Christmas in East Germany: 10 Surprising Facts

Christmas is almost upon us. More than almost any other holiday, Christmas is steeped in tradition and with much-loved exports such as advent calendars, Christmas trees, Christmas markets and Nuremberg gingerbread, Germany has contributed its fair share. While the holiday’s original meaning as the birthday of Jesus Christ is still present for many people, the Marxist-Leninist ideology that was the bedrock of the socialist regime in the GDR did not accept faith-based world views. However, rather than abolishing Christian traditions altogether, they were frequently re-interpreted in line with the tenets of historical materialism. We collected ten facts that made Christmas special in socialist East Germany.
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Christmas Markets around Strausberger Platz – Past and Present

A Long Tradition of Christmas Markets in Berlin

Christmas markets are an annual winter-season highlight in Germany, every bit as popular with tourists as they are with locals. In many places, the tradition goes back centuries – including Berlin, where the earliest Christmas market-type event recorded in the local annals took place around 1530 on the Fischerinsel. During the 19th century, the annual market spread first to the nearby Schlossplatz, and subsequently also to Arkonaplatz and the Lustgarten, where Christmas markets were held almost until the end of World War II. After Berlin was divided into four sectors by the Allied Powers, Christmas market traditions developed independently of each other in the Eastern and Western parts of the city. These markets were quite different in tone and atmosphere – winter wonderland in the West, fairground fun in the East.

Image courtesy of PixelAnarchy / pixabay
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Frohe Weihnachten! (and from the GDR, too)

Germans love Christmas. Or at least Advent, since I haven’t got first-hand experience of the actual days of Christmas in Berlin yet. Advent. Most Dutch people wouldn’t even know what it is, but here in Berlin it comes with candles, calendars, special opening hours at many stores and many many more traditions. Even the communist regime in the GDR wasn’t able to take away Christmas from the Germans – and that is saying something. Here are my three steps towards becoming an Advent-pro.

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