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Advent or Countdown to Christmas

This morning my son reminded me: “Don´t forget the Adventskalender, and the Adventskranz, and the Christmasparty at school”.  I sighed and silently envied Francesca. She can look forward to Christmas in her own stride, while for me, the countdown to Christmas starts on November 30th – der Erste Advent, the first of four Sundays running up to Christmas.

Advent traditionally means a time of “Besinnlichkeit”. A German considers this to be a time in the year where the hectic rhythm of everyday life is supposed to slow down. Together with family and friends, you spend relaxed Sunday afternoons eating gingerbread and Christmas cookies. Flickering candles create an atmosphere of Gemütlichkeit. Four candles are arranged on a pine wreath called Adventskranz. On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle, on the second, two candles are burning, three on the third, four on the fourth. The children get their Adventskalender. From Dezember 1st till Dezember 24, they either open little cardboard doors on the traditional Adventskalender filled with chocolate, or their mothers fill little red-and-green numbered felt-sachets with Lego-blocks or other “Schnick-Schnack”. Sometimes an Adventskalender will be shown on a large scale. I know a small village in Austria with  24 houses. To form a landscaped Adventscalender, one house after the other lights a window at night so that on December 24, the whole village is an Adventskalender with 24 lights burning.

On “Erster Advent”, the “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas market) opens as well. Traditionally, it takes place in the town centre, near the Rathaus (Town Hall) or the main church. Small stands sell handmade artwork  like beewax candles, wooden playthings, jewellery, knitted socks, and Christmas decorations. Children love the Weihnachtsmarkt at night because of the glimmering lights and tempting smell of sweets like candied almonds and gingerbread. Adults love it because of the Glühwein.

Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is one of the great pleasures of winter in Germany. Whenever adults have to spend some time outdoors in cold winter, they find Glühwein on offer: After the Sankt Martin`s procession, at the ice skating rink, for lunch in ski resorts, and on the Weihnachtsmarkt. Glühwein is made from red wine, spiced with orange slices, clove and a cinnamon stick. The typical Advent feeling in Germany is cold feet, warm hands, tongue-burning wine and a headache the next day.

“Lass uns einen Glühwein auf dem Weinhnachtsmarkt trinken” (Let´s meet to drink a hot mulled wine on the Christmas Market) is the most common phrase among friends and colleagues in December. These informal meetings add to the row of official Christmas parties that make the life of couples with kids feel rather like the countdown to a rocket launch than a “besinnliche Adventszeit”.

Every year I´m amazed how Christmas parties can multiply. There are the parties at work: the big party for the whole company, the smaller parties in the department, the eating out with business partners or team-members and the Glühwein (hot mulled wine) drinking with your office colleagues on the Weihnachtsmarkt. As it is tradition to invite spouses to the Christmas parties, an average couple will have four to six Christmas parties in Dezember. With one child, they will have at least two more: at school and at the daycare center. With two children, another two. Additionally most Germans are members of not only one club, but at least two or three, and each of this clubs is proud to invite to its own Christmas party.

This morning, my organizer showed ten Christmas parties till December 20th. That was when my son told me, that his teacher wants me to call her to organize the Christmas party for his class. I haven´t called her yet …. maybe she will forget?

And yet, deep in my heart, I feel the urge to invite my friends to an “Adventskaffee” to my house, to eat cookies, drink coffee, talk and laugh, and watch the beeswax candles on my Advent wreath burning down. I am pondering this idea for weeks now and I don´t dare to send out the invitations. Maybe I could do it in January, as a “Postvent”?

But this will be another story

©Truegerman

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Apples or why we don´t have a garden

"Appelwoi"-barrel showing the opening hours of the "Apfelwein-Museum" in Frankfurt."Most"barrels look the same. ©Truegerman

Barrel to make apple wine.

“The only people I know that pick apples are either determined ecologists or extremely thritfty people”, Francesca wrote last week. “Hm”, I thought, “she is right”. But why do I only know people who pick apples?

Probably because I lived in Baden-Württemberg for a long time. Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 “Länder”(federal states) that make up Germany. Placed in the southwest, it calls itself a “Musterländle”, a role model for other states. The countryside is beautiful and well cared for. “Streuobstwiesen”, green meadows where cows graze and apple trees grow, are an important part of the landscape.  In Baden-Württemberg, average income is high, unemployment is low, and its inhabitants pick apples. Though for different reasons.

Even in modern times, in Germany we attribute typical character traits to different regions or tribes. In Baden-Württemberg, two extremes come together to form an odd couple. While the  “Schwaben”(in Württemberg)  live according to their motto: “Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue und nicht nach den Mädchen schauen …” (Work, work, build your house and keep your eyes off the girls), the “Badener” rather enjoy looking at–and flirting with–the girls first and work to build the house later.

In “Schwaben” apple trees are a duty to serve. The main impulse in picking apples is “Nur nichts verkommen lassen”-Beware not to waste anything. So, every fall, the family fills crates and carts with apples and delivers them to the “Mosterei”, a local apple processing plant. The apple juice is put in a barrel in the cellar to make alcohol, an apple wine called “Most” (must). “Most” is a delicious drink to go with bread and wurst or any of the typical German dishes. Though, when you are invited to drink a homemade “Most” in September, you better decline. At this time of the year, “Schwaben” are very generous with their favorite drink, as the barrel has to be emptied before it can be filled anew. Alas, this late in the cycle the “Most” normally doesn´t taste its best. But drunk it must be.

Schwaben love their “Most”, though you don´t find any “Most-Wirtschaft” in Württemberg, probably because no “Schwabe” would pay for something he can get for free from his own cellar. One of the most popular, and slightly menacing sayings in Schwaben is based on it: “Dem werde ich zeigen, wo der Barthel den Most holt”, meaning “I´ll show him that I´m much cleverer than he is”. If you hear this, you better beware – they normally are.

In Baden, you won´t find any Most-Wirtschaft either. Baden is a wine growing region and apples are used to make juice, pies or “Apfelmus”, mashed apples, instead. To make Apfelmus, you slice and cut the apples, cook them, mash them and then fill them into “Weck-Gläser”, big glass jars that preserve all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Apfelmus goes nicely with “Milchreis mit Milch und Zucker”, round rice boiled in milk, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and topped with melted butter. While Milchreis still is popular in Germany, I haven´t eaten “Pfludde” for 30 years now. This is a dish based on mashed potatoes with fried onions, covered by melted butter, and served with Apfelmus. Also on the list of endangered dishes are “Apfelküchle”, slices of apples dipped in pancake dough and then fried, to be eaten hot, topped with vanilla sauce. Luckily, other dishes like “Bratapfel” see a comeback. For a Bratapfel, you punch a hole into an apple with a “Apfelentkerner” and push out the core. This hole you fill with chopped almonds or hazelnuts and either raspberry or red currant jam and top it with a flake of butter. Then you slowly bake it in the oven. Bratapfel has become so popular again that the dairy industry now even has created a limited edition of “Bratapfel”-joghurt in  winter.

For all this delicacies, you need special varieties to get the full taste. In the 70ies, most of the old varieties began to vanish. People, including me, preferred an imported Granny Smith to any of the homegrown types. I remember how, as a teenager,  I spent a considerable amount of my allowance to buy those green, glittering apples with its new fresh-sour taste at the supermarket instead of taking one out of the apple crate at  home.

Then, in the 80ies, the environmentalist movement and the Green party were born. “Baden” was one of the birthplaces of this movement.  The ecologists invented sponsorship for old trees and encouraged small “Mostereien” to keep up business. For decades, drinking “Most from Streuobstwiesen” served as a political statement. Though a lot of of the ecologists probably enjoyed the rich taste as well.

Today, the old varieties are well established again: Boskop, Goldparmäne, Renette, Alkmene, Gravensteiner can now be found at a farmers market or even bought in a supermarket. They are part of a gourmet trend that accepts a higher price tag in exchange for the better taste.

There is a flip side to the apple picking impulse, though, and that is why we don´t have a garden. In German cities, the usual home for a family is an appartment. To make good for the lack of space, most cities provide garden patches at the outskirts of the city that can be rented very cheaply. As my son wanted to build a treehouse and I needed two trees to hang my hammock, we decided to apply for one and soon found one. On our first visit, my spouse panicked:

” I don´t have the time to have a garden!”

“You don´t need extra time”, I said.” You just come here to sit and relax”

“But I can´t just sit and relax in a garden! All the work that is to be done! Look at all those apple trees. All this picking and preserving …”

As you might have figured out by now, my spouse is from “Schwaben”. By the way, we have the lowest electricity bill in town, too.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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