A German surprise: First Graders look forward to their Schultüten

For many Americans and their families, it’s back-to-school season! For some parents, this means back-to-school shopping for supplies, clothes and other needs for their children. In Germany, however, First Graders get a special treat on their first day of school: a Schultüte (“school cone”)!

A Schultüte is colorful and elaborately decorated cone that is given to German students on their first day of first grade. A typical “school cone” is prepared by a students’ parents and filled to the brim with goodies such as small school supplies (like pens, pencil cases, erasers, etc.) , toys and candy. These bundles of gifts evoke excitement in students during one of the most important days of their childhood – the day that school begins. As kids make their way to their new classrooms, they proudly carry their Schultüten with them. Receiving a Schultüte is often a highlight of a First Grader’s childhood. Many Germans eagerly reflect back on their first day of first grade, picturing their “school cones” and remembering the excitement that these gifts brought them.

This German tradition originated in the early 1800s in the cities of Jena, Dresden and Leipzig. Back then, parents brought the Schultüten directly to the schools, where they were hung on a so-called Schultütenbaum (“school cone tree”) in the classroom. When the tree was “ripe” with school cones, it meant that students were ready to begin first grade. On the first day of school, students were instructed to pick the cone with their name on it. To their surprise, the cones were usually filled with edible treats such as pretzels and candy.

Naturally, the tradition spread and evolved over time. Today, students often receive their Schultüten before they leave their homes to go to school – and their cones are often filled with school supplies, rather than candy. Even Austria and the Czech Republic have adopted this fun back-to-school tradition. So while American kids are often busy back-to-school shopping with their parents, German kids will receive a lot of these items in their cones!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

This summer, bike along the former Iron Curtain – it only takes a month!

Millions of tourists visit remnants of the Berlin Wall each year. But if you had a chance to bike along the former Iron Curtain, would you do it? It would take you about a month! In Germany, biking is a popular method of transportation – especially in Berlin, where an estimated 15-20 percent of all trips occur on bike. About 17 percent of Berlin residents use their bikes daily. But while commuting through Berlin’s flat open roads is both easy and affordable, biking along the Iron Curtain takes a much more serious athlete.

In 2014, politicians at Vienna’s House of the European Union unveiled plans to improve a 4,750-mile bike path along the former Iron Curtain, which stretches through 20 countries (14 of which are part of the EU) from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Although this trail, which has been named EuroVelo 13, has existed many several years, parts of it remain largely unexplored. But overall, the section of the trail that runs through Germany is mostly complete. The trail passes along numerous historic watchtowers, including Observation Point Alpha in Thuringia. Those who bike along the entire trail would pass by 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the way.

The European Parliament previously described the project as a “tourist trail that would preserve the memory of the division of the continent, show how it has been overcome through peaceful European reunification, and promote a European identity.”

With summer just around the corner, history buffs and cycling enthusiasts may choose to explore all or parts of the trail.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

24 of the most beautiful sentences in German literature

From Goethe to Eschenbach, German authors have captured the imaginations of their readers for centuries. Here are a few of their most beautiful lines.

1. “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

2.  “The decision to kiss for the first time is the most crucial in any love story. It changes the relationship of two people much more strongly than even the final surrender; because this kiss already has within it that surrender.” – Emil Ludwig, Of Life and Love

3. “That which they call love, it is nothing except the pain of longing.” – Walther von der Vogelweide, Erotic Dawn-Songs of the Middle Ages

Continue reading “24 of the most beautiful sentences in German literature”

Stolpersteine: Stumbling Into History

Scattered throughout Europe, planted in the streets and sidewalks of cities whose past is not forgotten, commemorative brass plaques eternalize the lives that were lost in the great tragedy of the 20th century. Called the Stolpersteine (in English: “stumbling stones”), the shiny bronze plaques commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime in more than 1,100 locations in 21 countries.

© dpa / picture alliance

More than 67,000 of these stones are solidly rooted across cities in Europe, including 916 places in Germany alone, where large strides have been taken to memorialize Jewish life, history and culture. Each Stolperstein commemorates a victim of the Holocaust at that person’s last known address. The plaque includes the victim’s name, date of birth, deportation date and death date, if known. In Berlin, more than 5,000 Stolpersteine have been carefully implanted in the city’s sidewalks and streets, serving as a constant reminder of the many valuable lives lost tragically during the Holocaust.

But unlike many museums, the stones specifically pay tribute to individuals – names that can too often be forgotten when focusing on the sheer number of victims the Holocaust accounts for. Standing before a stumbling stone in a vibrant neighborhood in Berlin, the world comes to a stand-still as the engraved name of a single individual triggers an empathetic reflection of the life that might have been lived on that very street.

Multiple stumbling stones are often found on the same street, marking former locations of deportation. They therefore put into question what has often been said by many Germans – namely that they didn’t know what happened to their next-door neighbors who suddenly vanished.

The Stolpersteine are a project initiated by German artist Gunter Demnig, who strives to bring back the names of the millions of Jews, gays, Gypsies, and politically or otherwise persecuted victims who were either killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 or driven to commit suicide.

“A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten,” Demnig frequently says, citing the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud. Frequently, it’s family members of Holocaust victims who sponsor a stone in memory of a loved one. Sometimes, residents purchase a stone in honor of a victim who once lived in their building. And on other occasions, people sponsor stones simply to promote the project and help preserve the memory of those who suffered – without having any particular ties to an individual. Whenever someone chooses to sponsor a stone, Demnig visits that location personally to install it and say a few words about the meaning of his work.

The Stolpersteine are embedded securely into the ground, so “stumbling” over them is meant in a figurative sense: by spotting these tiny memorials, people stumble over them with their hearts and minds, stopping in their tracks to read the inscriptions and bring someone back to life. Even though each stone takes up only a few inches of space, all 67,000 Stolpersteine dispersed throughout the continent together make up the largest Holocaust memorial in the world.

© dpa / picture alliance

 

Travel Tuesday: Partnach Gorge

The Parnachklamm (“Partnach Gorge”) consists of rock strata formed 240 million years ago. © dpa / picture-alliance

In the mountains of the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the Partnach Gorge – a natural monument filled with waterfalls, rapids, caves and beautiful water basins.

The 2,303 ft long gorge is incised by a mountain stream and visitors can walk through it year-round.

The hike along the Partnach Gorge goes partially through mountainous caves. © dpa / picture-alliance

The sedimentary rock strata of the gorge (called Muschelkalk in German) was formed 240 million years ago – back when the region was still a shallow sea. Traces of the burrowing and feeding of marine animals can still be seen on the strata. The gorge itself was formed many millions of years ago when the Partnach stream cut into the rocks, creating  a river that flows through the mountains and forms the gorge.

Back in the 18th century, local Germans used the gorge to transport firewood to nearby towns on a raft. This, however, was quite dangerous, due to the strong current of the Partnach Gorge.

Today, however, the gorge is more of a tourist attraction than a method of firewood transportation. There is a small entrance fee in the summer months.

The Partnach Gorge is filled with icicles in the winter months. © dpa / picture-alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Germany: Home to more than 20,000 castles

Many travelers who come to Germany choose to visit the country’s many majestic castles and palaces. But even those who don’t go out of their way to visit one may stumble across the ruins of a medieval castle: Germany has over 20,000 castles, some of which are well-known tourist attractions and others that lay isolated in the countryside.

The most famous castle is, of course, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was built in the Bavarian hillside in the late 1800s. Walt Disney’s castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, and the site is known worldwide for its magical appearance. It is Germany’s most-visited castle, bringing in over 1.3 million tourists per year.

Another well-known castle is the Burg Eltz, which looks as if it came straight out of a fairytale. This magical medieval castle lies on a hill near the River Rhine. It has belonged to the same family for over 800 years. Near Frankfurt, Frankenstein’s Castle may attract those are fascinated by scary stories. The fortress was once the home to mad scientists John Konrad Dippel, who was known to conduct freaky experiments on corpses. Some believe that the author of the Frankenstein story was inspired by his work.

Further south, the picturesque Heidelberg Castle overlooks the town below it, making you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. The romantic ruins of the castle loom over the town, attracting many artists, poets and writers seeking inspiration.

The famous Hohenzollern Castle, located on a mountain in the Swabian Alps, is currently celebrating a milestone: this year marks 165 years since construction began and 150 years since its completion.

“This castle was built to show the unification of the German peoples after the revolution in 1848 – 1849. But it was never the home for the Prince of Prussia. It was not built as a residence but rather as a cultural memorial. Today it is protected by the German memorial protection,” Anja Hoppe, manager of Hohenzollern Castle, told CCTV.

These are among the most well-known castles in Germany, but there are plenty more hidden and nameless castles that you’ve probably never heard about. So if you’re considering a trip to Germany, make sure to put a few castle visits on your to-do list.

Travel Tuesday: the Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes

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Many people know Germany for its quaint villages and Bavarian mountains, but the country is also home to many deep caverns shrouded in mystery. One such place is the Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes, which are colorful caves in Thuringia. So colorful, in fact, that the Guiness Book of World Records once named them the “most colorful cave grottoes in the world.”

In the 16th century, the caverns were used as an alum shale mine. Back then, alum was used in medicinal products, to tan animal hides and as a food preservative, among other uses. According to legend, some of the miners at work had an encounter with a beautiful fairy, who vanished as they approached her in the mines. This is how the grottoes received their name.

The caverns were mined for their alum shale for centuries, but more effective chemical compounds were developed over time and the grottoes were closed in 1850 and largely forgotten about. The caverns were rediscovered by explorers in 1910, who were amazed at the beautiful mineral deposits that has accumulated in the years that it was abandoned. The mineral deposits created interesting formations in shades of beige, red, brown and grey and these formations were reflected in the underground pools of water below them. The caverns were opened up for sightseeing in 1914 and are a popular tourist destination today.

Travel Tuesday: Naumburg Cathedral

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The picturesque Naumburg Cathedral in eastern Germany is an 800-year-old cultural landmark that is famous for its Romanesque and Gothic architecture. This week, UNESCO designated the Naumburg Cathedral as a World Heritage site.

The Naumburg Cathedral is a masterpiece of human creativity,” Maria Böhmer, President of the German UNESCO Commission, told Deutsche Welle. “It is in line with the cathedrals of Amiens in France, Modena in Italy and Burgos in Spain.”

The cathedral is famous for the works of the Naumburg Master, a German architect and sculptor who combined architecture, statues and glass paintings in the building. His identity is unknown, but his artwork brings visitors from near and far alike.

One of the most famous pieces of art in the Naumburg Cathedral is the statue of St. Elisabeth of Thurinigia, who is considered one of the most important woman of the Middle Ages for her devotion to and sacrifice for the sick and the poor.

Continue reading “Travel Tuesday: Naumburg Cathedral”

Tourism in Germany is on the rise

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany.

Are you traveling to Germany this summer? Tourism is booming! The Federal Statistical Office released new data showing that incoming tourism in Germany increased by 4.8 percent from January to April (compared to the same period in 2017). There were 23.1 million recorded international overnight stays in German hotels during that time!

“One million additional nights in four months – this is further proof of the successful positioning of Germany as a travel destination,” said Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman of the Board of the German National Tourist Board (GNTB). The European market continues to grow by 3.6 percent and “the Asian and American markets continue to grow at a rate of 6.5 and 8.2 percent respectively.”

The GNTB report states that the United States continues to be the most important source of tourism in Germany. From January through April, 5 percent more Americans visited Germany than during that time in the previous year.

In a separate survey, the GNTB asked visitors to name their favorite destinations in Germany. Last year’s top 10 sights were the Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg (the world’s largest model railway exhibition), Europa-Park, Neuschwanstein Castle, Lake Constance, Old Town of

, Dresden’s old quarter, the Heidelberg Castle, Phantasialand, the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich and the Moselle Valley.

Travel Tuesday: The Currywurst Museum

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If you’ve ever been to Germany, you surely know about Germans’ love for currywurst!

In fact, Germans love currywurst so much that they even have a museum dedicated to it.

The Currywurst Museum, located in downtown Berlin, is dedicated to the popular sausage dish, presenting everything from the history of the currywurst to its presence in film, TV and music. The interactive museum also features exhibits such as spice sniffing stations, a sausage sofa, ketchup-bottle-shaped audio stations and virtual currywurst-making stations.

Located right near Checkpoint Charlie, the Currywurst Museum is an unusual and entertaining addition to any Berlin trip – especially with kids!

But how did this strange museum come into being?

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The museum opened its doors in August 2009 – 60 years after the invention of the currywurst. This popular German sausage was created by Berlin resident Herta Heuwer in 1949. Back then, Germany was suffering the aftermath of World War II and there was a shortage of food. So Heuwer experimented: she got a hold of some ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers and added these ingredients to a traditional German Bratwurst. She then began to sell this newly invented currywurst at a stand near Checkpoint Charlie. Her creation was a hit, and she eventually reached a point where she was selling up to 10,000 currywurst sausages a week.

The founder of the Currywurst Museum, Martin Loewer, realized how important this food item became in Germany and created the museum to acknowledge its impact. The museum currently receives about 350,000 visitors per year.

© dpa / picture-alliance
© dpa / picture-alliance