Archive for the ‘Sidetracks’ Category

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?


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.


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)!




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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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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Marmite Deprivation

marmageddonSince the destruction of the Christchurch Sanitarium Marmite factory in the 2011 earthquake, New Zealanders have been meticulously storing adequate supplies to avoid future shortages in cases of emergencies. And the good news for future Germany and Europe visitors: you will be able to get your yeast-spread fix without having to carry dubious looking containers worrying they might open and spill in your luggage!

History of Marmite

120320042145-new-zealand-marmite-short-story-topWhile Marmite is a staple bread spread in many kiwi and aussie households, not everyone is aware of its origin in Europe. In the late 19th century the German scientist Justus Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast – a by-product of beer brewing – could be concentrated, had a long shelf life and was reasonably edible. By 1907 it was successful enough in England to warrant the construction of a second factory and Sanitarium Health Food Company acquired the sole distribution rights for New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. They set up a factory in Christchurch and created the kiwi version of the English Marmite: weaker, less tangy flavoured and made with sugar and caramel! By 1912 vitamins and their relevance for human health were discovered and many important ones were found to be in it. Therefore it became part of the soldiers’ rations in WWI. Since then other beneficial components have been discovered, folic acid for example, and it maintains its popularity amongst the savory and economical options for school sandwiches.

What to look for

0_bigIf you happen to encounter a major craving for the beloved Marmite while traveling through Germany and continental Europe, look for Vitam-R (Germany) and Cenovis (Switzerland) in health food shops or supermarkets. ZweimalCenovisThey might not necessarily taste exactly like Marmite, but they should do the trick. And while there browse their range for organic vege spreads: just a quick look around the Vitam-R web site had me yearning for a shopping basket full to take home. While we’re on the topic of bread spreads that might need getting used to – or as the American kids in this video who don’t recommend Vegemite – try out a Spanish or Italian version of anchovy paste (Sardellenpaste). When I was a kid in the 70’s it was a special party treat served on deviled eggs.pd_fc_sardellenpaste

Food History

Exploring Europe should not just focus on the architectural wonders and amazing landscapes, but also incorporate getting to know the local food history. As our tour guides take you to all the known and unknown sights, they will be more than happy to introduce you to regional German food and drink specialties. Bottoms up and enjoy!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Gulliver’s travels

miniaturk00What would you expect to see if you were to go to a park called “Gulliver’s World”? If you were of continental European descent, you’d expect to see miniature versions of famous and infamous buildings from around the world. But what about the rest of the world?! Well they’re all taken care of now, as of the beginning of July Gullivers Welt has opened in the north of Germany.

More than old neighbours

A while ago two Polish friends, who grew up and went to school and university in Germany together, decided to build something new and different in the northern part of Germany, near the Polish border, on the island Usedom.

Haus steht kopfDuring a holiday trip in 2001 in the USA they had a pitstop at an upside-down house and over a couple of beers discussed the possibility of building one at home! A Schnapsidee i.e. booze-fuelled idea, which after some serious consultation with the local council and building inspectors in 2006 became reality and opened to the public in 2008.

Building a neighbourhood

Full of energy and with an enormous zest for action they continued with the establishment of the Welt der Erfindungen museum, the only museum in Germany dedicated to inventions. Having established a reputation for creative ideas that would improve the economy and lifestyle of the region, made it easier to get the new project up and running by 2009. While mainly showcasing past inventions that have had a practical impact on everyday life, they also want to give present inventors the opportunity to present their ideas. And to encourage future inventors – meaning getting kids inspired – by making the exhibits accessible.

Getting in touch with the neighboursGullivers Welt auf Usedom

And the finishing touch to their adventures, so far that is, is a park with Gulliver to look at and climb over! In contrast to most miniature parks this one is from the Lilliputian point-of-view. And the sculptures, even though not all of them are finished yet, are all there to be touched, climbed over and got up close to.

Beach time after city life

The island Usedom is located in the Baltic Sea approximately 100 kilometers north of Berlin. Due to its picturesque location, fine sand beaches and sunshine hours it is a popular holiday spot for Germans and Polish alike. Why not take a few days after your tour of the Cosmopolitan North and escape to the beach here? And enjoy the quirky establishments while you’re there?!640px-StrandDüne


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens



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Paradise Homestead

paradise_snow_089Paradise burntFortunately not paradise itself, but the homestead whose road sign illustrated our love for the land! With sadness we heard about the news that the historical Paradise homestead near Glenorchy had burned down a few months ago. But, the silver lining of the cloud of smoke is that a lot of friends have rallied to save the business and rebuild the homestead. To support the enormous task a Facebook page and a web site have been set up where one can register and donate to the cause. Since “Paradise Charitable Trust exists to preserve and enhance the unique features of Paradise for the enjoyment and benefit of all visitors, with particular attention to the needs and expectations of families and children” it is important to cover the loss of income while it’s being rebuilt.

Pacific Paradise

A lot of people living in and visiting New Zealand will agree with us at Sidetracks that it truly is paradise. When Sidetracks decided to use the sign post as a logo we wanted to express and share our love for our adopted home country. And tempt others to experience the wonders first hand and awaken their passion for this wonderful country. Not just for overseas visitors who – once they caught the NZ bug- have to come back for more. Each time discovering new sights and meeting new people. And catching up with old friends too, as quite often our tour participants become good friends. But for New Zealanders as well, who are interested in taking a closer look at their home country from a passionate travellers’ point of view.


In this spirit, to old and new friends, let’s meet up in paradise!


Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Culture to the maxLNDM_logo_2014_rgb

Every once in a while an opportunity arises to do one’s favourite thing and do it all day long! Mine is the International Film Festival every year in Wellington, what’s yours? If you’re into all kinds of art and you happen to be in Berlin on Saturday 17. May this year, you should put this in your event calendar: The Long Night of Museums.

Art All Night Long

ComputerspielemuseumSince 1997 an increasing number (around 80 at the moment) of museums once a year open their doors at 6pm and stay open through to 2am! From historical displays through to ‘traditional’ art exhibits and performances to modern themed topics like the gaming culture you can experience the history and art of the world in general, and Germany in particular, all in one night.

FernsehturmThey’ve organized it that the ticket price includes a shuttle service which will take you to each and every participating museum. And this year, to participate in the International Museum Day on 18. Mai, the ticket price will also give you entry to all the museums on that Sunday!

While in Rome, do as the Romans…

…and while in Berlin with one of our tours, do as the Berliners do. Download the printable program, have a browse and get excited!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Escape the winter blues

As the fireplaces get started up again we’re all wishing we could hide from the impending bad weather and grey days. Some may be planning a winter break on a tropical island, but for those of us who like to be active during the holidays, lying on the beach is not that much of an incentive.

Exploring and hiking in the northern hemisphere

You know the Southern Alps like the back of your hand, how about discovering the Bavarian Alps now and adding them to your experiences? Admittedly, they’re a different scale and they’re on the other side of the world, but isn’t that the beauty of a new challenge?!Bayerische_Alpen

Speaking of beauty

During the Alpine Gems tour you will not only get to enjoy the natural beauty of the Alp region on daily hiking trips, but also discover the architectural wonders and enjoy the European lifestyle of the cities. As summer approaches, the mountains break out in all sorts of glorious colours and the cities’ beer gardens offer regional treats. Spring and summer time, as here, is the time for music festivals and other festivities, the punting race in Tübingen in May for example or the wine expo in Munich!1280px-StocherkahnNadeloehr General

It’s all sorted!

But you’re a bit concerned about organising a trip like that and would really prefer to travel in a small group instead of joining hundreds of others. We know what you mean and feel the same. That’s why at Sidetracks we like to have everything organised beforehand so that our customers can arrive and enjoy the trip! If you’d like to see how well we do that, why don’t you join us on a short guided walk in the South Island and get to know the team? Or contact us for some advice or just a short chat.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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