Johannisfeuer Midsummer Celebration, Bischberg, Germany

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Throwback Tuesday Post (TBTP): Every Tuesday, I re-post a past post that I think is relevant and that you’ll enjoy.

This post was originally published on August 1, 2013 and updated on June 25, 2019.

On the last weekend of June every year, Germans – at least the ones in Franconia where I live – get together to celebrate the first day of summer, otherwise known as midsummer or summer solstice. The focus of this fest is a giant bonfire which is lit after the sun goes down. This gives the populace time to enjoy the local beer, some bratwurst and accompanying oompah music from the local band.

Whatever its orgins, Bischberg had its Johannisfeuer on June 21 this year. My husband and I were invited by Alycja, who runs the flower shop downstairs from my apartment. Bischberg lies on the river, so the fire is held there every year.
We walked the three blocks down to the river where the welcome banner had been strung across the entrance to the bike/walking path along the river. The entrance is actually an overpass; above it is a section of autobahn bypass:
Immediately on the other side of the overpass was the giant, unlit bonfire awaiting its fiery fate:
Although I have several shots of this, I included the one above because it shows some of the dozens of kids who were literally going CRAZY running around the thing. It was as if this was the biggest thing that ever happened to them!
You will also notice the stick figure mounted on top of the stick teepee made out of a straw broom and wearing a rather frilly frock. I’d never seen a Johannisfeuer up close before, so I was unfamiliar with this aspect of it. I asked what the effigy stood for and was told it was a Hexe, or witch. I don’t think St. John’s birthday has anything to do with a witch, but whatevs!
It’s interesting that they truck in the sand to make a place for the bonfire. Then, the next day the truck comes back and they shovel it all back in and haul it away. After 24 hours, you’d never know there was a fire or fest there!
As we rounded the corner out of the overpass, there was our esteemed fire department overseeing things.

Each small village in this area has its own volunteer fire department and the smallest fire departments are volunteer groups. I’ve been told by more than one local that the fire departments, especially the volunteer ones, have the reputation of being major consumers of beer and are tipsy-to-drunk most of the time. Comforting.

Anyway, here’s the beer stand:

Opposite the beer stand were all the fest tables already mostly occupied. Beyond the tables was the local oompah band, which, by the way, has won lots of competitions state-wide. They ARE good, if you like that kind of music, which I do.

Here’s a shot of my friend Alycja enjoying a beer with my husband James:

I shot this cute sequence of a little guy who just couldn’t keep his eyes open!

When the solo trumpeter stood on a chair to be heard, I got this shot:
A rather cool shot of the next table:

A guy who’s drawing beer from the cask. I kinda think he was sneaking his own beer because he and his friend on the right were really self-conscious of my camera:

Alycja with “ein Paar” – a pair of bratwurst on a kaiser roll, the local fave:

I shot a video of the actual lighting of the bonfire. You’ll notice that there are kids who each have a sponsor in the fire department and each of them is helped by the sponsor to light the bonfire.

We were standing about 60 feet or so from the fire and the night was rather chilly until the fire got going. Then it became slightly uncomfortably warm!

Of course I didn’t film the entire fire, but there is enough of it to give you the idea of what was happening. I think it lasted an hour or so after the end of the video but we left just after I stopped filming. I can’t imagine there was much else to see.

All in all it was a pleasant night with people having a good time with an impressive fire as the centerpiece. I hope you enjoyed it, too! Happy summer!

Photo for No Apparent Reason:

Nuremberg Christmas Market, Germany

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Continuing the blog’s feature: Throwback Tuesday Post (TBTP)!

Every Tuesday, I re-post a past blog I think is relevant and that you might enjoy seeing again.

This post was originally published on December 26, 2011, and updated on December 18, 2018.

As I said in my last post, the Kronach post was to be my last travel journal this year. However, my new friend Elke and her husband Tilman (“Til”) invited me to their city to see one of the most famous Christmas markets in Germany. I met Elke because she took English lessons during the summer and I was her teacher. Note: she didn’t need many lessons because her English is so good, but I’m glad she wanted them because it made us friends. She is a judge in the courts in Bamberg and her husband works as Siemens. I can tell I’ve been in Germany a while because when I tell people he works for Siemens, I don’t laugh anymore!
Anyway, Elke and I have lunch every few weeks and we three have similar tastes in restaurants, wine, etc. So when they offered to meet me at the Christmas market last Sunday I jumped at the chance.
Nuremberg’s was the very first German Christmas market I ever visited. My husband took me there in 1987 when we were just newlyweds. I remember how cold it was and how the Gluhwein (mulled wine) warmed us so well. I remember the man calling out, “Heisse Maroni!” I had no idea what it was, but I loved the sights and sounds! BTW, it means “roasted chestnuts.”
Bamberg, where I live, has a Christmas market, but it truly doesn’t hold a candle to Nuremberg’s. Nuremberg’s is much bigger and somehow has a better feel. There are far more people, but it’s worth it.
So, in an effort to extend what is a wonderful Christmas, I’m posting photos from the market. Cheryl, who visited me this summer, will recognize the Catholic church presiding over the market square with the lovely Schoener Brunnen in the foreground of this shot:
A view over the top of the stalls of the market in the main square:
Every burg in Germany has its own sausage specialty. Nuremberg’s is its bratwurst. Every other stall of the market was food!

This man was scowling until he saw the camera. I caught him midway between his scowl and the smile he mustered for me. He is surrounded by dolls made of – get this – dried plums, figs and walnuts!

These nativity scenes are hand-carved from olive wood:

My hosts and tour guides, Til and Elke:

More bratwurst – don’t forget the mustard!

I wasn’t brave enough to risk getting trampled by the horses to get a clear shot, but the guy on the other side of the driver is playing strong, clear notes of Christmas carols on a trumpet. You can see the trumpet if you try.

An indication of the crowds:

Nuremberg is REALLY famous for its Lebkuchen Christmas cookies, called gingerbread in English. I made them myself again this year with Hilde using her secret recipe. Check out my post from last year for what that’s like. Elke and Til told me they have an official competition in Nuremberg every year for the best Lebkuchen. Here is one of the top contenders:

We had our standing lunch of Nuremberg bratwurst (Til is also a photographer):

To my sister Cheryl:  Don’t look at this next picture:

Many towns have sister cities all over the world. For example, New Port Richey has a sister city on the French Riviera. Go figure. Anyway, my point is that Nuremberg has about a dozen sister cities. There was a section of the Christmas market with a stall for each of the sister cities. Each one sold specialties from that town, of course. For example, Vienna’s stall had lovely masks:

One of the sister cities was Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I was intrigued to see what they presented as specialties from Atlanta. See for yourself:

After perusing almost every market stall, we turned off the square and walked the side streets back to the train station. Along the way we saw the Lion’s Club collecting:

St. Nick looking a little lost:

Here’s a string of Bocksbeutel wine bottles, a traditional wine bottle shape for the region.

I threatened to post this next photo and tell everyone it is a famous Nuremberg site that is not to be missed. If throngs of tourists showed up at this dentist’s office window snapping photos, I’ll know I have a wide audience!

Elke and Til took me to this fountain, which I’d seen many times and photographed in the past. However, until they told me the story behind the fountain, I didn’t know it was referred to as the “Marriage Fountain” and has sculptures based on a poem written in 1541 describing the stages of marriage. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself which images are early, middle or late marriage:

Too soon it was time to hop the train back to Bamberg. What an enjoyable day with fabulous weather and wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the holidays. I treasure experiences like this!
Here’s hoping all of you are having a cozy, happy holiday season yourself. See you next year!
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Thanksgiving and Two of Five Christmas Markets in Bamberg, Germany

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Continuing the blog’s new feature: Throwback Tuesday Post (TBTP)!

Every Tuesday, I re-post a past blog I think is relevant and that you might enjoy seeing again.

This post was originally published on December 1, 2010, and updated on November 20, 2018.

Merry Christmas and Happy Whatever Else You Celebrate!

The Christmas markets have opened and the holidays are in full swing! Around here it isn’t referred to as the Christmas season. Instead, it’s called Advent season. So last Sunday was the first day of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas).
Before I get into that, I have some sad (for me) news. Some of you know that I collect Nativity figurines. It’s a specific set that is handcarved from wood high in the mountains of northern Italy. The brand name is LEPI and I collect the Rupert line. I have bought two or three figurines each year for the past eight years from a small shop here in Bamberg. Herr Ramspeck, the proprietor, is an older gentleman whom I’ve come to absolutely love. He patiently explained to me the qualities of the Nativity set I settled upon eight years ago and each year remembers who I am and what set I collect. He also gives me a discount.
So each year I save up for this extravagance. This year was no different. I had my money and had chosen the figures I wanted. I was savoring and anticipating the visit to Herr Ramspeck and really looking forward to the experience again this year when Hilde called me a couple of weeks ago saying Herr Ramspeck was going out of business! She said to hurry down there because everything was 50% off. Say it ain’t so!
So I withdrew my money from the bank and hopped the bus into town the next day hoping he would have the three soldier figurines I wanted. I was also hoping that he wasn’t actually going out of business and that Hilde’s rumor mill for once was wrong.
Alas, the rumor mill was right! As I approached the shop I saw the Going Out of Business and the 50% Off signs in the window. Crap. The shop was already almost bare. When I went in, Herr Ramspeck came shuffling out from the back and greeted me like an old friend. I asked about his shop closing and he explained that he was retiring and that there was no one to carry on the business. It’s the end of an era, folks. I’m so happy to have had the eight years I got!
I asked about my particular Nativity set and he had to break the news to me that it was all gone. Every last piece that he had in stock had been sold!
However, he offered to order the pieces for me. I readily agreed. He said he could give me 25% off the retail price, which was quite a bit more than I usually got. I figure he either made no money at all on it or lost some. What a guy! So I ordered the three soldiers of the set that attend the three kings.
Last Tuesday I made the trip to retrieve my newest pieces. They are lovely!
Herr Ramspeck gave me the address of a place in Nuremburg where I can get my pieces in the future. I’ll have to go look it up soon. It won’t be the same as my Herr Ramspeck, though! Of course, I’ll keep you informed of that trip when it happens!
Last week was Thanksgiving. Although it’s kinda tough to be away from home for my most favorite holiday, Bamberg was kind enough to open their biggest Christmas market that day, which is on Maxplatz. So I went there to check it out. Here are some from opening day:
Entrance. You can tell it’s cold!
You can buy stars…
Handmade soap…
A glove for people holding hands!
(non-Ramspeck) crib figurines…
And see some shepherds watching over you from the roof of the wooden stalls…
Get some nice linen holiday tablecloths…
More goodies…
Or buy some clay things that I don’t know what they are…
It suddenly got very, very cold and the drizzly rain was turning to snow so I made my way to my favorite café and had a bowl of delicious pumpkin soup and homemade bread. It reminded me of my friend Barb’s butternut squash soup, something I was missing for Thanksgiving.
Then, of course, I had my coffee. I was reading my Kindle (love that thing) and looked up as two very handsome young men in traditional dress were talking to the manager. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but as soon as the conversation was over, the two made their way to the center of the café. One of them asked for everyone’s attention.
He spoke very fast in German and has his back to me so I didn’t understand all of what he was saying, but it was something about a trek and the tradition of asking for help from “villagers” along the way. I think. Anyway, they took up a collection afterward. I gave him some change and asked if I could take his picture. He seemed used to the idea and struck this pose:
I would really like to know more about what was going on, but I’m glad to have witnessed it, whatever it was!
I had a class to teach at 5:30 so I made my way back home. After that I cooked myself a little turkey and dressing and had a lovely token Thanksgiving dinner of my own. I had so many emails from friends and family that day wishing me a good Thanksgiving – I really had a good day overall!
The next day, while Americans were out trying to take advantage of the Black Friday deals, I did my usual freelance writing and taught a class or two. About 6:00 p.m. I heard that now-familiar marching band. Since they usually practice on Friday evenings next door at the Gasthaus, I didn’t think much of it. However, I heard more activity than usual outside on the street and went to the window. I saw the local firemen redirecting traffic away from the main street while I heard the band tuning up.
So, of course I grabbed my camera and went to investigate. This time it wasn’t a parade, but it was a ceremony officially dedicating Bischberg’s Nativity scene. The wooden hut had appeared a week or so ago and I figured it was Christmas-related.
So the band played – frankly it sounded like dirges, but what do I know about music.
What we would call the band boosters were selling “punch” which, of course, is alcoholic. I, of course, got myself a cup. For a two-Euro deposit you could keep the cup, which I did, because it has the band’s name and logo on it. The punch was very similar to Gluhwein, or hot mulled wine, a traditional holiday beverage. It was sweeter, though. But served piping hot, it really warms you up!
The Burgermeister (mayor) read the Christmas story and an angelic little-kids choir sang a couple of carols and the deed was done. I snapped some shots of the Nativity scene:
Notice that they have translated the scenario into Franconian tradition. Mary is in European dress and is spinning yarn from cotton in a rustic cabin. This scene is where the angel tells her she will be Jesus’ mother. The townspeople will change the scene each week to reflect the Biblical Christmas story.
The next day I went to see the Advent Market near St. Elisabeth’s Church in Bamberg. See how dedicated I am to bringing you this journal?
Here is St. Elisabeth’s Church surrounded by the festivities. Of course there were people enjoying Gluhwein and other goodies!
This market is for handmade goods. Here are some toasty textiles:
Glass ornaments:
Handmade honey mead and other liquor:
A focal point of this fest every year is the blacksmith. He was popular, I think, because of his fire!
This guy was carving animals out of wood for children:
What Christmas market is complete without roasting chestnuts?  BTW, the cap of the boy on the right actually says “Billabong” not just “Bong.”
More homemade libations:
How about some mistletoe?
Later I walked back downtown to see the big market on Maxplatz in Bamberg. On the way I saw these crazy kayakers in the river:
This hotel has a restaurant and they do a booming outdoor business in the summer. In the winter they bring out wire fire baskets to draw people around their stall. Here’s a view of it with Santa trying to zipline in!
As dusk fell, the lights made the market stalls look very cozy:
Here is where I got my own Gluhwein. You get a commemorative cup here, too! This was the fun spot of the market.
Here is the market’s Nativity scene. It’s on the Bamberg Nativity Trail, and I’ll have more pictures of that after I visit next weekend. Notice it’s also in Franconian style and will change as the season progresses.
It took me a while to get this picture. Little kids kept running in front of the thing.
In Germany ya gotta have the wurst and cheese!
And the final shot of the day was the baked goodies booth. After that I took my commemorative Gluhwein cup home and made some of my own!
Since these pictures were taken, we’ve had 6 inches of snow that is still on the ground. It’s beautiful! Should be a great backdrop for the photos of the Nativity Trail and Medieval Christmas market I will visit on Saturday. The week after that I’ll see the Artisan Market. Stay tuned!
Photo for No Apparent Reason: