Making Lebkuchen, Germany’s Christmas Gingerbread Cookies

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Join me as I get a hands-on tutorial for making Germany's famous gingerbread Christmas cookies, Lebkuchen. You can do it, too! The authentic German homemade family recipe is is my book, A Travel for Taste - Germany, available by clicking the Shop tab at the top of the blog. It will be like you visited Nuremberg's Christmas market in person!

Honoring the Dead in Germany

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It’s November and most people in the States are gearing up for Thanksgiving. Here in Germany, of course, they don’t do Thanksgiving and it’s just another Thursday. I have the impression they think it’s a day where Americans have yet another excuse to overeat. I would say, “I wouldn’t throw stones, Germany!” It’s certainly November: the days are short, the skies are gray and rain falls frequently. I’m not unhappy about all that at all, but it’s such a switch from the sunny, bright days I’ve had in Florida for the past 20 years. They don’t do Halloween here much, as I stated in my last travel journal. However, the day after that, November 1, is a big holiday here. It’s All Saint’s Day wherein German families remember and honor their dead relatives. It’s quite a big to-do and very Catholic. The way it’s done is to clean up and decorate – or pay someone to clean up and decorate – the family grave plots in the cemeteries. Then you go solemnly visit the gravesites in your Sunday go-t-meetin clothes. I’ve seen it before in years past. One year when my husband was in the Army and we were stationed here, my friend Hilde asked if I would go to the cemetery on November 1 to photograph her father’s grave because she would be out of town. It sounded very odd to me at the time. But I went! I remember how well manicured the cemetery was that day. Another interesting thing was that the graves are more elaborately built and decorated than what I’m used to seeing. Great, shiny marble slabs, plants, flowers and evergreen arrangements positioned just so. And there were many people there visiting, all dressed up. For weeks I saw wind-proof votive candles and such in the supermarket’s seasonal aisle, but I didn’t realize it was for November 1. I figured they were Christmas decorations, since that stuff is on the shelves, too. The most interesting item for sale in my opinion were the pallets with bags of what looked like potting soil. On closer inspection, I realized they were bags of soil for fixing up gravesites! A quick online search revealed that you can get this stuff in America, too, but I’ve never seen it, least of all in a supermarket. Florists rack WAY up on this holiday and some offer services where they take the arrangements to the graves the day before. Cemetery caretakers do this, too. It’s a really big deal. I learned recently that families must pay a lease on the gravesites each year. When the family dies out and there is no one to pay, they exhume the graves and cremate the remains so they can lease the plot to the next family. I guess that’s why the cemeteries always look new here. The really old graves are people interred in the churches themselves. There are tombs beneath your feet in most churches here. If you look down you can see that the stone slabs of the flooring are about the size of a grave and many are etched with names. Some bodies are in wall tombs and are elaborately marked and sculpted. Bodies inside churches belonged to families of very high socio-economic rank or were famous for something. I asked Hilde and Adi if I could go with them to the cemetery this year to make some photographs. I don’t want to be morbid, but I want to give you an idea of what a German cemetery looks like and how they do things on November 1. Hilde’s parents’ grave: She told me this was a plot for four and that she and Adi would be buried here. I found out from this conversation that they are allowed to stack the caskets two deep in Germany, but no more. Hilde’s son-in-law’s father’s grave: Hilde’s cousin’s grave (plot for six): We visited two local cemeteries that day because Hilde has close relatives buried in both places. The second one we came to had a church service going on as we approached: So back to the land of the living! I shot this of Hilde and Adi walking among the autumn trees. I liked the fall colors and the subdued lighting: It seems we must remember our dead before we get on with the holidays. Last weekend was Germany’s equivalent of Veteran’s Day, so there was a small parade passing in front of my place on Sunday morning. It was led, of course, by the local marching band: Later that day I hopped a bus into Bamberg just to get out of the apartment for a while. The weather had warmed up enough to sit at a sidewalk café and watch the people. I can definitely see signs that Christmas is coming! The town is gearing up for the opening of the Christmas markets. You can see a string of lights here, a wooden stall there: And the roasted chestnut vendor has been in place for a few weeks now:  So stay tuned for the pictures of the Christmas markets! And if you haven’t already, check out my freelance articles about them Finally, for no apparent reason: I call it, “Let me hold the ladder for you.” I shot this in the Linz, Austria, train station earlier this year. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

American Holidays in Europe

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Happy Halloween! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. However, it is not widely celebrated here in Europe. Especially not like it is in my neighborhood in Florida. In our subdivision, even the houses are in costume, the adults handing out treats are in costume and droves and droves of children also in costume roam the streets grubbing candy. Even the parents come along in costume and many families dress up their dogs and bring them, too. It’s such a fantastic block party! Therefore, it’s also one of the hardest days for me to be here in Europe because I enjoy the American festivities so much. Here in Germany there are jack-o-lanterns here and there and stores have maybe an endcap display with smiling ghosts or pumpkins, but nothing like the Walmart response to this holiday. I must say that Hilde’s tenant, about 30 years old, told me yesterday that she is going to a costume party, so the tradition is creeping in gradually. Interestingly, the hosts of the costume party have specified that each person must dress up and that the costume must be a character from either a Johnny Depp movie or a Tim Burton movie. Great idea, right? She said she would simply be a pirate of the Caribbean and the host quickly cut her off, saying, “Anything but a pirate!” Also, I did see a couple of pumpkin faces yesterday on some fenceposts near here. They were kind of melty, having been obviously sitting in the sunny weather for a few too many days, looking like old, toothless men. While I don’t have any lengthy Halloween stories or pictures, it reminded me of the local supermarket flyer I picked up shortly before last Fourth of July. The store name is Aldi, and they also have locations in the States. It’s not a big store and they have a very limited offering such as coffee, bread, cheese, t.p., shampoo and basics. But they have a quickly-changing middle aisle with interesting goodies depending on the time of year or upcoming holiday. I found the late-June offerings so delightful because they were offering “American” food. The flyer never mentioned the Fourth of July, but it certainly looked like a July 4th flyer from any American supermarket, except, of course, it was in German. I have been surprised over the years that foods considered uniquely American include peanut butter, ketchup, popcorn, hotdogs and, of course, hamburgers. This year I added marshmallows to the list! I kept the Aldi flyer and photographed it for you. My favorite ad was for the marshmallows: Notice it says “Barbecue Marshmallows.” I deduced they meant the marshmallows were for toasting over a fire, but the image that came to mind for me was barbecue sauce on a marshmallow! The flyer is filled with a lot of near-misses, such as ketchup-and-mustard or ketchup-and-mayo in tubes to squirt on hamburgers or hot dogs. Ew. @font-face { font-family: “Cambria”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

Here is the flyer in its entirety. Click on each photo to see a larger version of it.

The headline reads, “America invites you!”

Lastly, I found some popcorn recently at a different supermarket. Found it in the “International” aisle, what we would call in the States the “Ethnic” aisle. This ethnic aisle has snails from France and balsamic vinegar from Italy. The International aisle also has Tabasco and a couple of other real American products. Anyway, when was the last time you connected popcorn to a biker riding a chopper? Finally, here’s your Photo for No Apparent Reason:

Europe 2010 – 8 August

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This personal travel journal is free to you and I get no remuneration for my posts. I do it because I love sharing Europe with my friends. There is a certain amount of freedome of style, too, because I don’t have to conform to any editorial rules such as avoiding contractions, the first person voice, or damn cusswords!

So on with the show. This time I’ll tell you about my second trip to Munich this year. My husband, James, came for an all-too-brief visit in early June and we traveled to Munich to tour the BMW attractions there. Neither one of us had ever seen them and we are both BMW fans. I have a Mini Cooper that is like my own beating heart and his dream car is a BMW M6 convertible. We’re working on his. First I have to tell you about the BMW miracle. The week before my husband arrived I had called the BMW Museum. They have a City Tour wherein you can ride through Munich in original BMW convertibles from the 1930’s and 1950’s. That’s what we wanted to do. So I called the Museum, but there was no answer. I left a message; I think I left a message because it was in German and I heard a beep. Oh well. To be sure, I called back later that same day and managed to talk to a nice person who told me the tours were totally booked on the dates that we could make it. Rats. So my husband and I proceeded to look at other options. A couple of days after he arrived, I received a phone call from the BMW Museum in response to the message that I had left the week before. They said they had five places left the coming Sunday and asked if I was still interested. Was I! I immediately booked our spots and asked if there had been cancellations. The person was very confused and said she didn’t know why I was told they were booked because they had not been full for that particular tour. Things are always working out for us! So we quickly planned our weekend to Munich. We hopped a bus to the Bamberg train station on Saturday, June 5, where I met these two lovely young people: I totally dig their get-ups. The one on the left is Sebastian. I didn’t catch the girl’s name correctly. It was endearing to me that these kids were SO SHY when I asked to take their pictures. Imagine getting dressed up like that, spending no telling how much time, and then being shy about getting attention.  Hey, Sherry, would they qualify as Juggelos?

Here’s a self-portrait I took of us in the window of a passing train. Keep in mind the train was moving at the time.

There was a large group of cyclists who boarded a train on their way to some planned ride. Not all trains in Germany allow bicycles and I think there is an extra fee to transport them. There is limited space, too, so you have to have a bike reservation. These guys had the procedure down to a science. They managed to stow about 20 bikes in the few minutes the train was stopped at the platform. read more

Battle of the Bands – Part I

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Note: Don’t forget that you can click on any photo and see the full-sized version of it.

I mentioned in my last journal that many times since I moved here I have heard music down the street and ran to find out what was going on, camera in hand. That was the case for the Bamberg Zaubert fest in my last travel journal.

It’s happened in my little Bischberg about three times since I moved there at the beginning of May, too. Fortunately for me I live right on Main Street and can shoot photos from my window. I’m on the third floor so I have a bird’s eye view of the goings-on. The first time I was surprised by music was on May 24th. About 8:00 o’clock in the morning I heard German oompah music. (is there any other kind around here? No.) I grabbed the camera, ditched the lens cap and opened the window. First I saw nothing but a fireman wearing his blue uniform and a glow-in-the-dark orange vest. The music stopped and I heard a woman speaking as if over a PA system and other people murmuring replies. I recognized it from my Catholic upbringing as the scripted prayer/response thing they do. Everything around here is Catholic and hardly anything happens that isn’t church-related. As the sounds grew closer, a little parade led by altar boys and girls came into view. You can see some of the band members in this photo. There were only six of them, which was a surprise to me. I was waiting to see the rest of the band that wasn’t there. This is pretty much the only picture I have of the band fragment: Then I saw the loudspeaker – check it out: it’s being carried on a pole by the man in the red shirt on the far side of the street in this photo: The procession wasn’t much longer than what you see in the photos. They continued out of earshot. Later, around 10:00 a.m. they came back the other way! My landlady, whose name is Frau Dütsch (I’ll call her Frau D), told me that it was because of Pfingsten, or Pentecost. This is the Catholic celebration of when the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire on the 12 Apostles. It supposedly happened 50 days after Christ’s resurrection, so that’s why it’s called Pentecost. BTW, German for 50 is “Fuenfzig” so the words sound kinda the same. Frau D told me that the procession had walked to Weipelsdorf and back. Weipelsdorf is the small village about two kilometers from here where my friends Hilde and Adi live. However, I went to visit them later that day and Hilde told me that the procession actually walked to Trosdorf and back, which is another little village also about two kilometers from here. So they’d walked about 2 ½ miles total that morning, praying and playing music. Nice day for it. Hilde said the Pfingsten procession alternates years. One year they go to Trosdorf and the next year they go to Weipelsdorf. So the landlady wasn’t too far off. Plus I might have misunderstood her squeaky German – that’s always possible. Hilde also told me that the Bischberg band is actually much, much larger, but the rest of the band members were on a bus trip to Rome.  She said they were very well known as being one of the best in the region. Since then I’ve discovered that the band practices next door at the Gasthaus (pub) on Friday evenings. So when the weather is nice I sit on my balcony and enjoy some Bavarian tunes. They’re really quite good. To call them an oompah band is doing them a little disservice but it gives you an idea of the type of music they play. The music is actually a lot more melodious than an oompah polka thing. On June 29 I was ecstatic to welcome my beloved husband, James, for a visit! We did so many fun things that I’m saving those stories for another post. Some of you have already seen my freelance articles about Munich and the BMW Museum (, BMW Welt ( the City Tour( But on 3 June, lest you think I was hallucinating the music, we both heard it. This time I had been forewarned. Both Hilde and Frau D made sure I knew about the procession in advance. It was Corpus Christi, another Catholic feast day celebrating the Eucharist, or body of Christ. The parishioners, band, priest, and assorted churchgoers would proceed from the church, which is to the right of my window, would march past my building to a large concrete crucifix that stands at a corner to the left about 200 yards away. There they would say a mass then march back in the other direction to another large concrete crucifix that is to the right of my building for another ceremony of some sort. Toldja it was a very Catholic country! Of course all this means that the main street that runs in front of my building would be closed to traffic during that time. The township had strung used-car-lot flags across the street a few days before. That morning people put flags at the windows, too. The people across the street hung out embroidered banners. Frau D even brought me a set of flags for my window so I put those out. Don’t tell her I removed a couple of them so they wouldn’t get in the way of my pictures. It was a rainy day but not drenching. The procession soon made its way into view: The fire local volunteer fire department fills many roles in a small German village.  They escort all the processions like policemen. (I love it when people on the street are looking directly at my camera.) I was most intrigued by these green outfits. I found out later on this group is the local fisherman’s guild. Nice hats! Remember the rack of Dirndl (traditional dresses) in the department store from my last journal?  I think I figured out why there is such a market for them:

Here’s the whole band back from Rome!

Here’s the rest of the fire department: How does the priest rate his own canopy?  It wasn’t raining that hard. Well, I guess he IS carrying the body of Christ! All the faithful: On their way back, they cut over a block and didn’t march right past my building. Notice I took this picture from the street a short way to the left of my building. James and I had gone down to the bus stop to catch a bus into Bamberg, but it never came because mass was still going on and the street was closed. The procession reappeared to the right of my building as they congregated at the other concrete crucifix for the second ceremony. James and I finally gave up and went back to the apartment. We eventually caught a later bus into town, but there was no hope for it during the marching. I had originally planned to include the third episode of German Music on the Street, but it is proving to be such a long story with so many photos that I’m going to end this journal here. The third episode will be longer than both these put together, so stay tuned for that. And I will leave you with this photo for no apparent reason – not sure why one of the putti in St. Martin’s church is playing cowboys and Indians.