Going to put on my orange woolie hat and hang one of these up at the source tomorrow.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Advent is the movable season prior to Christmas. The name comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming, referring to the time of the coming/birth of Jesus. It therefore is originally of importance to Christains but has a long standing in the secular world. The litugary color is purple which is associated with the higher festivals. Long ago it was also a time of fasting, much like Lent, and lasted 6 weeks. This is still practised in some orthodox religions however most recognise the four Sundays prior to Christmas Eve as Advent - the first of which is also the start of a new church year for the Catholics. In Churches and in homes, especially here in Germany, a wreath or other holder is decorated with 4 candles, one lit for each Sunday.
There are all sorts of claims as to who and when the actual Advent Calendar was invented...many stories credit Germany - though they developed all over Europe around the same time, they are however hugely popular in Germany.
Store bought calendars from Playmobil, Milka, Mars, Lego & Kosmos
Advent- or Christmas counting down calendars mark the final days of December leading to Christmas, 24 days are celebrated in Germany and most continental European countries (25 in the US & British Commonwealth countries). Secularly it has become quite a commercial industry - most toy makers (Lego, playmobil, my little pony...), chocolate/candy makers and stationers sell, sometimes several, versions of the Advent calendars. There are dozens of books that have a story for each day. There are ready made Advent Calendars suited for everyone, offering: toys, condoms, beer, cosmetics, lottery scratch-offs...even snacks for the family pet.
The Advent Calendar industry: beer (Weltbild), A calendar for pet rabbits (Trixie), '24 more times til' calendar for couples (durex), scratch off cards from west lotto.
Do it yourself...
The 'fill it yourself' advent calendars are also very popular and allow a more personal touch. Several stores, even discounters sell the re-usable calendars (ie depot, ikea, strauss, tschibo, aldi, lidl). Creative types can make there own with inspiration offered by several books and magazines published here in Germany (check the craft sections of well stocked DIY or bookstores and magazine kiosks).
Garlands, ribbons, stamps, sacks and clips - depot has a huge selection for inspiring DIY advent calendars.
IKEA has a large and small nikolaus with 24 little boxes, they also have various gift bags and wrappings for DIY calendars.
Depot, Ikea and others sell materials such as 24 little paper bags, labels, stamps, ornaments, ribbons that facilitate making your own calendars. Even more economical are the 'Frühstückstütten' (breakfast bags) or loose tea bag filters (80 for ca. € 2.89).
for my son: I filled tea bag filters tied with ribbons and affixed with reusable number badges from Die Spiegelburg - tissue paper strips added some color - everything tucked neatly into an old strawberry box & tied off with a bow.
Some ideas for filling ... think: mini-sized sweets (mars, lindt christmas chocs, gummibears...) mixed with stocking stuffers inbetween.
kids: tattoos, mini books, party grab bag/stocking stuffer toys, barrettes, keychains, tickets to a play, cinema, ice skating. My best tip: a mini book of Christmas songs (pixi has nice German versions), juggling balls were fun for my son one year.
teens: Chapstick/lip gloss, nail art wraps, tickets to cinema/ice skating, scratch off lottery tickets, mini instruments, bath salts/powders, bracelets, mini flashlights. My best tip: while tweens and teens don't get into it as much as they did while younger...I'll throw in a scratch off or tickets for ice skating, wind up toys are fun for kitchen table competitions.
mom/dad: Chapstick, lottery scratch offs, facial packs, travel-sized bath products, cosmetic & scent samples.
A special gift is reserved for the 24/25th...on this date, I like to fill it with a nicer 'heirloom' tree ornament (dated/initialed with a sharpie) so that the kids will have a small collection of ornaments when they set out on their own...
I made this wooden advent calendar for my daughter about 7 years ago using a pattern from the book Adventskalender aus Papier, Filz & Holz from Birgitta Utermarck (Christophorus Verlag)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
without words wednesday - romantic road trip (Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Lindau, Neuschwanstein, Freiburg, Colmar)
Haven't been posting as we have guests and did some intense travelling - down to Bavaria, Baden Württemberg and Alsace.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The city was inspiration for the village of Geppetto in Disney's Pinocchio and later the location of child catcher's famous snatch with one of the museum's paddy wagons in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Snow in the Allgäu made our pilgrimage to perhaps the world's most recognisable castle, Neuschwansten, even more magical.
Colmar, France in Alsace blew all other Christmas markets off the map!
Saturday, November 23, 2013
We have guests in from the states, one place I love to show guests is the wine village of Cochem on the Mosel. Already wrote about this in July, but it's a different time of the year now and we also walked to the top of the hill and took the castle tour so thought I'd share a little bit about that in this post.
Cochem seems to be a well liked day trip destination for Dutch, French and English tourists. There are a couple of US military bases not that far off so there are Americans around too. The village really knows how to cater to tourists. The riverfront city is very charming with its cobble stoned roads and half timbered buildings. Medieval gates and onion topped church towers. The most prominent site is the Reichsburg Castle, up top the vineyards overlooking the city and scenic Mosel river valley. The foundation for this castle was laid by a palatinate count probably around 1000 ad - it was fortified and finished in the 14th century. French soldiers destroyed it in 1689 after which it remained a ruin for two centuries until bought by a wealthy businessman from Berlin, Louis Ravene, in 1868. He restored it to it's present day neo-gothic stand and filled it with medieval period furniture and artefacts. It is currently under the ownership of the city of Cochem. Daily tours are offered and there is a banquet space available for private functions.
If you are in the area and have guests that would like to visit a castle I would recommend this castle, the tour is a delight and a lot of detail was invested into the castle's restoration. Burg Eltz which is not too far off and still partially resided in, is also very good but as it stands alone, this castle is my choice destination with Cochem being the cherry on top.
Kids will love this castle: along the vineyard path up they can follow iron basilisks, stand under the lamp ladies that bring luck, see a polar bear 'rug', a replica of the 7,5 ft tall giant knight of Innsbruck, and...oh my! Did the gnome on the knight's room fireplace relief loose his pants? Ahem!
This castle has that certain Harry Potter flair - though they are strict, as they should be, about not touching anything, a lot of young children are entertained by the smaller details and stories in the castle - which include false doors, lamp ladies, froggie-helmeted lions, secret passageways, an old polar bear fur, a 50m deep well and a witch tower. Ironwork railings along the vineyard path are shaped into basilisk/dragon heads and tails...at one point a small iron knight stands ground to take them on.
The village shops are typical with those funky fashions from Italy and artsy scarves...the coats are amazing - I keep thinking when I'm older and can get away with it as a mad old lady I'll come back and get one, but for now play it safe. Cake and torte fans will not be disappointed with the selection available at the handful of local cafe bakeries. As it is a wine region, there are wine cellars offering tasting - we tried the German specialty 'Eiswein' - which is 20% more concentrated than normal Rieslings. The grapes are harvested and pressed only when nature allows - the grapes must be frozen solid. Our sampling was from 2006, very sweet with a hint of exotic fruits. Ice wine is served chilled, liqueurs are also sold widely throughout the village.
A small but very sweet collection of Christmas market stalls were set up along the river side square. A carpet slide and carrousel kept the kiddies smiling, a party tent was also erected, offering warm fare and drinks - several shops from the village had tables set up inside. On stage was a swing band with a lovely vocalist.
All in all I recommend a visit to this charming village and its castle, not just at Christmas - but anytime of the year really.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Bonn has a really wonderful Christmas market - over 170 wooden stalls decorated with fir garlands, fairylights, ribbons and various ornaments are set up among four city center squares and along the passages inbetween. Almost all the stands are specialty gifts, things you simply would not find in the stores, from artisan glass window hangers, pottery, woodwork, beeswax candles, felted hats, wooden ornaments from the Erzgebirge, funky glass tree ornaments, retro tin toys, paper marionettes, woolie hats, scarves, sweets - those unbelievable realistic chocolate tools...but the best part are the well placed food vendors - anyone who has been to a Christmas market knows the happy warm yummy smells of spiced mulled wines, egg nog, warm freshly made carmelised almonds, gingerbread, waffles, steamed bread pudding, wood smoked salmon, hot chestnuts, crepes, pofferjes, pretzels, bratwurst, herb sauteed mushrooms...hungry yet? Being the birthplace of Beethoven, there are always buskers in the city, in addition a small stage is set up in front of the remnents of city's old gate, the Sterntor. Here the market opened today, it remains open through til December 24th, closed on Sunday, November 24th (Totensonntag for the Evangelish/Lutheran Church). Two tips: visit the animated Steiff window at Kaufhof Galeria while sipping a Glühwein - this years jungle theme is sweet but I prefer the snowy village ones more. Work off or earn those market treats at the ice rink not too far off near the Poppelsdorf Palace.
Still quite early - the calm before the storm - home made soaps, slabs of flame smoked salmon.
PS - there is a supervised hut for children if you need some shopping time - they can make crafts or play board games. It's located opposite the charity stalls near the entrance of the Münster.
The actual law requires that all vehicles using German roads (including motorcycles and non-German registered vehicles) are fitted with weather tires labeled with 'M+S' (mud+snow / Matsch+Schnee) during winter conditions (black ice, frost, slush, snow, ice). Driving in heavy snow may require proper winter tires and snow chains can also be required in some areas. Weather, not a definite date determines this enforcement. The general recommendation is O-O (October - Ostern/Easter). Violators will be fined and insurances may deny coverage if violation causes damage or injury. If you're not ready to go by now, better hurry the first frost has hit most of Germany with snowfall in elevated and southern areas. Also there have been years when tire dealers have been overwhelmed by last minute demands.
Get informed through your insurance company or road travel club of the legal and recommended tread depths - safe driving everyone.
ready for the first snow with a new set of M+S tires
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Dubbed as creepy, Thomas Kluge's new Danish Royal Family portrait is getting a lot of attention.
But isn't there something creepy about most portraits?
But isn't there something creepy about most portraits?