Dresden Christmas Markets

Striezelmarkt Dresden

When tourists come to Germany, it is usually to one of the larger cities: Berlin for culture, Munich for Oktoberfest, and Hamburg for the delicious fish. Many people skip over the beautiful “Florence on the Elbe,” Dresden. Located about two hours by train south of Berlin, Dresden is a well-connected and beautiful city along the Elbe River. Many Americans will recall the name of this German city from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, but the Germans know one of Dresden’s best kept tourist secrets: the beautiful medieval Christmas markets.

Stollen at the Dresden Christmas Markets

One of the most popular delicacies at the Dresden Christmas markets is stollen. This cake, originally made only from flour, yeast, oil, and water, is a Saxon delicacy that can now be found throughout the Dresden Christmas markets. Similar to the American fruitcake (but so much more delicious!), it is now made with anything from marzipan to dried fruits and nuts, and the oil has long since been replaced with butter to make the cakes moist and flavorful. There is a stollen festival during the Dresden Christmas markets every year, where a 3-4 ton piece of stollen is paraded through the town.

Buying Gifts at the Dresden Christmas Markets

Some of the most special Christmas gifts can be found at the Dresden Christmas markets. The markets are so large; there is something there for everyone on your Christmas list. German handmade crafts are one of the most popular choices. These can include anything from blown glass ornaments to hand knitted socks and gloves for the winter. At the Dresden Christmas markets especially, the Weinacht Pyramiden, beautiful hand crafted wooden pyramids that showcase different Christmas scenes, are one of the most traditional and beloved gift options.

Weihnachts Pyramiden at the Dresden Christmas Markets

Speaking of the Weihnachts Pyramiden, the largest pyramid in Germany can be found at the Dresden Christmas market’s Striezelmarkt. This 14m high wooden pyramid consists of lighted structures, wooden Christmas scenes, and a beautiful spinning fan at the top. It is especially lovely with the background of the Kreuzkirche, a baroque church in Dresden. Dresden’s restored architecture is not to be missed while you’re there—take a stroll around after visiting a Dresden Christmas market!

Be sure to check out a food tour while you’re in Dresden as well—it’s a great opportunity to get to know a different side of the city.

Jewish Museum Berlin Exhibitions

Jewish Museum Berlin

(Foto: IM Thayer)

One of the most detailed and interesting museums off the beaten path in Berlin is the Jewish Museum. Built in 2001 by famed Polish-Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, the Jewish Museum Berlin has been home to many different exhibitions since it’s opening. These varying exhibitions have covered topics such as Jewish art, cultural relations, and different aspects of Jewish history. The museum itself encourages exploration and understanding of Jewish history and identity throughout Germany and in Berlin.

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Walpurgis Night traditions around Europe

Soon after Easter comes the ancient festival of Walpurgis Night. This less-known celebration falls on April 30, exactly six months after Halloween. People light bonfires to scare away witches and evil spirits. To the Vikings, Walpurgis Night marked the date they let their cows and goats onto the summer pastures. And many countries in the area celebrate Labor Day on May 1, complete with parades and, in the past, even riots.

 

What does Walpurgis Night celebrate?

Walpurgis Night was first a pagan festival linked with the coming of spring. In the 17th century, Germans added the belief that witches gather on the Brocken mountain on this date. Walpurgis Night is also the night before International Workers’ Day (a.k.a. May Day). The celebrations of spring tie in perfectly to celebrations of workers’ rights. And so does the drinking! Not so long ago, Berlin was quite a chaotic scene on May Day.

 

Who is Walpurgis Night named for?

Valborg was a nun in the 8th century (her name can also be spelled Walpurgis). She founded a convent in Germany and spoke out against witchcraft. Walpurgis was canonized on May 1, 779. The celebration of her sainthood merged with the spring festival over the years.

 

A Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden.

Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by acb

 

How do people celebrate Walpurgis Night?

One common tradition is a bonfire. You can see bonfires in Sweden, Finland, Germany and more countries. Another tradition is to make loud noises to scare spirits away, similar to the New Year’s traditions too. The Czech name for Walpurgis Night has to do with burning witches and broomsticks are burned on the bonfires there! Meanwhile in Sweden, the bonfires were lit to protect the Vikings’ livestock, who they let out to graze on summer pastures on May 1.

In Finland, people have picnics and drink homemade mead.

Germans often leave out a piece of bread spread with butter and honey called an Ankenschnitt. This is left outside for the phantom hounds and in order to protect people from bad weather or bad harvests.

 

A train decorated for Walpurgis Night

A train decorated for Walpurgis Night in 1990. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by Sludge G

 

For more information about Walpurgis Night, check out some of these helpful pages: The Weekly Rot and about.com.

Spreepark Berlin: Berlin’s abandoned amusement park

Berlin’s not-so-hidden secret is about to disappear. Spreepark Berlin, the abandoned amusement park, has been bought back by the city. A local has been giving tours for a few years, but after April’s over, the future of the tours and the park is up in the air.

Take a tour of Spreepark Berlin to get a very different experience of Berlin parks than usual.

Spreepark Berlin dinosaur graveyard and abandoned Ferris wheel

Ferris wheel in the background, with the “dinosaur graveyard” in front. Photo by: snostein

The story behind Spreepark Berlin

An amusement park in Berlin? Why would anyone abandon that? Well, that depends who you ask. Spreepark Berlin started its life as the Kulturpark Plänterwald (Cultural Park Plänterwald), which stood from 1969-1989. It was the only amusement park in the GDR and saw up to 1.7 million visitors a year. After German reunification, a family took it over. The city gave them a contract with near-impossible conditions. The forest surrounding the park would be protected land. No parking lots or extra parking spaces were allowed to be built, and German law states that if you don’t have parking spaces, you can’t have signs directing people to the park, either. Then, visitor numbers were limited to 260,000 per year – when they would have needed 400,000 just to break even.

In 2001, Spreepark Berlin declared bankruptcy. The amusement park was closed to visitors and abandoned in 2002.

Spreepark Berlin overgrown roller coaster

Roller coaster tunnel. Photo by anvosa has been cropped from the original.

Spreepark Berlin: The Present and Tours

From 2002 to 2009, Spreepark Berlin was abandoned and nature took its course. Then in 2009, the first tours through the park were offered. People jumped at the chance to see the roller coasters and Ferris wheel gone to seed. Christopher Flade leads the tours and, when there’s extra demand, a second group is led by the daughter of the park’s last owners, Sabrina Witte.

Every once in a while, there has been an event at the park. Last summer there was a concert, and before that there was a techno music festival.

Plus, since 2011, Cafe Mythos has been operating near the park’s front entrance. With beer, soft drinks, sausages ’cause it’s Germany, and soft-serve ice cream ’cause it’s not an amusement park without ice cream – the cafe has everything you need for a lazy afternoon in the sun. The matron of the Witte family is still there serving with a smile. But the winds are a-changing. The city of Berlin bought back the land in March 2014, and after April 2014, it’ll be Berlin’s domain. It doesn’t look like the ruins will hang around.

Go and see it while you still can. Tours go twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays, through April 2014. Here’s a link to book a Spreepark Berlin tour. They’re in German, though, so you’ll either have to understand the language, or not mind! You can’t get into the park otherwise, though. The price of €15 includes a walk that lasts at least two hours (sometimes up to three and a half!) and official permission to take pictures.

BahnCard 25 and why to take the train in Germany

Traveling by train is one of the coolest ways (I think) to get around Germany, and the BahnCard 25 is an awesome way to make it even cooler. Cooler on your wallet: the BahnCard 25 gets you a discount. And cooler on the environment: every BahnCard 25 holder since April 2013 has traveled with green energy.

A sample BahnCard 25

What the BahnCard 25 used to look like. Nowadays the red parts are green.

 

What perks come with the BahnCard 25?

Are you traveling by train inside Germany? Are you going to take several trips? If so, it may be worth it to buy a BahnCard 25. The card costs €50 and gets you 25% off all train trips you book. This includes the already-discounted Sparangebote (savings specials).

Is it worth traveling by train in Germany? Absolutely. Off the top of my head, here is a list of all the great things I can come up with about train travel in Germany.

  • It usually costs less than flying.
  • It uses green energy.
  • It can take the same amount of time as a flight or shorter. This includes getting out to the airport, going through security, and getting your baggage afterwards.
  • Train stations are usually in the middle of a city, while airports are nearly always on the edge of town. See my point above.
  • No need to worry about your bags getting lost. They travel with you in the car the whole time.
  • No security checks or lines to worry about.
  • There’s no turbulence and no seat belts. You can get up any time you want to stretch your legs.
  • The food in the dining car is so much tastier than an airport food cart.
  • Every major German city is well connected with the rail, and most smaller ones too. You can get from Berlin to Frankfurt in four hours.

Should I go on, or have I convinced you yet? Here’s one more story. Some businessmen were traveling from Hamburg to Berlin. They didn’t know about the Hamburg-Berlin train route, which takes less than 2 hours. There was no direct flight from Hamburg to Berlin, so first they flew from Hamburg to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Berlin. That’s a huge detour, a layover, and a lot more airport hassle. Should have taken the Bahn!

 

When a BahnCard 25 is worth it

Let’s do the math. A BahnCard 25 costs €50, and saves you 25% on every trip. So it will pay for itself if you spend more than €50 x 4 = €200 on your train trips. The BahnCard 25 is valid for a year, so you have a long time to make it worth the investment. Or, if you just want to check out your options, there’s a trial version for four months also available which costs half the price.

Where can you go with a BahnCard 25? Just have a look at the website of Germany’s train company, Deutsche Bahn! There you can see the unbelievable possibilities.

 

What do you think? Do you travel on the train in Germany? Does your country have a rail network? Let us know!

 

We’re gonna try participating in the Sunday Traveler blog party! Sundays are great days to take the train.

 

Have a look at some of the other travel blogs!

ZKM Karlsruhe: All your art is belong to tech

Why you should visit the ZKM Karlsruhe

You don’t often see museums like this. The Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (Center for Art and Media Technology), or ZKM Karlsruhe, is a place where art meets technology. The single building is home to one media center, two museums and three research institutes. That’s what I call an efficient use of space!

 

What’s special about the ZKM Karlsruhe?

These museums are groundbreaking and fascinating. The Media Museum is the first and only museum in the world for interactive art. You can find a game of SMS Pong in the Gameplay permanent exhibition. That’s where four cell phones, attached to a podium, play Pong by communicating through text message. The exhibition takes up an entire floor. It is devoted to the use of art through electronic games. Or you can check out global aCtIVISm from now until the end of March. That exhibit is focusing on demonstrations and performances which bring attention to bad situations.

ZKM Karlsruhe 33 Questions Exhibit

33 Questions Per Minute: A machine uses grammar rules and a dictionary to make grammatically correct questions. It would take 3,000 years to ask every possible question. Photo by Marc Wathieu

ZKM Karlsruhe Car Culture exhibit

Car Culture exhibit. The Germans love cars in all forms. Photo by Alberto Martinez

 

ZKM Karlsruhe – a great location

The ZKM Karlsruhe is located in Karlsruhe! All jokes aside, the building has its own special history, as so many German buildings do. The ZKM Karlsruhe building used to be an arms factory and has been used by ZKM and others since 1997. The modern ZKM_Cube events space is definitely a Karlsruhe landmark.

ZKM Karlsruhe Cube

The ZKM Cube. Photo by: JOEXX

The ZKM Karlsruhe is even home to a movie theater, the Filmpalast. Karlsruhe is about an hour’s drive from Stuttgart. I hope with this article you can see the ZKM Karlsruhe is worth the trip!

Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg

Where in the world is the world’s largest miniature train set? The answer is Germany. Specifically, in Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg. Germans might love trains as much as they love cars. It only makes sense for Germany to hold a world record for trains.

Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg is not only the world’s largest model railway. It’s also northern Germany’s most visited permanent exhibition. There are eight complete sections, and three more in the works. They have a model of Hamburg, an airport, Scandinavia and Austria, and a section modeled after the U.S. The newest additions to Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg will be Italy, France and England.

Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg with visitors

The Hamburg section. Photo by: Tobias Grosch

The best time to visit Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg

According to the website of Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg, book in advance to avoid a long wait time. You can also visit on a quiet day. Weekdays will be less busy.

No matter when you go, make time to visit. It’s the only time you’ll see Mount Rushmore next to Cape Canaveral. And it’s the only place that’s managed a direct train from Hamburg to the U.S.!

Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg facts and figures

Here are some interesting and amazing numbers about this modeled world.

  • The Las Vegas piece of the America section uses one-tenth of all the exhibit’s lights.
  • The modeled mountains of the Swiss Alps are 5-6 meters high.
  • The Scandinavia section uses real water, and simulates changes in the tide every 30 minutes!
  • The 40 planes in Knuffingen airport actually taxi, take off and land. This section took more than 6 years to construct.
  • There are currently about 13,000 meters of track laid. That’s over 8 miles!

If you are in northern Germany and are a fan of model trains, or are looking for an indoor activity in Hamburg, the Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg should absolutely be on your to-do list.

Denglisch Words: How to speak like a German!

Living in Germany, you’ll notice pretty early on that some of the stuff Germans say sounds pretty familiar. Denglisch words (“Denglisch” is a mixture of Deutsch and English) are all over the place. Why do Germans use Denglisch words? Sometimes they describe a new concept that German never had a word for. And to some German ears, Denglisch words sound cooler or trendier.

But I think most Denglisch words are used because the German words would be soooo much longer.

Denglisch words in a department store

Denglisch words in a department store. Photo by: Gmhofmann

 

Some favorite Denglisch words:

– using “shooting” to refer to filming. Once a filmmaker friend told me, “Yesterday was the shooting with the children.” He meant he’d taken video of child actors, while I gasped and asked if anyone was hurt!

– replacing German words with English ones. Karte already exists in German, yet train riders can buy a BahnCard. Karte can also mean ticket, but Germans also use Ticket more and more often. A two-in-one Denglicization.

– using the wrong English words, especially for tech. A Handy is a cell/mobile phone and a Beamer is an overhead projector.

– putting German grammar on English verbs. People might say they’ve upgedatet (updated) a system. A text message is called an SMS here, and now Germans are using “simsen” for “to text”/”to SMS.”

 

Of course, not all Germans are cool with Denglisch words. The founder of the German Language Society had a few things to say about it.

Denglisch Words - not so happy

This sign reads: Stop Denglisch! We speak German. Photo by: Rafael Peñaloza

Denglisch words and German sounds

Enough of the mixing and the Denglisch words. Here are a few authentic German sounds to make you sound like a real native. This part was inspired by this post on how French people speak!

 

Alter! Roughly translates to “dude,” “c’mon,” or “oh man.” Pronounced: “all-tah!”

As in: Alter, I don’t believe a word you’re saying.

 

Boah! This one means “Wow” or “Jeez!” Pronounced: “bwah.” The more surprised you are, the longer you should stretch out the “aaahhhh” at the end.

As in: You paid a hundred euros for a pair of flip-flops? Boahhh!

 

Doch. This little word stands in for concepts like actually, but, and the useful concept of disagreeing-with-a-negative. As in:

Steffi: You didn’t make it to the store today, right?
Peter: Doch, I did.

 

Juhu! This is German for “Woo-hoo!” Pronounced: yoo-hoo, with the accent on the hoo!

As in: Juhu, it’s lunch time!

 

Nö… Pronounced like “Neuuuhh.” You know when someone catches you red-handed and you just give them a little, “Who, me?” look? Use a long nöööö for that. Or, when you’re giving an answer of “Nah,” use a quick nö. As in:

Steffi: Did you eat all the chocolate?
Peter: Me? Nöööö…

or:

Steffi: Would you like a receipt?
Peter: Nö, thanks, I don’t need one.

 

Oje. This one is the German answer to (or origin of?) the English oy vey, or ai-yi-yi. Pronounced: “oh-yay,” but means exactly the opposite! For extra-bad oy veys, try “Ojemine,” y’know, like an English speaker might say “Jiminy Cricket!” And that one’s pronounced: “oh-yay-me-nay.”

As in: Oje, there comes the boss.

 

Quatsch! This one means “nonsense!” or “BS!” You can also use it after your own sentence to say, “Just kidding!” Pronounced: kwatch! Like watch with a K in front of it. As in:

Peter: I got front-row seats for the Lady Gaga concert next week for €20.
Steffi: Quatsch, you did not!

 

schweine- as an adverb, more than “very.” Always used for negative things – you can’t say something is schweine-interessant. Germans use pigs to make the bad stuff worse, go figure!

As in:
Das ist schweine-teuer! (That’s incredibly expensive!)
Es ist schweine-kalt. (It’s reeeeally cold.)

 

Zak! means something like “bam,” or “all of a sudden,” or also “chop chop!” Pronounced: tzak! (with a long A, like ahh.)

As in:
I was walking down the street when, zak, it started raining.
Zak zak, guys, let’s get a move on, it’s lunchtime!

 

Now, let’s put them all together. Here we go!

Peter: Juhu, I got tickets for the Lady Gaga concert next week!
Steffi: Alter, you did not! Those tickets sold out zak-zak-zak, 3 minutes after they went on sale.
Peter: Doch, I did.
Steffi: But I bet they were schweine-expensive.
Peter: , they were €20 each.
Steffi: Quatsch. How much did you really pay?
Peter:  €200. Each.
Steffi: Boah, that’s more than I can afford. Ohje, it hurts just thinking about it.

 

What other Denglisch words can you add to the list? What other funny sounds do Germans make? Let us know in the comments below!

Gruene Woche: A taste of the world in Berlin

I know we’ve blogged about Berlin not too long ago. But this topic is right on time. The Gruene Woche is going on through this week and it’s a great event to see. There was a protest staged against it last weekend, and it gets huge press here in Germany.

What is the Gruene Woche?

Gruene Woche translates to Green Week. It’s  an opportunity for the world’s food, farming and gardening industries to show off. The green doesn’t mean eco-friendly, here, just having to do with food, agriculture, or gardening. And it takes place for a week (longer, actually!) A ticket to the Gruene Woche gets you access to hundreds of informative stalls and displays. You can hear local music, taste regional food, buy flower seeds, test an in-home sauna, see organic cooking demonstrations, and go eye-to-eye with prizewinning livestock. And, there’s a whole hall devoted to beer.

Gruene Woche Overlook

The photo’s a bit old, but it still looks much the same. Photo by: _raina_

What happens at the Gruene Woche?

It’s part convention, part massive international market. (Here at germany-travel, we go for the market part!) On the grounds of Berlin’s convention center, exhibitors from literally all around the world flock to the Gruene Woche to show sides of the countries you’ve never seen. Last year I discovered cheese from Romania and reindeer from Norway, while this year I sampled tagine from Morocco and pickles from the next state over in Germany!

Gruene Woche 2013 - Norway

Norway’s setup in 2013. Photo by: Landbruks- og matdepartementet

When’s the best time to visit the Gruene Woche?

In general, weekdays will be less busy than weekends. But I went on a Saturday and survived. If you go on a weekend, the key is to get there as early as you can – the later you go, the more crowded it will be.

Gruene Woche 2013 - Plants

An oasis in the convention center: the plant showcase. Photo by: Anagoria

 

Top Tips for Gruene Woche 2014

  • There’s folk dancing at Greece’s area, and don’t miss the creatively-named olive oil company nearby.
  • Take a tour of Germany without leaving the city. Each state has its own snazzy setup. It’s a great way to discover regional foods and traditional costumes. I recommend Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, try the turkey salami products and the Störtebeker beer!
  • For a natural break, make your way to the plant showcase. The air is fresh, the plants are lovely, and they have water dispensers.
  • Avoid the Austria exhibition if you can. I’m only saying this because one end of the hall narrows and causes a horrible bottleneck. It took us 15 minutes to herd our way out of that 50-f0ot-long human traffic jam.
  • Buy eggs from a vending machine in the organic hall.
  • Or, for the pescatarians, chow down on a fish-based currywurst!

All in all, the Gruene Woche is a fun experience for the whole family and a really interesting way to see a snapshot into other countries you might not have known about before.

Foosball Tips: Win your next kicker tournament!

Here in Germany, foosball, a.k.a. kicker, is a popular pastime along with drinking or unique cars. Some bars hold tournaments or have pay-for-play tables. This post on foosball tips was even inspired by a well-placed table at a holiday party! Whether you’re a total beginner or want to get even better, these foosball tips will help you get on top of your game in no time.

Foosball Tips: Table Setup

A typical foosball table. Photo by: Jean-no

Beginner’s foosball tips

First and foremost. No spinning. This shouldn’t even count as foosball tips, but it has to be said. Whipping the foosball rod around at 100 RPM is bad form. On top of that, if you miss the shot your men are out of control and can’t get back to a blocking position quickly. Also, spinning can damage the table, and that would be very, very bad juju.

Next: if you can’t spin, work on a wrist flick. It’s important to shoot the ball hard, after all. And to counter the out-of-control aim a spin gets you, practice passing the ball between your own foosmen. That way, you’ll be able to get the ball where you need it for a killer wrist flick.

Third of the foosball tips is: take your time. You have 15 seconds before you’re required to move. Use that time to aim or to set up a killer shot. More on killer shots below…

Foosball tips for the experienced

Try your hand at a snake shot, which keeps it legal by rotating just less than 360 degrees. No spinning.

Be the best at one shot, not fifth-best at five shots. Better to have one shot that’ll work 90% of the time than to try for three shots that each have a 30% success rate.

And most importantly, go out and play against people who are better than you. That’s the only way you’ll be able to keep improving. Find a bar with a Kickertisch and have fun.

Foosball Tips table for 11

Table for 11, please! Massive setup in Berlin. Photo by: ProhibitOnions

More foosball tips

If you can’t get enough foosball tips, there are a few specialist websites out there. Try Quora‘s page on the topic, or the extensive FAQs and tips on FoosManchu.

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