Thuringia as a Christmas land
What do you think the places look like where popular German Christmas carols like "O Tannenbaum" and "O du fröhliche" were written? A journey through Thuringia in the weeks before Christmas means travelling through the area where the Christmas tree bauble originated and then became popular throughout the world. Where thousands of lights shine brightly, sweet fragrances and music touch the heart - this is Thuringia at Christmas!
Originally made as a cake for Lent, this raisin-studded unique Christmas speciality belongs on every festive tea table - the Thuringian Christmas stollen.
According to legend, the idea of making coloured baubles for Christmas trees originated from a glassblower in Lauscha - in 1847. And from here this Christmas tradition spread throughout the world.
As Christmas approaches in Thuringia, a thousand lights shine brightly, sweet fragrances fill the air and Christmas music touches the heart. Row by row, Christmas market stalls tempt visitors to stop and look.
Christmas carols mean that Christmas is coming - and some of them were even composed by Thuringians!
The stories behind many Thuringian Christmas traditions are dramatic and fascinating, like the one about the glassblowers in the Thuringian Forest and the invention of Christmas tree baubles.
Christmas stollen, "Schittchen" or "Chrisamel"
There is one thing that no Christmas celebration in Thuringia can do without – the stollen. Known in Erfurt as "Erfurter Schittchen", it is also called "Chrisamel" in the Thuringian Forest and there is even a whole Advent Market named after it in Suhl – the "Chrisamelmart". And the ingredients are just as varied as the name! Of course, local bakers and confectioners keep their recipes a strict secret. In addition, the Thuringian Stollen Protection Association (Thüringer Stollenschutzverband) makes sure that the name of "Original Thuringian Christmas Stollen" ("Original Thüringer Christstollen") can only be used for those made in Thuringia using defined recipes. Every year during the first weekend in Advent, the "Stollen Queen" officially cuts the first "Erfurter Schittchen" at the Erfurt Christmas Market, watched by bakers and confectioners from the Stollen Protection Association from all over Thuringia.
When the delicious ingredients have been kneaded into the dough made of yeast and local flour and then baked and allowed to mature, the stollen will taste as only the original can – at least the original in recent history. For there is evidence that the first stollen was baked in Naumburg an der Saale some 700 years ago, but it was then no more than a Lent cake made of yeast, flour and water. But little by little, the stollen, powdered with icing sugar and resembling in shape a loaf of bread, gained so many tasty ingredients that it became an incomparable treat.
The legend of the Christmas tree
In the UNESCO World Heritage town of Weimar, people remember a very special legend. A magnificent fir tree with beautiful illuminations stands in Weimar every Christmas time and tells of a very special Christmas tradition - a radiant Christmas tree which, in Goethe's time, the generous Weimar bookseller Hoffmann moved from his living-room to the marketplace, to the delight of all local children, whether rich or poor. In 1815, this was the first public Christmas tree in Germany and the custom rapidly spread way beyond the town's borders.
Another equally interesting story is that the popularity of the Christmas tree is due to a noble German lady. Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (1792-1849), who was Queen of England for seven years, imported the German Christmas tree into Great Britain, to the delight of her numerous nephews and nieces. Adelaide grew up at Elisabethenburg Castle in the theatre town of Meiningen. An annual arts and crafts market is still held in the castle's Marble Hall today, where both modern and traditional crafts are presented.
Christmas tree baubles made of glass
Mouth-blown and hand-painted Christmas tree baubles have a long tradition in Thuringia. The glass-blowing town of Lauscha in the middle of the Thuringian Forest is the birthplace of glass Christmas tree decorations and of the craft of artistic glass-blowing. These glass decorations are still crafted by hand here today. Over the course of the years, they spread from Thuringia to the rest of the world.
As early as 1880, Franklin Winfield Woolworth, the founder of the US American chain store of the same name, learned of the products made in Lauscha and imported large numbers of baubles into the United States. The craft products from Thuringia gained special international renown some time ago when the Christmas tree outside Buckingham Palace in London came from the forests owned by the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and some 2,000 glass baubles for the royal Christmas tree were also produced in Lauscha.
Birthplace of the Christmas tree bauble
Legend has it that a poor Lauscha glassblower had the idea of making coloured glass baubles for his Christmas tree in 1847. He could not afford expensive walnuts and apples and made Christmas tree decorations from glass instead. Some years earlier, glass eyes for people had already been made here in the Thuringian Forest. The order book of a glassblower in Lauscha has survived, in which six dozen "Christmas baubles" are listed for the first time in 1848. Until industrial use of gas which enabled much hotter flames and thus the production of larger baubles with thinner sides, they were made at home with a Bunsen burner, using rapeseed oil and paraffin for fuel.
During the run-up to Christmas, Christmas carols and music create a very special atmosphere and some of these carols even originate from Thuringia!
The Christmas carol "O du fröhliche...", best known in Germany, is perhaps heard most frequently in Weimar. Johannes Falk, a contemporary of Goethe and a philosopher and social educationalist, wrote the first verse of the carol here. After losing four of his seven children to a typhoid epidemic, he founded the "Refuge for Neglected Children" ("Rettungshaus für verwahrloste Kinder") and dedicated to its boys and girls in 1816 the song now known as a Christmas carol. It was written as a hymn and did not become purely a Christmas carol until later - an assistant to Falk wrote the other verses. A small museum in Weimar still commemorates the work of Johannes Falk today.
Dr. Ernst Gebhard Salomon Anschütz (1780-1861) from Suhl in the Thuringian Forest also went down in history as the writer of the words of a classic Christmas carol. His most famous work ""O Tannenbaum" (Oh Christmas Tree) was originally a song by Joachim August Zarnack about a disappointed lover. Anschütz turned it into a Christmas carol in 1824 by keeping the first verse and adding two new verses.
The Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach is undoubtedly also one of the favourite musical compositions enjoyed during the pre-Christmas period. Even though it was composed during Bach's time in Leipzig, it has a special meaning for audiences at Bach's authentic venues in Arnstadt, Eisenach, Weimar and Mühlhausen.
Dolls, teddy bears and wooden horses
Sonneberg, a town of toys and previously known as the "Father Christmas' workshop", is always worth a visit in the weeks before Christmas. Traditional wooden toys, dolls and cuddly toys are still made here today and can be admired at the Christmas market on the last two weekends before Christmas.
This tradition-rich town of toys is situated on the southern slopes of the Thuringian Forest. The abundance of wood in the forests and abundance of ideas of the local population led to the development of a high-quality toy industry, through which the town became famous in the 19th and 20th century. The production workshops, trading houses and industrial colleges of toy manufacturers dating from this period can be explored independently by visitors along the "Historic Mile". The toy companies today stand for high quality and modern design and offer visitors a memorable shopping experience. On a stroll through the town, there is plenty more to discover on the subject of toys, such as "Stuffing a Teddy" in the German Toy Museum.
The countryside is rich in variety and part of the Thuringian Forest Nature Park. In winter, visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing or tobogganing - including fantastic views of Thuringian and Franconian landscapes. .