Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Krautland

Check out this video from Christmas Eve in Frankfurt.  About four times per year a collaboration of 10 churches participate in the "pealing of the bells" in which they ring the mess out of 50+ bells in harmony for a solid 30 minutes straight.  It was nice joining thousands of people gathering with family, busting out champagne and whatnot to celebrate.

We also started a new tradition and made a Christmas poem entitled 
"Christmas in Krautland."

It all started Friday, with an absence of shopping,
the day after Thanksgiving, our Jackets were flopping,

As we watched games on the big screen with friends all around,
in the city of Tuebingen, at 5 a.m. there was hardly a sound,

We knew this December would not be the same,
but German me, aren't lame,

Marisa had the first taste, in the town of Braunschweig,
when she attended Berlitz training and tried the gluehwein,

Then it was off to Nuernberg to see one of the best,
but it didn't quite match up when we compared it to the rest,

Nuernberg was our first Christmas market, but not our last,
hanging out with Katy and Ryan sure was a blast,

German Santa told us about Jesus and over us he prayed,
he really liked America even though Connecticut was the only place he'd stayed,

Work Christmas parties were definitely highlights
food, conversation and music made for great nights,

We decorated the apartment with stockings and a plastic tree,
sending Christmas cards and gifts to the States sure wasn't free,

The ICF choir rocked "Mary did you know?"
and it was really a blessing to get a little snow,

Our Well Fed small group shared a meal and the Christmas Story,
then later shared Feuerzangenbowle and basked in its glory,

The lebkuchen was a treat that was not to be missed,
it only took three days of shopping to get everything on our list,

Attending Mass and listening to bells made up our Christmas Eve,
on Christmas Day we had some lamb and from our apartment did not leave,

All in all this Christmas in Germany has been a pleasant surprise,
and thank God for skype that's allowed us to see family with our own eyes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

German Christmas Traditions

Our friends Mae and Buck had asked us to send them some German Christmas traditions because at the campus ministry they work at in Thailand, they were celebrating Christmas around the world. Since we live in Germany we should be experts right? Well it did give a good reason to ask all our German friends some traditions they partake in every year. Some things are very similar, but some are new and very enjoyable. We thought we would share a few we have discovered this year. I don't know if all of these traditions are actually practiced, but I liked them. Most of them are definitely a staple in a German Christmas.

1.  Advent - this is a major part of the culture here, where they start 4 sundays before christmas and count down the days until christmas with an advent calendar (started november 29th this year).  most kids have an advent calendar and get to open a little window for each day, revealing a small toy or candy.  they also make advent wreaths out of fir or pine trees and light four candles which all have meanings on each sunday leading up to christmas.

2.  Christmas Markets - we've talked about these plenty on our blog, but they basically include lots of handmade crafts such as ornaments, carvings, candles, sausages, etc.

3.  Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Gluhwein - seems to be served at all markets and is a seasonal treat here

4.  Christkindle - an angellic figure that brings presents on christmas eve (called "Heiligabend", or Holy Eve); the way it works, is the family goes to a christmas mass or service while one family member stays at home and decorates the tree and puts the gifts under the tree.  When the children come home, the door is locked and they cannot enter until they hear a bell ring, signifying that the christkindle has left.  They walk in to a home lit only by the lights on the tree (or candles).  the family sings christmas carols ("silent night" is the most popular), play music on flutes and/or guitars, and opens gifts together - the gift exchange is called "Bescherung"

5.  St. Nikolaus - while Santa Claus is not a traditional figure here, St. Nikolaus day is December 6th and features a santa claus looking figure that delivers gifts and sweets to children around Germany; traditionally children put boots ("Nikolaus Stiefel" or nikolaus boots) on their front porch filled with carrots and hay for the horses (not reindeer) - if the children have been good, then they will find their boots filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and small gifts; however, if they haven't been good they will find a tree branch (the U.S. has a larger supply of coal i think)  **note:  ze Germans seem to really like to make a distinction here that the "Christkindle" brings the presents on christmas eve and is more of a christlike figure, and the santa claus type figure is completely separate; Santa Claus is actually another figure, known as "Weihnachtsman"

6.  Food - the traditional meal usually consists of duck, goose or turkey and is eaten on christmas day; on christmas eve they eat sausage and potato salad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stüttgart Christmas Market

Christmas is definitely a time for family to be together, so last weekend we headed down to Stüttgart to visit Marisa’s uncle and aunt one more time before the holiday.  The weekend started off great, with a beautiful train ride down where we could watch the sunrise and the snow-covered landscape pass by our window.  In general it was a relaxing weekend where we were able to watch movies and college football, eat tacos, and stock up on some supplies from the local military base.  The highlight, by far, was the Stüttgart Christmas market on Sunday before we headed home.

Beautiful sunrise on our train ride

Marisa being artsy with the camera

Having gluehwein w/uncle John and his landlady at a local fundraiser for the town elementary school - children sang and a band played and it was way too cold to stay longer than 30 minutes - especially with no handschuhe! (they call "gloves" literally "hand shoes" in German)

                  We’ve been able to see a few different Christmas markets this year, but we both agreed that Stüttgart had the biggest and best of the season.  You would’ve had to have been there to appreciate how massive this market was – I would venture to say that Stüttgart is to Christmas markets, what Munich is to Oktoberfest.  The other thing that set it apart was the variety of the goods that were sold and the food that was served.  We all enjoyed regional food (which I always eat when I’m in Swabia) such as Maultaschen, a type of German ravioli, and Käsespatzle, a type of German mac’n cheese.  For Marisa’s uncle, John, it was his first experience with Christmas markets and he was like a kid in a candy store.  We all had a nice time and we left Stüttgart in great spirits.

Our first steps into the market - John is sporting his Stuttgart VFB soccer scarf.  It's too bad that they are a 1st division team that will finish in the bottom two spots of the league this year, so that means that they will be bumped down into 2nd division next season.  It's the equivalent of the Atlanta Braves having a bad year and getting sent down to the AAA league to work out their issues and maybe earn their way back up to playing in the majors.  I love that about pro sports here.  I think there should be such a system in American sports.

Anybody like model trains?  I would be more into them if I could ride them like this one.

The whole group with Gluehwein ( was really cold outside)

We were graced with some snow as we walked through the market, which made it all the more pleasant. This nutcracker had a nut that kept going into his mouth and magically popped out of his belly button again.  The nut was never actually cracked though - as far as I could tell.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Modest Needs- Seeing a need, meeting a need.

I saw this really awesome article on today and I thought I would share it. It came in a section title Giving in Focus: 12 Days of Goodness and I just loved that. As a former fundraiser I have a huge heart for people trying to help people especially financially. I love the thought of someone having a small idea and then all of a sudden it just blows up. As you all know times are a little difficult, but one thing to keep in mind is that even $5 can make a big difference. Check out the article.

And check out the website at

Thanks for letting me share.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Frankfurt Christmas Market

This is the Frankfurt market that we have been enjoying for the past month. It is in the city center but the market spills onto other side streets. I know I have said this in other posts, but I am truly enjoying every market we go to. I will let the pictures do the talking.

I wish I could take credit for this picture, but yeah right.

Our small group enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the market.

The huge Christmas tree right in front of city hall

Our Christmas card

Merry Christmas!!!

Keep your eye out for a post on the Stuttgart market and we both agreed that one was our favorite.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NEWSFLASH- It's Snowing in Frankfurt!

"O Tannenbaum"

It is rumored that the tradition of a Christmas tree started in Germany. Don't believe me?  Check out wikipedia.  In staying with tradition we made sure to have one in our apartment. It might be small, but it brings all the Christmas cheer I need. At 120 cm it sits on our table and like many would say looks like a Charlie Brown tree. With some ghetto germany lights, beads and tinsel it is a for sure hit. We have managed to put a few wooden German ornaments on it and I can't wait to collect more.

With flash so you can see all the awesome wooden ornaments. I will have you know that they are all handmade here and I wish I could send one to everyone I know.

In full effect with lights and everything to give you a real idea of what we enjoy every night.

A little extra. What is Christmas without stockings. I hear they put tree branches in them if you have been bad.

I hope to write a post soon on some German Christmas traditions they are a little different, but very good as well. I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season and I wish one day you could experience a German Christmas - they really know how to do it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nürnberg Christkindlmarkt

As you may have noticed on the blog lately, the German Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) have been in full swing for the past couple of weeks in cities all over Germany.   Now there are plenty of famous markets in all of the big cities and we get mixed reviews about which one is the best, but we’ve consistently heard that Nürnberg has the most well-known market this time of year.  Needless to say, we had to take a 3-hour train ride with our friends, Katy and Ryan, to verify in person.  We wanted to be part of the 2 million visitors that partake in the festivities each year.
                  In short, Nürnberg has jumped up the charts to one of my favorite places in Germany.  There is an old walled-section of town that is very neat, in a medieval kind of way that meets you right across from the main train station.  The city was beautiful and we’ll let the pictures do the talking.  We followed the crowd down through the streets that were lined with permanent shops, seasonal stands, loads of people, and smelling of sweet goodness – a mixture of mostly Glühwein (spiced red wine), and Lebkuchen (gingerbread). We had lunch at an awesome brewery restaurant called Barfüße which featured the local Nürnberger sausages (small, sweet sausages – reminded us of breakfast sausages), deer gulasch, and some excellent beer.

Nuernberger Sausages - petite and sweet (like my wife)

Large signs suspended across the street guided us toward the market, but before we reached the main square our eyes were caught by about 20 men in Santa Claus costumes.  As I was taking a picture of the curious group, one of them called to us and approached us, speaking in German.  After generously switching to English for the group, he explained that he was with a group of local church pastors that were telling people about the true meaning of Christmas (not to give it away, but it’s Jesus).  After thinking about it later, it was kind of ironic that they dressed up like Santa Claus to tell people about the REAL meaning of Christmas – I guess it was easier than building 20 wooden mangers and warmer than laying around in straw……..I don’t know.  At any rate, he was asking if we knew Jesus personally and asked us about where we’re from and what we’re doing here, etc.  He was a pleasant fellow and he was only disappointed that none of us were familiar with Connecticut……..the only state that he’d been to.  He ended the encounter by praying for us and it was a pretty cool experience.  Not a bad way to kick off our day.

Loved this guy - his prayer for us included hoping that we would "not waste our lives on things that don't matter" - not wanting to let him down, we had a Gluehwein minutes later, so yeah!
The market itself was a bit crowded, which is to be expected, but we managed to make our way around all of the shops and have our share of Glühwein and another delightful concoction called Feuerzangenbowle (basically Glühwein with rum and sugar that is set on fire before being poured into a large copper cauldron in which it is served).  For some awesome reason, they like to serve these warm beverages in little ceramic boots – what a great idea!  I definitely would’ve never thought to serve a drink in a boot……then again, I’m no cheeky German either.
                  Contrary to popular belief……this is not called “das Boot”, which is German for “boat”.  Rather, this is a “Stiefel”, which is German for “boot”.  Although I think the boot scene from “Beerfest” wouldn’t have been as funny if they called for “DAS STIEFEL!!”

the market square, before the other million people showed up

view of the cathedral on the market square

also on the square, this phallic monument either commemorates the achievements of hometown artist Albrecht Duerer (famous woodcut-print guy) or the superiority of the Nuernberger sausage

Glueweihn - hot n' ready in the 0.2 L holiday fun size

In a section of the market entitled "neighboring markets", we found stands from around the world and wouldn't you know.... (I asked the ladies working the stand if they'd ever been to Atlanta......nope - one was from Jersey though).

Look, you can even buy one of those "bees"

If you look close enough you might notice the powerbuy of the market - Jif peanut butter for 20 Euros ($30 - no kidding).  My mom isn't THAT choosy.

"The largest Feuerzangen Bowle in the world" - if anyone else has them then it's a big deal I guess.  You can see the huge copper kettle ablaze from across the river.

Gluehwein from a boot - the way it's supposed to be done.

The whole crew: Marisa, Ryan, Katy, and yours truly

It was a great time had by all, and a seriously long day with the train rides there and back.  We came away with a few “crafty” purchases – pun intended (all they sell is food and crafts) that will either adorn our Charlie Brown Christmas tree or be sent across the pond to family members in need of said crafts.  Nürnberg is definitely a city that I want to revisit in warmer weather to take a historical tour around and get the lowdown on this place.  All I know is that the Nazi party held some large rallies in the city and they have a famous museum there discussing how the regime came to power and how it was able to grow so popular and strike fear in the hearts of so many Germans at that time.  Stay tuned for a follow-up post when I get the chance for a return trip.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A few more pictures from Braunschweig

I really enjoyed this town and got some great pictures my second week there with my other camera. Hope you enjoy the Christmas spirit.

The market was right next to a cathedral and it was breathtaking .

Look at all the lights!

My fabulous hosts for the Christmas market Stephan and Karen. (Stephan was in training with me)

Amazing I tell you!

A sea of light.

I thought this was a really unique building, it reminded me of a cartoon house.

This was a nice little treat at the market and they were like mini pancakes. Delicious!!

You don't see this everyday.

You think this is some old important building, but it is really a huge mall.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuebingen aka Globalscope Germany

Last weekend, after spending our first Thanksgiving away from family, we decided to head down to the city of Tübingen to catch up with some of our friends from college that are starting up a campus ministry there.  We haven’t seen them since we arrived in August and the Georgia Tech vs. UGA football game was a great reason to come down to visit.
Tübingen is only a 2-hour train ride south from Frankfurt, just past Stüttgart, so it was a perfect weekend trip.  The city is in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg and is mostly inhabited by university students.  Just over a year ago, some friends of ours from Tech and Emory moved there and began the arduous process of starting up a campus ministry.  They’ve fixed up a building just off of campus and have been meeting students and establishing relationships for the past year.  Many of you know due to your own experience, but starting a campus ministry in Europe (and in a different culture) is a real challenge to say the least.  I’d say at this point they are starting to build a base of “core students” that are catching on to the place and are just getting into having regular events at the campus house.  More on this later…

Campus House - Josh, Chris, and Chandler (left to right)

Watching Tech seemingly start to come back after halftime - approximately 3:30 am

We were met at the train station by our friend, Chris Coleman, who we were glad to have hosted at our apartment back in Atlanta a couple of times during he and his wife’s (Stef) fundraising days.  It was definitely nice seeing a familiar face and catching up with him as he returned the favor as host, allowing us to stay Saturday night at their apartment. 
                  Walking through the town brought back fond memories of five years ago when Marisa and I visited Tübingen on a scouting trip for the very same ministry that we were visiting.  We walked past familiar stores, streets, bridges, squares, and ate at a couple of the same restaurants.  I was reminded of the trip where I went fully expecting to feel confirmation that we were supposed to help start this ministry.  However, I’ll never forget how the Spirit moved in me and I came away with a strong sense that a campus ministry definitely should be started in Tübingen.  However, at the same time I also felt a peace that it wasn’t for me.  It was cool to fast forward five years and now there is a team here starting this ministry and I’m able to visit to see the progress.
                  Speaking of…….when we finally reached the campus house I was blown away by the drastic changes that’d been made to the eyesore of a building that I remembered.  Bright paint with a trendy, coffee-shop feel met me at the door, along with another friend from Tech, Chandler.  We were also graced with the presence of Josh K, whom you may remember from such blog posts as “Oktoberfest 2009”.  After going on a quick tour and catching up with everybody we basically had a night, beginning at 6pm, of playing video games, watching college football, eating, and watching utube videos……….until about 5:30 am!  This was technically a student event, so we hung out with a few German students who had plenty of questions about American football.  It was pretty entertaining watching Chris and Tyler (another Tech friend working for the ministry – fyi, he was also on my study abroad trip to Germany 6-7 years ago) explain football in German.  I will argue that explaining a sport in another language is actually much more difficult than it sounds – try it!  Throughout the evening we were also able to catch up with Beth – the leader of the campus ministry team, who also came on the scouting trip with us years ago.                   
               Much fun was had and it absolutely sucked sausage that the Jackets were rocked by UGA.  I’m still wondering why Paul Johnson had us throw deep three times in a row on the potential game-winning drive in the 4th, with 3:00 left on the clock.  Why change the game plan then?  Oh well.  That’s the curse.  We sauntered back to sleep at about 6 am and had a short Sunday before heading back to Frankfurt.  It was really nice getting to catch up with all of the team members and hear about their lives over the past year.  We’re hoping that they take us up on the open invitation to come visit Frankfurt sometime. 
                  For more information about the campus ministry in Tübingen (aka “Unterwegs” – meaning “along the way”), or to find out how you might support them, check out their website:

Signature pose and signature jacket! Marisa thinks she wore this jacket the first time we visited 5 years ago.

Nice view of Tuebingen across the Neckar River

Best view from bridge over the Neckar

Town Square - tents getting ready for Chocolate festival (missed it by a couple of days!)

View from atop castle in Tuebingen, pre-sunset at 4:00 pm (freakin' latitude!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I almost slapped a Frenchman

Just to warn the readers this is a little bit of a vent.

I had the most unusual interaction tonight and I couldn't help but write about it. I was on my way back to Braunschweig for my last two days of training. I had just arrived on the train and was walking out of the train station when all of a sudden two guys starting talking to me in German. I am not sure why out of nowhere they decided to talk to me because I was just minding my own busy. I guess I didn't hear them at first and was kind of caught off guard so I said excuse me. Then they repeated whatever they said and I said the usually line sorry I don't speak any german, then they asked if I spoke french and I said sorry I speak English. Well go figure they spoke english and I guess I was the person they wanted to pick on that day. One of the guys starting saying well I am French and I speak german don't you think you should have learned some german and my response was I am learning I am just a beginner. Then he goes on to be a real a-hole and says well I thought intelligent people learned languages growing up and usually took the time to learn the language of a country they go to. Well you can imagine I was a little fired up. I mean who the heck does this snobby french guy think he is. He doesn't even know me and second I did not ask for this. So I stopped walking and turned to him and said, yes I did study a language it just happened to be Spanish and I moved here because my husband who speaks german took a job here. I ended with I am learning german and at least I am trying(so back off you frenchmen on your high horse, I only said that part in my head). I mean the nerve of him. I wanted to slap him across the face and say hey buddy why don't you not judge someone before knowing anything about them. This was just another example of the impolite french people I have encountered. It makes me really sad because I really like France, but man the people can be so rude. It also was a blow to my new found german learning efforts. I have found motivation again to learn german and I have been actually doing my rosetta stone(I know you thought I was doing it all along well that is another post for another day). I am back on the horse and then this smart ass comes along and tries to rain on my parade, no sir! So I walked away with my head held high and self confidence still standing.
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