region to hike (or bike if you have two wheels). 🙂

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Zwickau is also the birthplace of automobiles and infrastructure. Audi Motors, which was created in 1932 thanks to the fusion with Horch, had its start in the city. The beloved East German car Trabant was manufactured in Zwickau until 1990. Now Volkswagon handles most of the manufacturing of cars at its headquarters between Zwickau and Glauchau. The city is home of very unique bridges stemming from six different eras, including the Paradiesbrücke, Röhrensteg and Zellstoff Bridge (a tour guide of the bridges can be found here). It is unknown whether the largest bridge builder in Zwickau, whose history goes back 160 years may have had something to do with it, but it would not be a surprise.  Yet a surprise to musicians and Germanists would be if they never knew that composer Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau and had his start there before becoming a famous pianist and music writer. The house where he was born is still standing and can be seen while in the city center.

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A specialized oven cooking Mutzbraten at Kornmarkt

Then there is the Christmas market in Zwickau. When compared to the markets in the Erzgebirge or Vogtland regions, let alone in the western half of Saxony (minus Chemnitz), the market is the largest with over 300 stands in two markets plus four different streets connecting them. From the author’s perspective, Zwickau’s market is one of the most centralized markets ever visited on tour, as one needs only two minutes walk between the two markets. It’s comparible to the ones in Leipzig, Halle (Saale), Nuremberg, Quedlinburg and to a certain degree, Freiberg.  Yet in terms of access, when compared to the likes of Chemnitz, Glauchau, Freiberg, Frankfurt (Main) and Weimar, it is very difficult to reach, especially by bike but also by car.  While one can be daring enough to bike the Zwickauer Mulde bike path and access it from Paradiesbrücke, which takes only three minutes to reach, from the train station, let alone the main highway B93, one needs 10-15 minutes to reach. The reason: The market is located deep inside the walls of the historic town, and that is located right next to the river! Allow some time and patience to find it and have your Google Map app handy.

I had two different opportunities to visit the market this year because of my commitments teaching English nearby combined with my plan to visit the markets in the mountain. Both times I came away with the same impression as before, which was very local but diverse, very historical but fancy, very religious but educational, and very wide in selection but also very tasty.  In short, if you want a taste of Erzgebirge and Vogtland and have a time and money budget, you should take some time in Zwickau, as the city provides you with a glimpse of the markets you could (and should) visit when going deeper into the regions.

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As mentioned earlier, the market is divided up into two different ones. The larger of the two markets is located at Hauptmarkt, which is between Alte Steinweg and Marienplatz. At this place, one will find everything typical of Saxony and the Erzgebirge. Like in Chemnitz and Freiberg, this market has its usual black Lichterbogen (lighted arch), laden with stands made of wood from the mountains, all of which have the usual yellowish-brown and mahogany colors and resemble log cabins and huts. The backdrop of the market features the Historic Theater (Gewandhaus) with its white and light brown Fachwerk design, the City Hall and the Robert Schumann House, where he was born.  Looking towards the theater, one will see the large pyramid with its figures of the miners in the foreground; the Christmas tree is in the background. The former is a key eatery, serving traditional delicacies but also a dozen types of Glühwein (mulled/spiced wine), including apple and spice, sanddorn (sea buckthorn) and wildberry. It is also one of three places where a person can find a Christmas market cup in several different colors and designs. Two of them I have at home as souvenirs, btw. 🙂

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View of behind the manger set with a light resembling the star that led the three wisemen to Baby Jesus. Photo taken at St. Mary’s Church.

Crossing Marienplatz and going adjacent from the Hauptmarkt, there is St. Mary’s Cathedral (the official name is St. Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). While visiting the church, one really needs to see the manger set, located behind the church in front of the museum and Brauhaus restaurant and brewery. While the market has more manger sets than any of the markets in eastern Germany (at least five of them are located at the Christmas market in general), this one is the largest as the figures are life-sized and depict the scene where the three wise men visit and bless Joseph and Mary, the proud parents, and baby Jesus. While the site is more visible in the daytime, one can play with photography at night, using the lights to depict the actual scene and the lighted church as the backdrop.

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Side view of the manger set with the church in the background

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South of the church, going 300 meters, is Kornplatz. This section is the smaller of the two markets but serves as a symbol of the more traditional Christmas market on a wider German scale. This goes beyond the pyramid, which has a more modern mahogany appearance, as several gabled dark brown houses sell local clothing and cooked goods, including the Mutzbraten, which is smoked marinated pork that is cooked for 2-3 hours in a wooden stove and is a Thuringian tradition, like the Bratwurst. However there are two more local cooked specialties to be mentioned later that are even local than the Thuringian specialties offered at this Christmas market (no offense to those from Thuringia.) The market has a carousel and children’s railroad track for them to ride the train through the market. The market area itself is more suitable for families with children because of the space and some stands that are children friendly. Also as an incentive to visit the market is the children’s story alley. Located along Münzstrasse connecting the Korn and Haupt markets,  it features a display of 3-4 fairy tales which are decided upon annually by the planning committee.  The artists then construct the mural and the figures depicted in the story, which is recorded by the narrators and played by the tourists.

LOOKING AT THESE DISPLAYS, CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY ARE?

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Other amusement rides can also be found at the Hauptmarkt, but across the streetcar tracks and on the opposite side of the statue of Robert Schumann. They were purposely placed there to provide better access for children and to avoid overcrowding. The planning of the Christmas market was perfect in a way that the children’s section was placed in the outer portions of the Hauptmarkt while the market itself can focus on local goods from the region. This plus its openness- meaning no fences and key entrances like at the one in Freiberg- enables people to enter and exit the market anywhere freely without overcrowding. It’s convenient and most importantly, it’s safe. This is probably the main reason why Zwickau’s market is so centralized- not to mention well organized. 🙂

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The stand across St. Mary’s Church which sold Zwickau Brühlette. There were three at the market that sold this unique specialty that is typical of the city.

As mentioned before, Zwickau’s Christmas market has a wide selection of food and drink- the more traditional Christmas market foods are at the Kornmarkt, while the more local goods from the region is found at the Hauptmarkt, with a few exceptions of foods from Switzerland and France at a couple booths, including Cheese Fondue.  One of the prized goods worth trying is the Zwickau Brühlette. Based on a recipe dating back to the 1950s, the Brühlette is simply a meatloaf made of ground meet combined with flour, breadcrumbs and spices, but what exactly goes into there and how it is made has remained top secret since it was presented by a married couple who invented this in light of the food shortage during the days of Socialism in East Germany. After the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the unique delicacy became nearly an overnight hit among “Westerners” that eventually, a restaurant was established, which still sells the Brühlette- with or without bread and with or without topping. I tried one at the stand across from St. Mary’s Church during my visit with mustard and it topped all the Leberkäse (basically meatloaf slices) I’ve tried since moving to Germany in 1999! It was a bit spicy but really tasty and one that stands out! When visiting Zwickau, it is recommended to put this food on top of your list of delicacies to taste.

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Not far from the top of the list of foods to taste is horse meat. Regardless of whether they are meat slices or sausage, horse meat is different from other forms of meat that people eat as it has a tender, hearty and somewhat tart-like flavor, regardless of how it is served. The place selling this is Ulrich Engelhardt, and the business has been selling horse meat since 1990, the same time the Zwickau Christmas market started up again! I tried one during my first visit in a form of a sausage on a bun and it tasted similar to Polish sausages, a common commodity sold in American supermarkets. Having that with my dad and brother while growing up, that was quite addicting and tasty! 🙂

Also recommended is the Dresden Landbrot. Originating from the capital of Saxony, the Landbrot is baked bread with filling, cooked in a wooden oven. Filling included cheese and meat, and can be served with sour creme and chives, just to name a few. This bread is best served hot with a good Glühwein to go along with that.  🙂

Despite all that is offered at the Christmas market, sometimes it hurts to say good-bye, especially when the market closes at 8:00pm. Zwickau usually ends its market day on a musical note, singing Christmas carols and a farewell song as a way to signaling the visitors mulling over some Räuchermänner made of Erzgebirge wood, accessories for a doll house, lanterns with a wooden frame, miner figures made of silver or wood and other typical local products to make the purchase and allow the merchants to close their doors to prepare for the next day. Believe it or not, I witnessed this on my visit, especially as the number of visitors had already reached its peak.  But it was a way to look back at Zwickau’s market and summarize it in simpler terms:

Zwickau is one of the largest Christmas markets in a region where the city sits at the gateway to three different landscapes: Vogtland, Erzgebirge and the agricultural plains. Like the markets of the past, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides people with an opportunity to try and purchase products locally. In other words, the market is one of the more local ones when looking at the themes mentioned and the heritage that goes along with that. While some markets are really spread out, Zwickau is one of the more centralized of the Christmas markets, with two key markets, two corridors with only a three minute walking distance and a large church with the largest of the five manger sets to see. Even if it takes a long time to get to the city center where the market is located, the visit in the end is well worth it. Given its access to the three regions and its western terminus to the Silver Road going through the Erzgebirge, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides the tourist with a whiff of the city’s history with the miners and perhaps encourages the person to explore the other Christmas markets and places along the path to look at their history and heritage and learn a bit more about the history of Saxony and to a greater extent, Germany.

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Because of that, I have a lot of towns along the Silver Road to explore, in addition to the Vogtlanders. And what will be interesting is seeing how these markets, like Annaberg-Bucholz, Schwarzenberg, Schneeberg, etc. celebrate Christmas and their miners. Will it be different or similar to what I visited during the tour? My bet is each market will be different but the miners’ legacy will be the same, affecting the lifestyles of the people in the Erzgebirge that is different than the rest of the country. And sometimes a different lifestyle opens new doors to knowledge and understanding. 🙂

Check out the Flensburg Files’ photo album with additional photos of Zwickau’s Christmas market, which you can click here. An ongoing collection of Zwickau at night, taken by the author, can be accessed here. Stop here occasionally as the collection will be bigger. Enjoy! 🙂

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2016 Christmas Market Tour: Glauchau (Saxony)

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While traveling around in Germany at Christmas time, there are two key rules to keep in mind:

  1. Take the best train offer that will get you around in a German state for a full day and
  2. If you miss a connection or the trains are not going, put some time aside in a town you’re stranded in and take a look around.

Especially for Christmas markets in a small town like Glauchau (Saxony), by taking the second option, most times you will be in for a pleasant surprise. 🙂

Located just outside the Erzgebirge Region in western Saxony, Glauchau belongs to the Aue Region, where not only are there towns with the suffix ending of “-au” but their origin means island surrounded by river or wetlands. Other nearby towns belonging to this region include Werdau, Crimmitschau, Aue and neighboring Zwickau, but also other towns, like Meerane, Gössnitz, Mosel and Neukirchen, all of which are situated along rivers and in wetlands surrounding bodies of water. In Glauchau’s case, the city of 24,000 residents is located on the Zwickauer Mulde River, which is divided into one going through the city and a diversion bypassing the city to the west. In addition, the river feeds off a Lake (Gründelsee) near the castle, and the Glauchau Reservoir which is in the outskirts on the south end.

Glauchau’s topography is unique for even though much of the predominantly agricultural community straddles the Mulde River and is located in the valley, much of its commerce and key historic places are on the hill in the highest elevation on the east side of the valley. Much of that has to do with the founding of the city in the Middle Ages, where two sets of castles were built on the hill overlooking the river and regions to the south, and the only ways into the city was through the walled gates and several key bridges spanning deep valleys from the north end as well as one bridge on the south end. A guide on the city’s bridges can be found here.  The north entrance from the train station still exists today as Leipziger Strasse and after crossing three valley crossings, one will enter the shopping scene, as shown in the picture above.  With a half hour of free time before my next train, I decided to have a look at the city’s Christmas market to see what it has to offer.

To start off with the market, Glauchau has its market during the first or second Advent only. The reason behind it is not because of the town’s population but also competing schedules involving markets in other neighboring communities, like Waldenburg, Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Werdau and Crimmitschau. It is also sandwiched between two bigger cities, whose Christmas markets attract a larger crowd and are held during the holiday season: Chemnitz and Zwickau.  Also behind the reason is the shopping one will find in the “Shopping Mile”, a pedestrian plaza along Leipziger Strasse, which used to be a thoroughfare for cars until a couple years ago. Many small shops selling clothing, food and other supplies can be found there as one walks toward the first part of the Christmas market, which is…..

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The Market Square:

Unlike other Christmas markets seen so far on tour, Glauchau’s market square is not the main attraction during the holiday season. The reason behind this is that this year was the first year the Christmas market expanded to include the market square, given the increase in visitors to Glauchau and the need for space so that other merchants can sell their local goods. This was based on a referendum that was taken after the 2015 market, which received an overwhelming yes for the market. In its first year at the market the number of stands that encircle the large Christmas tree is about 10, but given the size of the market square and a stage for performances, it is not surprising that the need to limit the booths at this place was needed to accommodate the crowd during the weekend of the market. However, sometimes it is OK to have booths along the Shopping Mile and the corridor connecting the market square and the next attraction at the market, which is the church. It was seen at some markets including Flensburg, where rows of huts connected the city’s two markets along Roter Strasse.

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St. Georgenkirche:

Going past the city hall overlooking the market square we have the St. Georgenkirche (St. George Evangelical Lutheran Church) on the left side. This tall structure was built in 1728 replacing an earlier church that was destroyed in a fire. It underwent extensive renovations to return it to its original form beginning in 1988, which included the restoration of the building, pipe organ, pews, mural of the Madonna and lastly in 2002, the church bells. The white and gold color of the interior coincide with the white color of the outer siding of the building. But in this church there was a display of Räuchermänner, located along the wall on the right-hand side as one enters the church. Over six dozen different incense smokers, resembling miners, stoves, hunters, and even forest creatures were found encased in glass. There were many that were made by hand and over 80 years old. Others came from the East German times, although Christmas was not celebrated much at all because of the suppression of Christianity by the Communist regime. In fact, Räuchermänner were rare to find in any household during the age of the Cold War and if they exist, they were considered as sacred as Bible itself. Furthermore, information revealed that Räuchermänner were still being made during that time, but were either sold at Intershops or exported to West Germany- a real torture for the East German who prided itself on Christmas products made in the east. One could really sense elation and euphoria once the Wall fell and Germany was reunited because of such tactics like that- all for the purpose of being loyal to Socialism (Hilfe!!!).

Originally I had taken a few pics of the Räuchermänner on display until I was confronted by the church asking if I was working for a professional media outlet. When I mentioned I was an independent columnist doing a tour of the Christmas market, I was told not to post them on my page due to potential copyright issues. I learned that I had to register at the city office days in advance. So much for being a passer-by writer. As I could not post the pics, I hope you can imagine what the display looked like, otherwise the most practical alternative is to see the display itself to get some impressions of your own.

But the church did have a neat manger set with live animals and a few booths selling church-related items for both the church-goer and those interested in Christ or other religions, which best fit the scene with the church in the background. But as a small population goes to a church in Germany, the guess is that a quarter of the people stopped there, while the rest made their way to their final destination, which was…….

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Museumsschloss (Glauchau Castle Complex):  

Leaving the church ground and going 300 meters west, one will cross a bridge spanning a moat and enter the castle. Consisting of the Fordere and Hintere Schlösser (the western and eastern halves of the castle), the castle complex has been the centerpiece for the Christmas market in Glauchau, having hosted the event since German reunification. All of the eateries and local goods, combined with some Medieval-style entertainment and some amusement can be found in the courtyard. Unlike before the new format, most of the shops and huts were located inside and surrounding the castle. Yet since having expanded the market to include the market square, the castle has much more space, and people can better enjoy food and entertainment without having to fight for a little space, especially at night when the visitors are at their peak and as the temperatures go below zero.

Apart from some ceramics, home-grown honey and local spiced wine, I had an opportunity to try Martin Luther liquor from a distillery located in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt. Martin Luther was an avid beer drinker, and even his wife Catherine craft a homemade beer for him as he was spreading the 95 Theses throughout the church. The timing of the liquor was perfect as next year will be the 500th anniversary of his work that formed the Lutheran Church. As each of the liquors tasted hearty and sweet at the same time- be it herb or with fruit, then the distillery will hit a grand slam in sales, as hundreds of thousands of people convene on Germany to pay homage to the monk who ran amonk for the good of the people who refuse to be sent to purgatories without indulgences.

Apart from an antique carousel, picnic area and even an ice skating rink outside the castle, the Castle Complex is the main stage for the Christmas market, although because of its increasing size and number of tourists in the region, it is more likely that the market will shift more towards the market square in the next couple of years and even expand further in the future. However, from a columnist’s point of view, in order to avoid having a tsunami rush of people for one weekend, it would make sense to have the market like in Chemnitz and Zwickau- that is for the whole month. Even if the city decided for the market on the weekends during Advent and even Christmas, it would encourage people to plan ahead and choose when to visit Glauchau and when to visit the markets elsewhere. Combine that with a corridor of huts connecting the main areas like in Flensburg, which means huts along the street connecting the Castle Complex, The Church and the Market Square, plus some along the Shopping Mile, the city will have a win-win situation as it will be able to better accommodate tourists, bring in more income and make it more attractive than it is right now. Glauchau’s Christmas market is nice small market that is worth every minute of my thirty-minute tour this time around. However, sometimes more can be done to make it better for the future.

And as I board the train for my nex destination, I leave Glauchau with some impressions of a small agricultural city, priding on religion and culture, but with a potential to become more attractive in the future than it is now. And if you disagree with that, especially when you look at the photo gallery on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here), as well as those taken by the Glauchau City facebook page (click here), then maybe the town is worth your day’s visit so that you can see the impressions yourself. 😉

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The Mulde consists of the Zwickauer Mulde, which flows through Glauchau and the Freiberger Mulde, which is east of Chemnitz. They make a confluence near Grimma and flow northwesterly to Dessau-Rosslau, where it empties into the Elbe River. The river, together with the Pleisse, which flows through Werdau and Crimmitschau, have had a history with flooding the flat plains in the valley, which makes the suffix Aue unique. In Glauchau’s case, a diversion canal was constructed after the flood of 1954 to keep the flow of water away from the city.

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The German Railways (a.k.a. Deutsche Bahn) has a ticket available where you can travel throughout the state for one day. In this case, we have the Sachsenticket. For 23 Euros, you can travel around to as many destinations as you please between 9:00 am and 3:00 am the following day. It is valid for all regional trains as well as local tram and bus services. When travelling in Germany next time and you wish to travel cheaply, look at state ticket options.

 

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Year of the Beer Day 4: Sachsengold Landbier

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Day four of the beer tasting marathon honoring the 500 year beer purity tradition and we look at the “Landbier.”  Normally featuring a gold color but some also have a darker brown color, the Landbier is normally characterized as a beer that has less hops and more finely ground spices, producing a mild taste. It is comparable to the likes of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee beers in the US, yet the alcohol content of a typical German Landbier is double the amount as the American counterparts- specifically between 4.8 and 5.4%, pending on how the breweries craft this type of beer. What is unknown however is how Landbier is different from other beer types. According to the German Beer Institute, which serves North America, Landbier that is filtered is considered Pils whereas those that are not filtered are considered Kellerbier. Normally, as seen with the Oettinger Winterbier on the first day, Kellerbier is usually lagered at cool temperatures, thus allowing for the beer to ferment and for the yeast to remain in the content, together with the important vitamins and minerals. In short, one could say that the one Landbier may be different that another one because of the way they are brewed. This means one will have to research more to get down to the truth behind this beer type, which includes taste-testing a few.

This includes the first candidate on the list, the Sachsengold Landbier. Originating from one of two breweries located in Zwickau, in western Saxony, Sachsengold can be found in many supermarkets owned by Edeka, which includes Netto (as you will remember, Edeka received the Files’ Genre of the Week honors for its Christmas commercial last December, which you can click here to watch.) That means, everyone could buy a case of beer and still have two Euros of the original five Euros leftover for meat and buns. The Landbier is one of four beer types Sachsengold markets and sells and has the typical appearance of the Landbier- clear gold color. However, when examining the taste of the beer, it can be best described in one simple word:

FLAT! 😛

Flavor and Aroma: The beer’s main ingredient was barley, yet it seemed that the amount of barley in the content was minimal, to a point where there was little intensity on the taste and no aroma at all. The end result was the impression that the beer tasted of barley-flavored water with no other ingredients that could pep up the flavor a bit. In other words, the taste of the beer was flat. Even when pouring the beer into the mug, there was very little carbonation and the beer looked like clear apple juice than a typical beer- an exact opposite of the Luther Porter beer I tried yesterday, where the foam accounted for 80% of the beer glass upon pouring it. The body of the beer was extremely light, and on the mouth, the impression was that it was too watery but with a bitter taste and the impression that the freshness was way off the mark. Even if the alcohol content was 4.9%, there was not much of an effect of the alcohol upon drinking even half the bottle.

Grade: 5,0/F  While not as bad as the Löwenbräu and the original Oettinger beer (not the Winterbier), the Sachsengold Landbier did not sweep me off my feet with its taste. While the color of the beer is typical of the German Landbier, the quality of the beer itself was really poor. Unless a person loves bitter-flavored water, this beer should be recrafted in a way that it tastes less watery and has more of the ingredients that makes Landbier typical. I have tried some Landbiers during my time in Germany and found those that are much better in taste. Many of them will be presented later on, perhaps as a reference for Sachsengold to consider before overhauling its product. It competition with Mauritus, which is the other Zwickauer brewery may be brutal, but any small, even cheap brewery can produce a Landbier better than this, right?

To finish off the taste-test, Sachsengold had a nice comic that looks at the typical Sächsisch person going on vacation- and forgetting the items needed before travelling. Although made by the incense candlemaker Huss (which produces incense ovens as seen at the Leipzig Christmas market) it does have a true meaning when it comes to crafting a good German beer, which is….

Don’t forget the important ingredients to making a good beer! 😉

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