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.

Israelis in Berlin: Jewish life thrives in modern Germany

Jewish life is back in Berlin – but much different than in the metropolitan Golden Twenties. Over the last decade, Berlin has become one of the most desirable destinations among Israelis who choose to live abroad. In 2006, an estimated 3,000 Israelis lived in the German capital. Since then, Hebrew language and Israeli culture – hardly known and of little visibility back then – have increasingly contributed to Berlin’s international, multi-faceted face. In 2012, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin estimated the number of Israeli residents between 10,000 and 15,000. An exact figure is not available, since many Israeli Berliners hold a European passport.

For years, primarily Jewish students have decided to study in modern Germany’s capital. Today, an increasing number of Israeli families and young professionals are moving to the vibrant metropolis. A wide network of communication and exchange on living as an Israeli in Berlin has evolved. Social media, including blogs, Facebook groups and contact lists in the Jewish community help new arrivals feel at home.

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The Hebrew city magazine Spitz aims to bridge the gap between Israelis and Germans. For Tal Alon, who founded the magazine after moving with her family from Tel Aviv to Berlin in 2009, it is most important to create understanding on both sides for cultural diversity and Berlin’s many faces. Another communal platform for exchange and networking is the non-profit initiative “Habait”, founded by Nirit Bialer in 2011, which organizes various events ranging from theater performances in former industrial sites to the Tel Aviv Beach Party at the River Spree. The events are open to the public and seek to create a relaxed atmosphere of dialogue about Israeli culture between people living in Berlin.

But the question remains: Why Berlin?

In a ranking of European hot spots, the city was rated one of the most affordable cities, since rents and costs of living are relatively low. At the same time the German economy is dynamic, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs. Some districts – like Kreuzberg – are home to a vibrant art scene and serve as a platform for a creative crowd. Many Israeli artists and writers come to Berlin to dive into this atmosphere. Making a living as an artist appears to be easier there than elsewhere. All in all, Berlin is an easy-going and relaxed metropolis where living is less affected by security concerns than in busy Tel Aviv.

For young Israelis, Berlin is a life far from home, family and expectations they would otherwise be confronted with. Some may enjoy greater personal freedom in Berlin and a chance to pursue their own way of life.

Whether for a few days, a year or several decades, staying in Berlin means that every day is an encounter with people and cultures. Berlin is both creative and down to earth; a melting pot where people relax and innovative minds can pursue their hopes and dreams.

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”

Sauerkraut: Germany’s cuisine for colder months

It might not be difficult to guess that Sauerkraut is a popular dish in Germany; after all, it is a German word. But this well-known German dish – which directly translates to “sour cabbage” – is also widespread in the United States, and has been used in American English since 1776.

Sauerkraut is a form of chopped cabbage that has been salted, fermented and often flavored with additional spices and ingredients such as juniper berries. In Germany, it is often served with pork, sausage or potatoes. Traditionally it is also consumed on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck and wealth during the new year.

The origins of Sauerkraut, however, can be traced back to 200 B.C., when Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage in wine. When Genghis Khan invaded China, he allegedly took the recipe for fermented cabbage and modified it, using salt instead of wine. When the Tatars (Mongolian tribes) arrived in Europe not long thereafter, they brought Sauerkraut with them, and the dish became popular in Eastern Europe and Germanic regions.

Sauerkraut was particularly valuable in northern climates because it could be preserved and consumed all throughout the winter. By allowing the dried cabbage to ferment, sugars are turned into lactic acid, which function as a preservative and allow for the long-term storage of the dish. The fermented cabbage also retains many of its nutrients and is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. In fact, Europeans have long used Sauerkraut to treat stomach ulcers and soothe the digestive tract.

Although Sauerkraut was not invented in Germany, it became a part of German cuisine and culture, and when German immigrants came to the US, they brought Sauerkraut with them. The dish was particularly useful for long voyages across the Atlantic, since it could be so easily preserved. The Pennsylvania Dutch, which settled in Lancaster County, made Sauerkraut one of their specialties, and continue to serve it on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of good fortune.

World War I led to the development of anti-German sentiment in the US. For the duration of the war, Sauerkraut was referred to as “liberty cabbage.” Today, however, the dish continues to be known by its German name, Sauerkraut.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: The Pig Museum

Countless plush pigs are presented in the pig museum in Stuttgart, Germany. The Stuttgart pig museum displays more than 50,000 lucky pigs, piggy banks and plush pigs. © dpa / picture-alliance

Are your kids tired of spending hours in “boring” museums?

Take them to the Pig Museum in Stuttgart, Germany!

This museum features 25 themed rooms with more than 50,000 different pigs, ranging from piggy banks to stuffed animal pigs. Visitors can learn about the evolution of different species of pigs, as well as myths and legends about pigs from around the world.

This museum is less than ordinary – and its history is unusual, too. The concept began when Erika Wilhelmer, the owner of the museum and an avid pig paraphernalia collector, decided to convert a slaughterhouse into a museum in 1988. Over the years, her collection grew – and in 1992 the Guinness Book of World Records declared it the world’s largest pig museum. Once the museum had reached 40,000 pig items, it was relocated to its current location in Stuttgart.

Whether you find pigs adorable or you have an appetite for them, the Pig Museum in Stuttgart is sure to teach you something new about these intelligent farm animals! And when you’re finished exploring the history and culture surrounding pigs, you can relax in the beer garden and order some delicious Swabian delicacies.

A tram decorated as a pig stands in front of the pig museum in Stuttgart, Germany. © dpa / picture-alliance
Countless piggy banks are presented in the pig museum in Stuttgart. © dpa / picture-alliance

Word of the Week: Fanmeile

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During big televised sporting events – like the World Cup – thousands of Germans gather in the streets to watch the games together on large screens throughout the city. They will usually be waving flags, cheering and sporting their favorite team’s colors. In German, this sort of area is called a Fanmeile (“fan mile”) – a public space that is transformed during significant sporting events.

With the 2018 World Cup about to begin, Fanmeilen will be popping up all over Germany. This summer in Berlin, the street between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column will be transformed into a massive Fanmeile (the largest in Germany!), complete with food and drink stands. Television screens will air the games while up to 100,000 people gather on the street to watch.

Germans sometimes refer to a Fanmeile as a “public viewing”, which they use to describe places that air sports games. But while a public viewing can also take place in a smaller locale such as a bar, restaurant, school or church, Fanmeilen are large-scale outdoor regions that typically accommodate thousands of people.

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Fanmeilen originated in Germany during the 2006 World Cup, which means they are still relatively new. In 2006, Germany hosted the World Cup – but not everyone could get tickets. FIFA-sponsored Fanmeilen were therefore set up for people without tickets to watch the games. The concept was a huge success, and the screenings became events in themselves – especially the screening of the Germany vs. Argentina game in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finale. The longest Fanmeile was located in Berlin and brought together 900,000 soccer enthusiasts.

Consequentially, the word Fanmeile was selected by the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache as the 2006 Word of the Year.

Berlin’s Fanmeile is still the largest World Cup viewing area in Germany – and the number of fans will surely increase if Germany makes it into the finals this summer. Additionally, Fanmeilen have popped up all over Europe – including countries like Austria and Switzerland.

Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, make sure to check out a Fanmeile if you’re in Germany. It’s the experience that counts!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Pretzels: A medieval German delicacy

If you’ve ever been to a German bakery, you might have noticed the fresh-baked pretzels every morning behind the glass. Pretzels have long been a part of German food culture – but they have also made their way to the United States.

There are several unconfirmed stories about the invention of the pretzel, but the earliest recorded evidence of pretzels is their appearance in the crest of German bakers’ guilds in the year 1111. A pretzel was also depicted in an 1185 painting of a banquet for the Persian King Ahaseurus, which was published in the Hortus Deliciarum, a medieval manuscript that was compiled in Alsace (which at that time was claimed by the German Empire). A prayer book from 1140 also shows St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. Later images show pretzels hung around childrens’ necks on New Year’s Day for good luck, on Christmas trees in Austria and as part of Easter egg hunts in Germany. During the 16th century, pretzels were consumed on Good Friday, and some Catholics considered them an important part of Lent.

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Pretzels were deeply integrated in both religion and German culture. As a result, German immigrants brought pretzels with them when they came to the US in the 1700s, and pretzels quickly became a staple food of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In 1861, a man named Julius Sturgis founded the first pretzel bakery in the US, calling it the Sturgis Pretzel House. The bakery, which is located in Lititz, Pennsylvania, continues to produce pretzels and is also a tourist attraction, run by Sturgis’ descendents. To this day, Pennsylvania remains a hot spot for pretzel production, producing about 80 percent of all pretzels in the US.

In Germany, pretzels also grew in popularity and can now be found at food carts, fairs and festivals and childrens’ lunch boxes. From Germany’s Oktoberfest to the pretzel stand at a US shopping mall, this medieval European delicacy has made its way around the world.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Worms celebrates the 1,000th birthday of its cathedral

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On the west bank of the Rhine River is one of Germany’s oldest cities: Worms. And this year, the city is celebrating the 1,000th birthday of its oldest cathedral – a historic building that has shaped the city’s history like none other.

The St. Peter’s Dom stands on the highest point of the inner city of Worms. The historic cathedral was consecrated in the year 1018 and it has been the site of many important events in German history.

Worms is prominently featured in the famous epic poem The Nibelungenlied (in English: “The Song of the Nibelungs”) – and one scene takes place at the portal of the cathedral.

But the Worms Cathedral became even more well-known during the Martin Luther era. In 1521, the Diet of Worms (an imperial council presided over by Emperor Charles V) was held in the cathedral and Luther was ordered to appear there and respond to charges of heresy. Luther spent 10 days in Worms and refused to recant – and this changed the course of history.

“Here I stand, I can do no other,” Luther said before the Diet of Worms.

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Centuries later, the St. Peter’s Dom is a popular tourist attraction. As the city celebrates its 1,000th birthday, former German President Joachim Gauck delivered a ceremonial speech on Saturday.

“The people of Worms identify with their cathedral, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran or not religious at all,” Tobias Schafer, a provost at the cathedral, told Deutsche Welle.

The hot dog: an all-American treat with German origins

Americans purchase an estimated 9 billion hot dogs at retail stores each year. From sporting events to late-night eateries to street vendor carts in New York City, hot dogs are widespread in the US. Although the modern-day American hot dog differs from German-style sausages such as Currywurst or Bratwurst, its origins can be at least partially traced to Germany.

Europeans have produced sausages for centuries; Homer’s Odyssey traces the consumption of sausage back to the 9th Century B.C. and there is evidence that sausages were prevalent in the Holy Roman Empire. Although sausages were widespread in Europe, both Germans and Austrians take credit for the origin of the so-called Frankfurter or Wiener – the predecessors of the American hot dog.

Most sources credit Johann Georg Lahner as the inventor of these particular sausages. Lahner was born in 1772 in Gasseldorf, Germany – a small town in Bavaria. As an adult, he moved to Frankfurt, where he was employed as a butcher. He later moved to Vienna, Austria, where he allegedly invented the sausage by combining beef and pork. Lahner called them Frankfurters, after the city he previously lived in. Today, however, Germans refer to the hot dog sausages as Wiener, while Austrians call them Frankfurter. Both Vienna (in German: Wien) and Frankfurt claim credit for the origin of the hot dog.

When European immigrants came to the US in the 1800s, they brought hot dog-style sausages to the US. It is likely that there were multiple butchers of several nationalities who first sold these snacks in the US, but one of them was German immigrant Charles Feltman. In the late 1800s, Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York City, selling the sausages in a milk roll. The hot dogs quickly became popular, since they were easy and convenient to eat; Feltman sold several thousand in the first year alone.

A number of other German immigrants played a role in the evolution and spread of the American hot dog: German immigrant Anton Feuchtwanger, who sold hot dogs in the midwest, is credited for combining the hot dog with a bun. The use of a bun was meant to prevent customers from burning their hands on the hot dogs. Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant who owned the St. Louis Browns, brought hot dogs to baseball stadiums.

While hot dog sausages can be traced back to the Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, Germans undoubtedly played a role in popularizing this quick and easy snack in both Europe and the US.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: Marksburg Castle

Germany is home to thousands of castles. While some are ruins from the Middle Ages, others are extravagant palaces constructed by Germany’s last monarchs.

For those who enjoy seeing medieval castles, the Marksburg Castle in Rhineland-Palatinate is worth a trip. This majestic castle sits high on a cliff, which made it impenetrable to enemy forces and allowed it to survive for centuries.

The castle was constructed in the 12th century by a powerful family in the region. Over the centuries that followed, it was rebuilt many times over by high noble counts.

In the 19th century, French emperor Napoleon took control of the region and gave the Marksburg Castle to an ally of his, the Duke of Nassau. At this time, the castle was used as a prison and a home for disabled soldiers.

Castle ownership changed hands again before it was finally sold to the German Castle Association in the year 1900. Since 1931, Marksburg has been the head office of this organization, which is dedicated to the conservation of historic buildings.

Today, the castle is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is open daily for guided tours.