3 December 2013
There are a lot of saints going around at this time of year in the German calendar. Just a few weeks ago we had St Martin, and of course there’s St Nicholas coming up soon. And in between is poor old St Barbara, who doesn’t get half as much attention but is still celebrated in many regions of Germany today.
Barbara was the daughter of a rich merchant in Asia Minor, who died a martyr’s death in the 4th century AD. On her feast day - 4th December (i.e. tomorrow) - people would go out and cut branches of cherry trees or other fruit trees, such as apple or plum, and stand them in vases of water in a warm place inside their home. If you don’t happen to have an orchard or fruit tree near by you can cut, then these days you can also buy “Barbarazweige” (Engl: Barbara branches) in many florist shops. I got this handful above at our local florist for 2.50 Euro.
It is thought to be a symbol of good luck for the next year if the buds on the branches blossom by Christmas Eve. The blossoms are a reminder of the prophecy from Isaiah 11:1 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from the roots a branch will bear fruit”.
19 November 2013
We’ve just come back from an almost week long trip to Wuppertal on the other side of the country. We hitched a ride there with Oma and Opa, who had been visiting us in Berlin for the boy’s birthday. His favourite part of the journey was when we stopped over for lunch and saw a large car transporter - he even made me take a photography of it!
One of Wuppertal’s unique selling points is its equally unique “Schwebebahn”, or suspension railway. Sadly, we discovered it was out of service due to a technical fault, so no Schwebebahn rides for us.
But the blow was softened a little by eating “Schwebis” - a Haribo special edition for Wuppertal and a fun change to the regular gummi bears!
The shopping malls were already very much in Christmas spirits, though I am guessing it’s not much different elsewhere. At least they weren’t blaring out Christmas songs yet, and the bauble star display (see below) actually looks quite nice.
Our main reason for travelling to Wuppertal, however, was actually for me to attend BLOGST - the German blog conference - in nearby Essen. I had a fun two days mingling with other bloggers, while the boy was having some quality time with his grandparents.
Of course he was happy to see again though after the conference was over - but possibly even more happy about all the temporary tattoos I brought back!
We travelled back to Berlin by train, and I was very much surprised to find half of Wuppertal’s central station missing at our departure. Seems they are having some kind of major refurbishment. It’s been a while since we last visited, so this had completely passed me by.
The 4 hour train journey back went really smoothly. We even lasted all but the final 15 minutes without getting out the iPad (I actually thought we had another hour to go, as the arrival time printed on our ticket was wrong, otherwise I would have tried to make it all the way to the end without gadgets). Kid could go pick up a free you and drawing set in the train’s bistro, which went down a treat, of course.
The toy was a miniature version of the ICE train we were travelling in - isn’t it cute?! “Look”, I said to the boy, “it’s just like our train!” He just gave me one of those looks and replied “Nein, Mama, unser train hat keine eyes!”
At the weekend, we celebrated the boy’s 3rd birthday. As previously mentioned, he’s a huge fan of Postman Pat, so I’d got it in to my head that, as he was now old enough to appreciate it, I wanted to make him a Postman Pat birthday cake. Baking a novelty cake has always been on my list of “things to do before…” so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It actually turned in to a fun evening with the husband, trying to construct the perfect Royal Mail van together out of cake, buttercream and fondant icing sugar. I don’t think I have the patience to make it in to a regular thing, but it definitely made a change to hanging out in front of the TV.
I took a little short cut by making the actual cake out of a package. Gluten free cakes (I wanted to be able to eat some too!) have a habit of falling to pieces if you don’t get your recipe just right and this was no time for experimenting. I chose a chocolate chip batter, and actually made too, one in a 28cm long loaf tin and one in a 22cm long tin.
We “shaved the tops off” off both cakes, and then cut them to the right lengths - we eyeballed this bit - to make it look roughly like a van, slightly angling the side on the smaller top cake where the windshield would go.
We stuck the two pieces together with buttercream icing, then slathered the whole outside of the cake with icing too. The lady in the cake shop told me this is not just to make the fondant stick, but also to stop the fondant being ruined by condensation if the cake starts sweating. Apparently this is something that can happen, and the icing layer keeps the two separate.
We then covered the cake in red, roll out fondant icing (it took about 300g in total). This is the bit where you can tell we were doing this for the first time - we kind of measured it rule by thumb, then patched out any bits that didn’t match up properly. I’m sure a professional cake maker would have done a much more seamless job of it (and afterwards I learned we should have put it in the fridge for the buttercream to chill first, before covering it in fondant), but our boy loved it with all it’s little kinks - he probably didn’t even notice them, and added a few more himself when he was poking it! Here’s what it looked like half way through:
And here’s what it looked like after added all the pieces. We’d consulted a couple of other cake pictures online, and decided that adding a grey border along the bottom would be best for making the wheels stand out. We mixed together black and white icing to get the grey. The black icing was really lethal in terms of food colour intensity, so we only needed to tiniest amount. We also mixed red and yellow fondant to get the orange headlights. The windows and other headlights are white marzipan, everything else was roll out fondant.
And here is the final result after adding a few more details with a black icing pen, and a little stand up Postman Pat with Jess, printed off and stuck on to cardboard. Not bad for a first attempt at a novelty cake, don’t you think?
We could hardly bring ourselves to cut the cake when it came to it, but at least our guests (our former neighbours from Edinburgh who have also since moved to Berlin!) appreciated who Postman Pat was - here in Germany no one has ever heard of him.
And the verdict? Doesn’t just look great, tastes great too! Happy birthday!!
4 November 2013
Happy Monday everyone! A week today is St Martin’s Day, and with Hallowe’en now out the way, it’s time to start rehearsing those St Martin songs. As I mentioned in my previous post, St Martin’s is celebrated in Germany with lantern processions, and whether you’re taking part in a big public procession complete with brass band, or a small one at your school or nursery with no instruments at all, it’s always more fun if you can join in the singing.
There are several songs about St Martin and/ or lanterns that get sung at this time of year. Some are very popular, others are more obscure. If it’s your first experience of St Martin, then “Laterne, Laterne” is a good one to start with, as it’s short and sweet and the melody is not too complicated:
“Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne. Brenne auf mein Licht, brenne auf meine Licht, aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht.“
(Lantern, lantern, sun, moon and stars. Burn, my light, burn, my light, but not my dear lantern.)
Other popular songs include “Ich geh mit meiner Laterne” (I go with my lantern) with the fun chorus “Ra-bimmel, ra-bammel, ra-bumm”, and “St Martin ritt durch Schnee und Wind” (St Martin rode through snow and wind), which retells the story of St Martin cutting in half his warm cloak to share with a freezing beggar. Last year, the kids at the boy’s nursery acted out the story to the song, and he was singing it way in to January.
You can find the lyrics, sheet music and sound files for all three songs on this website: www.martin-von-tours.de
My favourite song, however, is called “Durch die Straßen” and goes like this:
"Durch die Straßen, auf und nieder, leuchten die Laternen wieder: rote, grüne, gelbe, blaue, lieber Martin, komm und schaue."
”Wie die Blumen in dem Garten, blüh’n Laternen aller Arten: rote, grüne…“
(Through the streets, up and down, lanterns are glowing again: red ones, green ones, yellow, blue, dear Martin, come and see. (2) Like the flowers, in the garden, lanterns of all kinds are blooming: red ones, green ones…)
You can also find this song on the same website, although without a sound file.
I wanted to finish my little St Martin’s series with a couple of book recommendations.
This first book is set around celebrating St Martin at nursery. It starts with the kids making their own lanterns, acting out the story of St Martin, and then going on a lantern procession. It’s interspersed with the first three songs I mentioned, complete with sheet music notes, and a condensed version of the story of St Martin sharing his cloak. It’s a really good introduction, since it explains the traditions and well as including the most essential stories and songs. I bought it for my son (who was 2 at the time) and husband to read together last year, as the festival was new to both of them, and can only recommend it.
This second book doesn’t touch on the modern day celebrations at all, but instead tells the story of St Martin from his time as a Roman solider through to his appointment as bishop and eventually becoming a saint. Even if you are not religious, it’s a good way to get kids acquainted with the story behind the man that all the fuss is about. I’d say it’s more suitable for slightly older children though.
For more information about St Martin’s tradition, check out my previous posts in the series:
A Guide to St Martin Traditions: Part 1 - includes an overview of St Martin traditions and listings for some lantern processions in Berlin
A Guide to St Martin Traditions: Part 2 - includes a recipe for the St Martin’s “Weckmänner” pastries, and a word or two about geese.
DIY St Martin Lanterns - a tutorial on how to make your own lantern
1 November 2013
Hallowe’en may be over, but some people aren’t having their party until this weekend and besides, it’s never too late for a good cocktail. Actually, these all come as mocktails too, so no excuses. Our inspiration - besides trying to think of spooky Hallowe’en names - were the sugar sirups from Monin.
Here’s what we came up with:
Blue Boo (mocktail & cocktail)
Shake with some ice, strain in to a glass, top up with milk and serve with more ice.
Bat’s Blood (mocktail & cocktail)
Shake with some ice, strain in to a glass, top up with sparkling water and serve with more ice and orange slices.
Swamp Water (mocktail)
Shake with some ice, strain in to a glass, top up with lemonade and serve with more ice and lemon slices.
Swamp Zombie (cocktail)
Shake with some ice, strain in to a glass, top up with pineapple juice and serve with more ice and lemon slice.