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Posts Tagged ‘celebrations’

‘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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Christmas-wreath-vectorAir NZ does it again

We would like to send you our best wishes for a Merry Christmas. May you be able to spend quality time with loved ones and have an enjoyable holiday break. We’ll see you again next weekend with more articles on our cycle tours and hope you enjoy the latest clip by Air New Zealand!

From all of us at Sidetracks.

 

 

 

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Bernkastel-Kues

800px-Bernkastel_BW_1This particular area along the Moselle had been populated since the 3rd millennia BC, but the present day city was created when the two communities of Bernkastel and Kues were joined. Even though archaeological finds support the idea that it had been a Roman castellum, documentation is scarce. On the other hand you will find plenty of proof that you’re still in a major wine growing area. Amongst the buildings dating from Medieval times to the Renaissance you will find little cafes and restaurants offering locally produced food and wine. The market place will be the ideal spot to take it all in.

Berncasteler Doctor

Bernkastel_WeinbergAs you stroll around town you might come across the term Bernc(k)asteler Doctor, a wine you should try if you can, even if you’re not feeling ill. According to a legend in the 14th century the Prince Elector of Trier Boemund II became violently ill and none of his doctors could help him. Eventually he sent out a message that anyone who could would be rewarded. An old vintner came with an old barrel of wine and after a few weeks of ‘moderate’ consumption he recuperated. Thus the vintner was given the right from now on to label his wine as Berncasteler Doctor, giving it an elevated status from the rest of the wines of the region.

Bernkastel DoctorEven though the origin of the name is the stuff of legends, it is fact that King Edward VII drank it for ‘medicinal’ purposes! Another fact is, that the Riesling produced at this Einzellage (The smallest geographical unit in German wine law representing a single vineyard.) has been consistently esteemed to be of the highest quality; making the vineyard one of the most famous and most expensive wine growing location in the world. Mind you, that was all in the beginning of the 21st century, I would guess that in the meantime others have moved into that spot.

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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Opposites and alikes

BUGA_Fuenfsindeins_Dahlie-e66edbbaIn New Zealand this year the end of daylight savings coincided with Easter Sunday, which meant a lot of people had an hour more to do their autumn garden shopping in those garden centres that were not abiding the law and risking a fine. And, as every Easter, a lot of voices could be heard regarding the pros and cons of changing this particular law. Take heart that this is not just an issue in New Zealand. In Germany the federal laws for the protection of the workers, Sundays and public holidays (all individual laws and amendments) prohibit trading on Easter Sunday! But just as their antipodean counterparts, the German garden centres and hardware stores find ways around these rules or just plain risk getting fined as well. Especially as this is the beginning of spring and after the long and dark winter nights everyone is keen to put seeds and bulbs in the ground to brighten up their world.

BUGA time again!

Erkenntnis_am_Havelufer_Hansestadt_Havelberg-559b24d6Two years ago we introduced you to Germany’s obsession of big time gardening: the BUGA, Bundesgartenschau, the federal garden show. And in an exciting twist, this year’s show will not be hosted by only one state and one city, but by two states and five cities. What do they have in common? They are all situated along the river Havel. This year’s federal garden show is a joined effort to revitalize the region and bring national and international visitors to this beautiful region in the north east of Germany. And just as an example of their commitment, they even have an English web site!

The countdown has started

BUGA in der HavelregionOnly 13 days to go before parks, installations and sculptures are ready to be enjoyed. With our Cosmopolitan North tour going to Potsdam (situated at the Havel) and ending in Berlin, this would be a fantastic opportunity to take a trip down the river and see what modern German landscape architects and artists have come up this time. Or, arrive a couple of days ahead of the Active in Eastern Germany tour and get started on appreciating man-made and natural treasures.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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Fastenzeit – Lent

Wolfach_FastnachtAs Germany quietens down after the raucous antics of Karneval those following the religious traditions are preparing themselves for Easter by observing the rules of Lent. Another German word for Karneval “Fastnacht” gives us a hint to its historical and religious background: Fast(ing) Night. The night or nights before the fast! It seems to be in human nature to indulge oneself in limitless debauchery and excess before restricting one’s lifestyle for a certain amount of time.

In general a fast is intended to draw one’s spirit closer to God and gain clearer insight and faith. Even though the term is mainly used in the Christian context, other faiths practice it too (Ramadan [Islam], Baha’I Faith [month of ‘Ala] and Judaism [on Yom Kippur day e.g.] to name a few).

Scrummy fasting meals

While all these religions have different rules for the fast, they have one thing in common: staying away from animal products, especially red meat. For some molluscs and fish are acceptable, but most will recommend vegetable and fruit based recipes. As Germany and the northern hemisphere are still in the grip of winter, most of the dishes are hearty, warming ones.

Rezept "Miesmuscheln Rheinische Art"But I remembered a well-loved classic that could be a nice one to try during summer time here: ‘Muscheln auf Rheinische Art’, mussles Rhine style. In Germany ‘Miesmuscheln’ are the preferred variety, due to their bite size. But I would guess any bite sized mussel or shellfish would do for this recipe.

For four adults as a main:

Ingredients

1kg fresh mussels ( less if Greenlipped ones are used)

1 leek (white part sliced in thin rings)

½ celeriac (diced, you can substitute celery if you can’t find celeriac)

1medium onion (finely diced)

2 medium carrots (finely diced)

1 garlic clove crushed

1 bay leaf

2 whole cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 bottle of dry Riesling or cab sav (alternatively use 700ml vegetable broth)

Butter

2 baguette sticks

Method:

Sautee carrot, onion, celeriac and leek in butter until soft.

Add fluid, bay leaf and cloves and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Bring to boil and add cleaned mussels. Mussels NEED to be closed before cooking, they should open during cooking. Discard any that haven’t.

Take of the boil once most are open. Serve with some of the broth and the vegetables and use the baguette to mop up all the yummy flavours!

This definitely qualifies as finger food and you should try using the first set of cleaned shells still attached to each other as a set of tongs for getting the flesh out of the others.

cremige_brokkolisuppe_mit_kaeseFor the vegetarian palate:

Creamed Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:

For four adults as mains:

2 medium/ 1 large broccoli

6 medium potatoes

½ small onion diced

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 tbsp sour cream or ¼ cup of whole milk

Grated parmesan and salt&pepper to taste

Method:

Peel and slice potatoes, trim stems of dried up ends and cut into chunks, dice onion.

Place all in saucepan with enough salted (1tbsp) water to cover and bring to boil.

Cook until potatoes are falling apart and broccoli is softish. Don’t cook it too long, it will lose its colour.

Place the pine nuts with a bit of the stock and some veges in the blender and zap until smooth and silky. Decant into another saucepan and continue to blend the rest of the stock and veges. If you prefer the soup a bit more chunky, zap less. Add the sour cream OR milk and give a good stir and a quick reheat.

Serve with fresh bread, some grated parmesan and fresh ground pepper.

Hope you enjoy these little treats and if you’d like to find out more about Germany and its history and traditions join us on one of our tours. Let us know what you want to discover and we will put you on the right 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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Kneipen – Taverns – local watering holes

Mendel_I_088_vThe tradition of going to your local watering hole after a hard day’s work goes back a long way. In the Middle Ages beer was brewed in monasteries and convents and served to traveling pilgrims. As this practice evolved into serving the beer to the local peasants as well, taverns and inns sprang up all over the countryside. In the olden days taverns served only beer and food, while lodgings, food and rather wine were provided in inns. Even though nowadays these differences have disappeared, the local watering hole is still a place for the members of a neighbourhood to get together and discuss all sorts of local gossip and politics!

Pillars of Society

800px-Jan_Steen_-_Revelry_at_an_Inn_-_WGA21761The different cultures on the European Continent and elsewhere had developed different standards of acceptable drinking behaviour. While some places became synonymous with illicit trade, gang meetings and all sorts of rough dealings, others developed a reputation for orderly citizen meetings, political activities like voting and promoting social life within a community.

If you have just joined us and would like to read more about the history of beer just follow this link and indulge!

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

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