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Thursday, February 24, 2011
Christmas in and Heart of Germany
Christmas in the Heart of Germany
by Chas. Anderson
When I first began thinking about this topic, I realized how little I knew about the country of Germany. I had received a brochure from Globus Travel in New Jersey about their Christmas river tours and thought it was a great idea. I had grown up in the post WWII era and so the thought of anything "German" was averse to the hard-fought victory we had won. Furthermore, the tour featured a stop at Nuremburg, one of the most negative connotations I could imagine. It was time for me to reeducate myself now in the 21st Century.
As many know, the Germanic culture is quite ancient but the country was only politically united in 1870 by Kaiser Wilhelm I. The fact that he used the German equivalent of "Caesar" barkens back to the Holy Roman Empire and before. Michel lists the reign of "Kaiserreich" as 1871-1918 and the first stamps were issued in 1872 with their eagle symbol (Michel #1-6) followed by a revised eagle for M #7-11. The Eastern Auction catalog of October, 2010 lists one (Sc. 8) at $160.00 used so I see that set as attainable.
Like our neighbor Canada, the German Confederation had consisted of numerous states, called "Staaten" and were going to be a lot more difficult for me to learn than the easy 13 Provinces in Canada—most of them right on our border. The German map I am looking at seems to designate 16 states but I think I am missing a few. Michel lists 19 of them as having issued stamps, with the earliest being Bavaria (Bayern) in 1849. The denomination is listed as 1 Kreuzer. In 1876 the German currency was set at 100 Pfennigs=l Mark.
When the Kaiser's reign ended after WWI, Bavaria declared itself to be a republic and overprinted their 1914 issue as such (see Michel #116-133.) While I don't want to neglect the other German states, my purpose will be to concentrate on Bavaria for this combination travel/philatelic article—with a further emphasis on the Christmas season. It was always my impression that the Germans had contributed much to the lore and celebration of this holy Christian festival. Bavaria continued to issue stamps until 1920, and I have one example to offer—albeit a "festive" post card which is postmarked in December, 1911.
The Globus tour begins with a flight to Frankfurt and then the boarding of their luxury river cruiser for the five day journey to Nuremberg. This region is also referred to as Franconia, which sprawls from the Main River to the Danube and from Frankfort to the Czech border. This area, controlled by Catholic bishops through
the 18th century, lured some of Europe's finest artists, architects, musicians, and thinkers to the area. For example, the Italian artist Tiepolo worked in Wurzburg from 1750-53 painting his version of the Sistine Chapel.
Taking this tour in December accesses the area's great Christmas markets and associated lore. The first stop, in Miltenburg, gives the traveler a taste of the traditional spice bar, called Lebkuchen, consisting of flour, honey, almonds, cinnamon, cloves, and candied fruits with white egg icing. Both Wertheim and Wurzburg feature special Christmas markets. Glassblowers also forge ornaments which are distributed throughout the world. Shown here is a typical local German Christmas celebration.
German culture is the source of many Christmas traditions that have spread throughout the world. Their season starts on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, patron of children, and reaches its climax on December 24 with the unveiling of the decorated tree on Christmas Eve. The children do not get to see this event until that very night. The entire festival is called Froeliche Weihnachten, which I translate to "Festival of the night of small ones." (I know I'm going to get corrected on that one. If I knew German idioms, I'd say it really means, "Happy Christmas.") On December 26, the season winds down with Zweiter Weihnachstag (St. Stephen's Day.)
As far as Christmas stamps are concerned, I find a 1971 West Germany issue (M#660-63) featuring children's paintings of a king and snowman but it is issued on February 5, so that does not qualify. (1971-72 offers several issues commemorating the fateful Olympics held in Munich. Where were you when you first heard the news?)
I find an issue (M#749) of November, 1972 featuring Wiehnachts-marke, a semi-postal that seems to inaugurate this theme for German stamps—at least of the modern era. 1974 brings us a Wiehnachten issue in October, but it is merely a flower so I must have my translation wrong. Then, another in November, 1975.
The 1976 (November 16) Wiehnachten issue now features a religious theme on a stained glass window motif on a small souvenir sheet (Michel #912, shown). I'm satisfied—for the time being—that this is the first German Christmas stamp. I'm not even bothering to look in the DDR section and West Berlin has nothing in 1990—the year of reunification. (Where were you when the Berlin Wall crumbled on November 12,1989?)
Many more Christmas stamps have appeared in November each subsequent year in Germany. I will contact the American Topical Association to determine the first such stamp in the U.S. and the U.P.U. countries.
Those of us who really like the trappings of Christmas (not to deny the religious implications) can thank the Germans many times over from the legend of the fir tree—from pre-Christian times (fertility rite) to the influence of Martin Luther, who—according to legend—was walking through the forest on Christmas eve and marveled at the starlit tree. He then determined to bring one indoors and decorate it with candles. The custom spread to England in 1841 and then to America. German-born printer Louis Prang introduced colorful Christmas cards to the U.S. in 1875. They were an instant hit.
Two more German traditions are that of Santa Claus and Candy Canes. The latter originated in 1670 when the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral bent sugar sticks into canes to represent a shepherd's staff. Most know that St. Nicholas morphed into the jolly, bearded fellow by way of Germany to Holland and the Dutch settlers introduced the 'fat guy' to New Amsterdam. Children everywhere are quite thankful for this legend.
Whether you are "naughty or nice," you still get to finish your Christmas trip on the River Main at Nuremburg—in the heart of Bavaria. Their Christmas market features 180 stalls—made of wood—and the adjoining children's market lures them with carousels, a steam train, puppet show, and other "hands-on" activities. Who needs Disneyland?
A Christmas angel opens the fair each holiday season with the words: "You men and women, you who once were children too; you little ones—whose life has just begun..." a very appropriate reminder to grandparents and grandchildren. Remember the specialties of the Nuremberg market are toys, metalwork, Lebuchen, and of course, the beer—to warm you up on a cold night.
This wonderful area of Germany—home to churches, markets, Bishop's Residences, palaces, museums, and quaint villages symbolizes the combination of religious and secular power that served for many centuries in the bastion of Christian Europe. They were seldom threatened by "infidels" (as elsewhere) and used their prosperity to enjoin a majestic lifestyle and the traditions that accompanied it. The Wurzburg Residence is sometimes compared to Versailles in France. This German architectural masterpiece is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Now that our voyage has ended in Nuremburg, it is time for me to return to thoughts of a comprehensive German collection. Such would consist of the original states, the unified Germany to WWI, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, the occupied territories during WWII, the four part partition after the war—leading to three categories: West Berlin, DDR, and the Bundesrepublik.
Who can forget the Saar issues of 1922-34, Saarland (1947-56) and OPD Saarbrucken (1957-59). Notwithstanding the German Colonials, things got much easier after reunification. My favorite is the Schillinger painting issue of 1993 (M#1684-86, the first part of a 15-stamp Scenic Regions of Germany series issued between 1993 and 1996), shown here, Sc. 1793, Rugen Island.
The great thing about Christmas stamps is that we can look forward to new issues each year. For that we can thank Dave Kent to supply the newest information.
Happy Christmas and to all: a prosperous New Year. In China, they will celebrate the Year of the Rabbit.
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