Wednesday, November 30, 2005
During our brief stint in Nuremberg, we explored other parts of the city, including a bit of the medieval wall fortifications, which are in quite good condition and included a number of towers and gates (first photo below), as well as other historical old buildings and bridges along the Pegnitz River.
Night falls on Nuremberg.
And before I get the question: Yes, you can tour the grounds where the Nuremberg Nazi rallies were held as well as the courtroom where the Nuremberg trials took place. Sadly, the hours of touring are greatly reduced in winter months, and therefore, these sightseeing spots were not options on this trip.
Occasionally, I read something about life in Germany that, while I don’t internalize it, I find that I have filed it away in the memory bank for possible future use. While I had read about the need to put “winter tires” on your vehicle in Germany, I had never really questioned what that totally involved. Until now….
According to those in the know, Germans (as well as many Europeans) have to change out the tires on their cars for winter driving. Apparently, it has something to do with better traction on ice and snow; these tires should be put on your car when the temperatures begin to dip below 3-5 degrees Celsius or so. Got it, but exactly who takes the current tires off and puts the winter tires on? And where do I get these winter tires? Where do I store the current tires?
All good questions and ones we think we have answered. Apparently, if you own your car, you take it into the dealership or automotive center, and they put the tires on for you. As the owner, you pay for the purchase of the winter tires, the service of putting them on your vehicle, and I suppose, you bear the responsibility of storing the summer tires. Luckily, since we have a leased car, we've been instructed to contact the leasing office, take the car into the designated dealership where the winter tires are waiting to be installed, and the current tires will be stored for the winter. We are hopeful to get the car into the dealership this week so I will tell you whether it was as “effortless” as we were led to believe.
So, the good news is that there is no “snow tire/snow-chain” concept in Germany….
In the evangelical, catholic and orthodox churches, Saint Andreas, the brother of Saint Peter, he was one of 12 apostles accompanying Jesus and was a witness of the Ascension Day. Martyred under Emperor Nero, he is remembered is remembered on November 30th, which is traditionally considered the date of his martyrdom in 60 A.D. He is said to have died on an X-shaped cross, which the Romans sometimes used for executions, thereby coming to be called St. Andreas' cross.
St. Andreas' Day also marks the opening of many of the Christmas Markets, and many Midwinter customs and folk superstitions are connected to this day.
One of these customs is known as "klöpfelnächte." Throughout different regions of Germany, this event describes groups of Christmas carolers from who walk from door to door. After knocking (klopfen) or ringing the doorbell (glocke), they sing for gifts. Some sources say that this symbolizes the angel bringing the message of Christ's birth to Mary; others ascribe it to earlier rituals of driving out evil spirits with loud knocking sounds.
Whatever the symbolism, for a long time it was one of the few ways by which the poor could earn a meal during the winter season. The duration of this tradition varies widely and can last until Epiphany (January 6). Today it is mostly performed by children, who try to collect gifts for themselves or donations for charity.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Apparently, each city wants their claims to sausage fame protected: Berlin and its Currywurst (sausage in curry-spiced ketchup), Munich's Weisswurst (white sausage) and Nuremberg's bratwurst. Patents are pending.
(Nuremberg Ginger Bread)
Gingerbread is a German Christmas classic that actually predates Christianity. In classical Greek times, it was produced in Rhodes. Over time, merchants along the ancient spice roads carried the delicacy to Nuremberg. Since the Middle Ages, bakers in Nuremberg have made gingerbread, or Lebkuchen, according to their own recipes. Here is one such recipe.
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 cups unpeeled almonds, coarsely grated
1/3 cup candied orange peel
finely chopped 1 lemon, grated for peel, juice reserved
1/4 whole nutmeg, grated Confectioner's sugar
baking wafers - 2" in diameter (these are edible pan liners that prevent cookies from sticking, look somewhat like communion wafers and are available in good German delicatessens)
Beat eggs and sugar until they have the consistency of thick cream. To this mixture, gradually add almonds, candied orange peel, lemon peel, and nutmeg. Place wafers on a baking sheet and spoon dough onto wafers. Dough should be about 1/2" high. Smooth dough with a knife dipped into rose water. Bake in a pre-heated 325-350° oven for 10-15 minutes or until breadlike. Remove cookies and let cool. Meanwhile, mix confectioner's sugar with lemon juice to form a paste. Frost cookies.
Then, of course, there was the gingerbread,
roasted nuts of all kinds (the smell was really what I like the best although Buddy did make a couple of purchases),
and gluwhein (hot spiced red wine). The market vendors served the gluwhein in these little ceramic Christmas mugs that are sorta like souvenir cups. Still, I think the heat of the mug on my fingers was even better than the taste.
For those of you more blessed in the culinary department than I, I'll plan on posting some Christmas recipes for some of the food items we've eaten at the Christmas markets. I know my efforts would not result in the same things we've munched on at the markets, but you'll probably have better luck than me.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Nuremberg's Christmas Market is apparently one of the most famous as well as one of the oldest. There seems to be some dispute as to when the city’s first Christmas Market was held, with the first official record of this pre-Christmas market dating to 1628. I did read elsewhere that the market was a bit older than that. Either way, got it…it goes back about 400 - 450 years.
The streets leading to the market area attractively decorated with white poles bearing Christmas symbols, garlands of fir, and pretty lights.
In the market center, there is a Nativity crib (Nativity scene) with its wooden figures telling the Christmas story. Surrounding this, there are over 250 booths and stalls decorated with branches of fir and lit by lanterns. Most booths sell Christmas decorations, toys, and ornaments (yes, I bought several of the old-world ornaments),
gold-foil angels (here are photos of some of the large marketplace angels but smaller versions of these are for sale),
Zwetschgenmaennle, little prune figures made of dried fruit and crepe paper (now, I can’t understand why these are popular at Christmas, what people do with them, nor how long they last),
spicy Lebkuchen (gingerbread of sorts), and
one or two Santa Clauses (I am personally partial to Kris Kringle and his canine elf).
Now, sometime in mid December, the Nuremberg Christkind (Christ Child), will be presented and will recite a prologue from the balcony above the entrance to the Frauenkirche (Church located in the own square). Buddy and I were too early for this event, but we did catch some Christmas music, courtesy of a local brass band. Christmas music with an German oompah sound – you gotta love it.
A few night shots of the Nuremberg Christmas market…
BTW: More on the food of the Christmas Market - that deserves a post of its own. As well as other Nuremberg scenes in the snow. So picturesque.
On the first Sunday in Advent (the fourth Sunday before Christmas), many families in Germany set up an Advent wreath, or “Adventskranz”, to initiate the Advent season. A typical Advent wreath is made of evergreen branches and decorated with red-green ribbons, pine cones and four candles, one for each week of Advent. Supposedly, traditional families still gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the next candle and sing Christmas carols, although I may suspect this was more the case in years past than now. Supposedly, the Advent wreath provided the total evergreen look in a home since the Christmas tree was usually decorated on Christmas Eve.
Buddy and I even noticed that all the churches hang the advent wreath from the ceiling of their churches and cathedrals, rather than “setting” the wreath on a table or a stand, as we see in US churches.
Additionally, Germans call the time from December 1st to December 24th "Adventszeit", which means the time before Christmas Eve. Parents often give their children Advent calendars that count down the days till Christmas. This I can confirm as I see Advent calendars in every shop I visit in Germany right now. Most of us are probably familiar with the concept, but just in case you are not: each day in December, children open one of the doors and receive either a small chocolate in the shape of a star, a tree, or a little toy. These calendars supposedly make the wait to Christmas Eve (for opening all the gifts a little easier). In my mind, waiting to open Christmas gifts is never easy!
Friday, November 25, 2005
How did we know that it even snowed? Well, Budman and I both woke up in the middle of the night thirsty from dinner (no turkey dinner for us, it was pizza instead – kind of sad) and we went to get some water. That's when we saw the snow showers. It was very peaceful just standing in the dark kitchen, gazing through our kitchen window, and watching the snow fall.
Winter is definitely here. And it is making that outdoor running very cold.
On the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent (which is today), the Christmas event known as “Christkindle's Markt" or "Christkindchesmarkt" officially opens in many cities and towns all across Germany.
Now, we are planning to go to several Christmas markets over the next few weeks, so I’ll be able to check the concept out for myself. Still, I am not sure I exactly know what the Christmas markets are and what I should expect to see?
First, a little history and background (hey, I gotta arm myself on what these babies are all about!)
These pre-Christmas Markets can be traced back to the middle of the 15th Century. They began as one of many markets that were held throughout the year but it was the Christmas Market that was traditionally the place to go to buy all the things needed for the Christmas celebration. People purchased things like moulds and cutters for baking, candles, Christmas decorations, cookies, sweets, pastries and toys for children.
Over time, Christmas Markets in different cities developed in their own characteristic ways. Each market had slightly different features and was known for different specialties. Today, Aachen's market is known for its famous gingerbread "Aachener Printen" while the Christmas Markets in the East German region, the "Erzgebirge", are known for their wooden arts and crafts. Dresden's Christmas Market, called the "Striezelmarkt", is considered Germany's oldest Christmas Market starting in around 1434. Germany's oldest Christmas Markets include places like Nuremberg, Augsburg, Bad Wimpfen, Frankfurt, Rothenburg, Lübeck, Regensburg and Stuttgart…just to name a few.
So, what can I expect to see in today’s Christmas market? Food, for one thing: roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, cinnamon, sweet almonds and mulled wine. Decorated wooden stalls, Christmas balls, angels and other Christmas decorations of different types are set up usually around the main church or the market square of a city, offering typical treats, craftwork, Christmas tree ornaments, glass-blowers and wooden toys. Sometimes there are carolers, Christmas concerts, Nativity scenes, and even a visit from Santa Clause are a part of the mix.
Typically, the markets last for about four weeks, with the main markets drawing large crowds of visitors every year. Berlin's market at the Memorial Church attracts the most visitors with about 4 million every year. Others like Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Dresden, Cologne and Frankfurt are also visited by millions every Christmas season.
OK, now that we know how these markets came to be, what goes on, and generally where they are located, Buddy and I have decided that the first Christmas Market on our list is in Nuremberg (most famous for the site of the post WWII trials).
My reading tells me that Nuremberg's market is famous for its gingerbread, gold foil angels and prune men. Prune men? Some things I guess one just has to see in person.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
PS - Make sure you have the sound on!
PSS – Thanks Mr. Joe, for passing this along.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our family and US friends. I know you are all enjoying the day, and hopefully you will have an extra piece of turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie in honor or Bud and I, who sadly, will not be partaking in a traditional Thanksgiving feast this year.
I suppose if I was a more energetic person, I would whip up a Thanksgiving meal. Just seems like a lot of work for only 2 people. And then you have all those leftovers….I am more of the “let’s make a dinner reservation” kind of gal in these instances. Especially since we are in work mode today.
Still, I can’t let the day go by without expressing thanks for good health, the love of family, dear friends who are literally “the wind beneath my wings”, material blessings, my country (warts and all), an interesting job and GREAT team mates, and most importantly, my faith.
On a less serious note, here is a list of things, in random order, that I am especially thankful for this year:
1. Tex-Mex food (let’s clarify: it is not Mexican food that I am thankful for but that slightly altered cuisine north of the border). And as homage to the woman who can cook it the "best", Elvira at Elvira's Restaurant.
2. And while we are on the subject of food, fried catfish.
3. American style football.
4. All region DVD players.
5. Saucony Shadow 6000 running shoes – please don’t ever discontinue that shoe.
6. Internet shopping.
7. The entire Law & Order franchise.
8. German speaking friends (you know who you are).
9. The ability to travel – it’s addicting.
10. Furry friends (a.k.a. Ginger and Gracie) who have been the best office mates a gal could have (no insult intended towards my human work colleagues).
11. Working from home.
12. Translation websites.
13. Frequent flyer and hotel award programs.
14. Entertainment Weekly.
15. Lyle Lovett, George Strait, and all the other Texas singers I miss hearing but can listen to on CD.
16. Mattress and box spring sets – of which we can’t get in Germany, so count your blessings.
17. Texas sunsets and skies.
18. Dots (the candy, but those of you who know me already knew that) and movie theater popcorn.
19. Diet Coke (in the morning, in the day, in the evening) - my caffeine of choice. Best add "iced tea" (brewed from scratch, none of this instant junk) to the list.
20. The promise of friends coming to Germany to visit.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Now, living in a host country, it is always fun and a bit interesting to see how the locals celebrate a given holiday. We had a bit of Christmas celebration in Korea, since about 50% of that country are Christian, and a wee bit, but not much, in Taiwan. In Germany, however, I am eager to experience the traditions of the Christmas season as the Germans do.
With that said, I have begun reading about many of the German holiday customs. I am embarrassed to admit that many of the US Christmas traditions we enjoy today originated in Germany. Was I the only one that did not realize that? Still, there are variations on the theme. So, between now and Christmas, I hope the Travels of a Texas Gal readers will indulge me in the numerous Christmas tales and anecdotes that I will post on the blog. Some of these will include: the history of Christmas tree, traditional Christmas markets, Advent - Christmas calendar, Christ Child ( the one who puts Christmas gifts under German Christmas trees), and numerous Christmas season days of celebration.
Generally speaking, Christmas, or as the Germans call it, "Weihnachten", is a quiet time in Germany. I’ve been told people are generally in thoughtful and reflective moods (although I did read a story just yesterday in a German paper that criticized the commercialization of Christmas – some things are universal, I suppose).
Here's what I am reading:
(1) Town streets and business offices are decorated with Christmas lights and branches of pine-needle and fir-needle trees.
(2) Everything appears in red and dark green - the colors of "Weihnachten" in Germany. Again, I’ll do my own verification of this fact in Düsseldorf as well as at these Christmas markets.
(3) Houses are usually scarcely decorated. You might see some lights in a window, or figures painted on windows with snow spray, but usually nothing too fancy. (Sadly, most of the Hachie Gals’ decorations are at home in the attic but what would the Germans think if they saw Waxahachie at Christmas?).
(4) The main night is Christmas Eve which takes place on December 24th. Families get together for a rich holiday dinner and to wait for Santa ("Weihnachtsmann") who brings the presents that night. Usually, this is when families put up their Christmas trees (more on that later) and families exchange their gifts on the night of the 24th. Two more Christmas holidays follow, the 25th and the 2nd Christmas Day, the 26th of December.
So, continue to check back….
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I guess we can be proud. I mean, the Ewings left network TV almost twenty years ago, although I suppose syndication keeps J.R.’s memory alive.
Sadly, there is still no TV viewing in the Young household so I won't be watching J.R. on the 11th.
Although she is stepping into the history books today as the first female German Chancellor (and the first leader from the East), any honeymoon period, if there is one, is not likely to last long. She will lead an unwieldy coalition of the left and right whose main task will be getting the German economy moving again, and addressing a full slate of difficult decisions, many of which are not going to please the public.
One of her greatest challenges will be bringing the public around to the idea that change is needed to Germany to retain the high standard of living it has enjoyed for decades. For a German public highly resistant to change, this will continue to be a bitter pill to swallow.
As for Schröder, he is said to be retiring to his Berlin law practice and to write a book of his memoirs. Isn’t that what all ex-politicians do?
Monday, November 21, 2005
Either that or it is because I only had 420 work emails to crawl though. Actually, not too bad for 2 weeks.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Duh...the color of the Tuscan sunset should have been my first clue.
No worries re: the end of the Italy trip, as the German Christmas market season is now looming large on the horizon, with the next 3-4 weekends involving travel to many German cities to participate in this annual event.
Still, is it too early to be planning the next vacation?
We wandered through the streets with all the wonderful designers and shops for the better part of the afternoon. That night, we had dinner and coffee at Il Salotta, supposedly the best coffee in Milan.
And yes, purchases were made.
Buddy (a.k.a. the Pied Piper) makes a friend in the castle courtyard.
Milan's Duomo - again, sadly under extensive restoration. So much so, that I could not even take a photo of the front of the church, only the back. (This renovation thing is a recurring theme, huh? So, please excuse the fact that the first of the four following photos is not mine. I just wanted to show you what the church looked like). Still it was an outstanding piece of Gothic architecture.