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Spring

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The First Spring Flowers

In February, in some years already in late January, everyone is watching out for green peaks showing up from the earth and waiting for white, violet and yellow spots in lawns and flower beds. The first messengers of approaching spring are tiny: white snowdrops, yellow winter aconite, crocuses in all crocus colours.

After the long winter, spotting the first snowdrops or crocuses is an event, almost a competition: who has seen the first? During the following weeks, there will be something new to discover almost daily. Slowly slowly, more flowers appear. When the Scilla meadow in the botanical garden in Karlsruhe is in bloom, the local newspaper will publish a photo and report. Everyone is waiting for nature to awaken from the long sleep, street cafes to open, walking, sitting, playing in the sun to become possible.

An unmistakeable sign of approaching spring has to do with departure. Every winter we have millions of guests from Northeastern Europe and Russia: huge flocks of crows, mostly rooks. When they are gone, there is hope for spring to really begin.

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The scilla meadow in Karlsruhe

April, April!
April 1 is, as in other parts of the world, April Fools Day when people play little funny tricks on each other.
If something strange happens to you, the typical answer by a happy smiling face will be, "April, April!"

Beware of your friends and colleagues. And don't believe everything you read in the paper or hear on the news that day...

Posted by Kathrin_E 10:42 Archived in Germany Tagged germany holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

Easter

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Good Friday and Easter, Christ's crucification and resurrection, are the highest holidays in the Christian churches and celebrated with festive sevices and masses. The Catholic churches usually have an Easter night mass at 23.00 or midnight on Saturday, while most Protestant churches do a morning service at sunrise on Sunday.

To most people, however, Christmas is far more important. Easter means just a welcome long weekend to many. The Easter holidays are peak travel time.
In case you are touring Germany over Easter, take into consideration that Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday are all public holidays.

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Painting Eggs for Easter Decoration

Kids' fun and even some artisans' business: painted eggshells to put up in easter bouquets and trees. Real eggs are preferred to make decorations. Households, especially those with kids, are busy collecting blown-out eggshells. To have enough for the painting orgy one has to start collecting weeks in advance whenever a cake or scrambled eggs are being made.
To obtain an empty but whole eggshell, take a pin and make a hole of 3-5 mm diameter at the top and the bottom of the raw egg. (I prefer washing the eggs first, taking into consideration through which exit they have first seen the light of day.) Hold the pierced egg above a bowl, press your mouth to the top hole and blow. The interior ends up in the bowl and can be used for cooking purposes, only for recipes that do not require separation of the yolk from the white of course.

The eggshell can then be painted or otherwise decorated. Painting works best if the eggshell is set upon a wooden skewer to hold it. Water colours do not stay on eggshells but any other kind of paint will work. To hang the eggs onto the twigs, take a piece of a match or toothpick, about 1.5 - 2 cms long, tie a thread around it, and insert the piece of wood into the top hole of the eggshell.

Artificial decorated eggs made of wood, styropor, plastic and whatever are on sale everywhere so if you don't feel 'crafty' there are enough cheap and easy options to decorate your Easter bouquet. At least the twigs, however, have to be real. An easter bouquet consists of either forsythia or cherry twigs that start blooming soon in the warm house, or birch, willow or hazel twigs that sprout little green leaves. Garden owners often decorate a tree or bush outside with colourful plastic eggs.

Artisans have discovered the egg as an object. There are really artistic techniques, also traditional patterns in certain regions. Batik, for example, or scratching (eggshell painted in dark colour and patterns scratched into the layer of paint). Some placeshave specialized arts and crafts markets for Easter. The Sorbs in the Lausitz region are particularly famous for their Easter traditions.

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Easter fountains 2017 in Karlsruhe-Daxlanden

Osterbrunnen - Easter Fountains

Decorating the fountains during the Holy Week is a custom that is most popular in Franconia. The fountains are decorated with green garlands and painted eggs. The largest and most famous Easter fountains can be found in Bieberbach and Heiligenstadt. In recent years the custom has been spreading to other parts of Bavaria and other regions in Germany, for example Saxony, Palatine, Saarland. They have in the meantime also appeared in some villages around Karlsruhe, where my photos have been taken.

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This rather young custom was created in the late 19th/early 20th century. Do not believe anyone sho tries to tell you that it has pagan, pre-Christian Germanic or Slavic origins in a cult about springs. It does not. This misinterpretation is, just like the equally wrong interpretation of the carnival/Fastnacht as a pagan tradition, a child of the 1920s when Germanic mythology was so much en vogue. Unfortunately authors and tour guides still keep telling us so, although none of them can provide the slightest proof for their theory, and you'll read it on the tourist offices' websites, too.

Anyway, these fountains are a beautiful sight and can be enjoyed as what they are, a festive decoration that values the source of water which is so essential for any living creature. There is probably a relation to the cleaning of the fountains in spring.

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Osterhase - the Easter Bunny

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According to legends the Osterhase is the one who delivers the Easter eggs. He comes at night or in the earliest morning, sneaks into houses and gardens and hides eggs, sweets or little gifts. Kids watch out to see him but they will never be successful. Spotting a quick movement from the corner of an eye is all anyone will ever see of him... There is an easy and obvious answer to the old question if the hen or the egg had been there first: the egg, of course, it was delivered by the Osterhase!

The original German Osterhase is a hare, not a bunny (rabbit), a different species. Illustrations in old and nostalgic children's books show him as a big lean hare, a fast runner, strong enough to carry a big basket full of eggs. In other countries, and recently also here, he has been turned into a cuddly fluffy bunny.

Chocolate hare/bunny figures come in all sizes and are popular gifts. Shop windows are full of them. Some stores even claim the Osterhase shops at their place...

Easter Egg Hunt

The Easter Bunny is said to bring easter eggs, candy and little gifts during the night and early morning of Easter Sunday. Easter eggs can be real hard-boiled eggs dyed or painted on the outside. Chocolate eggs are more popular, though. Then there are empty cardboard eggs to be filled with a little present.
These eggs are hidden in the house or, if available and weather permitting, in the garden. First thing in the morning the kids will grab a little basket and hurry searching for them - if the adults insist on having breakfast first, be prepared for a family fight...

Leftover chocolate eggs will be the delight of the family dog later on. If the kids haven't found them, the dog surely will.

Hint, from experience: Do not hide chocolate eggs with liquid filling inside someone's boots, the owner may find them too late, i.e. when putting the shoe on. This leads to unpleasant effects... *giggle*

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Easter egg (and bunny) hunt, 1972

P.S. I didn't even remember that dress! Fancy! A bit short already, though...

Posted by Kathrin_E 10:45 Archived in Germany Tagged events holidays traditions customs fastnacht Comments (0)

Weißer Sonntag - "White Sunday"

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Weißer Sonntag is not to be mixed up with Whitsunday (Pentecost, Pfingsten). It is the first Sunday after Easter when the catholic parishes traditionally celebrate the first Holy Communion of the nine year olds. After a year of lessons the children are blessed and admitted to communion for the first time during a festive mass. As they are dressed up in white robes for this occasion, the day has been named the "white" Sunday.

A kid's Kommunion requires a family reunion and a festive lunch after church. In case you plan to visit a restaurant that day with a larger party, make a reservation well in advance - 40 Kommunionkinder in a parish mean 40 families booking all better restaurants in the surroundings solid.

The Protestant churches have their confirmation celebrations in spring, too, but dates vary.

Posted by Kathrin_E 11:02 Archived in Germany Tagged churches germany events holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

Erster Mai - First of May: Labour Day

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May 1 is Tag der Arbeit, Labour Day. Traditionally this is the day of the workers' movement. The trade unions keep organizing demonstrations and events. They attract less and less participants, though. People take the unions' achievements for granted nowadays.

To most people, May 1 is just a welcome day off. The usual activity on that day is a hiking trip with the family, a club or a bunch of friends, including a stopover in a beer garden. Even people who never set foot out of their house all year will go for a walk in the forest on May 1. Bike tours are considered a suitable alternative.

May is the Wonnemonat, the month of joy. Tanz in den Mai, dances, are popular in the evening of April 30, also singing events called Maieinsingen.
Younger people prefer Walpurgisnacht parties, though.

In the catholic church, May 1 is the holiday of St Walpurgis. The night before is Walpurgisnacht when, according to legends, the witches meet to dance on certain mountain tops, the Brocken ("Blocksberg") being the best-known location. When the witches are out and about, also non-magical young humans feel the need to be naughty. If they stick to harmless pranks like wrapping someone's car in toilet paper or inserting a handful of washing powder into a fountain, all right. However, with the amounts of alcohol consumed, often the pranks don't stay harmless and real damage is caused. Walpurgisnacht is a busy night for the police.

Even worse... This date has, unfortunately, become popular both among neonazis and ultra-left-wing Autonome groups for marches and demonstrations, in other words: riots. Hamburg and Berlin have become hotspots, certain areas in these cities should be avoided that night and day. These areas are relatively small, though. The rest of the cities will stay as peaceful as usual. If you happen to be in Hamburg or Berlin on April 30, ask your hotel reception which are the areas to avoid.

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Maibaum - The May Tree

May is the month of young leaves and fresh green - or used to be, with the recent climate changes the trees are already green by mid April. Nevertheless a lot of May customs and decorations involve twigs with fresh leaves. In some areas the guys put up small decorated birch trees in the gardens of their favourite girls.

In some regions, mostly in the south, a Maibaum (May tree) is put up in the middle of the village. It consists of a big tree trunk with a small green tree attached to the top, often a fir wreath, colourful ribbons, wood-carved figures, and the signs of local clubs and firms who joined in the preparations resp. donated the beer.

The Maibaum is erected in the evening of April 30. This event involves the whole village, the official tapping of the first beer barrel and usually a lot more beer, music and dancing and partying in the square.

Villagers keep watch of their own tree and try to get their hands onto someone else's. Having their May tree felled and robbed is the worst shame that could happen to a community, and the greatest triumph for the robbers, usually the young guys (and girls) from a neighbouring village. The victims may not have a tree for the following seven years.
In the 2008 opening parade of the Plärrer festival in Augsburg, which took place in August(!), the "Hainhofener May Tree Robbers" still proudly presented their trophy.

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Lessons from the news on May 1, 2009: If you plan to rob a May tree, take a saw that is strong enough. In a village in our surroundings some guys tried to fell a May tree last night but their saw got stuck and they had to call the fire brigade for help.
Oh the embarrassment...
In other words: Bwahahahaha!

Posted by Kathrin_E 11:03 Archived in Germany Tagged germany events holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

May 8 - End of World War II

May 8, 1945 marks the end of World War II with the capitulation of the German Empire. A fewe days earlier Hitler had committed suicide. His successor, Admiral Karl Dönitz, had no other option but accept the unconditional surrender of all German military forces. The Nazi dicature and the madness of the unwinnable "total war" were finally over.

The memory is kept alive. The purpose is solemn remembrance and learning from the past for a better future. May 8 is a normal work day, no public holiday. On round anniversaries there are memorial events and a speech by the president of the Federal Republic. It is not about praising military glory and "fallen heroes" - patriotic ideas of this kind are not popular in Germany, with the exception of certain ultra-right wing circles.

This country has received and learned its lesson: "Never again may a war start from German ground", as former chancellor Willy Brandt used to say. This promise has been kept successfully for seven decades and we hope it stays valid, even more so in regard of the current political developments in Germany and in the world.

Posted by Kathrin_E 11:05 Archived in Germany Tagged history germany events traditions Comments (0)

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