german history

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam
© Pixabay

The Location of the Palace of Sanssouci

Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) (24 January 1712―17 August 1786), a strong supporter of benevolent despotism, built his magnificent rococo palace in a 290-hectare park in Potsdam, just southwest of Berlin, between 1745-1747 as a respite from the official court in Berlin.  Its very name comes from the French phrase sans souci, which means “without a care” and “carefree,” i.e., “sorgenfrei” and “unbeschwert.”  It’s important to know that rococo was an 18th-century art movement that emphasized lissome, clever, and witty ornamentality, and is more or less the antithesis of and a reaction to baroque.

The most important Features

The palace is within the larger park (“Park Sanssouci”) and the picture gallery, the “Bildergalerie,” built between 1755-1763 and formerly a tropical greenhouse, is just east of the palace proper.  So, when you visit, and you must visit, be sure to allot at least three days to immerse yourself as much possible in the Sanssouci experience, i.e., at the absolute minimum, you need to visit the grounds adjacent to and behind the palace, the “Weinbergterrassen,” the “Lustgarten,” and the “Neptungrotte.”

The Wish of Frederick the Great

“Old Fritz,” as he was lovingly called, said “I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendor.  I want to be neither opened nor embalmed.  Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself . . . .  Should I die in time of war or whilst on a journey, I should be buried in the first convenient place and brought to Sanssouci in the winter.”  It took a long, long time―205 years―for people and events to honor his wishes.  His tomb is now finally where he wanted it to be and it is certainly worth a visit―a modest resting place for one of Germany’s two or three greatest leaders.

The Highlights of the Picture Gallery of Sanssouci

The Picture Gallery is not the only reason to visit Sanssouci, but it should be your primary reason.  Beyond that, there is the Sanssouci Park and all its buildings that are works of art, in and of themselves and in their own right.  I will provide a somewhat detailed listing below; first, however, a few highlights of the Picture Gallery.

Among the artists and styles favored by “Old Fritz” were Antoine Watteau, history paintings, renaissance art, so-called mannerism art, and baroque art.  The Picture Gallery includes superb representations thereof as well as many, many additional works.  Five representative works of the Picture Gallery are Anthony Van Dyck’s The Descent of the Holy Spirit, oil on canvas; Johann Christoph Frisch’s Frederick the Great at his Tomb at Sanssouci with the Marquis d’Argens;  Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas; Anton von Werner’s The Opening of the Reichstag; and the extravagant profusion of all the so-called Fridericianum Baroque.

Going for a stroll in the Lustgarten of Sanssouci

Sanssouci Park is open every day from 0600 until sunset and entry is without charge.  The Evangelical Church of Peace, dating from 1845, behind which is the Lagoon of Peace, is just within the Green Gate, which is the park’s main entrance and quite near the Potsdam city center.  Within the church’s apse, look for the spectacular 13th-century Venetian mosaic of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, St. Peter, and the martyred St. Cyprian of Carthage.  Stroll west several meters and turn north through a bower and across a peaceful stream towards the Palace.  Your first stop is the Garden of Delight (“Lustgarten”).  Beyond this point is the Weinbergterrassen and the Sanssouci Palace proper, while off to the right are the Picture Gallery and, slightly farther east, the Neptune Grotto.  Beyond, i.e., just north of the Sanssouci Palace, the path will take you to the relaxing Steed Fountain and then on to the historical Sanssouci Mill and the Weinstube, across from the Neue Kammern.  Farther along Maulbeerallee on the right is the famous 300-meter-long Orangery.  The central building of the Orangery, from which two wings extend, contains numerous paintings (almost 50) by Raphael in the so-called Raffael Hall.  The building also accommodates government offices, luxurious living quarters, and, in the dead of winter, sensitive plants that need a bit of succor.

Other sights in the Park

Additional sights include the New Palace, Charlottenhof Castle, Dragon House, the Roman Baths, the Chinese Teahouse, the Belvedere, and the Ruinenberg, a 74-meter high hill that continues to play a significant role in drawing visitors to Sanssouci, particularly for the incredible view from the top of the artificial ruins commissioned by Frederick the Great afford over the surrounding area.  When contemplating your visit to Sanssouci, remember that it is all a museum and that the museum we know as Sanssouci contains a significant treasure in its core:  The Picture Gallery.  For additional information, go to

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam
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The Chocolate Museum of Cologne

The Chocolate Museum of Cologne
© Pixabay

A museum for the “Naschkatze”!  Wherever one may live on any of the five continents, it’s impossible to think of chocolate without thinking of Germany, for German chocolate sets the benchmark (“der Höhenfestpunkt”) for two very close, competent rivals, Swiss chocolate and Belgian chocolate.  The difference is that German chocolate is simply better, not only because it is a product of efficient German commercial interests, but also because chocolate is a true German passion.

The Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum – one of a kind!

The Chocolate Museum—the only museum in the world devoted exclusively to chocolate—was established in Cologne in 1993 by Dr. Hans Imhoff (12 March1922 – 21 December 2007).  Imhoff’s love of chocolate began in his childhood in Cologne’s Fleischmengergasse, where he lived, quite near to Cologne’s central library and also quite near to Cologne’s Stollwerck chocolate factory, founded in 1839 by Franz Stollwerck.

The Inspiration for the Chocolate Museum

The aroma of the Stollwerck factory’s products—chocolate, marzipan, and gingerbread—entranced young Imhoff, who indulged his love of chocolate by establishing a chocolate and sugar factory after World War II and successfully producing generic chocolates.  A few years later, Imhoff bought Berlin’s Hildebrand chocolate company, Germany’s oldest manufacturer of chocolate and famous for the “Scho-Ka-Kola” brand.  Imhoff later rescued the failing Stollwerck business enterprise, reorganized its management and marketing, and enabled his now extensive European Chocolate Group to buy such famous brands as Sprengel and Sarotti.  Claus Jacobi wrote the definitive biography of Dr. Imhoff, Der Schokoladenkönig. Das unglaubliche Leben des Hans Imhoff (Langen Müller, München 1997).

Chocolate in German culture

Chocolate plays a significant role in many Germany holiday traditions, including cultural and familial celebrations—in the form of candy.  The annual Advent calendars often include chocolate doors between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas.  Advent wreaths also become a conduit for chocolate.  A new candle is placed in the Advent wreath every Sunday, after which, the family sit together sipping their hot chocolate and enjoying one another’s company.  Every 5th of December, St. Nicholas Day, either St. Nicholas or his sidekick, Knecht Ruprecht (who is quite scary looking!), would bring a bit of chocolate to the children.  The family Christmas tree also partakes of the celebration of chocolate, for, included in its decorations, are decorative pieces of chocolate candy.  There are, of course, chocolate Santas to meet everyone’s Christmas-chocolate cravings.  Easter brings chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs as well.

The Chocolate Museum promotes chocolate as a food

Remember, chocolate is loaded with carbohydrates, which provides quick energy when needed, and it has healthful amounts of the antioxidants caffeine and the alkaloid theobromine.  The museum underscores what is the routine use of various chocolate products in German life, from bitter-sweet and semi-sweet dark chocolate, through milk chocolate, white chocolate, and couverture chocolate, used primarily in baking in quite familiar formats, e.g., chocolate bars, either entirely chocolate or, more likely, chocolate mixed with other delightful foods, such as nuts (hazelnuts are a distinct favorite), strawberries, yogurt, peppermint, nougat, marzipan, coffee—even bacon!  Then there are the quite popular romantic gift of filled chocolates, i.e., pralines, filled with all sorts of complementary sweets such as liqueurs and/or nuts and candied fruits.

The History of Chocolate

The museum’s collection is as extensive as it is varied, beginning, of course, with a succinct time-line history of the discovery of chocolate in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where the cacao tree was first cultivated more than three millennia ago by the Maya, Oltec, Toltec, and Aztec civilizations.  The cacao beans were used both as currency and, after processing, as a beverage, particularly a ceremonial beverage.  The museum shows that, eventually, the beverage conquered Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and was deemed so precious by the idle rich that it was served only in porcelain and silver containers.

The museum goes on to show the cultural history of chocolate as it sprouted and flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries through retail shops catering more and more to an expanding audience of devotees through a recreation of a typical popular candy-shop interior and with numerous examples of early advertising of chocolate products cleverly masquerading as “samplers” and collectibles of various sorts to be kept in scrapbooks and revered as if they were family photo albums.

A special treat for the visitors of the Chocolate Museum

The Chocolate Museum’s exhibition starts with the harvest of the cacao bean in a tropical greenhouse through to the raw product’s eventual arrival in a chocolate factory.  An impressively tall (three meters) chocolate fountain greets visitors to the exhibition.  The next level of the exhibition includes a chocolate studio displaying hollow chocolate products that include various fillings such as truffles.  If you want to try your hand at being a chocolatier, the museum offers both courses and the opportunity to exercise your skills.  Knowledgeable museum docents will explain the four-thousand-year history of cacao from the first frothy beverages to contemporary candy products.  You’ll also be treated to examples of early advertising of various chocolate products that will bring a smile to your face.  You’re also invited to enjoy the always running chocolate fountain.

Where can the Chocolate Museum be found and when is it open?

The Chocolate Museum is located between the old town and the Rheinau harbour on the banks of the River Rhine.  For explicit directions via auto, bus, train, taxi, and the Schoko Express, go to  The telephone is 49.221.931.888.0 and the eMail is
The Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, from 1000 until 1800, and Saturdays, Sundays, & bank holidays from 1100-1900.  In addition, it’s also open on the 21st of March, every Monday in July, August, and December, and on the 10th, 17th, and 31st of October.  Tickets are priced as follows:  adults:  €9,00; Groups from 15 persons:  €8,50; Eligible discount:  €6,50 Groups from 15 persons:  €6,00; Family ticket:  €25,00 (2 adults their children up to age 16); children, students, apprentices, school pupils are entitled to this discount.  Voluntary service-providing, disabled persons, and senior citizens (at least 65 years old).  Children 5 and younger are admitted at no charge.  Also, if it’s your birthday on the day of your visit to the Chocolate Museum, we will invite you for free on your special day!

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The Chocolate Museum of Cologne
german media

Filmmaking in Germany – Let's go to the Kino!

Filmmaking in Germany - Let's go to the Kino!
© Pixabay


Part One:  Ante-Third Reich

Motion pictures were initially developed in the 1870s by the British American photographer Eadweard Muybridge, building on France’s Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s development of the positive photographic process and on England’s William Henry Fox Talbot’s negative photographic process, in order to prove the theory of the wealthy horse breeder and then governor of California, Leland Stanford, that all four hooves of a galloping horse leave the ground simultaneously.
Following the more than 35 years in which such films developed as popular novelties and ever more sophisticated curiosities without any serious artistic or narrative content, the notion of telling stories with motion pictures arose.  Germany was a leader in that movement and in 1910 began to produce a series of tasteful, distinctive, insightful, and reflective films based on stories.

One particularly effective example is the 1913 production of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Student of Prague, produced by Deutsche Bioscop GmbH (later bought outright by Babelsberg Studio along with affiliated production companies) and filmed in Berlin.  Today, Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam-Babelsberg, on the outskirts of Berlin, is the financial and production center not only for German filmmaking, but also for a majority of international, high-budget films.  It is the focal point of German artistic and professional filmmaking development.

Films such as The Student of Prague had a profound effect on viewers who were used to still photographs that captured the true “Kodak moments” of their lives, i.e., that portrayed people, locations, and events that marked incidents in their own lives.  Viewers often transferred this reinforced belief in their own photographs to the stories told through motion pictures, as if the plots, characters, locales, etc. were real, i.e., viewers “willingly suspended their disbelief” (“freiwillige Aussetzen der Zweifel”).  This aspect of filmmaking brought acceptance and much success to the motion picture industry.  Technological developments attributed to German filmmakers include the early projector and sound-on-film and contributed greatly to German filmmaking successes.

Filmmaking in World War I

World War I gave rise to the use of filmmaking to promote propaganda which promoted the fatherland and denigrated the enemy.  This new tack brought about the establishment of Universum Film AG (“UFA GmbH”) by the German military, ostensibly to combat foreign film competition, but also to promote German national interests and to coordinate and refine propaganda on behalf of the fatherland.  Because the war affected imports of foreign films, German filmmaking quickly took over all aspects of the German film market:  documentaries, weekly news reviews, feature films, etc., mixed with and influenced by the ever more sophisticated propaganda films.

After the war, UFA trended away from propaganda towards more commercially viable projects and, in the process, many German directors, executives, and stars, e.g., Ernst Lubitsch, Erich Pommer, Emil Jannings, Pola Negri, Conrad Veidt, and Lya de Putti, became more prominent and German filmmaking competed directly with Hollywood.  Unfortunately, in 1923 a series of poor business decisions brought UFA to the brink of bankruptcy and only a massive injection of capital by new owners and a restructuring of both its business model and its marketing plans managed to save it at the last minute.  After seven years of hard work and planning, UFA seemed to have weathered the economic storm.

On the creative front during this time, imaginative and ambitious German filmmakers stressed social issues and pragmatic rather than theoretical political matters presented in a documentary style that contributed to each film’s verisimilitude.  They replaced conventional filmmaking techniques with radical camera techniques, editing, and unconventional visual presentations.  A film’s storyline was no longer the sole source of information for the viewer.  The way a filmmaker told a story was as important and as effective as the story itself and, as often as not, the filmmaker never resolved the story’s conflict, leaving it to the viewer to create his/her own resolution—or lack of one—based on the realism, the ambiguity, and the viewer’s personal experience and imagination.  In effect, the fourth wall was breached to make each viewer a participant in the story.

German Expressionism

German filmmakers first brought expressionism—the effective use of realism, imagery, and symbolism to evoke viewers’ interests and attention—to the screen, most notably The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene), Nosferatu (Murnau), and The Golem:  How He Came Into the World (Boese & Wegener) and its development had a powerful effect on international filmmaking, particularly in France and the U.S.

New Objectivity

German expressionism gave way to social themes and realism which unabashedly spotlighted very controversial themes.  It evolved into so-called new objectivity (“Neue Sachlichkeit”), a filmmaking school which focused on the average, even mundane, lives of ordinary Germans as they related to the various components of society, e.g., literature, politics, commercialism, art, education, etc.  It highlighted the average German man-in-the-street’s pragmatic, day-to-day goings-on rather than on the philosophical aspects of their lives.  It also dealt bluntly with many quite controversial topics—topics that continue to plague societies worldwide even today:  illegal drugs, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, etc.

German filmmakers then began to chronicle man’s struggle with nature, after which German filmmakers introduced animation, and then spectacular historical films which stirred patriotic feelings, finally ending up with so-called chamber dramas which provided an intimate examination of the bleak, desolate lives and petty dramas of ordinary people.  This somewhat mediocre artistic vein petered out as the Weimar Republic began its inglorious downhill slide in the few years before the Great Depression and war gripped Europe.  Part Two will discuss the years commencing with Hitler’s rise, through the war, and the fall of Nazism.

Filmmaking in Germany - Let's go to the Kino!
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The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm

The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm
© Pixabay

Ulm, a city in Baden-Württemberg with a population of roughly 120,000, has many worthwhile cultural sights.  One of its more unexpected and especially delightful sights is its Museum of Bread Culture on the northern edge of the Old City.  In 1955, Willy Eiselen (1896-1981) established the museum and, along with his son Hermann Eiselen (1926-2009), promoted the museum not only throughout Germany, but also worldwide.  The Eiselen family provided supplies, equipment, and provisions to the bakery trade and felt an understandably strong allegiance to the craft and trade of which they had been a part for so many decades.  The first exhibits opened in 1960 and the museum has grown considerably in the last 56 years.  Its one-millionth visitor passed through its doors in 2004 and it is now administered by the Eiselen (charitable) Foundation.

The Size of the Museum

The museum has more than 18,000 public-collection objects, of which 700 are on permanent display, supported by a rotating display of selected stored items to keep the exhibits as fresh as your daily “Brötchen.”  Displays include advances in bread making over the past 6 centuries and underscore the cultural, social, and religious significance of bread.  The museum also boasts of a comprehensive, bread-oriented library of more than 6,000 books.  One thing you will not find in the museum is even a crumb of bread.  Why?  Because, from its inception, the Eiselen family and the museum administrators have wisely held that bread is not an exhibit, but a food to be baked and eaten fresh daily.

While the museum proudly claims to dedicate itself to the “. . . 6,000-year history of bread,” the fact is that the history of bread can be dated from more than 12,000 years ago; however, I assure you that, regardless of the history of bread, when Germans perfected “Bauernbrot,” i.e., coarse rye or farmhouse bread, it reached its apotheosis, for “Bauernbrot” is perfection itself.  Along the way, there were many, many various grains and techniques used by cultures throughout history to make bread.

In the Beginning, there were the Grains…

The history of bread with all its intrinsic characteristics begins with grains, i.e., cereals, which ancient peoples ground carefully to make flour.  The museum covers this and all aspects of bread and bread making in detail on the first floor.  In the process, grains such as maize (corn), barley, millet, buckwheat—none of which contained sufficient gluten to create raised bread—wheat, and rye.  The well-known flat breads of various cultures came about because of the lack of gluten in the grains used, while the raised breads came about through grains which contained sufficient gluten to generate the gas (CO2) needed to inflate the gluten-rich dough.  To promote such gases, savvy bakers use leavens, e.g., natural leavens (yeast) and chemical leavens (baking powder, baking soda, etc.).  These are the most popular leavens, but there are certainly several more which provide specific and unique characteristics to the breads for which they’re used.

Bread throughout the ages

The second floor of the museum deals with the extrinsic aspects of bread.  Civilizations and cultures have progressed through history side-by-side with bread.  Bread’s only rival as a necessity of life is water, which is itself an essential part of bread.  When we realize that bread and water are requisites for life, it should be no surprise to find that both are linked inextricably to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals.  Of course, the absence of bread in a culture or civilization is just as significant as its presence; the absence of bread means famine.  Without a good harvest, in the wake of wars, and in the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods earthquakes, hurricanes, locusts, fires, wars, and plagues, there is soon no bread.  People starve.  As Jonathan Swift said in A Tail of a Tub, “Bread is the staff of life.”  Who could argue with that?  A significant display by such artists such as Markus Lüpertz, Salvador Dali, Käthe Kollwitz, Franz Francken, Pablo, Picasso, Georg Flegel, Max Beckmann, Man Ray, and Ernst Barlach includes magnificent representations of bread throughout the ages.

The historical Significance of Bread

If there were ever a commodity that meant the same thing to all people, regardless of culture or religion, it is bread.  First, of course, bread is a food; indeed, it is the basic food.  Beyond that, the word bread stands for all food in many expressions, e.g., “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In his Satires, Juvenal observed that the Roman empire had deteriorated to the point that the “. . . people . . . longs eagerly for just two things—bread and circuses!”  Shakespeare referred to “. . . the bitter bread of banishment” in The Tragedy of King Richard the Second.  Esau sold his inheritance for bread and stew.  The author of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám could not be happy with his life if he could not have a loaf of bread along with the company of his sweetheart.  Marie Antoinette allegedly lost her life by sneering at the plight of the commoners who had no bread.  “Let them eat cake,” she callously crowed.  A common English expression is “dough,” i.e., unbaked bread.  This slang term hasn’t yet migrated to German as far as I can tell, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

Bread was also a lifesaver in a quite literal way.  In ancient Egypt, physicians applied poultices of moldy bread to infected wounds.  In the early 17th century, wet bread was mixed with spider webs to treat wounds.  And, while the development was not sparked by bread, it is based on a mold much like the bread molds used by the ancient Egyptians and the medieval Poles.

The Museum of Bread Culture is open daily from 1000 until 1700.  The address is Salzstadelgasse 10, 89073 Ulm; Telefon +49 731 69955; eMail  Admission cost varies:  adults €4 and children, seniors, students, the disabled €3.  There’s a good chance that your tour of the museum will inspire your appetite.  If so, “guten Appetit!”

The Museum of Bread Culture in Ulm
german history

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg
By 4028mdk09 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kurpfälzisches Museum, i.e., the Palatinate Museum, in Heidelberg possesses some of the finest examples of archeological artifacts as well as superb examples of paintings, graphic arts, sculptures, and applied arts in the greater Heidelberg area.  The museum occupies the Morass Palace, named after its first owner, the attorney Johann Philipp von Morass, who was briefly the rector of Heidelberg University in 1700-1701.  Von Morass contracted with the renowned baroque architect Johann Adam Breunig to build the palace on the site of the former “Elende Herberge” (Hotel of Woes), which had been a hospital for the poor since 1693.

In the mid 1870s, Heidelberg city authorities purchased the art and antiquities collected by Count Charles de Graimberg, which were to become the initial pieces of the museum’s collection and established the Kurpfälzisches Museum.  In 1906, the museum relocated its collection to the Morass Palace, where it has remained to this day.

The graphic arts collection can be considered the jewel in the crown of all graphic arts collections in southwest Germany.  It contains more than 7,000 sketches and watercolors and more than 13,000 prints, all of which date from ca. the late 8th century through the 20th century.  The collection has a strong section emphasizing Romanticism, including such artists as Andreas Achenbach, Philipp Otto Runge, Anselm Feuerbach, Eugene von Guerard, Christian Ezdorf, and Carl Friedrich Lessing.  The collection also includes many unique and imaginative items and memorabilia commemorating Heidelberg.
The museum’s sculptures include items dating from the mid 12th century all the way to modern times.  This collection is especially known for the many early 17th-century baroque statuaries collected from houses in Heidelberg’s old town, a narrow strip of land beneath the magnificent Heidelberg Castle ruin on the Neckar’s left bank.  Perhaps its two most famous pieces are The Altar of the Apostles (1509) by Tilman Riemenschneider and Rückblickende (Retrospective), a profoundly evocative cast-stone statue of a woman on foot, hesitating, then turning to look back.  For many people, the woman represents Lot’s wife just before she was turned into a pillar of salt.  In addition, the collection even has gravestones from a now defunct Augustine monastery and sculptures both of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom (indicating how wise it was to build the bridge), and of Prince-Elector Charles Theodore (the ruler who exercised his wisdom in so many ways) from the so-called old bridge across the Neckar.

The applied arts are an important part of the overall collection and occupy many rooms in the palace.  Indeed, four rooms are dedicated to a recreation of the 18th and 19th centuries’ “feel” and have been specifically furnished to represent that time period.  Some of the features in that portion of the collection include typical family costumes showing how individuals dressed from the mid 18th century to just prior to Hitler’s rise to power.  There are excellent examples of furniture of that time as well as bric–a–bracs and curios, e.g., cutlery, glassware, medallions, coins and buttons, porcelain, especially Frankenthal porcelain, remind us of the important, but simple, components of everyday life more than two centuries ago.  Do not miss the Frankenthal pieces, for Frankenthal was, without question, one of the premier porcelain manufacturers in Germany in the late 18th century.  To top it all off, there are portraits of select Price-Electors of the time and Countess Palatine Elisabeth Auguste’s household silver.

The museum’s paintings include works spanning the centuries from the 15th through the 20th, particularly of renowned local prominent individuals, e.g., Perkeo, the dwarf and favorite court jester of Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine in Heidelberg and who, because he was also the official guardian of the Great Heidelberg Tun, a huge wine barrel with an original capacity of more that 221,000 litres, he became Heidelberg’s unofficial mascot.  Other paintings include Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate, works by the Dutch painter Rogier van der Weyden and the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, many Dutch still lifes, numerous rococo paintings, works by the German landscape painter Carl Rottmann, the leading German classicist painter Anselm Feuerbach, and the German realist Wilhelm Trübner.  It also includes notable 20th-century works by Alexander Kanoldt, a so-called magic realist and an important figure in the New Objectivity school of art.  Two of Kanoldt’s more distinguished works are The Red Belt and Still Life II; the Russian expressionist Alexei Jawlensky whose 1905 self-portrait and Young Girl in a Flowered Hat stand out as a particularly fine example of Jawlensky’s synthesis of the post-impressionist avant-garde artistic principles espoused by Jan Verkade and Paul Sérusier and the rich use of color advocated by Wassily Kandinsky and others caught up in the Munich New Artist’s Association; and the multi-talented German painter, draftsman, sculptor, and printmaker, Max Beckmann, a post-expressionist and also a proponent of New Objectivity.  Beckmann’s 1940 Self-Portrait with Horn is a justifiably popular piece, as are The Night and Carnival (a triptych).

Seven rooms in the museum’s ground floor are devoted to its archeological collection and traces Heidelberg’s history from about 600,000 years ago through modern times.  Naturally, an entire room and a great deal of attention is paid to the presence of the Romans in Germany.  The next most popular archeological section is the Heiligenberg, a low sandstone mountain east of Heidelberg, atop of which are the ruins of an early Romanesque church and two monasteries:  the Monastery of St. Michael (1023 A.D.) and the Monastery of St. Stephen (1094 A.D.).  The mountain is about 440 above sea level and the so-called philosopher’s way leads up the mountain about two kilometers.  If you plan to explore the mountain, be on the lookout for remains of a Celtic fort, the Heidenloch, a 55-meter deep pit, the Heiligenberg Tower, built as a lookout from the stones of the razed Monastery of St. Stephen, the Bismarck Tower, a 1903 monument to Otto von Bismarck, and the Thingstätte, an open-air theatre created by the Nazis in 1935.  The notion behind creating the Thingstätte or amphitheater (400 were planned, but only 40 were built) was that they be community gathering places as much for entertainment as for the neighborly exchange of gossip and as opportunities for government officials to ballyhoo their propaganda.  Artefacts from the dark ages round out the museum’s archeological exhibitions.

The Morass Palace, i.e., Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg, is at Hauptstraße 97, 69117 Heidelberg; Tel. 06221 58–34020.  It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1000 until 1800 and is closed on 24, 15, & 31 December and 01 January & on Shrove Tuesday and 01 May.  Entry fees vary based on many criteria.
Visit the museum’s website for further information .  Go < a href="" target="_blank">here to get a list of fees.

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg
Living in germany

Day Light Saving Time – Sommerzeit

Day Light Saving Time - Sommerzeit
© Pixabay

Summertime in Germany

The first modern suggestion of “summertime” came from a humorous observation by Ben Franklin.  Franklin’s insight was sparked by Paris’s latitude being about 1,100 kilometers north of the latitude of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., Franklin’s home town.  According to The Economist,

“. . . , he [Franklin] woke (sic) early one morning and was surprised to see sunlight streaming through his windows.  He wrote a humorous letter to a local journal, proposing to wake Parisians at the crack of dawn to save on candles.” (The Economist, “The World in 2016”)

The streaming daylight surprised Franklin because longer days between the spring and autumnal equinoxes are more pronounced at greater latitudes.  Paris is about 49° north and Philadelphia is only about 40° north.  The idea is that, the more hours of daylight available in the evenings, the less energy needed to provide light—candles in Franklin’s case, incandescent lamps later on.

The New Zealander George Hudson first suggested (1895) setting clocks forward in the spring to make better use of daylight and then resetting them in the fall.  Hudson wanted more daylight after his workday so that he could collect insects for his collection.

The introduction of Sommerzeit

Hudson’s idea of setting the clocks ahead in the spring sparked great interest in some quarters, but never really caught on and the idea languished fitfully for more than 20 years until Germany and Austria-Hungary introduced “Sommerzeit” in 1916 for strategic reasons.  Better use of available daylight by the civilian and industrial sectors would make that much more coal available for military use and would reduce the incidence of air-raid blackouts.  The United Kingdom immediately saw the pragmatism of a policy its parliament had frequently discussed but tabled and introduced daylight saving time a month after Germany adopted it.  Two years later, despite opposition by railroads and agricultural interests, the U.S. adopted daylight saving time, too.

Germany’s adoption of daylight saving time, i.e., “Sommerzeit,” paved the way for energy savings around the world.  That Germany should be the international leader for the spread of daylight saving time is quite striking.  After all, until the end of the 19th century, most small German towns and villages calculated their own time, i.e., local time based on the sun.  Even within larger, more sophisticated areas, there were time differences.  For example, Munich time was quite different from Berlin time.  The difference was no more than 10 minutes, but it must have been maddening for rail travelers, banks, etc.  Of course, the difference was not as significant as the time difference between the Minnesota, U.S.A., twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The cities are divided only by the Mississippi river, but, for at least a year, the time difference between them was one hour.  Imagine a one-hour time difference between Mainz and Wiesbaden!

Germany kept the routine of “Sommerzeit,” the period from March through September, for three years, but, in 1919, the Weimar Republic discontinued the practice and the Third Reich did not restore the practice until the outbreak of World War II.  Its rationale, of course, was to prolong the work day in order to supply Germany’s military requirements.  Following the war, the division of Germany brought about the use of Central European time and “Sommerzeit”once again, but only in the British, French, and U.S. zones.  The Soviets imposed Moscow time in the zone it controlled.  Whenever someone crossed from or to the Soviet zone, they had to adjust their watch by two hours.  In many ways, when a so-called West German looked across the frontier between West Germany and East Germany, they were looking into the past, literally and figuratively.  As for the use of “Sommerzeit” in West Germany after the war, it was unsurprisingly a pragmatic decision: more daylight hours conserved energy that would otherwise have been used for light and it promoted rebuilding West Germany.  Despite the logic and practicality of daylight saving time, the war had imbued it with the odor of occupation and humiliation and many counties abandoned it as a matter of national pride and self-determination.  The oil crisis of the early 1970s gave rise to a fresh use of daylight saving time for the very sensible reason that nations needed to conserve energy that would otherwise be used to fuel lights and daylight saving time did that.

The mixed feelings of nationalism, self-determination, and practicality were debated, sometimes acrimoniously.  Different nations in the European Union had various versions of daylight saving time, so, while each was able to conserve energy within its own borders, there was still confusion as to which parts of the year were covered.  This hodgepodge of national rules frustrated commerce, transportation, and tourism.  Finally, in 1996, the European Union established daylight saving time to run from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October throughout the EU.

Most nations of the world have adopted some version of the concept of daylight saving time that Germany brought to the world scene almost a century ago and the world is better for it.  As we look back on the world’s laborious establishment of daylight saving time, we should recall Cicero’s comment that “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”

Day Light Saving Time - Sommerzeit
leisure activities

The Germanic National Museum – Nürnberg

The Germanic National Museum - Nürnberg
Von KaterBegemot – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0

We’re in the 164th year of this superb museum’s glorious history and, if you want to immerse yourself in German culture, regardless of the particular cultural or regional strain in which you’re most interested, e.g., Prussian, Bavarian, Austrian, Swiss, etc., this museum will provide you with the best examples and interpretations of what has brought German culture, traditions, mores, and enviable work ethic—assets that continue to influence the descendants of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century emigrants in far-flung lands as well as contemporary Germans throughout Germany—to the forefront of international respect.  It has been a struggle, to be sure, but the struggle has been worthwhile.

The museum’s noble founder, Hans Baron von und zu Aufseβ (1801-1872)), studied law at Erlangen and worked in the courts in Bayreuth and Gräfenberg.  The Baron’s interest in German culture and history led him to establish the museum in 1852.  Ironically, a group of enraged students at Strasbourg University, mistaking the baron for a loathed Francophile, attacked and injured him so badly that he died 20 years later.  German nationalism and Romanticism were integral components motivating the baron.  That he should die as a result of his two favorite themes, while sad, is poetically fitting.
A trip to Germany demands that one spend several days in Nürnberg and, if you’re in Nürnberg, you owe it to yourself to visit this museum, which embodies all things German.  The museum’s published doctrine to fulfill its inherent duty to both history and humanity is that “As a museum dedicated to the culture and history of German-speaking regions, we collect and preserve cultural, artistic, and historical artifacts ranging in date from the dawn of Germanic cultures to the present day.”

The museum has 23—count them, 23!—distinct collections:


19th century

  • Old Jurisdiction
  • Library:  Manuscripts and Rare Prints
  • Museum of Applied Arts and The Design Collection
  • History of Crafts
  • Judaica
  • Painting up to 1800 and Glass Painting
  • Numismatic Collection
  • Sculpture up to 1800
  • Textiles and Jewellery
  • Prehistory and Protohistory


20th century

  • Historical Building and Construction
  • Deutsches Kunstarchiv
  • Department of Prints and Drawings
  • Historical Archives
  • Decorative Arts up to 1800
  • Furniture
  • Musical Instruments
  • Toys
  • Folk Art
  • Arms, Armor, and Hunting Culture
  • Scientific Instruments and the History of Medicine

Go to for in-depth information about each of these collections.

On your visit to the museum, be sure to see these five very important works:


The “Cloth of St. Gereon,” a seven-color mural tapestry (the second oldest known) from the early 11th century, that shows a griffin (a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle) attacking a bull.  The cloth’s provenance seems to be from St. Gereon’s Basilica in 11th-century Köln.

The “Portrait of Barbara Dürer” by Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471-06 April 1528).  This selection is one of a pair of oil on pine panels Dürer painted in 1490 of his mother (Barbara) when she was about 39 years old and his father (Albrecht the Elder) when he was about 63 years old.  The panel of his father is at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

The “Lamentation of Christ” by Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471-06 April 1528).  This selection is also an oil on wood panel and was painted in 1498.  Dürer is thought to have painted the panel for Karl Holzschuler’s family chapel in the church of St. Johannis in Nürnberg.

“Germania” by Philipp Veit (13 February 1793-18 December 1877), a German Romantic painter.  “Germania” was painted in 1848 during the many revolutions, now known as the Springtime of the Peoples, when people throughout Europe, and, to a lesser extent, other nations, rebelled, revolted, rioted, and essentially took matters into their own hands to end the feudal systems that oppressed them and to establish democracies.  Most of the unrest was quelled within the year and no substantive changes came about as a result.  Germania’s unfettered shackles symbolize the freedom sought by those who struggled against their masters; the colors are the colors of the German flag; and the upright sword symbolizes leadership, defense, nobility, justice, and truth.

“The Drinker—Self-portrait” was painted in 1915 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (06 May 1880-15 June 1938), a German Expressionist painter and printmaker and one of the founders of Die Brücke, one of the 20th-century’s chief founding elements of Expressionism.  The self-portrait reveals Kirchner’s despair prior to his military training in Halle in the run-up to World War I.  The training, combined with his alcoholism and dependence on Veronal, a barbiturate, precipitated a mental breakdown from which he never fully recovered.  The Nazis branded his work degenerate in 1933 and he committed suicide five years later in Davos, Switzerland.

There are certainly plenty of additional reasons to visit this museum, which was moved to the grounds of a 14th-century Carthusian monastery in Nürnberg in 1857.  As the collections increased in size and importance, the original building and museum complex has been expanded relentlessly.  The research library contains more than 650,000 volumes covering European art and cultural history and its overall holdings include more than 1.3 million items, including more than 22,000 original items that date from the Stone Age to the 21st century.  Also, there are always so-called special exhibitions which bear repeat visits.  At the moment, the exhibit “Between Venus and Luther/Cranach’s Media of Seduction” is scheduled for the 21st & 22nd of May.  The “Historical Models—Works of Art, Media, Visions” is scheduled to run for a bit more than seven months from 30 June 2016 through 05 February 2017 and will mark the so-called Leibniz year (2016).  From 20 October 2016 through 05 March 2017, the “Charles IV” exhibit, a joint exhibit with the Free State of Bavaria and the Czech Republic, will display material dealing with Emperor Charles IV, “. . . one of the most important and multifaceted rulers in Bohemian and Germany history.”  Check out the museum’s website.

The museum is located in the Kartäusergasse 1; 90402 Nürnberg; telephone: +49 (0)911 13310.  Permanent and special exhibitions’ hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1000 until 1800 & Wednesday from 1000 until 2100.  The museum library is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday from 0930 through 1800 and Wednesday from 0930 through 2000.  The Archive, Department of Prints and Drawings, and Numismatic Collection is open Tuesday through Friday from 0900 through 1600.  Special arrangements are made on public holidays, so please call ahead to confirm hours.  Admission fees are:
adults @ €8; school children, disabled, unemployed, and groups of 10 or more @ €5 (reduced rate); small groups & families (a least 3 persons & no more than 6 persons, with a 2-adult limit); school classes or youth groups @ €1.  No admission fees on Wednesdays between 1800-2100, except for special exhibitions.  If you’re coming to Nürnberg, check out the so-called Nürnberg Card. It could save you a lot of money!

The Germanic National Museum - Nürnberg
leisure activities

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden
© Pixabay

The Dresden State Art Collections, officially the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, comprises 14 distinct museums owned and maintained by the Free State of Saxony and headquartered in its capital, Dresden, which is also Saxony’s second largest and best-known city.  This article will give a historical overview of all 14 associated museums, some of which have their own buildings and some of which share buildings with sibling museums. I will also highlight particularly interesting examples of each of the various museums’ collections.

First, however, a bit about Saxony

Saxony is one of Germany’s 16 states.  It borders Poland on the east and Czechoslovakia on the south.  It is mostly hilly and somewhat mountainous (as much as 1,200 meters!), about 50% agricultural and 25% forested, but leveling off near Leipzig at the North European Plain.  The main cities are Leipzig, Dresden, Chemnitz, Plauen, Zwickau, and Meissen. The history of Saxony spans almost two millennia and refers to different land areas over the centuries.  Before 1180, it included the land conquered by the Germanic Saxon tribe between the 3rd and 8th centuries, i.e., the region from Germany’s far north, including Holstein, mainly west and southwest of the Elbe.  In the late 8th century, Charlemagne conquered the Saxons and incorporated their territory into the Carolingian Empire.  Between 1180 and 1423, the duchy was dissolved into several independent and widely separated fiefs.  After 1423, it comprised a large area in central Germany, from Thuringia to Lusatia, next to contemporary Czechoslovakia.  The history of Saxony is long and complicated, filled with intrigue and subtle political ploys, especially following reunification in 1990.

The first nine of the fourteen discrete museums beneath the umbrella of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden are:


The Zwinger

The Zwinger is an extraordinarily beautiful baroque building complex housing pavilions and galleries, with balustrades, statues, and vases, and hosting the museum’s Porcelain Collection, dating from China’s Ming Dynasty, through Japanese wares of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Meissen porcelain from the early 18th century.  The museum contains numerous examples, more than 20,000, of porcelain craft, including a special section of animals.  Its Mathematical and Physical Salon, i.e., a collection of historical and scientific precision instruments of all sorts, and the Zwinger Courtyard, a former garden and orangery originally dedicated to court festivities are nearby.  It is joined by the Semper Building, designed by Gottfreid Semper and opened in 1855.  It houses the Art Gallery of the Old Masters, a gallery which amazed even Johann Wolfgang Goethe “beyond words.”


The Albertinum

The Albertinum contains art from the age of Romanticism to the present.  Two major collections share the vast exhibition hall.  The Art Gallery of New Masters and the Sculpture Collection.  The Art Gallery of New Masters includes works from the 18th century on and is based on the wise notion that we in the 21st century can still relate to many of the day-to-day experiences of our forebears from three centuries in the past.  New acquisitions include Kirchner’s Street Scene in front of a Hair Salon.  According to the Gallery’s director, Hans Posse, this painting “. . . was shown in the infamous ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition in the atrium of the Neues Rathaus, was confiscated in 1937 as “degenerate,” and sold in 1939/40 in the course of its so-called disposal.”  The painting is once again “home.”  The Sculpture Collection primarily offers works from the beginning of the 19th century to the present, including such recognized artists of the former GDR as “Wieland Förster, Werner Stötzer, and Helmut Heinze” and unique emphasis on the so-called turn of the century, i.e., 1890-1910, including from Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger down through Franz von Stuck and Sascha Schneider.  The collection also includes works that date back more than five millennia, from classical antiquity through the European Middle Ages.


The Dresden Royal Palace

The Dresden Royal Palace houses four museums:  The Green Vault; The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; The Armory; and The Coin Cabinet.  The Green Vault contains opulent artistic and craft treasures commissioned by and for the aristocracy and royalty of days gone by.  There are two main exhibition areas, the historical green vault, and the modern green vault.  The works displayed within the two vaults include works by renowned jewelers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and craftsmen of all stripes.  There are spectacular works of amber, ivory, e.g., scrimshaw, as well as cameos, vessels, and statuettes.  Most of the works of art incorporate many diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires, emeralds, and other jewels. The works betoken a level of decadence that is almost unimaginable nowadays.


The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

The Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs contains artistic drawings, lithographs, engravings, illustrated books and portfolios, and photographs of both high quality and significance by such eminent artists as Dürer, van Eyck, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Caspar David Friedrich, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, and Baselitz.  There are also engravings by Schongauer and woodcuts by Cranach and rare examples of historic photographs.


The Armory

The Armory boasts of 16th-century antique Belgian horse and rider armor and its Turkish chamber offer eight 150-kilogram life-sized carved and uniquely decorated wooden horses.  There are hundreds of different weapons throughout The Armory, so be sure to miss none of them—from Saxon Dukes and Electors—they include “. . . 10,000 ceremonial weapons—armor, helmets, shields, swords, rapiers and daggers, sabers and maces, pistols and rifles.”  It’s an embarrassment of riches!
The Coin Cabinet includes ancient coins struck to commemorate a significant even or a special occasion as well as medals fashioned to honor war heroes and famous persons; of course, there are numerous examples of ancient coins, nearly 300,000 of them—including almost 30,000 Saxon coins—used in trading throughout the ancient world up until modern times.
Part Two of the introduction to the Dresden State Art Collections will introduce the Japanese Palace, the Art Hall in the Lipsius Building, the Jägerhof, and Castle Pillnitz among other worthwhile destinations.

Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden
german science

Alfred Wegener – The Theory of Continental Drift

Alfred Wegener - The Theory of Continental Drift
© Pixabay

During an early summer after-concert party at Carnegie Hall in 1971, a clearly relieved Carole King, riding an emotional high after the successful reception of her very first pop concert, told a Rolling Stone stringer, perhaps jokingly, that Alfred Wegener inspired the lyrics for her classic hit (“der Schlager”) I Feel the Earth Move! We’ll probably never know if Ms King was serious; however, who can say the claim itself is not on firm ground?

Alfred Lothar Wegener (01 November 1880 ― ?? November 1930) was a German meteorologist and geophysicist who carefully devised and articulated (1910-1915) the concept of continental drift, a scientific hypothesis that other scientists rejected for several decades, but which ultimately gave rise to the theory of plate tectonics―now accepted almost universally by scientists and laymen alike. Continental drift is defined as the large-scale horizontal movements of continents relative to one another and to the ocean basins during one or more episodes of geologic time. This concept was an important precursor to the development of the theory of plate tectonics, which incorporates it.

Alfred Wegener’s university Career

The University of Berlin awarded Wegener a Ph.D. in astronomy in 1905; however, Wegener developed an enthusiastic and abiding interest in paleoclimatology, the scientific study of the climates of past ages.  He focused on the arctic regions and polar air circulation, particularly in Greenland, and took part in several expeditions to that remote, ice-covered island, first in 1906, then in 1912, 1929, and, finally, in 1930, during which expedition he died at only 50 years of age.  His body and effects are supposedly now covered by more than 100 meters of ice and snow.

When not trudging through Greenland’s ice and snow, Wegener taught meteorology, first at the University of Marburg, beginning in 1909, where he covered meteorology, astronomy, and a topic he called “astronomic-geographic position-fitting” for explorers, i.e., how not to get lost in unchartered territory.  In 1921, Wegener accepted the position of meteorologist at the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg and the University of Hamburg appointed him senior lecturer; however, the worldwide scientific community continued to sneer at his continental-drift hypothesis and writings on continental-drift and he keenly felt the academic isolation at the University of Hamburg.  In 1924, he took up the position of professor of meteorology and geophysics at the University of Graz, in Austria, where he continued until his death in 1930.

First international Recognition

The New York Times wrote about Wegener’s theory of continental drift in an extensive article on Sunday, 25 March 1923, commenting that “. . . records indicate Greenland is . . . running wild.  It has moved west by almost four-fifths of a mile (1,300 meters) in 37 years.”  The article also cited “The almost universal distribution of many families of animals, birds, insects, and plants as proved both by fossils and surviving specimens . . .” as evidence that Wegener’s theory had merit.  Nevertheless, the then collective received wisdom of the world’s scientific community was skeptical at best, offering various counter-theories to explain or refute the arguments Wegener put forth, yet tempering their criticisms with the safe argument that “. . . it becomes very apparent that the surest test of its [Wegener’s theory] validity lies in the domain of geology.”

Critics of the Theory of Continental Drift

One of the most consistent critics of Wegener’s continental drift theory was Thomas Chamberlin, a prominent U. S. geologist with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.  Chamberlin, a very intelligent, well educated, and experienced academic, proved to be quite stupid, i.e., someone who thinks he knows it all and who absolutely refuses to keep an open mind, particularly in the face of credible scientific research.  Chamberlin did not use a point-by-point refutation of the theory of continental drift.  Rather, he based his appeal to fellow scientists to reject Wegener’s theory by appealing to their egos and to their innate supposed laziness.  He said, “If we are to believe Wegener’s hypothesis, we must forget everything which has been learned in the last 70 years and start all over again.”  In other words, “let’s tell ourselves that we already know the truth and save ourselves the effort of examining the validity of what we think we know.”  Years later, Chamberlin’s group would also oppose acceptance of the theory of plate tectonics, a theory that is now a well-established scientific fact.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.

When one compares a map of South America with a map of Africa, it’s quite obvious that the bulge of South America more or less corresponds to the bight of Africa.  It is that phenomenon that first struck Wegener as being too odd to be a mere coincidence; there had to be more to it.  From a practical point of view, one is inclined to ask:  “Are there diamond fields and veins of gold in that part of South America which corresponds geographically to South Africa, i.e., southeastern Uruguay and northeastern Argentina?”

The Breakthrough of the Theory of Continental Drift

The scientific community wrangled about Wegener’s theory for more than four decades before the theory of plate tectonics evolved.  The breakthrough came about in the early 1950s when the imprints of the Earth’s magnetic history, the study of which is called paleomagnetism, were closely examined.  There was no adequate explanation other than continental drift to account for the otherwise erratic occurrences of incompatible magnetic imprints.  Researchers realized that, only if there had indeed been only one continent in the beginning, the oddly occurring magnetic imprints would result only by that huge continent’s breaking up and the pieces drifting off in different directions.  That significant research and discovery prompted even more intense scrutiny of magnetic imprints around the world.  The increased interest among geologists and geophysicists, coupled with ever more sophisticated techniques and measuring instruments, established beyond doubt that plate tectonics and continental drift are indisputably valid.

Alfred Wegener - The Theory of Continental Drift
german food and restaurants

Konditorei Secrets – Das lebendige Brot

Konditorei Secrets - Das lebendinge Brot
© Pixabay

Certainly St. John did not have German Konditorei delicacies in mind when he wrote his Gospel, but, given the attendance at German Konditoreien every Sunday afternoon following religious services, it’s entirely possible that his phrase puts a majority of Protestant and Catholic churchgoers in mind of their local pastry shop.

What makes a Konditorei special?

Konditoreien are more than pastry shops.  They are a German cultural tradition, and their patrons deem their particular Konditorei to be both unique and the paragon of their class.  Regardless of how old one becomes or how far they now live from the Konditorei to which their parents took them as children, no Konditorei measures up to the mouth-watering delights of their first Konditorei experience.  One remembers one’s first Konditorei as one remembers their first kiss, the first time they rode a bicycle without training wheels, and their first Christmas.  It is that sort of memory.

The Development of Bakeries

Like everything of quality in Germany, Konditoreien developed gradually and deliberately over many, many years.  It all began with bakers’ refining their bread-making techniques.  Starting with hearty farmhouse bread (“Bauernbrot”), the bakers gradually added ingredients to create bread that would delicately tempt many different palates.  Always experimenting, the avid bakers first added sugar, then raisins, then other candied fruits and zests.  Indeed, the word Konditorei comes from two combined Latin sources:  conditure, which means candy, and condire, which means flavoring.

As the bakers’ skills improved and as their rivalries and competitions arose, the bakers’ imaginations seemed to be boundless. Until now, we’ve reached a point that, at the end of a hearty meal, diners can enjoy a wide selection of gorgeous, well-frosted cakes made with many eggs and nuts, coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough, cookies, many other pastries, and even ice cream to top off their meal along with plenty of hot, fresh, strong coffee or steaming hot chocolate.

What began as a desire to improve the craft of baking morphed into an artistic endeavor that fed the soul as well as the body.  The enjoyment of the delicacies of one’s local Konditorei with family and friends became a rite of passage, almost a religious ritual, that encapsulated family and, by extension, German society in a cocoon of well-being—and it all tasted sooooooooo good!

These specialist bakers began to call themselves Lebküchler, perhaps an awkward blending of Leben (life) and Kuchen (cake).  Whatever the derivation, these former craftsmen had become artists and their creations have become an integral part of German culture.  These artists founded a guild in 1643 in Nürnberg and, eventually, their shops became modern-day Konditoreien.

The Introduction of Spices and Herbs from Overseas

What we now understand as globalization is not a modern phenomenon.  It existed millennia ago, as early as the 5th century, and is now distinguished more by its rapidity than by its pervasiveness.  Perhaps the most interesting and well-known example of early globalization is Marco Polo, who traveled in the 13th century to and from China over a period of 24 years, from 1271 until 1295.  The so-called age of discovery, which spanned the 15th-18th centuries, brought sugar, herbs, and spices from around the world to Europe and the Lebküchlern adapted them to their art.  They had many home-grown flavorings, e.g., honey, that they used efficiently and imaginatively. The chief interest of the Lebküchlern was not only for sugar, but also for herbs and spices that improved their pastries, e.g., cinnamon, aniseed, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, clove, nutmeg, coriander, allspice, and various nuts, e.g., almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

The introduction of almonds in the 14th century was a boon for both the Lebküchlern and their customers, for it brought about marzipan, a delightful paste of ground almonds and either honey or sugar.  It is probably the most versatile and most anticipated sweetmeat on its own as well as a much-loved component of icing for cakes, for fruitcakes, wedding cakes, and Christmas cakes and stollen.  It’s often fashioned into animal figurines, covered with chocolate, and stuffed into tartlets.  A typical German use of marzipan is forming it into the shape of a loaf of bread, known as Marzipanbrot, during the Advent and Christmas season, and shaping it into a pig as a New Year’s present referred to as a Glücksschwein, i.e., a lucky pig.  One of the most popular uses of marzipan is in conjunction with the classically famous Window Cake or Battenberg Cake, a light sponge cake, constructed with pieces of yellow and pink cake held together with apricot jam and covered with marzipan.

An Overview of the Authors personal Favourites

All of these wonderful desserts and more are available regularly or seasonally at Konditoreien throughout Germany.  Here are some of the most famous delights Konditoreien offer.  I hope they entice you to visit as many Konditoreien as possible whenever you’re in Germany.  These include Aachener Printen, a pastry available only in Aachen; a Berliner, a jelly-filled specialty of Berlin; Zwetschgenkuchen, a plum short-crust sheet cake; Black Forest Cake, comprising several layers of chocolate cake interlaced with whipped cream and cherries; Welfenspeise, a layered pudding with a bottom layer of beaten egg, vanilla, and milk and a top layer of an egg-wine sauce; Donauwelle, a marble-like sheet cake with sour cherries, buttercream, cocoa, chocolate, and layered batter; Spaghettieis, a unique German ice cream fashioned to look like spaghetti; Gugelhupf, a marble-like Bundt cake; Rote Grütze, a fresh red-berry fruit pudding; and Mohnklöße, a poppy-seed based dessert that includes dried figs, raisins, apricots, dates, etc., almonds and hazelnuts, flavored with sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and rum combined with a boiled milk-bread base.  These are just a few of the treats on offer.

By now it should be crystal clear that Konditoreien are a big deal in Germany.  In fact, they’re such a big deal in German culture that the Austrian composer Strauss, as loved in Germany as in Austria and Switzerland, paid homage to Konditoreien with his 1922 ballet Schlagobers (Whipped Cream), inspired by the cultural joy and love Germans have for their Konditoreien.

Konditorei Secrets - Das lebendinge Brot