Christmas Means Cookies

For almost a month already, we have been floating in the yearly jolly atmosphere that smells like cinnamon, shines with the twinkle lights and tempts us with delicious food.

Germany is famous for its wonderful bread and it’s a very well-deserved reputation, however, there’s a lot that can be said about German pastries, cakes and cookies. Normally, people’s thoughts fly all the way to France and its delicate macaroons or éclairs as the must-try when looking for something sweet in Europe they can later talk about. I find myself much more inclined for the astounding variety of Christmas cookies that Germany has to offer, hence, here a list of my favorite ones among the sorts I have  tried so far just in time for you to judge if I have walked the wrong path, chip in with a recommendation or bolt out in search of some newly discovered variety to munch on while waiting for the holy and silent night. If you are left feeling hungry for more cookie tales, check out Alie’s earlier A Small Festive Treat blog post. Continue reading

Guide to German Nutcrackers

I had a nutcracker or two growing up, gaily dressed as soldiers and watching over me as I slept. Once I moved out, my mom pulled them out for the holidays and added a few new friends. Then a few more..til there was a horde of nutcrackers to accompany our tree for the Christmas season.

I get the fascination. More than just a way to crack a nut (in fact most aren’t very useful for their original purpose anymore), nutcrackers (or Nussknacker in German) today embody the holiday spirit.

Nutcrackers (Nussknacker) PHOTO: Cheryl Mendenhall

History of German Nutcrackers

A hammer was the original way to open nuts, but as people got fancy, so did our tools.

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Harvesting Germany’s Wild Garlic

Germans and their food obsessions. We are getting deep into Spargel season, but I am still stuck on the last seasonal mania, Bärlauch. Alternatively known as Allium ursinum, ramsons, bear leek, or wild garlic – all of these names meant nothing to me before coming to Germany.

Wild Bärlauch Photo: Ian Porter

The fixation with Bärlauch isn’t quite as strong as the all-encompassing Spargelzeit, but it still sneaks its way onto every menu and farmer’s market. In the last few years, I’ve been treated to Bärlauch the traditional German way, harvested straight from the forest. I’ve never felt more German.
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Mahlzeit!

MahlzeitFor the first time since we moved to Berlin over five years ago, I am required to go (most days, at least) to an office with lots of German people. Up until a few months ago, I’d either worked from home or from a small co-working space. But now, from behind computer screens and over the kettle in the shared kitchen, I see Germans at work – a novel and culturally enlightening experience for many reasons, not least because of “Mahlzeit!”

Have you ever heard a German say “Mahlzeit” and wondered what it meant – sitting down to a meal perhaps or some time around the middle of the day? Why should they be reminding me it’s a mealtime, you might have thought, if you’d understood the word but not really grasped what they were getting at. Continue reading

Birthday Etiquette

Nothing unsettles a German quite like wishing him or her a Happy Birthday before the actual birthday. The tradition of precision isn’t just in engineering appliances or designing public transport. In Germany, birthdays are also measured with exactness. I grew up with the relaxed approach to birthdays that is typical in North America: wish me happiness a day or two before, if my birthday is on the weekend; wish me happiness on the day if we happen to see each other; wish me happiness after the day has passed. All birthday wishes are welcome, and I don’t mind spreading out the happiness! The same approach goes for North Americans and birthday celebrations: Birthday parties can take place on the day, in the approximate week, or even six months later (these are half-birthdays, often celebrated for children born around Christmas, in order to spread the joy and gift-giving throughout the year).

When I moved to Germany, I was surprised to discover that Germans recoil in horror if you wish them Happy Birthday (“Alles Gute zum Geburtstag“) before their birthday! Continue reading

Eggs on trees – 5 favourite German Easter traditions

Osterglocken - daffodils in English

Osterglocken – daffodils in English

I love Easter in Germany. It’s full of decorations, rituals and get togethers – almost like a mini Christmas but with better weather promising the arrival of spring.

It is a bigger celebration than anything I experienced in the UK. This could be because in my childhood we were not frequent churchgoers, but I don’t think it’s just down to that. At nursery and school we didn’t do much for Easter either – the odd Easter egg competition but that was that. Mostly, we were concerned with chocolate.

But as at Christmas, the Germans, whether actively religious or not, stay loyal to older, family-oriented traditions, which start before the official Easter-time from Good Friday onwards begins.

1. Blowing Eggs 

The first Easter-related activity is decorating eggs. This takes place a good couple of weeks before Easter and involves blowing out the contents of the egg through a tiny pin prick in the bottom and top. The egg shells are rinsed and left to dry. They are then carefully painted by children and grown-ups alike in a cacophony of colours. Continue reading

Weihnachtsgebäck

linzertoertchenGermany at Christmas is divine – any visitor to a Weihnachtsmarkt can tell stories of the booths of crafts, gifts, toys, knitwear, ornaments, junk, treats, Glühwein, Wurst, candles, etc. The air is chilly, the mulled wine is warming, and the festive atmosphere is unmatchable elsewhere in the world. I miss that about Germany.

Happily, I have plenty of treats to keep me in the holiday spirit: all the Christmas cookies I make each year (and there are dozens and dozens of them!) are from German recipes. Continue reading

Is Santa Chinese? On the Trail of Santa Claus and der Weihnachtsmann

Fu Lu Shou

Ceramic figurines of the Chinese gods Shou, Lu and Fu. What do they have to do with Santa and the Weihnachtsmann? PHOTO: Ridone Ko – Flickr

I’ve written about it before, but this Christmastide I’m delving a little deeper into the traditions of the season of giving and its central figure: Santa Claus, Weihnachtsmann, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), Père Noël, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Babbo Natale, Julemanden, and so on. If you aren’t already aware of the many Germanic aspects of Santa Claus and Christmas, you can read about it on our German Way Christmas pages. While the German-American St. Nick connection and the “German” pickle ornament myth are fascinating, I know there’s more to the Santa Claus story than most people think. Continue reading