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Starting your tour in Saarbrücken

Our Saar Moselle Bike Trail starts in Saarbrücken, a city with beginnings in Roman Times and an eventful history since then. For those of you having arrived early for the tour you will be spoilt for choice where to go for sightseeing.1024px-Schloss_Saarbruecken,_HDR

History on display

Even though the area was only sparsely populated during the roman occupation, there are a couple of sites worthwhile discovering: the Mithras Temple near Halberg and the Museum of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology in the city. If you’re more interested in ‘modern’ history the “Saarlandmuseum’ combines three localities and displays a range of art and architecture throughout the past 5 centuries. And the Heimatmuseum in St.Arnual gives you an insight into the local history from a socio-economic perspective.1280px-Mithrasgrotte_Halberg_Saarbruecken

These are just a few of the museums in Saarbrücken, depending on how much time or inclination you have you can spend all day sightseeing. Or you could enjoy the multi-faceted food culture present in the city.

The Best of two nations

Due to its location, Saarbrücken has been a part of the German and French states at some time or another in its history. In fact, the last time that it was affiliated to France was from 1947 – 57 as part of the zoning of post-war Germany. A 1955 referendum resulted in the return in 57, which was called a ‘little reunification’. Since then the settled times have encouraged the development of regional cuisines that reflect both the German and French heritage and love for food. In the city center you will find loads of restaurants catering for every aspect of food culture, with one thing in common: the typical French love for enjoyment of it. On top of other French classics as snails, pate and an assortment pre-dinner drinks like pastis and kir of course! Or try one of the local specialities: Dibbellabbes! And no, I did not make that up. It’s kind of a hash brown, usually served with Sauerkraut.dibbellabbes

Get into the spirit…

… and enjoy the proximity of ancient history with the amalgamation of two nation’s food history before we head out to discover more wonders and pleasures along our trip.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Cruising through Germany on two wheels

As you might remember from some of our previous articles, discovering Germany with us will at some stage involve a bicycle. At Sidetracks we think a bike is an excellent way of covering a decent distance and still having the leisure to enjoy your surroundings, town and country alike. So for the next season in Germany we have put together three exciting bike tours that will take you through different parts of Germany and can be combined with our other tours. These tours will not only keep you fit cycling, but take you on a ride discovering Germany’s history, culture and traditions. Today I want to introduce the tours and the regions they cover in general and in the following weeks we will present to you some of the highlights of these tours.

Main River Bike Trail

"Roter Main (Bayreuth)" by Tafkas - Own work.

“Roter Main (Bayreuth)” by Tafkas – Own work.

This 5 star trail will take you through picturesque towns of the Main valley starting in the festival town of Bayreuth and finishing in Würzburg, a UNESCO world heritage city which dates as far back as the 4th century. Along the river you will get to see other stunning examples of architecture throughout the centuries and experience a variety of local cuisine, wines and beers as we move from traditional beer brewing country to wine growing region.

Saar Moselle Bike Trail

Saarschleife by Niesefrosch Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileSaarschleife.jpg#mediaFileSaarschleife.jpg

Saarschleife by Niesefrosch

This is a wine lovers’ kind-of trail: along two rivers famous for their wine growing and wine making history we will take you on a journey through time. From the UNESCO heritage site (Völklinger Hütte) to breath taking views from mountain tops (Saar Loop), a medieval castle (Burg Eltz) and to the Villas and Baths from Roman times (Porta Nigra, Villa Rustics and Imperial Baths). By the end of the trip you will have enjoyed more than your share of art, architecture and history on top of having a taste of the renowned wines of this region.

Weser River Bike Trail

599px-Minden_an_der_Weser-FachwerkhäuserAlmost smack-bang in the middle of Germany this tour takes you through a region rich in history and stories. Along the river Weser you will get to see buildings dating from the Romans (Porta Westfalica) through the Middle Ages to the Baroque Period, all set in small rural towns and all with different characters. From porcelain manufacturing to perfume making to the birthplaces of some truly unique characters of German folklore. One special feature of our ride will be discovering the huge range of half-timbered houses prevalent in this area. By the end of the tour you will have gained an interesting insight into middle German history and culture.

Last comment…

…for today that is: as electric bikes are becoming increasingly more popular, we will be offering the use of those on our tours as well. All the tours are quite easily manageable with ‘normal’ bikes, but if you would like to, you can experience the difference for an additional charge. Please get in contact with us if you’d like to know more about electric bikes or our tours.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Holidays are over

The beginning of February heralded the start of the new school term with almost everyone going back to work. The holidays lounging at the beach or hiking in the mountains are over and what better way to ease yourself back into the work routine by starting to plan your winter getaway?!

Economy in favour of traveling

Looking at the local business news might make one depressed about the kiwi dollar’s behaviour on the international market. But for those planning an overseas holiday it is great news. With the current rate it is cheaper to go to the northern hemisphere than it has been for quite some time. Add to that the falling oil price and some drops in ticket prices on top of the favourable exchange rate and suddenly going to Europe is not such an impossible feat to plan.Allgaeuer_Alpen_Panorama_1

Early birds benefit

One aspect hasn’t changed, the earlier one books the flights the bigger the savings. A survey found the biggest savings for international flights were achieved around 200 days in advance. That’s roughly six to seven months! Time to get surfing on the internet. A range of online search engines like Expedia and skyscanner for example can give you a good idea of what’s available at the moment. Or check out the airlines directly.

Germany beckons

906__140619_0007214_loNew Zealand is very attractive to German expats and as they come and make it their new home, they bring their food culture with them. Nowadays you’ll be able to taste some of the traditional foods at farmers markets and supermarkets. Not to mention the range of beers and cakes. But one thing you won’t be able to get a taste of at the supermarket is the land- and cityscapes of Germany. The unique combination of millennia old history and modern lifestyle needs to be experienced in person to be believed. Why don’t you browse through our blog and get an inkling what it would be like in real life.

Advantage of experience

Reichstag at nightWe take a lot of pride in organising our tours around Germany down to the last detail and giving you an experience to treasure for a long time afterwards. Customer satisfaction is our priority and we’re flexible enough to accommodate individual preferences. Sidetracks has been in the business for a considerable time during which we have gained insight and contacts that do not directly relate to our tours, but can be of benefit for our customers. Send us a note, give us a call and let us help you make the most of your time in Germany and Europe.

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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