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Archive for the ‘German Traditions’ Category

mittelalter-schatz-in-beelitzer-spargelfeld-entdeckt-image--2-image_620x349Seasonal delicacy

As of this week, the official asparagus season has come to an end. You will hear a lot of sighing and moaning about the fact, but ultimately it means that from now, every asparagus lover has something to look forward to again for next spring. The self-imposed cut-off date for harvesting asparagus has very practical reasons: cultivation is a long-term commitment and harvesting the perennial plant too long will make for a smaller harvest in the following year. Thus for a couple of months from April through to June each year most Germans will partake in a kind of feeding frenzy one normally only associates with piranhas. Joking! But they do take their asparagus very serious.

Regional pride

pargel-mit-gekochtem-Schinken-und-neuen-Kartoffeln-aeaf985292c54244bc463951383311d8_et2014050161As can be expected, each region in Germany has its own favourite way of preparing and consuming the white gold. If you’re interested, this German cooking site has compiled a list of some regional representative recipes for white asparagus. And I even found an English one, that presents regional food from Rhineland- Westphalia and Hesse. Even though it might be a bit hard to track it down here in New Zealand, one can find them. By word-of-mouth, as the limited supply gets quickly snapped up. Send us a message if you’d like to try it yourself. For now, to get your taste buds tempted, The Classic Recipe.

White asparagus with fresh boiled potatoes, cooked ham and Hollandaise sauce

Enjoy with your favourite wine!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

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Summer up North!

strand bei nacht (2)As we huddle around the fireplace, some lucky ones are packing their bags and heading to the sunny climes of the northern hemisphere. With festivals gearing up and the weather looking to settle in the upper regions of the temperature gauge, let’s have a look at what other travel aficionados think about traveling to Germany.

Germany roxx

1280px-Allgaeuer_Alpen_Panorama_1As far the online magazine uproxx is concerned, this certainly applies to Germany: it rocks. Everything a travellers’ heart could desire, like seasonal food, locally made drink, variety of geographical features (meaning stunning landscapes as illustrated by the images), ease of transportation across the country and of course the people and their festivals throughout the country and the year. And if their general photos and description didn’t get your appetite going, have a look at an article on my hometown Cologne.

Cologne, the hub of activity

And on a current note and about one of our travel destinations, the infamous chef Anthony Bourdain is travelling the world in his Parts Unknown series (for CNN) and just last week his visit to Cologne aired. Anyone who knows Bourdain knows that he doesn’t mince words when passing judgment. I was relieved to read that he had thoroughly enjoyed his stay there!

Koeln - Rheinpanorama bei Nacht

In the accompanying article on the city, the writers find it much more attractive than the much hyped Berlin. Firstly, its location makes it a great base for discovering other European cities within short train or car travel. Secondly, one other item I will mention here is Koelsch, a light lager-style beer, that has been granted protected geographical indication in 1997. It’s an essential food item and often referred to as liquid bread, one glass being the equivalent of a bread roll. And as such it is continuously served, unless one declares to have had enough. But could one ever?!

For the rest, written in a rather deprecating and entertaining style (as perceived by someone from Cologne and not from Berlin) follow the link.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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‘Official’ start of Summer in Germany

Last weekend the Christian communities all over the world celebrated Pentecost. In the Christian liturgy the event is commemorated as the “Birthday of the Church”. In a lot of western countries – even though they are secular societies nowadays – Whit Monday is a public holiday and is mostly celebrated as the definitive start of spring and summer coming.800px-St.Peter_und_Paul_in_Söll_-_Heilig-Geist-Loch

 

Celebrations

Interestingly enough, both church and secular celebrations involved lots of loud singing and playing of brass instruments! While the hymns in the church celebrations had the Holy Spirit and its enlightenment of the apostles and the people as a topic, the secular ones were a bit more pagan oriented invoking a fertile spring and summer. While you’re traveling Germany and visiting churches you might want to be on the lookout for the “Holy-ghost-holes” in the ceilings of some churches from the Middle Ages. These holes symbolized the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the parishioners. During the Pentecost these holes are decorated with flowers, red handkerchiefs or dove sculptures.

Kuh beim Almabtrieb

 

Holiday specialities

Part of the celebrations were the leading out of the cows to the pastures for summer grazing. The leading ox was extensively decorated with flower wreaths and in the olden days butchered for the festivities. piepmc3a4tze-zu-pfingsten-11Doves are the image most referenced and in some regions you will find roasted pigeons or ox on the menu. Some bakeries might also have a traditional yeast bread in the shape of a dove. Look for a “Wecken” or “Hefezopf” on the shelves.

 

 

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

 

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Quips and quirky celebrations…

Bleigiessen-Vorgang… abound in Germany on the last day of the year. From do’s and don’ts pertaining to your share of health and fortune in the coming year to predicting your lot through lead-pouring and finally sitting down to watch an old time favourite TV sketch before counting down and chasing away the ghosts with huge fireworks. Germans have indeed developed a huge range of ways of ending the old and starting the New Year. One of them you’re not likely to have heard about unless you have a Germanophile in your circle of friends is the ritual of watching a skit called “Dinner For One”!

Dinner for who?

A Birthday dinner for a dear old lady called Sophie. In this 18 minute clip you will see Miss Sophie celebrating her 90th birthday with her dearly departed four friends and her man-servant James. The four course meal involves rounds of congratulatory toasts and the repetition of the well-known punch lines: “Same procedure as last year?” “Same procedure as VERY year!” Well-known all over central Europe, but not in any English speaking country. One might wonder why.

History

dinner-for-oneThe sketch was written by the English writer Lauri Wylie in the 1920’s and performed in cabarets in the 40’s. It consists of ‘classic’ British slapstick comedy, the likes of Mr.Bean and Charlie Chaplin, transcending the barriers of language through physical comedy. Even though it was frequently performed throughout Britain, it never garned much attention, until in 1962 a German entertainer saw a performance in Blackpool and was so enamoured with it, that he asked the original actors to give a performance on his live show and record a session in a theatre. They did two recordings and the rest is history. In fact it became such an integral part of German NYE culture that nowadays throughout the German channel maze it will get screened up to 18 times in the hours leading up to the countdown! A time slot for every family/party situation.

Why oh why is it SO popular?

I’m sure many TV producers would love to know the answer to this question, as it would make it a lot easier creating future classics. In the past decades many have tried to understand the phenomenon and failed. Some claim the slap-stick comedy appeals to mankinds’ basic understanding of humour. Others that it taps into our yearnings for the “good old days” when life was simply, predictable and safe in its repetitions.

These explanations, as logical as they may seem, do not explain though, why this kind of humour polarizes people though. If you ask, you will find that people either LOVE it or HATE it with a passion. The same goes for the Mr.Bean series or other equally notorious British comedy series ( Blackadder, Fawlty Towers just to name some of my favourites). If the perception of the comedy were that basic, it should appeal to everyone? Or not?! Either way, you should have a look at the clip and decide for yourself if you will indulge in it next NYE.

Same procedure as last year? Same procedure as EVERY year!

Happy New Year and lots of health, fortune and fun from the Sidetracks team.

 

 

 

 

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More Lifeswap culture news

It’s been over a year since we introduced you to the lovely guys from Lifeswap: ‘Jörg’ and ‘Duncan’. From explaining the German obsession for recycling to giving tips on how to deal with confrontations in a kiwi flat they have moved onto explaining more intriguing details of living in Germany and New Zealand. They have now six episodes on their Vimeo channel and if you’re not following them on Facebook you should keep an eye on their web page. Not only will you find out about the latest short films regarding the boys’ adventures, but also discover their other projects.Augsburger-Puppenkiste-feiert-60-Jahre-im-Fernsehen_ArtikelQuer

Last year for example they were working on a theatre production in Wellington’s Circa theatre, using old fashioned string puppets. Looking at the photos I immediately felt a nostalgia wave rushing over me, as the marionettes heavily resembled the ones I used to watch on TV as a young child in Germany: Augsburger Puppenkiste. I am very pleased to see these old story-telling techniques used again and a new audience gained and wonder what they’ll be doing this year.

Enjoy their third video, appropriate for this time of the year:

The Winter Deniers

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

 

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Beltain – Labour day – Walpurgis night

Throughout the world the first day of May is being celebrated for a variety of reasons. Some celebrate the political significance for the labourers and workers of the world, others the beginning of spring and small groups of unmarried men take the opportunity to declare their intentions!

Political celebrations

In the late 19th century the labour and trade unions gained more power and relevance and the political parties decided to mark a day to celebrate their achievements. While most of the world’s nations celebrate International Worker’s day on the First of May, Canada and the US continue to celebrate it in September. But throughout the States in smaller and larger communities you can find unofficial celebrations in support of universal traditions.

Spiritual celebrations

Edinburgh_Beltane_Fire_Festival_2012_-_BonfireIn the northern hemisphere May is the first month that one can feel that winter is receding and spring settling in. So from a very early time 0n that period has been celebrated to welcome new life. The activities range from having huge bonfires to drive out the last remnants of winter to leaving small food and drink offerings at sacred places and raising maypoles in the village square.

Have it all in Germany!

616px-Near_Munich,_the_new_May_PoleIf you happen to be in Germany for May Day, try to get there the night before and stay in one of the southern towns to witness a traditional Walpurgisnacht with the witches’ costumes, bonfires and feasting! The next day you can either watch the political parades organized by the local unions or follow a parade to erect a maypole in the village square. The more steeped in tradition the town is, the more festivities you will encounter: in the village I grew up in for example – with all of its 200 inhabitants – the setting up of the maypole was the start of our annual “Kirmes” (fun fair) with rides, beer tent and other fairground attractions. And if you happen to be a single female staying with friends, you might be lucky and have a smaller maypole (3 – 6m) set up in front of your bedroom window by one of the village’s single men! Even though the origin of this tradition is disputed and not documented at all, rural villages and their young folk participate quite eagerly in it.480px-Maibaum_mit_Hund_(14369261966)

See you on the other side

As New Zealand is getting ready for another winter by stacking up the firewood and digging out the woollen jerseys why not contemplate going back to summer?! Flights are still reasonably cheap and we would love to help you sorting out a trip through Germany, helping you to discover it the traditional Sidetracks way – off the beaten track.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Skeletons in the closet, no in the church!

Cologne_Cathedral_Shrine_of_MagiIn a previous article we mentioned briefly that the Cologne Cathedral was conceived to provide a place of worship for the then Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and a final resting place for the bones of the Three Wise Men/ Kings. Today we would like to tell you a little bit more about their journey and the customs that evolved in the 19th and 20th century in Europe.

It’s been a long time…

1280px-Magi_(1)… and it all depends who you listen to! There are several legends and traditions regarding the final resting places of the Three Wise Men. Marco Polo for example claimed that he saw them in a tomb at Saveh (Saba) south of Tehran around 1270. Which conflicts with another legend: in 1164 they had been transferred to Cologne by order of the then Holy Roman Emperor. As there are no other commentaries supporting Marco Polo’s statement, Christianity has adopted the version that places them in Cologne.

According to this legend Saint Helena discovered them during her pilgrimage in the Holy Land around 310-320AD. She brought them with her and gave them to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Later they were moved to Milan – between 343 and 349AD – and in 1164 Frederick Barbarossa exerted his authority and sent them to Cologne, where his Cathedral was being designed.

What’s happening now?

Sternsinger_Segensbitte_Marienberg

In Christian societies the 5th or 6th of January is celebrated as Epiphany, commemorating the revelation of Jesus as Son of God and a human being. In Germany – in mainly Catholic parts – the day is celebrated by star singers going from house to house, singing Christmas carols and afterwards writing the three kings’ initials (C+M+B: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the year on the door frames to bless the house. The initials not only signify the Names of the kings, but also mean that the house has been blessed (Christus mansionem benedicat). The star singers are dressed up as the Three Wise Men carrying a star in front of them and collecting donations which go to a charity, selected each year by the local diocese. In the family it is generally celebrated with volunteer work organized by the church and a quiet afternoon tea.

Making_galette_des_rois_6

In other countries the traditions vary, ranging from a parade with sweets given to the children, to putting food out for the kings and the camels (cut grass under the bed!) and consuming special cakes which hold a baby Jesus and a bean. Depending in which country you eat the cake and find the bean, you either have to pay for it (Spain and Portugal) or will be crowned king for the day (France and Belgium)!

 

 

KingCakeHorizonsSC

New Year Resolutions

We hope you all have had a wonderful start to the New Year! Hopefully one of your resolutions will be the decision to come and see these wonderful German sights that we tell you about in our articles. If you’d like to know more about anything in particular or have any questions regarding our tours, please contact us and we will do our best to answer your questions.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

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A short history

KalenderlysThe first recorded home-made advent calendar dates back to 1851 and originated in the Lutheran part of continental European society. Initially they were intended as an aid for counting down towards Christmas. The way of counting down took various shapes: some people hung up 24 pictures, others added each day a straw to the manger, while in Denmark for example they used candles to help them to count down to the special day.

Advent time

Geheimnis_der_Weihnacht3.tiffAdvent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day Eve and – depending on how the weekdays fall – can vary from the 27th of November to the 3rd of December. Over the centuries it became custom that the Advent calendars start on the first of December, preferring the civil over the ecclesiastical calendar. As the ecclesiastical background becomes more and more a thing of the past, the form and content of the calendars reflect the change as well.

Modern Advent

In the 50’s, modern manufacturing techniques turned it into an easily available commodity and enabled this German tradition to travel all over the world. Not only depicted those calendars homely landscape scenes, but each window also contained a piece of chocolate. Nowadays traditionally inspired calendars still feature biblical images, while modern ones cater to all manners of taste and interests. The front covers often are licensed images from popular children movies and toy manufacturers (Barbie and Lego for example).

Not only for children

1280px-Adventkalender_andreaWhile the chocolate treats and favourite movie characters aim at pleasing the children, more and more adults succumb to the idea and demand more sophisticated versions for themselves. The mass market responded to that by supplying the same type of calendars just with covers more appealing to an adult market, with images of all sorts of sports, hobbies and animals gracing the covers. But there’s also a niche market which caters to creative individuals by offering them blank canvases to fill: wooden frames with little drawers to be filled with truffles and other goodies, or tiny jute bags to be hung up over the fireplace or in the window and also filled individually.

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt – “a light shining bright”

For this second Advent Sunday we hope you’re getting into the spirit, have started your baking and look forward to the festive season with your loved ones, near or far. Whether you celebrate Christmas by going to midnight Mass or treasuring a fun filled time at the beach, make it a memorable and enjoyable time.

Wishing everyone a happy, merry and blessed Christmas and look forward to seeing you all in the New Year.

Recommendation for a New Year’s resolution: visit Germany! It’s the only way to understand Germans going on and on about the Christmas markets, Lebkuchen and snow!

We’d be happy to help you make it come true,

best wishes, your Sidetracks team.

 

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

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Seasonal celebrations in Germany

As we gear up our barbecues and dig out the hats and shorts in preparation of the coming summer, Germany and the rest of Europe get ready for winter. Mind you sitting in my office listening to the rain beating against the windows of our South Wairarapa home you wouldn’t think summer is coming. Anyway, throughout Europe the finishing of the harvest and preparation for winter has been the reason for a range of festivities.

Martinmas aka St. Martin’s dayEl_Greco_-_San_Martín_y_el_mendigo

While Halloween has achieved international fame since its celtic harvest festival beginnings, St. Martin’s day remains a strictly European tradition. The day celebrates in various ways the life of the Saint Martin of Tours. The celebrations on this day cover two aspects of early social life: Thanksgiving for the harvest and the beginning of a fasting period in preparation for Christmas. Even though most of the celebrations have some things in common – food and parades – each country has their way of making them their own unique celebrations. Today I want to focus on the German way of celebrating it.

St. Martin in Germany

St._Martin_in_Duisburg-MündelheimIn modern Germany this is a celebration mainly for the kids, even though I’m sure the adults enjoy it as well. Rural and urban celebrations differ a bit, but they all have a procession in common. Generally starting at the parish church and going to the city or township centre, a procession led by St. Martin is the beginning of the evenings’ festivities. In rural communities St. Martin might even be on horseback, if he’s up to it. During the procession traditional church and folk songs are sung, which sounds impressive if the church choir is present. The children carry lanterns which used to have been made at school and used to depict religious images and scenes. Nowadays lanterns can be bought and come in all sorts of designs. At the end there is a bonfire, size of course depending on the locality.

I remember in my rural home village that the bonfire would be set in the middle of a bare paddock and have the local fire brigade standing by! Afterwards we would be led back to the community hall, get our Weckmann and start doing our rounds of the houses, singing the songs from the parade for lollies and other sweets. Kind of like the trick-or-treating at Halloween, except no repercussions for Scrooges.

Celebrate to beat the winter bluesUlmer_Weihnachtsmarkt_2008-2

This day and all the other activities throughout November and December make it easier to come to terms with the grey, dark and cold climate one has to endure. Every celebration has activities in preparation for it, lantern making, cookie baking, Christmas tree decoration making and then finally in the last four weeks before Christmas visiting family and getting presents ready. The Christmas markets throughout Germany offer a range of traditional crafts and foods to be enjoyed by the adults and the children hover with greedy anticipation over their Advent calendars.

Europe in New Zealand

With a lot of expat Germans in New Zealand, some of these traditions have made it down under: check your local papers for advertisements by the local German play- and learning group for these activities: St. Martins is usually on the 10.11. and any processions should happen then. Guests are normally very welcome and you get to try traditional German baking!

If you’d like to know more please contact us and we’ll do our best to help.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Bikes everywhere!

As cities around New Zealand are working hard to create safer cycle ways to encourage a more frequent use of bikes, a national project has also recently been completed: a cycle road network along which to safely discover the beauty of New Zealand’s country-, mountain- and beach side. At Sidetracks we have now added a cycle tour around the South Island to accommodate our push bike addicts from overseas and thought that pedal friends here in New Zealand might also be interested in finding out what cycling in Germany is like.

bike and basketEuropean bike culture

Central Europe has a long-standing tradition of using your push bike on a daily basis. I can vividly remember carefully placing my Sprudelkasten (deposit refund crate, like Tui used to do it) into the back basket and shouldering my back pack while having a shopping bag hanging off each handle bar to do my weekly shop! Not to mention putting on the wet weather gear to get ready for my ride to work. One winter it was so cold that I had small icicles hanging from my beaver hat!paar auf rad (2)

Bike first

And even though a car is the preferred option in bad weather, common practice is using the bike first. And it is easy: for example a dedicated cycle path running parallel, but separate, to the railway line through allotments and along private gardens. There is nothing quite like getting the body pumped full of fresh air and energy by a leisurely trip. Occasionally one would have to cross a road, but not until one is in the centre of town. And in most town centres there are dedicated cycle lanes to guide one safely through traffic. fahrrad garageOnce at your destination it used to be a worry where and how to park your trusty Pedalo but clever business people and communities have established parking houses, in some cases even with service stations with dedicated bike mechanics! No more worrying if at the end of a hard day at work you will find your bike in its old parking spot. And that is just the daily side of it.

Leisure time

In Germany, just as in New Zealand, you will find the absolute cycle enthusiasts, who consider spending long hours in the saddle a perfect way to spend a weekend. But, within this group you will find a bigger range of fitness levels: from leisurely ambling along natural pathways or artificial walkways to competitive racing over mountains. There’s even a website called QuaelDich (“torture yourself”) for those who want to really challenge themselves. But for the more relaxed type each community has notice boards, online nowadays, where you can find easy and picturesque tours safely taking you through country and city alike.girl-14301_640

Saddle up with Sidetracks

Inspired by our recent addition for our New Zealand program we’re looking forward to bringing Germany on Wheels to our friends from down under. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates or contact us directly!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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