Tis the Season for German Christmas Markets

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'Tis the Season for German Christmas Markets During the festive season, the scent of roasted almonds and mulled wine fill the streets of German cities as shoppers in mittens and gloves pour over handmade ornaments and other goodies at Germany's Christmas markets. A traditional Christmas shopping experience in Frankfurt Christmas markets are a centuries-old tradition that connects the Advent season -- the four weeks before Christmas -- to the baser pleasures of shopping. And even though Christmas in Germany also means tinsel and lights and extended shopping hours, it is the markets that set the country off from its Christian neighbors. A typical Christmas market consists of wooden stalls perched on a site in the center of the city, where people shove past each other to buy Christmas decorations and stop for a chat over a mug of mulled wine. A nativity scene is usually on display and often musicians, singers and dance clubs offer entertainment from a central stage. Long tradition Since the 15th century, merchants have traveled to Dresden to display their wares. To this day, from Nov. 24 until Dec. 24, shoppers flock to the market in the city center which also features a Christmas pyramid, woodcarvings and a stollen festival, where a nearly four-ton heavy version of the fruit-cake-like German Christmas specialty that Dresden is famous for will be dished up.

The Augsburg market lights up the night Cologne has six Christmas markets, one of which is situated next to the city's gothic cathedral. The cathedral's towers, reaching some 150 meters (490-feet) into the winter sky, make the giant Christmas tree in the middle of the setting appear quite small. In the four weeks of December during which the markets are open, around 2 million people come to Cologne, according to Karl-Heinz Merfeld of the Cologne Tourism Association. "The Christmas market industry is still important and the tourists who come here are usually really excited -- above all the English and Dutch -- because they aren't familiar with these kinds of markets with the music and the lights," he said. In Augsburg's old market, once called the Lebkuchenmarkt after the gingerbread-like cookie calledlebkuchen it sold, visitors still can find numerous varieties of the baked goods. Centuries' old tradition No trip to the Christmas market is complete without a bratwurst sausage or a cup of German mulled wine, which is spiced with cinnamon and cloves. It is said to have originated in India, where the drink was prepared with water, alcohol, sugar and spices. Apparently the British then brought the recipe to Europe in the 18th century. Folklore has it that at the Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany's most famous, someone first added red wine to the mixture and created what's now known asglhwein. These days, about every third stall sells the stuff.

Backer Thomas Schmidt with tons of the Christmas specialty, stollen, in Dresden Still, Christmas markets have come a long way since they were first introduced in Germany. Dresden is said to have had the first, in the 15th century, and Nuremberg followed suit in 1697. In 1820, the first Christmas market was held in Cologne and restricted to locals who could buy toys and food but no alcoholic beverages. Back to the past Now Cologne holds a medieval Christmas market where the salespeople wear wool clothes and wooden shoes and pursue medieval chores like blacksmithing. The smell of burning wood wafts through the air, and candles illuminate the setting. Nothing as profane as reibekuchen or potato pancakes is for sale; hungry visitors can snack on unleavened bread freshly baked in ovens heated with wood. Nor isglhwein available. Instead, thirsty souls drink mead. Since Christmas markets didn't exist during medieval times, one of the organizers drew a tenuous link to the markets held long ago. "The emphasis is on a market where there is peace and quiet as opposed to the other Christmas markets where the turbulences of every-day life are dominant," he said. A selection of other Christmas markets around Germany: * Dortmund (until Dec. 23) with 300 stands of art, decorations and toys * Munich (Nov. 25 to Dec. 24) on Marienplatz * Berlin (until Dec. 24) on Alexanderplatz

* Nuremberg (Nov. 25 to Dec. 24) Against the historical backdrop of the city's main market * Rdesheim (until Dec. 23) with 120 stands from 12 states in the romantic old town * Bremen (Nov. 24 to Dec. 23) near the town hall * Frankfurt (Nov. 23 to Dec. 22) in the central shopping district * Leipzig (Nov. 24 to Dec. 22) Shopping and concerts in nearby churches * Hamburg (until Dec. 23) * Wiesbaden (until Dec. 23) a historical craft market * Weimar (Nov. 25 to Dec. 22) the town hall becomes a giant Advent calendar DW.DE

Germany's Gingerbread Giant At the cookie manufacturer Lambertz in Aachen, the factories are running at full capacity to meet the current demands. The company is the largest German producer of gingerbread cookies and now exports worldwide. It's a hard choice... Unless you have a cold, you will not miss the smell of sweets in the air at the omnipresent Christmas markets in German cities and towns. One unmistakable scent is that of gingerbread. The Lambertz cookie company, based in Aachen, Germany, makes its money off of it. With sales over 400 million ($532 million), Lambertz is the main player on the German Christmas cookie market. And it is seducing sweet tooths now in North America and eastern Europe. Lambertz's ingredients include hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, candied orange and lemons, honey, flour, sugar, eggs, marzipan and most importantly, spices: Anis, ginger, coriander,

cloves, cinnamon -- just to name a few -- are all combined to produce a variety of cookies, including the trademark "Printen" cookie. The origins of the cookie are uncertain. Some proudly speculate that Charlemagne, whose throne still stands in Aachen, was the inventor of the rectangular cookie. But that is just speculation. Supplier of church and city hall Lambertz is sole supplier to Aachen's cathedral One thing is certain: The Lambertz tradition dates back to 1688 when the family bought the rights to establish a bakery on Aachen's main market. The name of the bakery was called Zur Sonne -- in reference to the reigning monarch in France at that time, Louis XIV, the Sun King. For over three centuries Lambertz, who still use the sun in their logo, has been the exclusive supplier to both the Aachen cathedral and city hall. In 1820, the first "Printen" was produced, said current sole owner, Hermann Bhlbecker, a descendant of the Lambertz family. It takes a strong jaw to bite into the cookies. There is also the chocolate covered variety, created by accident in the late 19th century by one of the family's daughters. Earlier, the cookies were produced laboriously by hand. The forefathers of the company would be proud of the modern production lines where a scent of Christmas emanates from the cookies as they glide past. Plants in eastern Europe Gingerbread or "Printen" do not hold a firm foothold just in Germany. In eastern Europe, particularly where Germans once lived, gingerbread is beloved, Bhlbecker said. The aroma of gingerbread belongs to the Christmas tradition in the German-speaking regions in central and eastern Europe. Besides the six factories in Germany, Lambertz has a plant in Katowice, Poland to cater to the markets in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Now, Lambertz is also finding out that North Americans have grown fond of their various baked goods.

Bhlbecker said they print "German cookies" or "European cookies" on the boxes for the large supermarket chains in North America. Hermann Bhlbecker Some 3,500 employees work for Lambertz. Bhlbecker (photo) took over the company 28 years ago as sole owner and manager. He said he feels a deep responsibility for the welfare of his workers and Germany in general.This is reflected in some of the numerous awards Bhlbecker has won of late. In 2002 he was honored as the Entrepreneur of the Year in Germany. One year later, he was added to the list of Best Entrepreneurs of the World. All this a small bit of sunshine, like in the company logo, at a time where gloom usually wins the economic headlines in German newspapers.

Santa's Other Workshop: Thuringia NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST: GERMANY'S FOUR CORNERS 1 Northern Germany's Literary Houses 2 Platt and Proud 3 Sylt: In Winter, a Mellower Pleasure 4 More Beach up North 5 Climbing the Windmills of Schleswig-Holstein 6 Rhine River Transformed Into Nearly Pristine Water Stream 7 The Rhine River's Gold Rush 8 The Business of Carnival 9 Vogelsang Castle: In the Shadow of the Third Reich 10 Eastern German Town Boasts Cutting-Edge Technology 11 Blame it On the Bratwurst 12 Santa's Other Workshop: Thuringia 13 Six Centuries of Sweet Success 14 Catch a Wave in Germany's California 15 Neuschwanstein Castle Modernized for Visitors

16 Reinventing the Bavarian Myth 17 Bavaria Says "Gr Gott" in Chinese The southern Thuringian Forest, home to makers of toys and glass Christmas ornaments, is known in Germany as Christmas country. A snowy paradise Scarcely any other town has been so renowned for its toy making as the southern German town of Sonneberg, which lies on the tourist area referred to as the "German Toy Road." Villas and workshops Back in the 1920s, the town shipped toys, often handmade, to the rest of the world. Although history played its part in phasing out much of the business during the course of the century -- this part of the country became East Germany during World War II -- there are still a number of toy makers in the region, and the tradition lives on. A stroll through the town shows the signs of the wealth the toy business brought: villas of former toy manufacturers, erstwhile trading establishments and workshops, town halls and schools. There is also the German Toy Museum, the oldest in the country. It attr