The freezing temperatures and copious amounts of unseasonal snowfall might have most of us running for cover, but the weather hasn't kept Volker Kraft and his wife from pursuing their annual Easter tradition.
The septuagenarian couple has spent days climbing ladders to decorate a five-meter high apple tree in their garden with thousands of brightly decorated chicken and duck eggs.
"The weather made it difficult this year," Kraft explained. "So we didn't know if we'd finish decorating in time."
But finish they did. And starting last weekend, the gate to the Krafts' garden has been thrown open for what will likely be thousands of visitors, if last year's crowd of 15,000 is anything to go by.
The tree, laden with exactly 10,030 hand-decorated eggs, has been featured on Thuringia's official website as possibly the world's "most spectacular Easter egg tree."
The idea of this annual Easter tradition came to Volker Kraft 45 years ago. "I used to pass by a lilac bush every day on my way to school, and it used to be beautifully decorated around Easter," said the pensioner. "So when I had kids, I said: they're going to have a tree like that one too."
The first year the Kraft family started decorating the apple tree in their garden, it only took 18 eggs to fill all of it. But as the tree grew so did the number of eggs. The tree reached the 1,000 eggs mark in the middle of the 1990s and the 10,000 mark last year.
These days, after the egg-hanging work is done with, Kraft sits in his chalet, keeps a watch on the tree and welcomes visitors, patiently repeating answers to questions he is always asked: how many eggs there are, how long it took to hang them all (this year, it was two weeks) and how he came up with the idea.
Kraft also sells postcards, brochures and colourful eggs, but does not charge an entry fee. "I don't want anyone to have to stand near the fence simply because they can't afford it," he said.
He leaves the decorating and colouring of the eggs to his wife and their daughter. The eggs are painted, crocheted and covered with seashells or mosaic designs. Some eggs even have seeds on them as a snack for the garden birds.
Sometimes visitors bring more eggs as presents. Kraft has displayed some of the best eggs in a showcase which includes the ones with famous city scenes on them like the London Bridge or a bright blue egg signed by Bill and Hillary Clinton, which a visitor from the United States brought along.
Kraft's feat, however, puts him nowhere close to the record for the most eggs on an Easter tree – according to the Guinness World Records, exactly 76,596 eggs hung on a tree in the zoo in the German city of Rostock on May 8th 2007.
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But what keeps Kraft and his 75-year-old wife motivated all year round to blow eggs out, paint them and then withstand the frosty weather to hang them up, only to remove them again after a few days, especially when their children are already adults? "You see a sort of sparkle in many of the visitors' eyes. Besides, there are also a lot of children who come by," answered Kraft.
The Krafts' garden gate will remain open to visitors every day until the Easter holidays. After that, the eggs will be tucked away in cartons and the damaged ones – of which there are usually between 200 and 500 – will be replaced.
"Ever since the tree has become well known, we feel obligated to decorate it every year. As long as we can both still climb a ladder, we'll keep doing it," Kraft said.