The story behind garden gnomes

Cultural heritage or just a funny German tradition?

Walking through a German suburb, you often get to see some little red-capped and white-bearded creatures, smiling or staring at you. Garden gnomes. “Oh no”, you think while passing by, “this is so typically German”. In fact, an estimated 25 million garden gnomes live in Germany’s gardens. So, no wonder that they became a part of many people’s imagination of a German stereotype. But do you actually know where this trend comes from?

What are garden gnomes?

Garden gnomes are small statuettes that are used as garden décor. Most of them look like squat little men with white beards and red pointy hats, so-called Phrygian caps. You can spot the typical gnomes doing leisure activities like gardening (while holding their garden tools, of course). However, a current funny part of this trend is that some gnomes portray stereotypes of certain groups or carry uncommon attributes. So, a real garden gnome collector may be in possession of figures with biker suits, a German football jersey or a bathing suit and sunglasses. People might even give them names – there really are no limits to creativity!

The origin of garden gnomes

To discover how these little guys actually came to end up in our gardens, we have to travel back to ancient Rome, when decorating already was a huge thing. Back then they put statues of their fertility god in gardens to defend them from evil spirits. During the Renaissance era, the folklore around gnomes grew thanks to German fairy tales and myths. Inspired by stories portraying gnomes as little creatures living in forests, people put the statues in their gardens as well by the beginning of the 18th century. However, at this time only wealthy families could afford that, as the first gnomes on the market were made of terra cotta. Nevertheless, the trend soon spread across Europe and the production of garden gnomes flourished in Germany. Thanks to new and more economical options for material, gnomes also became affordable for lower classes.

The mystic part behind it

“Garden gnome” comes from the Greek genomos meaning “earth-dweller”. As I already said, the popularity around gnomes emerged from myths and legendary tales. Gnomes were believed to have magical powers and to live underground or deep in a forest. Traditionally, people believed that gnomes could help humans in their garden, but only during the night when nobody could see them – as in the light of day they would again transform into stone. We might probably never know if this part of the story was really true – or have you ever spent an entire night in your garden looking to see if anything was moving?

The traveling gnome prank

If you’ve never heard about the Garden Gnome Liberation Front, this game will probably amuse you. The community originating in France made it their mission to liberate garden gnomes from their owners’ servitude and take them with them on their travels. The owners then received pictures of their stolen gnomes in front of famous places – and when the gnomes were returned after their journey, they often carried a travel diary documenting their newly gained freedom.

So, a German cliché?

As you’ve seen, there’s much more behind the story of garden gnomes than you might have thought. Their stories date back to ancient mythologies about gnomes and dwarfs, which were told through generations. Today, apart from a handful of serious garden-gnome-collectors, people certainly regard them as funny. However, they’re still part of Germany’s cultural heritage.

Author: Marie Peter

An insight in North Frisian customs

Since I was two years old, I have been to the North Sea at least once a year, therefore this area is like a second home to me. Almost everyone has been to the North Sea of Germany at some point in their life, but most people don’t know much about the actual lifestyle of this North Frisian area, probably also due to the fact that most traditions are celebrated outside the school holidays when most tourists are visiting the area. That’s why I invite you on a journey through a whole year of North Frisian customs.

North Frisia is the northernmost district of Germany. It is located within the German state Schleswig-Holstein and includes the mainland area from the town Hattstedt-Schobüll up to the German-Danish border and also the North Frisian Islands Föhr, Amrum, Sylt, Helgoland, Pellworm, Nordstrand and the Halligen.

We assume that the custom called Biikebrennen goes back to the Middle Age where it was used to drive away evil spirits in order to save the new seeds. Later, in the time of whaling, it served to send off the whalers. Biikebrennen is celebrated on the 21st of February. During the week beforeeach village builds up a huge stack of wood, mostly out of old Christmas trees and other garden waste, which is burnt down in a celebratory ceremony with singing, performances or poems presented in the North Frisian dialect. Traditionally, green cabbage is eaten afterwards.

At the end of April or the beginning of May, the Brent goose days take place. At this time of the year, about 80,000 brent gooses take a rest in the mud flats. It is mainly celebrated on the Halligen with guided tours, lecture series, boat trips, mudflat hiking tours and play activities for children.

The Cabbage days of Dithmarschen is a two-weeks celebration of the superfood cabbage which takes place at the end of September. Stationary elements of these days are the first cut of the cabbage harvest, city festivals, craft markets, cabbage workshops, festival marquees, the cabbage slice championship as well as the cabbage race in Marne.

Another custom is the setup of the “Jöölboom“, also called Frisian tree, which is a variety of Christmas tree. It consists of a small wooden frame with a circle of green branches. Inside the circle, the frame is decorated with figures out of salt paste that represent a pig, a cow, a sheep, a horse, a rooster, a sailing ship and a mill. At the bottom of the frame, we see Adam and Eve under an apple tree with a snake. Other decorations can be natural products such as apples, raisins or prunes. The Jöölboom is mostly placed at a window or on a table in the living room.

The last custom of a year is the one of the night of New Year’s Eve; on the Halligen it is called “Rummelpott-walk”, on Föhr “Kenkner”, “Hulken” on Amrum and “Masked walk of Omtaaceltics” on Sylt. Groups of friends who are dressed up, go from door to door, sing songs accompanied rhythmically of their “Rummelpott”, which is a type of drum that had its heyday in the 15th to 18th century. In return for their music and performance the group receives apples, baked products or other sweets. Groups of adults often get a glass of liquor instead of sweets.

These are the main North Frisian customs of a year. I hope I could give you a new view on this area and its culture; And who knows – maybe you will have the chance to experience one of these customs one day!

Author: Annika Domschat

Turkish food made easy

Have you ever eaten Turkish food and wondered how you can make those dishes with little effort and no time? You have? Well, worry less and read on, because I’m here to tell you how to prepare the most common Turkish-inspired dish with easy-to-find ingredients for, namely, börek. The main ingredients are feta cheese, dry parsley, puff pastry, eggs and sesame seeds, and that’s about it!

As you can see, I haven’t given you any information about how much you need of each ingredient. That’s because my mother used to say “watch and learn – I don’t do measurements! You need to learn that for yourself!” Harsh, right? But it actually helps, because once you figure out just the right amount or what you like best after some maybe disastrous first attempts, it’ll taste just perfect!

Let the cooking adventures begin!

Now, let’s start! This most classic Turkish dish, which is basically a type of dumpling, comes in all kinds of variations. Normally, you need to get up early in the morning to prepare the dough and leave it to rise for several hours until it’s ready to use. But we’re lazy students with no time and energy to do that, so we’re just going to take simple puff pastry, also known as Blätterteig.

Secondly, take your cheese and knead it in your palms to make it all mushy and mix it in with some dry parsley. This mixture is probably the most common one to fill your dumplings with, but you can also take mashed potatoes, minced and seasoned meat or even spinach, but that would take far too long to prepare and no student has time for that!

It’s coming together…

Now it’s time to cut your puff pastry into square shapes. Then, you take your cheese and parsley mixture and put about one spoonful on each square. Fold the square in half, covering the cheese and squeeze the edges together, so that it looks like a small cheese-filled dough bag. Now, maybe heat up your oven to about 200°, or maybe don’t, to each his own. I don’t think that’s necessary unless you’re baking cookies or something. Anyway, now you beat some eggs, put sesame seeds in it and mix it all together. This is what you coat your dumplings with, so that they don’t end up too dry on the top. And that’s about it! Just shove your tray in the oven and bake everything for a good 10 to 20 minutes, and keep on checking on them. As soon as they turn golden brown, they’re done! It takes absolutely no time to prepare once you get the hang of it, and it’s a nice alternative to eating noodles with pesto every day!

Bon appétit and good luck! Just don’t burn your kitchen down, maybe…

Text & Pictures: Filiz Özer

Mother Goose

With their sweet melodies and nostalgic associations, nursery rhymes and lullabies seem innocent. But when you really listen to the lyrics, this perception might change…

A nursery rhyme is a short story written in rhymes, often set to rhythmic tunes or music and is designed for young children. The stories have been with us for decades and can be used anywhere and at any time. These rhymes are also part of many cultures and often serve as an oral record of historical and political events and can even preserve archaic forms of language. The most commonly used nursery rhymes in the English language date from the sixteenth centuries.

A learning tool

Typically, a nursery rhyme has a catchy rhyme and simple vocabulary; children quickly learn to sing along. But nursery rhymes have more to offer than entertainment. Not only do they enhance the child´s imagination, introduce the idea of storytelling, promote social skills, boost language development and help phonemic awareness, but they also lay the foundation for reading and spelling. And because they build vocabulary and engagement slowly as a result of their repetitive and funny lyrics, they allow us to memorize basic structures and patterns in the English language, so kids can easily follow the now familiar words, as their parents or teachers slowly read to them.


Nursery rhymes are often collections, such as Mother Goose, which originated in France and is still a popular collection of nursery rhymes. Translations were also published in England and the United States, each with minor revisions, but they have remained true to their rhyming tales. Even though some of these collections use very old rhymes, which might be confusing to some children because of the language of Mother Goose, it provides an interesting insight into how people once spoke.

Hidden meanings

Nursery rhymes can also provide a quick history lesson and therefore connect us to the past and in some cases a nursery rhyme might have dealt with controversial topics and served as a mode of political expression or social commentary with hidden messages. If you dig a little deeper, they reveal shockingly sinister back stories. Gruesome tales of violence, scandal, medieval taxes, religious persecution, unlike our disneyfied modern perceptions; these aren’t exactly the topics that you expect as parent or teacher in poems meant for the nursery. Now, let’s look at some nursery rhymes and get their possible original meaning. Here are some backstories that may have inspired some popular nursery rhymes:

BaaBaaBaa, Baa Black Sheep

Baa, baa black sheep is about the resentment towards the medieval wool tax imposed by King Edward I in England during the thirteenth Century. Under this imposition, a third of the cost of a sack of wool went to King Edward I, another third went to the Church, and the last third went to the farmer. As a result, nothing was left for the poor shepherd boy who lived down the lane.

Humpty Dumpty


Humpty Dumpty depicts the fall of Colchester; it was believed to be a large cannon which was used during the English Civil War (1642 – 1649). At the time Colchester was under siege during the English Civil War and was a town with a castle and several churches protected by the city wall. A soldier named Jack Thompson had to take charge of a cannon nicknamed “Humpty Dumpty” on the walls. A shot from a Parliamentary cannon damaged the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty, which caused the cannon to tumble to the ground. The Royalists, or Cavaliers, “all the King’s men” attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall. But because of size and the weight of the cannon, they were unable to lift it back up onto the wall. Or it was shattered after the fall so “All the King´s horses and all the King´s men couldn´t put Humpty Dumpty together again!” Consequently Colchester had no choice but to surrender to Parliament.



This song is about the Glorious Revolution, the overthrow of the last ruling Stuart king, James II. The baby in Rock-a-bye-baby was allegedly the son of King James II, but rumor has it, he was the child of another man. The king and his wife were unable to have children of their own, a baby was smuggled into their chamber in order to guarantee a Catholic heir. The ‘cradle’ represents the House of Stuart, while the ‘wind’ that rocked the cradle may be the Protestant forces from the Netherlands. Editors of the 1765 print version, Mother Goose´s Melody commented that the lyric ‘may serve as a warning to the proud and ambitious, who climb too high that they generally fall at last’.

Nursery rhymes have been memorable for generations; you will still overhear parents chanting them to their children or children reciting the quirky content. Whether the rhymes take you for a walk down memory lane, serve as time capsules, giving us insights into the past or into English words, or are just for fun, try them!

Text & Picture: Elisabeth Stützel

German grimness

Sometimes it’s a good idea not to worry so much. But even when we really shouldn’t, we kind of always do. You see we Germans are pretty good at a lot of things, or at least we hope we are. We build some rather nice cars. We play soccer as an actual team sometimes. We have the best beer. We have a really good rail network. Wait what?

Yeah, you got that. Someone actually saying the Deutsche Bahn is doing at least a more or less decent job. Half of you will probably stop reading now – but not so fast, please. The last time I took a train outside of Germany thirty-five kilometres took seven hours on a Chinese train with British train tracks. I say that, because the Chinese didn’t quite get their measurements right and the ride was incredibly bumpy. There was also a mouse (or quite possibly mice) hiding somewhere under the floor and occasionally a branch hit someone through the windowless carriages. But guess what? Everybody on that train was really happy. For a country where the GDP per capita is a good three percent that of Germany, I find that quite fantastic. On the last train I took in Germany, half the people looked unhappy – me included. After all, that 5-minute delay really was heart breaking.

So lean back, relax and maybe try not to worry for the next one and a half minutes it will take you to read this.

First, there’s our school system. Every three years, the “Programme for International Student Assessment” (PISA) does just that and assesses our school system somewhere, somehow. In the end, everyone is disappointed and nothing changes. I’m sure there’s a PISA inspector somewhere that hopes that Chinese students acing all their exams are incredibly happy and that all those poor lost souls playing football and having fun are really unhappy that they didn’t come top of the world in the test.

Besides, there’s the weather. It’s either too hot or too cold and when it’s just right, you’re far away on holiday and its either too damp, humid or sunny there.

Apart from that, those of you who are not privately insured will surely have sat in a waiting room before. And yes, our system is quite silly. But no, don’t tell that to anyone in the United States who just got a medical bill for fifty thousand dollars. He’ll probably wish the snake had been more poisonous.

Another thing is statistics like the unemployment rate, which is a mere 3.8% and yet if you ask any German for their first impression, they’d likely say it’s way too high. Tell that to the Kenyans, where not even half the people are employed. And yes, that might be a rather lousy comparison, but our next-door neighbour France’s rate is closer to ten percent. Ask them, and they’ll say it’s not too bad. And they’re not wrong. Compared to Kenya’s, it really isn’t.

Looking at someone’s face in a posh restaurant in Germany when they have to wait longer than the five and a half minutes, they expect their apéritif to take makes you think people in Africa die of anger – and not starvation.

So yeah, maybe next time think about how happy others would be if their situation was only as bad as yours. And then just relax – it really can’t be that bad.

It’s all the same, isn’t it?

That’s at least what I thought. But it turned out that there are quite a lot of differences even in the most basic Christmas traditions. I was lucky to be able to spend last year’s Christmas with my friends and their families in California and I was really surprised about my American Christmas experience.

Christmas season begins…

My_American_Christmas__Elisa_Kirchmeier._4To begin with, Christmas doesn’t start with an advent season. Good luck finding an advent wreath or even an advent calendar. Christmas time begins when Thanksgiving is over and after you’ve survived Black Friday horror. It seems like everything has switched to an “all Christmas format”. Radio and TV channels, shops which turn into little Christmas heavens overnight, simply everything. It’s impossible to pass a house which isn’t fully illuminated by lights, hundreds of reindeer figures, snowmen or Santa Clauses. Everything stands under the motto: the more the better, the brighter the better. It even becomes a thing or a nightly leisure activity to drive around, to go Christmas light sightseeing and to admire all the decorated houses. In the middle of December I got invited to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party. Ugly Christmas Sweater Party? Imagine a bad taste party, but you must wear the ugliest Christmas sweater you can possibly find. And by ugly I mean really ugly, like an illuminated, talking Santa on your boobs.

The tree

My_American_Christmas__Elisa_Kirchmeier.__3As Christmas came closer, we wanted to put up the Christmas tree. We turned on some Christmas music and lit the fire. But when I asked my friends when we would finally drive to buy a Christmas tree, they just answered: “yeah, we already have one in our garage.” I don’t know what I found more shocking. The fact that it was plastic or that it was white.

Christmas day itself

The 24th is generally a normal day. Like everywhere else in the world, everybody is trying desperately to find presents last minute. But instead of exchanging presents and having a three-course menu for dinner on Christmas Eve, I was proven wrong. You only get one present, which is usually a stocking (filled with little knick-knacks) handed out every year to hang under the chimney and a light meal.

25th: Since I missed the German Christmas dinner (back home) on December 24th – I was expecting a huge Christmas brunch the next day. But I was wrong – again. The whole house wakes up early in the morning only to rush into the living room to see what Santa Claus has left underneath the “Christmas tree”. And – since it’s America – he has left a lot. I´d never seen so many presents – even the dogs got wrapped presents. I guess the hanging sock was just an ambitious understatement because they couldn’t have possibly fit one single present in that sock. My_American_Christmas__Elisa_KirchmeierBy one o’clock they were still unwrapping their presents and the only food we’d so far was one cinnamon roll two to five egg nogs, the delicious American version of egg liquor. My hopes for the big brunch were shrinking more and more. After the present handover, the cooking started. I was already starved by now and the egg nog wasn’t helping either. And then, finally the best part about Christmas started. The food. I was certain that after the amount of stuffed turkey, mashed potato and gravy and afterwards plum pudding, ginger bread and pumpkin pie I ate, I would never eat again.

Because like everything in the US, Christmas dinners are massive.

Text & Picture: Elisa Kirchmeier

Sätt ljuset in i världen

Idag är det den 13 December, det är Luciadagen. På Luciadagen firar man en av de största religösa högtiderna i Sverige, även om firandet i modern tid inte är så starkt förknippat med religion längre. Då firar man att de kortaste dagarna på året är över, man hälsar de längre och ljusare dagarna välkomna. Man kan säga att Luciadagen är vinters motsvarighet till den bättre kände midsommaren. I det följande ska vi förklara festens historia och traditioner.

Luciadagens historia

Kanske undrar du varför man firar det kortaste dagen just den 13 December, eftersom du förmodligen vet att årets kortaste dag egentligen är den 21 December. Men det är lätt att förklara, om vi påminner oss om vilken kalenderräkning man hade när Luciafiradet började: Europa hade den julianska kalenderräkningen, och enligt den så inföll Luciadagen samma dag som vintersolståndet.

Sankta Lucia, alltså den heliga Lucia, är ett helgon i den romersk-katolska kyrkan och har sitt ursprung i Sicilien. Lucia dog på 300-talet och är skyddshelgonet till Syrakusa. Namnet Lucia kommer från latin (lux) och betyder ljus. Idag vet man inte precis hur luciafirandet utvecklades, men de första historiska bevisen på luciafester går tillbaka till medeltiden. Folk firade fester för att ringa i jultiden. På 1700-talet fanns det första rapporter om vita kläder som människaor hade på sig i samband med luciafirandet. Lite senare, på 1800-talet, spred sig denna sed från Västsverige, Dalsland, Bohuslän, Västergötland och Värmland, över hela landet.

Luciafirandet idag

Kerze1_Idag är Lucia inte någon särskilt religös högtid längre, utan snarare en fest för familjer och barn. De viktigaste symbolerna är vita kläder som barnen har på sig, samt ljus som bär i sina händer och på huvudet. Vanligtvis börjar Luciadagen tidigt på morgonen, hemma hos familjer, och forstätter i skolor, på dagis, universitetet och arbetsplatser. Hemma är det den äldsta dottern i familjen som är Lucia. Hon är klädd i en vit klänning med rött sidenband runt midjan och bär en krona med levande ljus på huvudet. Alla andra tjeierna följer henne som ”tärnor”. Tärnorna bär också vita kläder, men de har glitter i håret och runt midjan. I sina händer håller de var sitt levande ljus. Poijkerna får naturligtvis också delta i Luciatåget: De föreställer så kallade ”stjärngossa”, ”pepparkaksgubbar” eller ”tomtar”.

Men varför bär alla människor ljus på denna dag, kan man undra. Nu behöver vi komma ihåg att solen i stora delar av Sverige aldrig går upp mitt i vintern, så folk vill lysa upp mörkret och bringa ljus till hela landet och till världen.

Svenskarna är söta

Firar man någon högtid i Sverige, så får man inte glömma sötsaker, så klart: Som överallt i hela världen finns det speciella maträtter till speciella fester och högtider. På Luciadagen brukar man baka ”lussekatter”, en vetebulle med jäst som är gulfärgad av saffran. Med lite fantasi kan man se att den klassiska lussebullen ser ut som en katt.

lussekatter_ Kopie2Namnet ”lussekatt” består av två delar: Lusse är en alternativ benämning på Lucia. Andra delen, „katt”, hänvisar till katten, alltså djuret. Tidigare kallade man bullarna för djävulskatter, darför att i Tyskland var det djävulen som serverade dem. Och, som ni alla förmodligen vet, var katter förr i tiden djävulens hjälpare.

Nu ska vi avsluta vår lilla berättelse om en av Sveriges stora fester och, i typiskt svensk tradition, fika med våra lussekatter.

Ha det så bra! Vi önskar er alla God Jul och Gott Nytt År!

Text: Angie Czygann & Tobias Lorenz
Proofreading: Sarah Weitkamp
Pictures: M & A Czygann