Lichterserenade

Currently we’re drowning in packing boxes, much like when we moved overseas a year ago. However, we are trying to take breaks from all the madness whenever possible to enjoy our last days in Bavaria.

Last night we were able to attend the Lichterserenade (Serenade of Lights) on the Danube. After learning that the event happens at nightfall, we assumed our kids would never make it. But it was too hot to sleep in our sweltering apartment, so we decided to give it a go and joined the masses of people collecting along the riverbanks.

DSC_0002

It was exciting to see the lit riverboats begin to approach.

DSC_0007 DSC_0020

DSC_0016

Each of these traditional Ulm vessels was loaded with people traveling upstream. Unfortunately, after that it was a looooong wait for darkness to come. Sam and I found a seat atop a wall near the river path. But, despite Lucy’s late nap that day, she was unable to sit still and demanded that Joe walk her up and down the trail to look at all of the activity. At about 10:30, we finally were rewarded for our patience with some fireworks.

DSC_0023 DSC_0024 DSC_0026DSC_0036 DSC_0044 DSC_0047

The fireworks show lasted a couple of minutes, before the barge traveled further down the river and performed again downstream. So we were able to see the show twice as it happened on either side of where we sat.

At the same time, small red and orange lanterns began floating towards us. They were very pretty, but hard to photograph due to their dimness.

DSC_0063

That was the best I could manage. We didn’t last much longer before the kids were too hungry and tired to stay out anymore. But we were grateful to have been able to witness this beautiful ceremony before we travel back home next week.

Advertisements

Fasching

Fasching is the southern German version of Mardi Gras, or Carnival week. So, yeah, this post is four months overdue. Late February was around the time that this blog fell off the rails for a bit.  I was also discouraged in writing this post by the fact that I didn’t manage to capture as many good photographs as I’d hoped. But I want to write about our experience so that Sam and Lucy can someday read about it before all of our memories become hazy.

Halloween was barely recognized in our part of Germany. I spotted a small section of costumes and decorations in the larger grocery stores, but we never witnessed any decorations in our neighborhood and we certainly didn’t see any trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. In Bavaria, they save all the costumes for Fasching.

Fasching lasts all week, starting with the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Stores start selling all sorts of costumes in the months leading up to the Carnival season. In America, for Halloween most children dress up as a character from a book, movie, or TV show that they love. Adults run into two camps, either risqué costumes for women that are not work appropriate, or comical costumes like giant bananas. Regardless of age, you will be asked “what are you?”. In Germany, lots of kids were superheroes, pirates, witches, or princesses. But for older tweens and teens, many choose to just wear a sort of crazy get-up, like a sparkly shirt with a colored wig. Grown-ups seemed to prefer to be cowboys or hippies. There are also a lot of plush animal costumes for all ages (probably to keep revelers warm when attending parades on cold February days!).

DSC_0009

Sam had wanted to be Spiderman all year. On the right, you can see one of the plush costumes I was describing.

The other main difference between Fasching and Halloween is the lack of a focus on candy. Actually, that’s true of most of the holidays here. Valentine’s Day is more about giving notes of love to those you care about, not having to hand out lollipops to everyone in your class. Easter is about hiding real dyed eggs, not plastic eggs filled with candy. Yes, they had a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies, but in America we usually had the chocolate bunny, the jelly beans, the malted robin’s eggs…the list goes on and on. And Halloween was always the ultimate candy extravaganza.

The irony is that American parents are often much more concerned about their kids’ sugar intake than German parents. Here, sweets are a daily experience, with apple strudels and chocolate croissants at every turn. In addition, from our very first week here we marveled at how our kids were handed candy by shop clerks at every errand we ran. My two kids now expect to be able to rummage in the candy drawer at the bakery and get lollipops handed to them by the waitresses as we leave a restaurant. McDonald’s Happy Meals come with gummies. Even the pharmacist gives your medicine in a plastic bag filled with candy! It’s bizarre. But perhaps it’s not as much of a dietary problem for the simple fact that it isn’t restricted so they learn to self-regulate at a younger age.

We actually managed to miss all of the Fasching parades in town. From the pictures we saw others post to Facebook, perhaps this was for the best, since the masked adults resembled ogres and monsters, and probably would have given our kids nightmares. I remember being scared by the vikings at Poulsbo’s Viking Fest parade myself as a youngster!

We did have a day as Joe and Sam’s school where everyone had the option to wear a costume. Here’s a picture of Sam’s class all dressed up:

FaschingEYP2

Joe and another teacher coordinated to both go as “Where’s Waldo?” (here in Germany, he’s known as Wally).

waldo hat 4

The school also hosted an evening Fasching dance party, which we attended before we had to leave to put the kids to bed. Lucy and I found matching Little Red Riding Hood costumes at the last minute.

fasching family

Lucy and Sam loved dancing to the music. And the best part is, we can recycle our costumes because Halloween’s only half a year away and they won’t have outgrown them yet!

der Weihnachtsmarkt – the Christmas market

Christmas in Bavaria is very familiar to American Christmas, yet the focus is slightly different. We are delighting in the sights, sounds, and smells that we encounter at every outing. The holiday season still abounds with commercial marketing ploys, yet it also seems easier to focus on the other aspects of the season, such as traditional family foods, gathering together with friends, and reflecting on one’s religious beliefs and charitable aspirations.

Central to each large town in southern Germany is the Christmas market. Many tourists come each year to tour through all of the various cities, but with our two young kids in tow we only managed to visit the one in our hometown.

market 1

The town square (the Münsterplatz, in our case) gets taken over with wooden stalls which sell decorations, gifts, and delicious food.

20131126_191302

After dark, it’s especially magical, with holiday lights twinkling everywhere. And a mug of delicious Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle always helps to ward off the cold and uplift one’s Christmas spirit.

20131201_132750

By daylight, there are plenty of fun carnival rides and activities to keep the kids entertained. They had miniature scenes from many Germanic fairy tales and legends. Above, Sam is standing inside a set of the “Bremen Town Musicians”.

20131206_173651

I even got to try my first taste of “chestnuts roast[ed] on an open fire” (heisse Maroni auf Deutsch).

We also tasted lots of sausages, schupfnudeln (large noodles with sauerkraut and bacon), candied nuts, and apple fritters.

20131206_173717

On December 6th (der Nikolaustag), I even spotted St. Nicholas. My apologies for the lack of photography skills. But you can just make out his helper, Knecht Ruprecht, dressed in black and holding the back of goodies. Legend has it that Sankt Nikolaus brings the good children apples, nuts, mandarins, and chocolates, while Knecht Ruprecht gives the bad children a spanking and a lump of coal.

Supposedly, there are also appearances by Krampus on December 5th, but I didn’t make it to the market on that day to check.

christmas 4

My kids may be naughty at times, but at least they don’t have to worry about visits from such scary creatures!

20131207_123951

Check out this mistletoe! I’ve never seen more than a sprig before.

And watch for the last two riders on the train!

Happy holidays to all our dear family and friends! We may be separated by many miles, but you are always in our thoughts.

Martinstag – St. Martin’s Day

November 11th is celebrated as St. Martin’s Day in Germany (yeah, I’m more than a month behind on my blog posts, but I’m working on it!).

The holiday is mostly honored by young children, who learn stories about the charitable former Roman soldier and 4th century French monk. St. Martin famously cut his cloak in half to save a beggar in a snowstorm. St. Martin is also used to teach humility, since the legend has it that he hid in a goose pen to avoid being ordained as a bishop.

Much of Europe still celebrates this holiday in varying forms. Some nations honor Armistice Day concurrently as well.

At the International school the students all met at dusk and watched a skit performed by Joe’s 2nd grade class about the life of St. Martin.

DSC_0178

Joe used his Ukulele to accompany the crowd to a traditional song about the lanterns that the students had learned in advance.

Then the students walked in a twilight procession with their lanterns through the town and along the Danube. They had decorated the lanterns at school with tissue paper and glitter. They are then balanced on store-bought battery-powered wands that have a powerful halogen bulb hanging from them.

DSC_0181

The dim lighting was too challenging for my lack of camera skills.

After the walk, the students gathered at the school for warm drinks (a mix of fruit juice and tea) and a traditional sweet bun shaped like a goose. I couldn’t get a photo of those in the dark, but they resembled the photos below:

gans brot 1 gans brot 2

We were excited to partake in this European holiday celebration. So many of the German holidays are very similar to American ones, due to the heavy German immigrant population. But St. Martin’s day was new to us, and it was a delightful (albeit chilly!) experience.