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Tuesday 03/01/2011
Year-A-Blog Update: Germans play dress up

* *Update 1:* Fasching lasts until Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 9 this year.

Vikings and witches, kings and queens, musicians and dancers gathered on Odeonsplatz Feb. 27. Participants and onlookers alike dressed up for the parade that began exactly at 11:11, marking the beginning of the Fasching carnival season in Munich.

Fasching – also called Karneval or Fastnacht – is celebrated across Germany in February and March. The main celebration happens in Cologne every year on Nov. 11 also at 11:11.

The celebrations include the parade, numerous costume parties at night clubs and restaurants, more formal masked Balls and Galas in theaters, open air parties and dancing on the streets.

There are also special parties just for kids, who dress up too – as pirates, animals, fairies, Native Americans and wizards.

Costumes are the main fun of the celebration, and people go all out to dress up.

Adult costumes at the parade were extravagant: made of colorful fabric, extremely detailed – many with golden or silver decorative designs, especially on gowns.

Besides wearing masquerade clothing, every participating group was accompanied by music, varied in genre from German traditional songs to American pop dance music like Lady Gaga.

Some participants played their own instruments and some danced.

The other tradition during the parade was throwing candy into the crowd.

Kids and adults alike tried to catch candy in the air and collected it from the street, and there was enough for everyone. I ended up with a good handful of colorful sugar candies – most of it given to me by the sweet German elderly people, who stood near me.

Occasionally, krapfen were thrown into the crowd – sweet pastries filled with jam or cream. A variety of them are also sold at subway bakery kiosks – filled with vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, sweet lime cream and tiramisu.

Costumes, candy and music made a fun celebration enjoyed by young and all, and people stayed on the street to continue celebrating after the parade.

The parade was free to watch. Donations in a form of coins were kindly asked by a knight, who marked my cheek with a red dot for donating.

Fasching celebrations will last until Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 9.

Posted in Year a blog on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 12:00 am. Comments (0)

Tuesday 01/18/2011
Munich's mythological legends

Legends always fascinate me, and Munich, with 852 years of history, surely has a few intriguing ones. They are not heavily advertised, but they are just around the corner with stories to tell – if you know where to look.

My first finding in the city was in the main church in Munich – the Frauenkirche, which is also the symbol of the city, and it can be found on most of the tourist postcards. As soon as I stepped inside the church, I noticed a single footprint pressed into the floor.

The legend goes that it is a footprint of the devil himself who made a deal with the architect to help finance the church if it was built with no windows, according to Destination Munich travel Web site. The architect, however, left only one part windowless – a small area near the entrance, the same spot where the devil stamped his foot in anger, and that footprint is still there to this day. Therefore, they call it the Devil’s Footprint.

Another legend found me on the Munich’s main square Marienplatz during Christmas time. I was shopping at the Christmas market, when I heard the clanging of metal, people laughing and a few squeals. I joined a crowd of people to see what the commotion was all about when I saw them – a group of monstrous looking creatures walking down the street with grey or tan fur, hideous faces and horns. They each had two bells tied to their back, so everyone could hear that they were coming. Some also had lashes, which they used to lightly hit surprised passersby.

Certainly, those were just people dressed in costumes, but it can be scary when such a grotesque creature approaches you from the back and growls or touches your hat.

This mythological creature is called a Krampus, according to The 500-year-old legend describes it as an anti-Santa, because it punishes bad children during the Christmas season.

The legend is mostly known in Austria, but Munich brought it to life as well. Each year there are two Krampus runs in December, which last about an hour each. During the runs a group of people in costumes walk around Marienplatz scaring others. But once the initial shock passes, many come closer to the Krampuses to meet them and take pictures.

Some call the tradition barbaric; others find it to be great fun. But without a doubt, it is a tradition that is impossible to forget once witnessed.

Posted in Year a blog on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 12:00 am. Comments (0)

Sunday 01/09/2011
Christmas in Germany

I went to the center of Munich – Marienplatz – the other week, and it was almost unrecognizable. The Mariensäule golden statue in the center’s square was hidden behind small wooden shops, and a tall grand Christmas tree proudly stood in front of the Neues Rathaus. Decorative lights were on every building and hung above the crowds of people; the lights in front of the square made out a word Weihnachtsmarkt.

The Christmas markets opened as the city began its winter celebrations.

For a lunch break or after a long day many people head off to one of the Christmas markets for a glass of mulled wine and a Bavarian sausage or to do some Christmas shopping.

My friend and I decided to do the same one evening.

Our first destination was Odeonplatz, just one U-Bahn station away from the city center. During the winter holidays, a decorated red trolley called ChristkindlTram departs from there every 30 minutes in the evening.

The name Christkind comes from Christ-child, who brings Christmas gifts to kids in Germany, similar to the American Santa Claus.

While waiting for the trolley, we both got a glass of wine and a bag of caramelized nut mix. Glühwein – mulled wine – is the most popular drink of the holidays here. It is made from hot red wine mixed with citrus and spices and sometimes a shot of amaretto. White wine can also be used.

The mulled wine is never served in disposable plastic cups, but in the ceramic red mugs decorated with the name and the place of the market. A customer pays a small deposit, which is returned when they return the mug.

All the Bavarian snacks go well with the wine, which consist of the sweets and the sausages, sold at the market in more than six types.

The sweets include baked apples, roasted, gingered and caramelized nuts, ginger bread and a Stollen. A Stollen is a traditional German sweet type of bread with candied fruits and nuts inside, also popular with marzipan.

After a drink and a snack, the trolley came, and my friend and I hopped on it for a 30-minute ride around the city.

The trolley is targeted mostly towards kids, but it can be fun for everyone who is still in touch with their childhood. It is easy to do there with the children’s songs playing and a German version of a Santa Claus – Weihnachtsmann – walking around the trolley talking to kids. He came up to my friend and me as well, happily took a picture with us and gave us candy.

After the ride, we walked down the street to Marienplatz – the city center. It became even more beautiful with rows of shopping kiosks and was thoroughly decorated by Christmas lights. Half of the kiosks were selling wine and snacks, and half have a huge selection of Christmas decorations and souvenirs. Many of which are handmade.

A crowd of people stood near the Neues Rathaus – City Hall – listening to the clock play a Christmas melody at exactly 5:30 p.m., which happens every day. After the music, a priest and a choir appeared at the balcony and gave the crowd an inspirational speech about Christmas.

I have to be honest, my German is still not perfect, so I did not understand everything, but the people around me looked joyful, and laughter was heard from the wine booth. Music was playing, and the Christmas tree looked magnificent, and I thought this is the true Christmas spirit. I understood why so many Germans come here every day. The German Christmas markets are pure holiday magic.

Posted in Year a blog on Sunday, January 9, 2011 12:00 am. Comments (0)

Saturday 10/23/2010
The Long Night of Museums

About 90 museums and galleries of Munich participated in Die Lange Nacht der Münchner Museen – the Long Night of Museums – on Oct.17.

During this year’s Long Night in Munich, the museums were open from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. A 15-euro ticket paid for admission to all museums and included local transportation by buses.

Special buses ran every 10 minutes between the museums.

The Long Night attracts thousands of people to view the museums regular exhibitions and the special events offered that night as well, according to the website.

The most famous museums of Munich draw the largest crowd.

The Deutsches Museum is No. 1 Munich attraction, according to the Eyewitness Travel guide. It is the largest museum of science in the world.

Built on the place of Royal Bavarian Flying Corps, which existed in 1912, the biggest museum’s collection is of aeronautics: from the early hot-air balloons to modern jets and helicopters, according to the Museums Official Web site.

The other exhibitions are of natural sciences, energy, transport, new technologies, materials and production, communication and musical instruments.

During the Long Night, the building of the Deutsches Museum was colorfully illuminated, and inside, visitors were entertained by live performances and music.

The other popular museums are the Pinakotheken – the old and the new one. The old Pinakothek, pinacotheca, exhibits classic art, and the new one displays modern art.

The new Pinakothek had the world premiere of moving pictures “Adyton” on the long night.

The Bayerisches National Museum, which exhibits historical art collection, had live music, guided tours and a fashion show.

Many museums also sold drinks for the visitors, and a few gave out drinks for free.

Whether it is for the art, the history exhibits, the artistic crowd, for being able to be at the museum at night or for the drinks, the Night of the Museums is a must, Despina Stratigakos, author of A Woman’s Berlin, said while speaking at a seminar in Bonn, Germany.

“It was one of the best feelings, when I first arrived to Munich, to look at famous paintings at midnight, while drinking a glass of red wine,” said Stratigakos.

The Night of the Museums became popular is Europe in the recent years, according to Museums Libraries and Archives. It is now held throughout the year in many European countries including Germany, France, Russia, England, Austria and many others.

Posted in Year a blog on Saturday, October 23, 2010 12:00 am. Comments (0)