Category Archives: German festivals

German Christmas markets 2011

Over the past few weeks in most German towns, little wooden huts have sprung up on squares and along the main shopping streets. Behind shutters we heard scuffling and hammering, mysterious bags and boxes were unloaded, cables laid, lights tested… wafts of aniseed and cinnamon and ginger…  a general air of mystery and excitment.

And now, this weekend most of the Christmas market stalls are finally opening up. The bratwurst and waffles are sizzling, the wine mulling, the stalls full of craftwork and sweetmeats are overflowing with novelties.

I walked through part of the Duisburg Christmas market yesterday lunchtime and got an impression of what they have to offer there… for a start the choice of food was surprising. One stall was just beginning to roast a whole hog…

Spit roast

Why settle for a Bratwurst when you could eat the whole pig?

Another was starting to flame-grill some salmon…

Salmon smoking

The smoking ban clearly doesn't extend to salmon...

Traditional sweets, nuts and candied fruits are everywhere…

Toasted Almonds

It wouldn't be Advent without toasted almonds

Being only a short distance from the Dutch border, there are plenty of specialities from the Netherlands too – sold from Dutch gabled huts

Poffertjes

Poffertjes are technically a Dutch speciality - but the Germans love them

I’m not entirely sure why there was a Viking ship in the town centre selling Glühwein – but it certainly stood out. I didn’t see any Vikings, and the figure of Saint Nicholas on board looked decidedly tipsy…

Glühwein stand

Glühwein served from a Viking longship? Well, I suppose it gets cold up North....

No Christmas market is complete without a German Christmas Pyramid. This one was a fine specimen because it actually has an integrated Glühwein stand…  no German city should be without one!

German Christmas Pyramid

Glühwein served from a German Christmas Pyramid

 

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So here we are in August…

… and in the shops you can see amazing bright coloured cardboard cones everywhere.

Starting school in Germany

Like a Christmas stocking on the first school day

These are essential accessories for every child starting school for the first time. Their parents fill the cone with sweets and little gifts (often school related, like pencils and crayons) and the child takes it to school on the first day. At the end of the first school day, they are allowed to open it and have all the contents. Of course school-life goes downhill rapidly from this glorious start!

Of course the end of August is the right time for these cones to be in the shops.

I was rather less enthusiastic to find the first flush of Christmas Lebkuchen clogging the aisles though.

German Christmas biscuits

Premature Christmas Fare...

I know the weather’s been chilly… but surely nobody thinks it’s Christmas yet?

 

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All the fun of the Whitsun fair

Every Whitsun our little town holds its Schützen und Heimatfest. The Schützen are the societies of local militias, who in former times would have protected the village from marauding invaders. These days they shoot for sport and drink a lot. And dress up in uniforms which frankly make some tin-pot dictators look rather modest. In these parts, a man’s worth depends on the amount of brocade on his jacket and the size of the shaving brush on his hat, you see.

Like in all good militias, our local ones all bestow copious ranks and titles on their members. During the festival, every house has flags, banners, crepe-paper flowers and bunting on display in the colours of their own militia group. The officers also display their ranks outside their homes.

The local car park has been transformed into a fairground for the weekend.

Depending on which group of Schützen you belong to you can end up pulling the chicks…

…or finding other fish to fry…

Speaking of Fish and Chips… we always have the local version at the Whitsun Fair. The only thing we have to bring along ourselves is the Sarsons Malt Vinegar… which we transport in a miniature whisky bottle. The locals do look at us a bit oddly when we appear to douse our chips in whisky, but they normally just put it down to British eccentricity.

While the kids go on the rides…

…we old folks pop into the beer tent or have a go on the horse-racing game… (did I say or ? Sorry… I meant and.)

Once it starts to get dark, the scene of the action moves on. The militias emerge from their marquees and parade to the sound of the marching bands across to the local park… followed by all the officers and local dignitaries.

Military insignia and posh frocks are the order of the day… I’ve seen less-decorated Christmas trees…

The fair ends on the Tuesday after Whitsun with a musical firework display in the park.

Big chorus of Oooooooh!! Aaaaaaah!! everyone!

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More weird German Easter customs

While we’re on the subject of strange things Germans do at Eastertime, I should probably mention the tradition of rolling flaming wheels down hills. This one is a clip from Lügde in North-Rhine Westphalia. The idea is to stuff a wooden wheel with straw and set light to it as you shove it down a steep slope. Although this is nowadays an Easter tradition, its origins are actually older than Christianity… the symbolism is all about light returning after the Winter months.

Beats rolling painted eggs into a cocked hat!

 

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Strange German Easter customs

One of the unusual events you can watch around Easter time is the strange sport practised in the village of Buldern in Westphalia.  It is known as Osterhasseln. It involves two teams, one from the East and one from the West of the village lining up in the street and hurling a wooden disk (known as the Hassel) at each other.  The purpose is to get the disk over a line drawn on the street which is the opponent’s territory.

Due to the high risk of bone fractures, the players tend to tape foam padding around their legs… which adds to the overall sense of the bizarre….

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Hang out the Sendschwert… there’s a fair on in Münster!

Münster has a fair three times a year. They call it the Send – which apparently is a derivation of “Synod” and originated with some rather jolly get-togethers of clerics in the 9th century.

When the Send is on, the city fathers hang out the Send Sword, or Sendschwert, on the town hall. This is a disembodied arm holding an upright sword. Apparently this is a reminder that any unruly behaviour at the fair used to be punishable by death.  So when attending the Send, I am always careful not to drop my candyfloss or park illegally. The Münster city fathers might take it personally and decide to impale me.

Sendschwert, Send Sword

A disembodied arm with sword... oh my!

The good news is that those 9th century clerics certainly knew how to party, judging by the modern day Send. Of course the risk of being impaled on the Sendschwert increases with every jug of beer…

Send Münster

Roll up! Cheap beer all week!

A German fair would not be complete without rides. And the Send specialises in the kind of rides which can only be described as absolutely freaking terrifying.  Seriously – I mean who in their right mind would go on this voluntarily? No wonder the fair is announced with the public display of severed limbs!

rollercoaster

Centrafugal stomach churner

I know you’re  thinking that after an afternoon in Bruno’s Bierdorf, it might seem like a great idea to climb onto a contraption which will spin you like an odd sock in the laundromat of life….   but the city fathers have thought of that. Readers, meet German Health and Safety.

fairground germany

Positively no drunks allowed on the ride! Or people who are short, tall, pregnant, or in possession of any other condition known to the medical profession...

Now clearly there is a disconnect here. In order to want to get on the ride you would have to be drunk to the point of near-terminal stupidity. But as soon as you are drunk, you’re not allowed on.

The fair does, however, offer plenty of less dangerous attractions which will part the stupidly drunk from their hard earned Euros. Take, for example, the mechanical grab machine where you can win one of the most psychologically disturbing cuddly toys of all time – the creepy cuddly Michael Jackson doll.

fairground grab

You could win a creepy Michael Jackson doll... the stuff of nightmares!

Suddenly being impaled by the sword-wielding disembodied long arm of the law is sounding like the most compelling attraction at the fair! Well, apart from another jug of the cheap ale, of course.

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Rosenmontag in the Rhineland – parades and politics

We’re in the middle of the fifth season here in the Rhineland. The silly season. Karneval season.

The normally sensible and dare I say, somewhat dull members of the local community will be dressed in odd uniforms, wigs, feathered hats and face paint for the next few days as they go about their normal business or drink in the local pubs.

Karneval

In normal life he's probably a tax inspector

Karneval is now building up to Rosenmontag – the day of the big processions. In the Rhineland there is always a political dimension to the parades. Fabulous floats drive through the streets with oversized 3D caricatures of local, national and international politicians. This year I think we can confidently expect Mr. zu Guttenberg and his cut-and-paste doctoral thesis to feature prominently.

Rhineland Karneval

Serious politics requires a fool's commentary

I also think some of the previous years’ ideas could well be reused…the Hoppeditz clearly didn’t manage to get much changed last time he was (briefly) in power!

Rhineland Karneval

Milking the motorist

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