Category Archives: children in germany

More weird stuff appearing in German shops…

OK – the Christmas goodies started appearing in the shops in late August, the Halloween merchandise in early September, and now, finally in October a small display of essential products to mark a German festival which is actually celebrated at this time of the year! Saint Martinmas.

Sankt Martin

Paper lanterns and battery powered illumination sticks… but then you knew that, right?

Of course it is questionable as to why so many pre-made paper lanterns are on sale, because any German child hoping to take part in the festival will of course make their own out of card, translucent paper and glue. In the old days the lanterns were lit with candles stuck inside them. Yes… I think we can all spot the design flaw there… toddler, fire, paper lantern…. so modern day technology has come to the rescue with those plastic sticks with a bulb on a wire at one end and a battery and switch at the other. These are variously used for sword fighting, whipping your siblings, beheading the prize dahlias, poking your parents and scaring the neighbour’s cat. By the time St. Martinmas comes around the plastic bulb refuses to light… and at this point every plastic illumination stick within a radius of 400 km has sold out. Any parent who fails to provide their child with an electric stick for the St. Martinmas parade is officially a Rabenmutter (bad mother) in Germany… so it is wise to panic-buy and stockpile.

Sorry… I should have told you this a month ago….




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Cool stuff for kids in Germany

When I was visiting Kempen I also spotted these cool street-sculptures which double as entertainment for kids.

Rocking Horse

Hoppe hoppe Reiter…

Bendy chicken

Flexible fowl…

Rocking pig

For future Bastian Schweinsteigers?



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International branding fail…

Sometimes you just wonder how the Germans decide on brand names… like our local children’s hospital for instance…


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As some of the snow starts to thaw on the roof, we’re getting an impressive array of icicles this year. I’m tempted to nip out with a pair of teaspoons and try to play Tubular Bells on them!


I’m not the only one who has spotted the potential play value of icicles. We’ve had icicle sword fights, icicle star wars battles and strange ice spikes now emerge from many of our plant pots.


Fun toys!

More fun than the actual Christmas presents!


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Christmas tree traditions in Germany

This year we actually did the proper German thing with the Christmas tree. OK, it wasn’t intentional. It was because of all the snow that we didn’t go out early and buy a tree. It was the 23rd by the time I managed to scrape the car free of ice and snow and venture out in search of food, last minute presents and a Christmas tree. Fortunately the entire German nation had also been holed up in the blizzard, so Christmas trees had not sold out.

The tree on arrival was dumped unceremoniously outside the front door where it spent the night.

On Christmas Eve we brought the tree inside and decorated it.

Had we been proper Germans, of course, we would have risked burning the house down and used proper candles on the tree. Given that our house is made of wood and lined with bookshelves, this didn’t sound like the most sensible idea though, so we stuck to electric lights.

Had we been proper Germans, we would have spent the evening sitting round the tree singing “Stille Nacht” and various other traditional Christmas songs. Again, being philistines, in fact although we did gather in the room with the tree, we made our own music which was mainly not particularly Christmassy – although the kids did perform a fabulous jazz version of “Leise rieselt der Schnee” with Dad on piano, son on guitar, youngest daughter on vocals and eldest daughter on the cajon.  Glühwein and Kinderpunsch all round. Admittedly with mince pies.

Presents definitely not opened on Christmas Eve though. We’re not that German!


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German Christmas pyramids

Christmas is the time of year when you construct pyramids in your house.  I don’t mean a Valley of the Kings stone affair… I mean a wooden one with candles and a windmill on the top. Obviously.

The Christmas pyramid is a sort of Heath-Robinson contraption which uses the convection current of hot air from candles to power a windmill and spin the pyramid. Unlike most other German inventions, this one has absolutely no practical purpose. None whatsoever.

Most German homes are content with a small table-top affair these days. Something that looks like this.

By Richard Huber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

German towns and cities tend to build rather grander versions – often displayed at the local Christmas market.  The figures on the different tiers of the pyramids rotate, to indicate to people that they have drunk rather more Glühwein than is good for them.  Or something.

Creative Commons

Originally these decorative carved pyramids date from the middle ages and symbolise light driving away darkness at Christmas time (literally and figuratively).  They pre-date the Christmas tree, which became a more popular decoration – probably due to it being easier to chop down a tree and bring it into the house than to spend months whittling away carving a wooden Christmas pyramid.

Many Germans still use real candles to illuminate their Christmas trees – at the annual risk of burning the house down, of course. What is it about Christmas that suddenly makes an otherwise sensible nation forget about Vorsprung durch Technik?

Wikimedia Commons

In the old days families would add to their collection of wooden figures in the Christmas pyramid every year, in the same way that nowadays people buy a few new baubles for the Christmas tree. For those who are trying to decide between a real or an artificial Christmas tree this year – a Christmas Pyramid could be the most amazing artificial tree you ever bought!

Alternatively, if you start carving now, you might have your very own pyramid ready for Christmas 2011….





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St. Nikolaus – the ultimate betrayal

Yesterday was St. Nikolaus in Germany –  the day when Saint Nick pops in and fills children’s boots with chocolate and treats. Assuming, of course, that the data (supposedly compiled by angels) in his Golden Book suggests the children have been well behaved enough.

Naughty children in Germany suffer a gruesome fate, which varies depending on which part of the country they live in.

Up here in North Rhine Westphalia miscreants will be given a birch instead of sweets, with which their parents are supposed to whip them. Maybe St. Nikolaus hasn’t actually consulted the Jugendamt – or perhaps whipping is not considered to be child abuse when it’s on special occasions.

Further South, badly behaved children will be carried away by the Krampus – a devilish creature who carries a bag on his back and abducts children, never to be seen again.

Of course the unexposed scam is that German parents actually pay for St. Nikolaus (and possibly the Krampus) to visit on the evening of December 6th. In some areas the local Arbeitsamt actually runs courses for the unemployed to learn to play the roles and your local St. Nick-team can charge €50-100 for a brief but terrifying visit, which is guaranteed to produce exemplary behaviour from your offspring for the next 12 months. (Hmmmm… actually that sounds like a bargain!)

, via Wikimedia Commons”]Those more recently arrived from ‘Elf & Safety obsessed Britain will of course want to know whether these long-term unemployed, recently trained Saints and Devils have had the equivalent of a CRB (criminal records bureau) background check. The answer is no. Of course not.  Mwahahahaha! The very job of the St. Nikolaus and the Krampus is to abuse and traumatise your child.


The minute they show up, your son or daughter will be wracked with guilt for all their misdeeds over the past 12 months and paralysed with fear that now is going to be payback time. What they do not know though, is that the information which is held in the Saint’s Golden Book, does not, in fact, come from the Angels. It’s been leaked by their own parents. Saint Nikolaus is merely the Julian Assange figure, compiling and publishing the data which their parents wrote down and passed on.

The experience for your children, as any American diplomat will confirm, is at best highly uncomfortable. The Saint will read out – in front of everyone – a list of your deeds and misdeeds from the past 12 months, and all the while the birch is sticking out of the top of his bag, or the Krampus is leering at you, about to abduct you from your home forever to lengthy torment and an early death.

On top of this… having put you through all this torture, the Saint will then expect you to recite a poem. Or sing a song. Or perform on the piano or the recorder.  Have you ever tried remembering the words to “Advent Advent” when you’re actually crapping your pants?

Even though the Saint (nearly) always comes up with the sweeties in the end, the burden of guilt and doubt are the overriding memories. The Lebkuchen and Pfeffernüsse will turn to ashes in your mouth.

Compared to St. Nikolaus, the British/American Santa Claus seems…well, like Father Christmas!

, via Wikimedia Commons”]


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