Erntedankfest- Germany’s Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US. But, like many other countries, Germany knows how to give thanks too. It’s called Erntedankfest .It’s celebrated at a different date and the traditional food isn’t the turkey, but otherwise, the spirit is the same.

Origin

Giving thanks after the harvest has successfully been brought in, is one of the oldest traditions known to man. Romans, Egyptians, Celts and many other cultures worshipped the gods with festivities and offerings of food and wine. Sometimes the celebrations went on for days and, of course, there was no common date because it depended on the climate and harvest of very different countries.

Erntedankfest as celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church is first mentioned in the 3rd century.  There are basically two dates in Germany: 1st Sunday in October for the Catholics and 29th of September for the protestants. But, German regions are free to change the dates a bit.

Celebrations

Both religions celebrate Erntedankfest in a church. The altar is richly decorated with baskets full of fruit, vegetables and bunches of cereal.

Theatiner Kirche Munich

Theatiner Kirche Munich

After the mass, the food is often distributed to the poor. Or else, particularly in smaller communities, a huge meal is prepared to which each and everyone is invited. Beer and wine flow freely and the whole thing often becomes one big party.

An essential symbol of Erntedank are huge, elaborate crowns, woven from straw, which are often displayed in the church. In southern regions, a procession precedes the offerings and mass in church. Carriages take part, decorated  with flowers, straw, streamers and bows and sometimes horses and oxen participate too.

Another custom is to weave effigies from straw which at the end of the day are burnt.

Food

One traditional dish is chicken. This has its origin in a habit from the times when potatoes were harvested by hand. The farmer had to give a chicken to his laborers once they had finished bringing in the potatoes. Hence this chicken feast was called Potato Chicken or Kartoffelhahn.

Otherwise, there is no really typical Erntedankfest food, as opposed to the traditional turkey in the US.

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

First picture source: Steve Collins for Wiki Commons

 

Winter Wonders in Southwest Germany

Christmas is approaching fast and there is no better way to get into the spirit of things than visiting a Christmas market…or two or ten!

Where do you find the best? In Germany of course. Get inspired by this great selection.

dach

The nights are drawing in; the weather has turned; a pre-Christmas tonic is needed. The answer is – a short break in SouthWest Germany. With its half-timbered houses and cheerful taverns, nowhere is more Christmassy than the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Shop at authentic Christmas markets; enjoy sunny days and crisp nights; relax in a spa or heated pool in a luxury hotel overlooking a beautiful lake. Or, ride a roller coaster through a winter wonderland. It is all on offer in SouthWest Germany: just a hop away, via daily flights direct to Stuttgart’s convenient international airport.

Heidelberg Christmas Market: November 21 – December 22, 2016

One of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas markets spreads across six historic squares in Heidelberg’s historic Old Town. Decorated with twinkling lights, some 140 wooden stalls are full of temptations, from hand-carved wooden toys and Christmas tree decorations to mulled wine and delicious treats. For skaters, there is a real ice rink on Karlsplatz square, with romantic views of the world-famous castle high above, in the background. The city is on the Neckar River. Perfect for that special occasion is a boat ride up to Stift Neuburg, the ancient Benedictine abbey that holds its own traditional Christmas market.

decorations

cook

More information: www.heidelberg-event.com/events/weihnachtsmarkt/?lang=en

For over 30 years now, the Christmas Market has become no less an integral part of Heidelberg than its venerable university and magnificent castle.

Europa-Park: where winter means fun

It doesn’t get more fun than Europa-Park this winter. What was recently voted “Best Amusement Park Worldwide” for the third year running is transformed into a winter wonderland. There are snow-dusted Christmas trees, the scent of mulled wine, carol singing, thousands of Christmas lights and crackling log fires. Go to Christmas-themed circus shows; eat delicious festive food; take the Snowflake Sleigh Ride; scream on giant coasters, such as WODAN. Germany’s largest theme park opens its gates for the winter season from November 26 until January 8, 2017 (closed December 24 and 25) and again from January 13–15, 2017.

More information: www.europapark.de/en/park/seasons/winter-europa-park

Lake Constance: stylish holiday fun at Hotel RIVA Konstanz

With glorious views of Lake Constance and snow-capped peaks, Hotel RIVA Konstanz is one of Europe’s most romantic destinations. This 5-star superior hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has 51 exquisitely furnished rooms, a spa and a roof terrace, with a heated pool and lake views. This is a delightful spot to spend Christmas or New Year’s Eve, with gala menus and a glamorous New Year’s Eve ball. Not forgetting RIVA’s Lake Restaurant and Ophelia Gourmet Restaurant, with its two Michelin stars. Stroll the cobbled lanes of Konstanz; shop in the Christmas market and aboard the Christmas ship.

More information: www.hotel-riva.de/en

Stuttgart Airport: get to Winter Wonderland quicker than Santa

Getting to SouthWest Germany in winter is easy from the UK. Fly to Stuttgart, the region’s capital on convenient daily flights from Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Fly with British Airways, flyBe, Eurowings, Air Berlin, Ryanair or easyJet. Germany’s sixth largest airport is your gateway to fun. Go Christmas shopping in Stuttgart; pop down to Heidelberg, Europa-Park and Lake Constance. With direct access to the motorway and the efficient rail service, you can relax and enjoy your break just minutes after touching down.

More information: www.stuttgart-airport.com

Please get in touch with us directly:

State Tourist Board Baden-Württemberg
Esslinger Strasse 8
70182 Stuttgart, Germany

As if those aren’t enough, take a look at my personal favorite: a tiny Christmas market in Prien am Chiemsee/Bavaria.

market

Let’s talk Oktoberfest 2016

O’zapft is is rolling around again and with it one of the biggest events in the German Festival calendar. Just to make matters very clear: although it’s called Oktoberfest it actually takes place in September, this year  from September 17th to October 3rd. Munich will again be brimming with visitors, local and foreign, for two weeks of merrymaking, celebrations, eating, drinking and having a great time.

Each year the organizers try to create new attractions and events to make the Oktoberfest ever more entertaining. Let’s take a look at the history and then I’ll give you an overview of the most important things to do and know.

History

On October 12th 1810, the then Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. To celebrate the occasion all of the citizens of Munich were invited to beer, food and entertainment in the form of parades and horse races. The venue chosen was a huge field just outside the city gates which was named Theresienwiese in honor of the bride.  Since then it has become an annual event, the world’s biggest Volksfest attended by something like 6 mill visitors. It is, of course, no longer gratis!

The name Theresienwiese is locally called Wiesn, the horse races ended in 1960 but the opening parade of people in traditional clothes followed by the horse trailers of the breweries and musicians playing ear busting Blasmusik remains.

As does the opening ceremony: at 12pm on the dot, the incumbent mayor of Munich taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer accompanied by  the traditional words: o’zapft is!

Tents

You can enjoy the Oktoberfest in two ways. Either you just go there, pay your admission and drift or you choose a tent, run by the most famous caterers of Munich which means you must make a reservation well in advance. To name one of the best and most traditional: the Kaefer Tent.  http://en.feinkost-kaefer.de/index.php?id=5

Seats are much in demand and you must reserve well in advance and be prepared to fork over quite a lot of money.

Drifting from Bierhalle to Bierhalle to enjoy your Stein, ribs, Weisswuerste and other local delicacies may be a bit cheaper but not by much.

Dress up

drin

Half the fun of attending the Oktoberfest is to dress the part. For ladies it’s a dirndl complete with embroidered apron and silver jewelry. For men, yes, why not… Lederhosen!

If you wish to keep the dress, you can buy it reasonably priced in a department store or measure made at great expense in one of Munich’s many fashion boutiques. Or you can hire an outfit at: http://www.bavarian-outfitters.de

Souvenirs

The first thing you do as a guy is to buy your sweetheart a Lebkuchenherz which she will proudly wear around her neck.

It’s edible and perishable, so for a more lasting souvenir you might want to opt for the popular designer steins.

Photo by wirtekruege.de

Photo by wirtekruege.de

They are works of art, hand painted and called Wirtekruege. Each year there is a new theme.

For the full program, events, prices and other useful information please consult: http://www.oktoberfest2016.de/

Where to stay

Munich offers countless hotels in all categories, but, again, during Oktoberfest you are well advised to book as soon as possible. I’ll just mention my personal favorite: the traditional and family run 5 star hotel Bayerischer Hof. https://www.bayerischerhof.de/

I love it not only because of its great location in the heart of Munich but also because it has a fabulous pool and fitness center on the top floor with a roof which opens, a Traders Vic downstairs, several restaurants with excellent cuisine but also a theatre in the basement. Relax and entertainment all under one roof.

Theatiner Kirche near Bayerischer Hof

Theatiner Kirche near Bayerischer Hof

Join the Oktoberfest fans from around the world and enjoy the real thing in wonderful Munich.

 

 

 

Head for Germany’s Harz Mountains this Winter

Winter is a great time to visit what I like to call ‘The new Black Forest’, Germany’s much underrated Mittelgebirge, the Harz. When people, who are not all that familiar with Germany, think about dense forests, legends and fairy tales, mountains, hiking and skiing and, of course, great food, the first thing that tends to springs to mind is the Black Forest.
Of course, it’s a great region, but all of that and more, can be enjoyed in the lovely Harz mountains, so, why not veer off the beaten path and explore something new this winter?
Granted, the Harz doesn’t have Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte but it has the Harzer Roller instead. Curiously, this is the name for a very delicious cheese as well as for a special breed of canaries. How original is that? More later.
First let’s talk about the Brocken, the Harz’s most famous landmark.
Brocken and Walpurgisnacht
With 1141m, the Brocken is the highest mountain in the Harz. It’s accessible by several hikes of various lengths and degrees of difficulty, but none of them requires anything else but good hiking shoes and walking sticks. No ropes, no crampons.

19th century Brockenspitze

19th century Brockenspitze

The summit can also be reached by a quaint narrow gauge railway for example from the picturesque town of Quedlinburg. No trip to the Harz is complete without a visit to the Brocken. The mountain is surrounded by legends and mystery.
Keep Goethe  and the Brothers Grimm company on the Brocken. A crucial scene of Goethe’s Faust, when the devil tempts him, plays out on the Brocken. The devil could not have chosen a more enticing occasion than the Walpurgisnacht.

potions
This is where the mystery and legends come in. If you plan to visit the Harz in spring, try to include the 30th of April. That’s when the witches and sorcerers who live all over the Harz, assemble on the Hexentanzplatz for a night of wild celebrations. Join in the entertainment, bring you mask, wig and broom and ride off to La La land.
But witches and black magic are not the only legends. The brothers Grimm loved the Harz and collected many of their fairy tales, set in this region of woods, lakes, caves and silver mines. Hansel and Gretel, the Wicked Witch and Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs all have their home in the Harz.

zwerge
Other German poets and writers like Klopstock included the extraordinary, sometimes wild beauty of the Harz in their works.
Quedlinburg, once ruled by women

800px-Quedlinburg_Schlossberg
A very typical sight of the town and villages in the Harz mountains are narrow half timbered houses. The town of Quedlinburg features no less than 1300 of them, dating back to the 16th century. Germany’s oldest house of this kind still stands in Wordgasse 3.
Quedlinburg is a town of superlatives. King Heinrich I was crowned here in 919 and it became the first capital of the German nation.
A citizen of Quedlinburg became the first woman doctor, graduating in 1754.
King Heinrich’s widow Mathilda founded a convent for aristocratic nuns and the abbesses ruled supremely until 1802. The convent stands on a hill overlooking the cobbled streets and timbered houses leaning towards each other.
Goslar and the Kaiserpfalz

Goslar

Goslar

Wherever you go in Goslar, you come across testimonies to 1000 years of history. Heinrich I was crowned in Quedlinburg, but Heinrich III made Goslar one of the centers of the Holy Roman Empire, building his imposing Kaiserpfalz between 1040 and 1050.
Visit the Market square with another over 1000 of those wonderful half timbered houses, listen to the famous Glockenspiel (carillon) and climb the Himmesleiter (staircase to heaven)to the Muenstertower.
A lot of the wealth of the Harz was derived from mining. Silver, copper, zink abounded in centuries past. Get an impression of the era from the museum in nearby Rummelsberg.
Walking, hiking, skiing
My grandparents used to live in Bad Harzburg and as a kid, I spent many a summer with them. My grand dad was a keen hiker and we walked along the Bodetal and the river Oker, through beech, spruce and pine forests. Always on the look out, and often finding, a piece of amethyst, another treasure of the Harz.

hsb01_81

hsb01_81

St. Andreasberg is famous for skiing in the winter and most of the Harz forms part of a Nature Park where, yet again, lynx are living wild. Nature lovers couldn’t ask for more.
Harzer Roller

220px-Harzer_Roller_2I have already mentioned the Harzer Roller and its dual significance.
On the one hand it’s a canary which, with training, sings very nicely. The birds have been bred in the Harz for a long time and even have their own museum in St. Andreasberg. But, the rollers were not only pretty pats but also played an important role in mining. Much sooner alerted to carbon monoxide than other animals used for the purpose, the miners took them down the shafts as an early warning system for impending danger.
On the other hand, Harzer Roller is a very distinctive cheese, made from sour milk and extremely low fat. The cheese is yellow, soft, pungent and comes in packets of no more than 100gr in the form of a roll, hence the name.
Caraway seeds are included in the mixture and the cheese is best enjoyed on a buttered slice of black bread with onion slices and a bit of mustard.
Other specialties are trout and lamb.
Plan for at least a week and let yourself be enticed by a part of Germany you might have overlooked previously. You will be delighted.

Pfund’s Dairy – an Empire Built on 6 Cows

Pfund’s Dairy in Dresden/Germany made the Guinness Book of Records for the first time in 1998 as the ‘world’s most beautiful dairy shop’. Behind this achievement lies the story of a man with a vision and entrepreneurial impulses.
Paul Gustav Leander Pfund, to quote his full name, was a farmer in Reinholdshain/Saxony. In 1879 he grabbed his wife Mathilde, six cows and some pigs and made his way to Dresden. Of course, there was a plan behind this move. He had observed that the ever growing population of the city in need of fresh milk, was poorly supplied by milk from surrounding farms. The milk was transported in unhygienic vehicles, not l all equipped for the transport of food. When the milk was sold, the vehicles returned laden with rugs and other non food related goods, to be used again as milk transport the following day.
Pfund was driven by the desire to supply the population with fresh and hygienic milk and thus opened his first dairy shop in the Goerlitzer Strasse. Customers, who soon formed long queues, could see through the windows how his cows were milked, the milk then filtered through several different layers of clean linen and gauze and sold in the quantities requested.
His reputation spread and soon he moved to bigger premises in Bautzener Strasse.

He opened a shop which not only sold milk but also delicious cheeses and buttermilk. Always open to new technologies, Pfund was the first one to produce condensed milk, soon followed by baby food. In 1990 he introduced pasteurized milk.
Soon his milk empire grew and his products were exported to the rest of Germany and even Europe. Today milk based products such as milk soap and cosmetics as well as a rather exotic milk grappa are added to the list.
Center piece however remains the dairy in Bautzener Strasse and it is the extraordinary decoration of the place which won Pfund the Guinness Book entry. Imagine 249m2 entirely covered with hand painted tile from Vileroy and Boch. Farm scenes, cherubs, allegories, you name it, it’s depicted in the colorful tiles on floor, ceiling walls and the beautiful predominantly blue counter.

Image courtesy of Pfund Molkerei

Image courtesy of Pfund Molkerei

You won’t know where to look first to take it all in before you turn your attention to the delicious products. Small wonder that the place is visited by virtual bus loads of sightseers every day.
And that’s only the ground floor. The first floor houses a fine 90 seats restaurant where you can enjoy Saxony specialties, sample the local wines and top it all off with Pfund’s ice cream.
After that you will be more than ready to admire more of Dresden’s many attractions like the Semper Opera or my favorite, The Japanese Palais. Or go on a boat trip along the river Elbe in one of the historical steam boats, known as Elbkaehne. By the by, in German, the word Elbkaehne has become a nick name for a very big shoe size!
If you wish to spend the night in Dresden, why not live it up in the marvelous Swissotel am Schloss. Located near the Residenzschloss in the heart of Dresden’s Old Town, the highlight is the Puerovel Spa in a historical stone cellar with massages, spa and other treatments.
Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post. I have not been paid anything either by Pfund or by Swissotel.