Celebrating St. Martin’s Day on November 11

On the eve of November 11, you might come across groups of smiling German children carrying home-made lanterns through towns and cities in Germany. These lantern processions are a tradition of a widely celebrated religious observance known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag).

The holiday celebrates the life of Saint Martin of Tours (316-297 CE), a Roman soldier who was known for being modest and altruistic. After being baptized as an adult, St. Martin became a monk and was eventually appointed as the Bishop of Tours. Many people know of St. Martin for saving a homeless man by giving him half of his cloak during a snowstorm.

In remembrance of this humble saint, German children create paper lanterns, gather on the streets and sing songs about St. Martin as they march with their illuminated lanterns. Often times, the procession is led by a man on horseback who is dressed as St. Martin. After the walk, children and their parents gather around a bonfire.

© dpa / picture-alliance

Although St. Martin’s Day is a Catholic holiday – many children participate in the lantern processions, regardless of their religious backgrounds. The lantern walks have become a large part of German culture. St. Martin’s Day is one of the oldest religious holidays in the world, and is also celebrated in many other European countries.

If you live in the United States, there may even be a lantern procession in your city; some German churches, schools and communities come together to organize their own St. Martin’s Day celebration!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The unlikely history of the GDR’s “Ferrari of the East”

When you think of East German cars, you probably visualize the colorful but cheaply-made Trabants (“Trabis”), which is what most people drove in the German Democratic Republic. But the GDR also had its very own race car: the Wartburg Melkus, also known as the “Ferrari of the East”.

While the West German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz generally dominated the Formula One World Championship, East Germany participated in many of the races with its Melkus cars and had a surprisingly high level of success: Heinz Melkus, race car driver and founder of the company, was the 1958 German champion in Formula 3 and the 1960 East German champion in Formula Junior. Overall, he won 80 of the 200 races he competed in throughout Europe.

But producing the race cars was not easy, since the Dresden-based manufacturer was only permitted to use materials from East Germany. About 90 percent of the Melkus’ parts came from Wartburg cars and some of its parts came from the Trabants. Still, Melkus was determined to see his vehicle on the streets of East Germany. Alongside his race cars, he also produced sports cars for everyday use, known as the Melkus RS1000. These sleek and stylish cars could reach speeds of about 112 miles per hour. But they never gained the popularity of the Trabants or the Wartburgs, and the company stopped producing its Melkus cars in 1986.

As we remember the 29th anniversary of the fall of the wall this week, we like to look back at the things that differentiated East and West Germany, as well as the things that united them. The Trabi is a symbol of the East, but the Melkus was one of the GDR’s prized creations: a race car that was made in a region with very few resources.

10 creative ways people crossed the inner German border

Some went over, others went under and some went right through it!

In a hot air balloon

In 1979, eight people soared over the Berlin Wall in a home-made hot air balloon created with small pieces of nylon cloth. To avoid looking suspicious, the families of Hans Strelczyk and Gunter Wetzel secretly collected small amounts of cloth over a long period of time. After their escape, the East German government began to strictly control the purchases of light-weight cloth.

Continue reading “10 creative ways people crossed the inner German border”

These everyday items were invented by Germans!

© dpa / picture-alliance

Inventors from around the world are converging on Nürnberg from November 1 to 4 to present their inventions at Germany’s 70th annual trade fair for ideas and inventions (the Ideen- Erfindungen-Neuheiten-Austellung, also known as iENA). The fair is the largest of its kind; since it was first held in 1948, more than 300,000 inventions were presented to the public – including inline skates, wheeled suitcases and folding bicycles. Inventors from 44 countries are expected to display their ideas.

In light of this fair, let’s take a look at some inventions that you may not have known are German!

Aspirin

Many of us depend on aspirin to cure us of our pains. But few may know that aspirin was invented by a German chemist, Felix Hoffman. The Swabian-born chemist initially developed the drug for his aligning father, but got a patent for it in 1899.

© dpa / picture-alliance

Continue reading “These everyday items were invented by Germans!”

Need a place to celebrate Halloween? Head over to Frankenstein Castle in Germany!

With Halloween just around the corner, let’s take a look at one of Germany’s creepiest places: Frankenstein Castle.

Frankenstein Castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the city of Darmstadt. It was constructed sometime before the year 1250 by Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg, who founded the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein. Over the coming centuries, the castle was home to various different families and witnessed several territorial conflicts. In 1673, Johann Conrad Dippel – who later became an alchemist – was born in the castle. The structure fell into ruins in the 18th century and was restored in the mid-19th century.

The most famous story is, of course, that of the alchemist who worked in the castle in the 17th century. He was known to experiment with strange potions. He supposedly created an animal oil (which he named “Dippel’s Oil”) that was a so-called “elixir of life”. There are also rumors that the man studied anatomy and conducted experiements on cadavers, some of which he dug up himself from graves. There is no evidence that proves that any of this happened, but local people believe the legends are true.

Continue reading “Need a place to celebrate Halloween? Head over to Frankenstein Castle in Germany!”

Reader submission: A transatlantic voyage

Horst Cerni

This is a guest post by Horst Cerni telling the story of his long journey from Germany to the United States.

Others call it “Germany”, or “Alemania” or “L’Allemagne”, but for me it has always been Deutschland.

My first home was in Allenstein, East Prussia, which no longer is German. We had to escape from the Russians in January of 1945, – we, my mother, two younger sisters, my cousin, and a friend of our family with five small children. It was a horrifying experience, walking in snow for many miles at icy temperatures. After three weeks, we reached Gotenhafen (now Gdingen in Poland) – in time for my tenth birthday. There we were fortunate to get on a freighter that took us to the West.

Continue reading “Reader submission: A transatlantic voyage”

Ludwigsburg Castle: Home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world

It’s that time of year again: Halloween season! Although this spooky holiday is predominately celebrated with costumes in the United States, many autumn traditions are also celebrated in Germany. In fact, Germany is home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world!

Each fall, the Ludwigsburg Castle (near Stuttgart) hosts a large exhibition of pumpkins, which are shaped as extravagant sculptures based on a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Pumpkin Forest” and features pumpkin sculptures of woodland creatures like foxes. Typically, more than 450,000 pumpkins in 600 varieties are used to create the pumpkin sculptures that bring tourists from near and far.

© dpa / picture-alliance

The festival also hosts some unusual activities, such as pumpkin boat races in which people paddle across a lake in a giant pumpkin. There is also an annual competition to find the largest pumpkin and a pumpkin smashing ritual at the end of the season. That makes your typical pumpkin farms look mediocre in comparison!

Continue reading “Ludwigsburg Castle: Home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world”

“The future needs remembrance.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which was often described as the “war to end all wars.”

Remembering the Great War is of utmost importance to the Federal Foreign Office. This week, a series of events kicked off in Berlin to look back on the events before and after 1918.

“The future needs remembrance,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on October 11. “The European Union is a unique example in world history for successful conflict resolution. We should be proud of the lessons we have learnt from our shared history, of what we have achieved. And – in awareness of the past – to protect and promote this.”

Together with French politician Jean Yves Le Drian, Minister Maas opened the two-day conference “Winning Peace – the end of the First World War with its history, remembrance and current challenges”. Several other events will take place in October and November to reflect on the war, including an international Youth for Peace meeting in Berlin with more than 500 young people from 52 countries.

Continue reading ““The future needs remembrance.””

Breakdance meets Bach: The Flying Steps perform at the Lincoln Memorial

Four-time break-dance world champions the Flying Steps held a special performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to kick-start our year-long campaign, Wunderbar Together – a celebration of the German-American friendship.

The B-Boy crew, which has been around since 1993, combined break-dancing with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a one-of-a-kind performance in the nation’s capital.

The Flying Steps combined break-dancing with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy

The show took place during the opening week of our Wunderbar Together campaign, which celebrates the transatlantic partnership between the US and Germany through dialogue, experience and exchange.

Crowds at the Lincoln Memorial cheer for the Flying Steps. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy

The Flying Steps crew was formed by Vartan Bassil and Kadir „Amigo” Memis in Berlin, Germany. Currently the group consists of nine members. In 2007, the group established the Flying Steps Academy, which is the largest urban dance school in Germany. The group is currently on tour in the US.

The Flying Steps take a group photo with members of the “Wunderbar Together” team. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy

Leading up to German Unity Day

It’s the most eventful season of the year for us at the German Embassy! Important anniversaries take place in the autumn, including the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Day of German Unity and the events leading up to and following those historic moments in history. Wednesday is German Unity Day, which celebrates Germany’s reunification on October 3, 1990. Let’s look at some important dates leading up to this historic moment:

September 20, 1990

On this day in history, the legislative chambers of East and West Germany voted in favor of unifying the two parts of Germany. Almost a year prior, the border between the East and the West was opened, but the country had not yet been united politically. After many months of discussions, the West German Bundestag voted 442 to 47 in favor of reunification and the East German Volkskammer voted 299 to 80.

September 23-29, 1990

The German Unification Treaty was signed on September 23. It stated that the territory of the former German Democratic Republic, as reestablished “Länder” (federal states), would accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law. On September 28, the Federal Statute was published in the Bundesgesetzblatt, which is where the Federal Republic publishes its official laws of the nation. The treaty was entered into force on September 29.

October 3, 1990

Germany was officially reunified and its five states, which had been abolished in 1952, were reinstated as regions of one country. East and West Berlin became one unified city and the German flag was raised above the Brandenburg Gate. As you can imagine – and as some of you may remember – the celebrations on October 3, 1990 were massive – and they continue to this day. Are you celebrating German Unity Day this year?

© dpa / picture-alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy