German Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest in Munich is the world’s largest folk festival and attracts millions of visitors every year.

What makes the Oktoberfest so special? The answer lies in tradition, greatly aided by the consumption of significant alcohol (beer), very loud ‘oom-pah’ music and colorful Bavarian costumes.

The festivities begin at noon on a Saturday in the second half of September (this year on the 16th) and continue for more than two weeks.

Tradition and Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest rituals are the same every year. The kick-off takes place in the oldest beer tent when the Mayor taps the first keg and exclaims ‘O’zapft!’ (keg tapped!). A gun salute is fired in the air to the Bavaria statue, and the sale of beer in the tents begins.

Fourteen temporary structures of various sizes and seating up to 2,900 people provide space for food and music. They are packed with picnic tables and benches. Comfort is not especially important because the individual sessions are limited to a couple of hours before the old customers are escorted out and the new visitors flood into the tent.

Prior to the ‘O’zapft,’ the festival tent keepers and breweries have a ceremony for taking over the Theresienwiese grounds, where the festival is held. A colorful procession of horse carriages, wagons decorated with flowers and waitresses holding beer mugs make their way through the streets of Munich to the festival meadow.

The beer served at Oktoberfest comes from one of only six official breweries: Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu. All are traditional breweries that have been in the same families for generations. 

On the first Sunday of the festival there is another parade through Munich where around 9,000 people dressed in costumes march accompanied by brass orchestras and bands to the festival grounds.

And on the last day of Oktoberfest there is a closing ceremony that includes another gun salute to the Bavaria statue at noon.

How Oktoberfest Got Started

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Andreas Michael Dall’Armi, a member of the Bavarian National Guard, had the idea of creating a unique wedding celebration for the Prince Regent Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I) and the princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Dall’Armi organized a horse race as part of the wedding festivities.

The race took place after the couple was married on October 12, 1810 on the grounds of what became known as the Theresienwiese, later named for the bride. This marked the beginning of the Oktoberfest. 

Though wars and scourges delayed the establishment of an annual celebration, the placement of a statue of Bavaria, guardian of the Oktoberfest and symbol of the Bavarian state, was unveiled in 1850. Oktoberfest became a regular institution in Munich from then on.

The Mayor tapped the opening barrel for the first time in 1950, adding yet another layer of tradition to the annual proceedings. Today there is an accompanying fun fair for visitors (‘Budenstrasse,’ or strip of booths) plus a ferris wheel and roller coasters for family entertainment. 

How to Have Fun at Oktoberfest

Wearing the costumes are an important part of the fun. Men wear ‘Lederhosen’ (leather shorts) with suspenders and Trachten hats (felt hats with an ornamental tuft of goat hair). Women wear ‘Dirndl’ dresses that are tightly fit above the waist with a flowing skirt bottom and an apron. If a woman ties the bow to her apron on the right, this signifies that she is taken. On the left means she is available. 

When you drink beer at your table, make sure you use the traditional greeting ‘Prost!’ To toast with a neighbor. Always make eye contact with your drinking compatriot!

Food is also a big part of the fun. Eat ‘Hendl’ (spit-roasted chicken), ‘Haxn’ (pork knuckles), ‘Bretzel’ (soft pretzel), ‘Knödel’ (dumplings), ’Würstl’ (sausages) or ‘Brotzeit’ (platters with bread, meats and cheeses).

Before you leave, make sure you buy a souvenir! Buy a ‘Lebkuchen’ (gingerbread) heart, a beer stein, some ‘gebrannte’ Mandeln (sugar-coated roasted almonds) or a felt hat with a tuft.

And enjoy the music! Oom-pah music encourages swaying. If you are really feeling good, join in the iconic ‘Ententanz’ (Chicken Dance), which goes like this:

-Hold your hands next to your ears with the palms facing forward and open and close them four times,

-Tuck your hands under your armpits and flap your elbows four times,

-Straighten your arms and wiggle four times to the music,

-Stand up and clap four times. 



All photos sourced from Google

German Urban Planning and Climate Change

These days most everyone accepts the premise that global warming is real and poses a threat to the future of the planet. Reports of tragic fires, raging floods and record snowfalls are regular features in newspapers every day.

In an attempt to meet the challenges of our changing world climate, Germany has developed some interesting urban planning methods to help in the off-take of water during flash flooding and to reduce heat in urban areas of intense exposure during periods of extreme dryness.

Here are several highlights.

Sponge Cities

A Sponge City (Schwammstadt) is an urban planning concept that attempts to save as much rain and surface water as possible where it falls instead of channeling it into the canalization system in order to direct it away from source to a centralized collection site. This concept is important during flash flooding, when the the traditional redirection of water to central collection sites results in an overtaxation of the canalization, causing damage. The idea of keeping and using precipitation where it falls has many advantages: It is more efficient; it creates a water resource for urban trees and plantings at source; its evaporation helps to reduce temperatures and thus cool infrastructure, from streets and sidewalks to buildings and public spaces.

Example of porous asphalt

Example of absorbent paving stones

Source: iStock Photos

The sponge system relies on several environmental and agricultural technical features like porous pavements that allow water to seep away, underground or above ground troughs that can retain water, and trenches that can lead water to local collection points or areas of high heat exposure (building surfaces, open paved areas) for cooling. Underground water retention ponds are an additional resource for collecting urban water for use in local hot spots.

Berlin and Hamburg are both innovators in the execution of Sponge City concepts. These cities lend themselves to the development of techniques to retain water locally since Hamburg is located at the ocean and Berlin is surrounded by many lakes and swampy land. Other German cities are also expanding the use of absorbent pavement materials, particularly in areas where flooding occurs regularly (ie., along the Rhine and other rivers, especially those located in steep valleys).

Green Cities

Another contemporary planning concept for fighting global warming in urban environments is to ‘green them up’. This means the planting of trees in open areas along streets, planting rooftops and building facades with bushes and trees, and the creation of constructed wetlands, ponds and open water surfaces throughout the city landscape.

These efforts not only improve the optical quality of life in cities, but also contribute, through evaporation, to cooling during heat phases and the absorption of CO2 to improve air quality for residents. 

Example of ‘greened’ building

Example of ‘greened’ house roof

Source: iStock Photos

Multiple Use Spaces

Air quality is also a very important component of city-living. A key pro-active concept for reducing CO2 in the inner cities (and thus improving air quality) involves an increased availability of affordable local public transport, footpaths, cycle ways and something called ‘Multiple Use’ spaces. The focus here is on so-called “grey infrastructure”; streets, squares, parking spaces and buildings that could be made more green and where cars, pedestrians, bike riders and children can all co-exist in pedestrian zones with limited traffic. Digital Mobility Stations on site encourage shared use of infrastructure by providing information about the availability of local car sharing and bicycle/moped/cargo bike pick up sites in the vicinity. A secondary benefit of well-planned multiple use spaces is that they create homogeneity among local residents, because they can fulfill most of their shopping and service requirements by foot or nearby. Less driving and traffic congestion thus contribute to a higher quality of life and a harmonious local environment.

Example of a digital Mobility Station

Source: iStock Photos


As the challenges of global warming continue to affect our environment and how we live, top-of mind awareness and adaptation of new measures to confront change will be increasingly important to maintaining quality of life, in urban areas and non-urban areas alike. 


‘How Smart Mixed-Use Environments Can Refine Urban Spaces’, Christian Lehmkuhl, April 11, 2023,

Wikipedia, ‘Schwammstadt’,

‘Das Konzept der Schwammstadt’,

John Peter Zenger and Freedom of the Press

John Peter Zenger (Source: Prabook)

Why Was John Peter Zenger Important in Early America?

John Peter Zenger (1697-1746) was a German printer and journalist in New York City. He began printing a newspaper called The New York Weekly Journal in 1773. He was famous for printing opinions that were critical of the New York governor, William Cosby, who arrested Zenger in 1734 and charged him with libel in 1735. Defended by two famous lawyers at his trial, Zenger’s plea established that a statement, even if defamatory, is not libelous if it can be proven true. Thus an important groundwork was laid for freedom of the press that later influenced the creation of the First Amendment.

Early Life

Zenger was the son of German immigrants from the Palatinate. The family moved to New York in 1710 as part of a large group of Palatinates, who were guaranteed apprenticeships by the governor of New York. After the death of his father, John Peter Zenger was bound for eight years as an apprentice to William Bradford, the first printer in New York. He worked as an employee in several printing jobs before founding his own newspaper in 1773. He married twice and had six surviving children with his second wife, who also was instrumental in running his printing business during the time of Zenger’s incarceration in 1734.

The New York Weekly Journal (Source: Cowan’s Auctions)

The Libel Case

William Cosby, the governor of New York, had a vicious quarrel with the colony’s supreme court regarding the amount of his salary. The court ruled against Cosby, so Cosby removed the Chief Justice, Lewis Morris, from office and replaced him with a royalist justice named James Delaney. Supported by members of the Populist Party, Zenger’s newspaper published articles that were critical of the governor’s actions. Cosby called the claims ‘virulent, false and seditious reflections’ (wikipedia) and charged Zenger with libel.

Andrew Hamilton Defending John Peter Zenger at his Trial (Source: Alamy)

Zenger’s first counsel was found to be in contempt of court and removed. After eight months in jail, Zenger finally went to trial with two new defenders, Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton (later designer of Independence Hall) and New York lawyer William Smith, Sr. Hamilton and Smith made the argument that a statement, even if defamatory, is not libelous if it can be proven true. This is important because, at the time, any information opposed to the government was considered to be a crime.

The judge ordered the jury to convict Zenger, but after only ten minutes they came back with a ‘not guilty’ verdict.  Cheers filled the room (, and afterwards newspaper publishers felt freer to print their honest views. As the American Revolution approached, this  freedom would become ever more vital. 

From the Trial of John Peter Zenger (Source: ZVAB)

Truth Cannot Be Libelous

Governor Morris, a major figure at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, later described the Zenger trial as the ‘germ of American freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America’ (Middle Tennessee State University). Zenger’s victory established that truthful information cannot be libelous. This concept was later incorporated into the law of New York and other states and influenced the eventual creation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. 

Sources: (Middle Tennessee State University, John Vile, 2009)

Frederica de Riedesel: The Most Famous German Female POW in the American Revolution

Who Was Frederica de Riedesel?

Frederica Charlotte Louisa de Riedesel was the daughter of Massow, the Prussian Minister of State. She was born in Brandenburg, Germany in 1746. At the age of seventeen, she married Lieutenant Colonel Baron de Riedesel, who was appointed to command the Brunswick forces in British service under General Bourgoyne during the Revolutionary War. 

Frederica de Reidesel (Source: Wikipedia)

Frederica followed her husband with three young children to Canada in 1777. From there she and her children accompanied her husband’s troops through important battles that influenced the outcome of the Revolution, especially Burgoyne’s defeat in the battle at Saratoga, New York. The journal and letters she wrote to her mother describe her travels with the camp. Her son-in-law published the journal shortly after the death of Frederica’s husband in 1801. Today her accounts are considered a key resource for shedding light on what life on the front was like during the Revolution.

A Woman of Admirable Courage and Bravery

As a woman of high social rank, it was unusual that Frederica de Riedesel did not flinch at crossing the ocean with three small children to join her husband in Canada. She is described as having suffered great perils on the journey, which she met with ‘courage…and cheerful resignation’ (

Despite the fact that she and her children were often starving, Frederica always unselfishly cared for and nursed the soldiers in the British camp. She wrote:

‘I endeavored to dispel my melancholy by continually attending to the wounded. I made them coffee and tea, and often shared my dinner with them. One day (when) a Canadian officer came creeping into our cellar, and was hardly able to say that he was dying with hunger, I felt happy to offer him my dinner, by eating which he recovered his health and I gained his friendship.’

Scene from the Battle of Saratoga (Source: Friends of Albany History —

She followed her husband south to Saratoga, where the British were defeated. The British troops under General Gates surrendered themselves as prisoners of war. As a result, the de Riedesels and their children became prisoners from this point on. 

A Female POW with Children Travels to Virginia

After their capitulation in Saratoga, the de Riedesel family was moved south by carriage first to Albany and later Boston. As highly ranked nobles, they were generally greeted with dignity and friendship by families patriotic to both the American and British causes. If fact it is written that they even attended dinner parties and balls in Boston (ibid, above).

By the winter of 1778, though, they were back on the road headed for Virginia. Provisions were poor; the family suffered from the cold and damp on the long journey by carriage. Their reception in Virginia was much less ingratiating than in the North. Frederica wrote:

‘We were very hungry. Seeing much fresh meat in the house where we stopped, I begged the landlady to sell me some. ‘I have,’ quoth she, ‘several sorts of meat…’. I said, ‘let me have some; I will pay you liberally.’ But snapping her fingers, she replied; ‘You shall not have a morsel of it; why have you left your country to slay and rob us of our property? Now that you are our prisoners, it is our turn to vex you.’

The party encountered similar receptions all along the way, until they finally settled in Colle, Virginia after a journey of six hundred and twenty-eight miles. 

The family’s life improved somewhat after that, and in fact they became acquainted with George Washington and others associated with the American cause (Ibid, above). But in August of 1779 they were required to go back to New York, where Frederica’s husband was to be part of an exchange for American prisoners. 

Freedom Returns; A Happy End and A Summary 

At first they travelled to Pennsylvania and then on to New York, where they were pardoned and released from being prisoners of war. The family lived in the very comfortable quarters of the Governor, General Tryon. Also enjoying Tyron’s country estate, the family remained in New York until 1780. In September of 1781 the family returned to Quebec, and in 1783 the family returned, via Great Britain, to Germany.

Baron de Riedesel (Source:

General Riedesel died in 1800. Frederica made her permanent residence in Berlin until her death in 1808. There she established an asylum for military orphans and an almshouse for the poor in Brunswick. 

There are not many accounts of women who witnessed the battles of the American Revolution firsthand. Frederica’s courage and selfless commitment is today seen as an inspiration for women and an historic confirmation of the important role that women also played in the American War for Independence. 


Further Reading:

Riedesel, Baroness von. Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty 1776-1783. Translated by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. and Marta Huth. Chapter Hill, University of North Carolina, 1965

Riedesel, Mrs. General. Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga. Translated by William Stone, Albany, 1867

Zeinert, Karen. Those Remarkable Women of the American Revolution. Brookfield, CT. Millbrook Press, 1966

The Hessian Soldiers and the American Revolution

‘He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.’

-Thomas Jefferson in his list of twenty-seven grievances against King George III included in the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson’s pejorative language was aimed at the 30,000 Hessian soldiers who had been hired by King George III to fight for Britain in the American Revolution. Jefferson used rhetoric that painted the Hessians as brutal, cruel and less than human (David Roos, Why the Germans Fought in the Revolutionary War—for the British, September 14, 2022;

In fact, the Hessians who fought were not blood-thirsty ‘mercenaries’ motivated by greed, according to Friederike Baer, a history professor at Penn State Abington (ibid). According to Baer, the soldiers were ‘auxiliary forces’ contracted by King George in agreements with German rulers who commanded and ‘rented out’ their military forces. 

Hessian Soldiers in Uniform (Source: American Revolution Institute)

The Difference Between Mercenaries and Auxiliary Forces

Mercenaries are individuals who sign on as soldiers to make money as a profession. Auxiliary forces are basically professional armies, raised and trained by local governments who were frequently hired out  to foreign governments to provide income for local rulers.

The hiring of auxiliary armies was not abnormal in the 18th century. Germany at the time was a loose federation of more than 300 states, cities and territories, each with its own ruler and professional army.

When the War of Independence broke out in the spring of 1775, the British quickly realized they couldn’t raise enough troops without the help of auxiliaries. Though the Empress Catherine the Great and the Netherlands both rejected King George’s request to hire troops, several German states were happy to comply. The six territories that signed on included Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Hanau, Braunschweig, Anhalt-Zerbst, Ansbach-Bayreuth and Waldeck. Over half of all the soldiers were from the Hessen territories, which led to the labeling of all German soldiers as ‘Hessians’.

Hessian Soldiers (Source: Military History Now)

As the Hessians had already successfully fought on the side on the British during the 1760s in the Seven Year War  with France, the partnership suited the British.

The Hessian Army in America

The Hessian Army consisted of well-trained soldiers who were said to have had ‘iron discipline’ (wikipedia). The Hessian males were registered to military service as children, and they had to regularly present themselves for service until they were 30 years old (ibid). Their officers were well educated, and in contrast to many European countries, were promoted on the basis of merit. Soldiers were relatively well-paid and their families were exempt from certain taxes. They fought in their own regiments, using weapons and uniforms that they had manufactured in Germany. In this sense the Hessians had a certain autonomy and fought beside their contractors.

The Hessian army arrived in North America at Staten Island, New York on August 15th, 1776. Their first engagement was less than two weeks later in the Battle of Long Island (wikipedia). They went on to fight in many important battles that year. By 1778, the British mainly used the Hessian troops as garrison and patrol troops. Most of their military contributions were in the Northeast, though they fought as far south as Florida. Oddly, some of the British soldiers didn’t trust the Hessians, because they spoke no English. The British also evidently resented that the Hessians spoke out against executions and plundering. (

Hessians Fighting in the American Revolution (Source:

The Hessians Gain the Trust of the Americans

A turning point came for the Hessian troops when they were defeated in a surprise attack by George Washington and his troops on the morning of December 26, 1776 in Trenton, New Jersey. One thousand Hessians were captured. 

Washington’s troops quickly moved the prisoners north and crossed the Delaware at McConkel’s Ferry Inn under terrible winter conditions. The Hessian officers were separated from the soldiers, who were marched to Newtown and later to Philadelphia to be paraded through the streets. One of the officers named Lt. Andreas Wiederholt met with General Washington and willingly admitted the mistakes his troops had made in the battle. This information proved helpful in retaining Trenton and led Washington to change his opinion of the Hessians, claiming they were not the enemy and should be treated humanely. (

From then on, people started to bring the Hessians food and treated the captives with kindness (ibid). The officers signed a ‘parole’, saying they would not interfere with Washington’s plans. The soldiers were brought to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they were put to work on farms. The officers were escorted to the Virginia border, where they were essentially released without further recognizance. 

Of the roughly 30,000 Hessians who came to fight in America, about 7,500 died. Of those, about 1,200 died in combat. Disease was the biggest killer (Ibid above). Most of the soldiers returned to their homes in Germany, but between 5,000-6,000 Hessians stayed. Many settled in British-ruled Canada, but others were welcomed by German communities in the Mid-Atlantic states. 


The Moravians: Early German Settlers in the United States

The Moravian Church

The Moravian Church, known in Germany as the Brüdergemeinde, Brüder-Unität or Herrnhüter, was a protestant movement that originally began in the Czech Republic before the time of the Reformation. It was ‘renewed’ in the early eighteenth century by Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinsendorf (1700-1760) when a group of peasants, artisans and craftsmen, mostly Protestant, flocked to the nobleman’s estates in Berthelsdorf, Saxony (

Count Zinsendorf and the Moravians: Prayer Makes History (Source: thetraveling

Von Zinsendorf was fascinated with the Moravian emphasis on an emotional form of spiritual life and granted the peasants land to build a village in nearby Herrnhut and Herrnhaag, today UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites. Some aspects of Moravian life were different than the practices of other Protestant groups:

° They emphasized the importance of education in individual religious growth and experience,

° They saw men and women as spiritual equals (,

° From the middle of the 18th Century on they encouraged every member of their worldwide congregation to write a memoir or ‘Lebenslauf’ to portray their inner journey and serve as a means of edification for the Moravian community,

° The church encouraged Moravian missionaries to settle in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, North and South America, the Arctic, Africa and the Far East (wikipedia).

Today nearly 65,000 records from the memoirs written by prominent Moravians still exist and provide a vast database for researching the history of the church members and their ancestry (

Moravian Dress (Source: Wikipedia)

Early Moravians in America

Initially, the Moravians attempted to settle in Georgia, but due to complications and an impending war several church members relocated in 1740 to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. While the prime objective of settling in the colonies was to convert the indigenous population in Delaware, the Moravian method of evangelizing was not always looked upon kindly, nor always welcomed (wikipedia).

Historic Moravian Bethlehem, National Historical Landmark District (Source:

The Moravians in Bethlehem lived in a communal society organized into groups, called choirs, by age, sex, and marital status. They also operated under a General Economy where everyone worked for the good of the community and received care from cradle to grave.

The General Economy was an exclusive association in which prevailed a sort of communism based on labor, but not on goods. This communism was not binding, but left to the free will of each to adopt or reject. For instance, those who had property retained full control of it and were not required to sacrifice it in any way. All that the members of this association gave was their time and work. In return they received the necessaries of life and the comforts of home. The Economy existed for only twenty years, and was abandoned in 1762. While in force, it defrayed the expenses of the various immigrations from Europe, gave the Moravian colony comfort support, and maintained the mission among the Indians. 

Another peculiar principle, adopted by the church at large and retained in its American settlements, was the use of the lot. According to the precedent set by the apostles at the election of Matthias, the will of God was to be ascertained in all important affairs. Hence the lot was employed in the appointment of ministers and the admission of members, as well as in the contraction of marriages. Marriages were not however contracted in an offensive or oppressive way. Men and women were not indiscriminately coupled contrary to their wishes. A man proposed a woman to the church authorities, or, if he had no proposal to make asked the authorities to suggest a woman. The authorities submitted the proposal to the decision of the lot, and, if it was sanctioned, made the woman an offer of marriage in the name of the man, which she could also reject. The lot bound the authorities to make the offer, but not the woman to accept it. If the proposal was rejected by the lot, the man made another. The fact that both sexes lived in “classes,” (separate houses) and had barely any social interaction made this system useful. (

Herrnhut: UNESCO World Heritage Site (Source:

Moravians Today

The Moravian Church has roughly 825,000 members worldwide and remains active in missionary work, education and social work. The American Moravian Church sponsors Moravian College and Seminary, recognized as the sixth oldest institution of higher education in the United States. A branch of the Moravian Church that settled in Texas in the 1800a exists under the name Unity of the Brethren. The largest concentration of Moravians today is in Tanzania. The church motto is:

‘In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love’.


The History of the Jelly Doughnut

The History of the Jelly Doughnut

This year Fasching (also known as Street Carnival) in Germany runs from February 16 (Altweiber or Old Ladies Day) to February 22 (Ash Wednesday). A staple of this ‘Fifth Season’, as the Germans call it, is the well-known jelly doughnut pastry called a ‘Berliner’.

The History of the Berliner

Berliner doughnuts are first recorded in a collection of recipes published in Germany in 1485. The cookbook was named Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen) and was one of the first cookbooks to be run off Johannes Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press (Source: Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods). The original doughnut name was ‘Gefüllte Krapfen’, or filled doughnuts.

The filling for the original doughnuts was usually savory, including meat, cheese or vegetables. When the Caribbean sugar plantations began to proliferate in the sixteenth century, the price of sugar fell, and in turn fruit preserves developed rapidly. The jelly doughnut was born!

Source: Google

Within a century of the initial appearance of the filled doughnut, every northern European country had adopted the pastry, though it was a rare treat usually associated with specific holidays (ibid source above). In the twentieth century, Germans invented a method of squirting the jam into pre-fried doughnuts. Later machines were developed to do this job. And so the jelly doughnut obtained its contemporary character, though today other non-jam fillings like latte creams or chocolate truffle  have expanded the jelly doughnut’s popularity to new gourmet heights.

Why is the Jelly Doughnut Called a Berliner?

The story goes that there was once a baker from Berlin who applied for patriotic service in 1756. He was deemed unfit for Prussian military duty but was allowed to remain a field baker in one of the regiments. Because the field cooks had no access to ovens, the baker fried pieces of dough over an open fire. The soldiers began to name the popular fried dough balls ‘Berliners’ after the cook’s home town (Wikipedia).

Other names for jelly doughnuts include: Krapfen (Austria, Germany), Boule de Berlin (France), paczka or paczki (Poland), sonhos (Portugal), ponchiki or pyshki (Russian), Sufganiyah (Israel), Bismarks (American Midwest), jam busters (New England), jam doughnuts (UK).

The Connection Between the Berliner and Fasching

The origin of the jelly doughnut as a Fasching speciality goes back to the origin of Fasching itself, which is a period of celebration prior to abstinence during Lent. In the time of Lent during the Middle Ages, Christians would give up eating meat, milk products and eggs, so these products had to get used up before the six week period of abstinence began. Baking sweet treats like jelly doughnuts became a way of fulfilling this purpose while also celebrating prior to Lent’s beginning.

Source: Google

Christians are not the only religious group that celebrates by eating jelly doughnuts. Jewish families eat jelly doughnuts before and during Hanukkah. In Israel they are sold on almost every street corner during the holidays and are enjoyed by people in all communities and of every religious stripe (Encyclopedia of Jewish Food).

The Most Famous Berliner

Of course, the most famous Berliner wasn’t a jelly doughnut at all, but an American President.

The iconic story is from 1963, when President John F. Kennedy addressed the German people in West Berlin with one of the most famous cold war, anti-communist speeches of all time:

Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin bin Berliner’!…All free men, wherever they live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’!

Source: Google

Though technically he said he was a jelly doughnut, this is of course only an urban myth in non-German-speaking countries. Germans have never held President Kennedy’s claim as literal. It is a fun story though! 


Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Wiley 2010


The German Westwall in WWII


The German Westwall, sometimes referred to as the ‘Siegfried Line’ or West Wall, was a construction built at the beginning of WWII in response to the French Maginot defense line built during WWI along the Eastern border between France and Germany (

The Westwall was built between 1938 and 1940. It stretched from Kleve in the north for 630km (390 miles) along the western border of Germany down to the Swiss border. The line was comprised of over 18,000 bunkers combined with tunnels and tank traps. The tank traps were a line of anti-tank obstacles made of steel-reinforced concrete located between bunkers along the front. In English, they are often referred to as ‘dragon’s teeth’ (

Source: Dreamstime

Early Failures

The Westwall was little better than a ‘building site’ in 1939, according to German General Alfred Joel after the war ( The construction was weak and weapon defense paltry (ibid). In fact, there was no major combat along the line at the start of the war. Instead both the French and Germans stayed entrenched on their own safe sides in what today is called the ‘phoney war’ (ibid wikipedia).

1944 Changed the War and Led to Resumed Westwall Building

With the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, war in the west broke out full-scale. Hitler gave the directive to renew construction of the Westwall using 20,000 forced-laborers and members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (German Labor Service), most of whom were 14-16 year old boys. Working conditions were very dangerous and little regard for worker safety was exercised.

Source: Alamy

Confrontations at the End of the War

The first major clash along the Westwall took place in August, 1944 in the Hürtigenwald area of the Eifel, near Aachen. The Americans committed an estimated 120,000 troops to the Battle of Hürtigen Forest and 24,000 American soldiers were lost ( Shortly thereafter the Battle of the Bulge began, beginning in the area south of the Hürtigenwald, extending from Monschau in the Eifel to Luxembourg. This was a last ditch German effort to reverse the war in their favor, but losses of life and material led to their defeat. By early 1945 the last of the bunkers along the Siegfried Line had fallen. 

The British 21st Army Division led attacks on the Line and included American troops. US losses totaled around 68,000, plus 50,000 non-battle casualties and 20,000 casualties in the Ninth Army. As a result, close to 140,000 Americans lost their lives in battles along the Westwall/Siegfried Line in total during the war (wikipedia).

When asked about the Sigfried Line, General George S. Patton reportedly said: ‘Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity’ (ibid).

Source: Google

The Westwall Today

Although most of the wall was purposely obliterated after the war, pieces of it still stand today. An association with the name ‘Der Denkmalswert des Unerfreulichen’ (The Value of the Unpleasant Memorial) is working to maintain the Sigfried Line as an historical monument. The Hürtgenwald Museum documents the famous battle there. Nearby in Kall, one can tour bunkers and a castle. In Saarland and in several locations in the Palatinate, other options are also available. Below are several online addresses for organizing a tour of the Westwall.

Online for further reference:


The Cultural Importance of Organ Music and Building in Germany

German Organ Craftsmanship: an Official UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Germany has a rich history of ecclesiastical organ music written by famous composers like Beethoven, Bach, Händel and other well-known classical musicians. Much of the most well-known organ music stems from the Baroque period (17th-18th Century). Organ music was quite popular because church was an important pillar of the community where audiences could gather to listen and be inspired by the intensity and lofty sound of this highly complex musical instrument.

Source: Google

Johann Sebastian Bach

According to the UNESCO website, ‘Organ craftsmanship and music has shaped Germany’s musical landscape and instrument-making for centuries….The highly specialized knowledge and skills related to the practice have been developed by craftspeople, composers and musicians working together throughout history, and the specialized…skills are significant markers of group identity. Transcultural by its very nature, organ music is a universal language that fosters interreligious understanding.’ ( This is why UNESCO declared German organ craftsmanship an intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2017.

No Two Organs Are Alike; A Short History of Organ Building in Germany

Organs are always built individually to fit into the environment for which they are created. So every organ is essentially unique and built to serve a special purpose. Each organ consists of some combination of  keyboard(s), pipes, blowers that supply the wind chests (where air is kept at a certain pressure usable on demand), valves that open and shut the flow of air flow into the pipes, pedals and other more technical parts too difficult for description in this summary. The point is: There are many variables in the production of an organ that contribute to its uniqueness. 

Historically, when organs were primarily built for use in churches, their design was thus varied according to how they were utilized as part of the liturgy. 

Before the Baroque period, the art of organ building developed equally across Europe. After the Reformation, however, clearly separated traditions of Northern German and Southern German organ building developed. (


At. Stephen’s Cathedral Organ in Passau

Southern German organs were built to fulfill their liturgical functions. In the North, organ music is based primarily on Lutheran hymns and its varieties in preludes, fantasies and variations. Thus for the execution of this function, northern organs needed certain solo voices and a clearly designed specification to underline the phonic compositions. Here we can perhaps interpret that Northern German organ design accented its ability to create music to ‘stand out’ for passive listening and genuflection. The Southern German organs, on the other hand, were primarily used to accompany hymns and Gregorian chants (abbey churches). The instruments were designed for more improvisation and to reinforce the orchestras in masses. Thus the Southern German organ can be described as ‘suitable to vocal music,’ with an ability to blend sounds. (ibid above)

The Most Famous Organs in Germany

The largest pipe organ in Europe is in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Nassau (see above). The organ was built in 1682. Today the organ consists of 5 separate organs with 17,774 pipes, 223 registers and 4 chimes. (

The most famous organ builder in Germany was Gottfried Silbermann, who is considered the Antonio Stradivari of organ makers ( The last organ he built was in the Dresden Cathedral, and is considered his greatest in addition to being his largest organ. Another notable Silbermann organ is in the Freiberg Cathedral in Saxony (built 1714).


The Great Silbermann Organ in Freiberg Cathedral

And last but not least, the great Sauer Organ in Berlin, with its 7,269 pipes and 113 registers, is also a ‘must see’ for people interested in this craft.

Beyond these ‘stars’, there are many other beautiful organs in smaller cities and churches. It is always worth popping into a local church to take a look, no matter where you are, if you are visiting Germany.


Sauer Organ in the Berlin Cathedral

But the Most Famous Organs in the World Come From….The USA!

Hand on your heart: As important as historical German organ craftsmanship culture is, the USA still has the international record for building the biggest organs worldwide!

The largest pipe organ ever built was the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City, NJ. It weighed 150 tons and is now undergoing a $16 million renovation set for completion in 2023. (wikipedia)

Based on physical mass, the largest pipe organ in the  world is the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Department Store (no longer exists), weighing in at 287 tons and officially the ‘Largest Organ in the World’, according to Guinness Book of World Records.

So the fact is: Whether bigger is better or heritage is the heirloom, the history of organ craftsmanship is complex and worth learning more about.