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German Christmas markets

27. November 2017, Heike Leiacker - General, Germany, Hamburg, History, Holiday, Knowledge, Traditions

Every day, Santa Claus flies above Hamburg’s city hall Christmas market. Picture by Chorengel, Pixabay.com.

It’s time again. In Germany the Christmas markets are opening. Today, the season for many of the big and small ones in Hamburg’s quarters begins, too. But the cozy markets that invite to a cup of mulled wine and a bite as well as Christmas shopping are not only a favorite in Germany. The German Christmas market is, like the Oktoberfest, a real export hit.

German Christmas markets

Children’s Day = Children’s Day? Celebrations in East and West Germany

01. June 2017, Heike Leiacker - Family, General, Germany, Holiday, Knowledge, Traditions

Campaign to collect waste material in order to buy an animal that was to be given to Berlin zoo on International Children’s Day in 1959. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-59459-0002 / Ulmer, Rudi / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-59459-0002,_Aus_Altstoffen_ein_Tier_f%C3%BCr_den_Tierpark.jpg)

Even if there are no two states any more, there are still differences between East and West Germany. There are structural inequalities, but there are different traditions as well, for example in celebrating. For instance, on 1 June is Children’s Day. One of the Children’s Days, to be more accurate. In fact there are two Children’s Days that are celebrated in Germany. International Children’s Day on 1 June and Universal Children’s Day on 20 September. The first of them is of greater importance in the eastern parts of the Country.

Children’s Day = Children’s Day? Celebrations in East and West Germany

Biikebrennen in North Frisia

21. February 2017, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Germany, Old Customs, Traditions

„Biikebrennen in Wassersleben (2014), Entzündung, Bild 013“ by Sönke Rahn – own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biikebrennen_in_Wassersleben_(2014),_Entz%C3%BCndung,_Bild_013.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Biikebrennen_in_Wassersleben_(2014),_Entz%C3%BCndung,_Bild_013.JPG

Every year on 21 February the communities on the North Frisian islands, on the coast and in Southern Denmark say goodbye to winter by lighting bonfires shortly after sunset. Every community and even some farms have their own bonfires. Today the contents of the fires are old Christmas trees and decorations.

Biikebrennen in North Frisia

Walking with lanterns

11. November 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - Historical Events, Personalities, Traditions, Anniversary

November is the month in which the traditional lantern processions take place in Germany. Children walking through the streets with their parents and colourful, self-made lanterns in the early hours of the evening is a custom that - like many other customs - traces back to a clerical holiday. In this case the holy Martin of Tours is to be honored by the rite.

 

Walking with lanterns

The history of German family names - part 1

07. September 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - Family, Onomastics, Traditions

The Chinese were first, introducing family names already about 2.850 B.C. The ancient Romans were then followed on the European continent; they usually had three names. For the German speaking regions, the history of family names starts in the 12th century. Here, for many centuries a single forename was sufficient to identify a person. However, even back then there were fashionable names so that the variety of names was reduced and led to a decline of Germanic forenames.

In addition, the population grew drastically between the 12th and 14th century. At some point there were, for example, three persons by the name of "Josef" in one village. Thus one name was not enough anymore to clearly identify a specific person.

The history of German family names - part 1

20 March – International Day of Happiness

19. March 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - Anniversary, Old Customs, Photos, Traditions

Happiness is a central theme and concern of our modern society: Self-help books line the shelves and discuss in every imaginable facet how we may walk through life not just content, but happy. Proverbs and motivational statements such as “Laughter is the best medicine”, Laugh and the world laughs with you” or “A day without laughter is a lost day” are everywhere from calendars on the wall to bed linen.

The display of happiness plays a central role in our lives: Someone who never laughs is prompted to do so (although this is overwhelmingly true for women) and when taking portraits or group pictures, photographers try to make people laugh by any means possible. Even without a paid photographer people smile – most selfies show laughing and smiling faces.

20 March – International Day of Happiness

Eating Then and Now: Thoughts on the Day of Healthy Eating

07. March 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Old Customs, Recipes, Traditions

The topic “Eating” and “Nutrition” is (Caution: a pun!) on everyone’s lips at the moment.

Be it low-calorie, vegan or lactose-free – there is something to cater for all tastes these days, as long as it’s healthy and balanced! Little helpers nowadays are nutrition apps and food ‘traffic lights’.

Eating Then and Now: Thoughts on the Day of Healthy Eating

International Mother Language Day

17. February 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - Anniversary, General, Historical Events, Knowledge, Traditions

According to the German dictionary, the term "first language", or "mother tongue" describes "a language that a child learns (from its parents) [and that it uses primarily]". Hence language is a cultural good that is part of us from an early age on and that makes us part of a family or community.

But all languages are not created equal: while doing genealogical research you discover that language and scripture change over time, new meanings develop for certain terms or they disappear from the language usage completely. While doing genealogical research, we often come across terms which are dated: In case our ancestors got married in the 19th century, they arranged a “copulation” [marriage]. At a christening feast there were „Gevatter“ [godparents] standing at your side.

International Mother Language Day

„So Hedge therefore, Who Join Forever” – The marriage then and now

02. February 2016, Andrea Bentschneider - Family, General, Old Customs, Traditions

Today on February 2nd 2016, King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary. Prior to their wedding there was made a big fuss about it since Máxima neither was aristocratic nor had she a proper ancestry.

While doing genealogy research and reading about marriages of our ancestors nowadays, we ascertain that love was not the main reason for contracting a marriage. During the filming for "Das Geheimnis meiner Familie" [„The secret of my family“] with Christine Neubauer the Historian Dr. Martin Ortmeier explained that only 2 % of the marriages contracted before 1900 were contracted because of love (click here to see the film - in German only).

„So Hedge therefore, Who Join Forever” – The marriage then and now

The Christmas pickle – a German Christmas tradition largely unknown in Germany

27. December 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, German-American, Old Customs, Traditions

A German and not-so-German Christmas tradition at the same time. 

A few years ago we received a “Happy New Year” card from a client, she told us she had spent Christmas and New Years Eve with her children and her grandchildren. They were delighted by the German Christmas Tree and this year it was Peter who was the first to discover the pickle. Pardon me? A pickle in the Christmas tree?

At first we thought this was a typo as even during living for 10 years in New York, I never came across a pickle in a Christmas tree. So we went back to that client and asked her about this. She instantly and told us that even her grandparents had followed this German tradition of having a Christmas pickle in the Christmas tree.

The Christmas pickle – a German Christmas tradition largely unknown in Germany

The carrot-and-stick-policy on the isle of Borkum

04. December 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Germany, Old Customs, Traditions

Tomorrow night, the night from December 5th to December 6th, the „Klaasohm“ will be walking abroad again.

This old custom is said to date back to the time when the mostly poor population of Borkum earned a little bit extra by whaling. In late autumn and after long absence aboard ship, the men returned to the island which had been firmly in the hand of the women during the summer. In this special night the men come to claim back their supremacy. 

So what exactly happens in this night?

The carrot-and-stick-policy on the isle of Borkum

Of Swans and Ravens

18. November 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Hamburg, Historical Events, Traditions

When you visit Hamburg there is a distinct difference between going for a walk around the Alster or along the Elbe. As a native your cultural milieu will factor quite a bit into the decision where your steps will lead you. The same can be observed for the local soccer teams HSV and St. Pauli or if you live on the “right” or “wrong” side of the Alster.

Of Swans and Ravens

The Secrets of the Night’s King

25. August 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Professions, Traditions

When working with historical records and church book entries, unfamiliar professional titles let you pause and leave you puzzled regularly. Often the titles refer to occupations that don’t exist anymore or whose names have simply changed: The “oeconomus” for example might be called janitor, or, in a more modern way, facility manager today.

The Secrets of the Night’s King

Gosh!

09. July 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Old Customs, Professions, Traditions

The heat wave that currently traverses Europe often causes severe weather and thunderstorms. The fear of thunderstorms is called Astraphobia and it has a long history - which is understandable when we take into account that while we today are startled by thunder and lightning our ancestors not even had an explanation for this natural spectacle...

Gosh!

The Sound of Shopping

26. June 2015, Andrea Bentschneider - General, Historical Events, Old Customs, Traditions

When our parents, grandparents or great grandparents went grocery shopping, it sure looked different from today. Shops were smaller, the range of goods was limited and you couldn’t check what you needed for that special lasagna recipe on your smartphone in the middle of aisle 4!

But shopping also had a different sound back then. The monotone beeping at the check-out is something we are used to today. But it is the sound of one of the greatest supermarket innovations of the 20th century: I’m talking about the barcode-system. On 26 June 1974 the first product marked with a barcode was registered: It was a pack of “Juicy Fruit” gum in a supermarket in Ohio.

The Sound of Shopping