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THE LOWDOWN

HOLIDAYS

How to celebrate St. Martin’s Day in Germany

Wednesday marks St. Martin's Day in Germany. But why exactly do we celebrate, and what do all these paper lanterns signify? The Local has the lowdown.

How to celebrate St. Martin's Day in Germany
No, this isn't the German version of Halloween. Archive photo shows lanterns hanging in a garden in Kassel on St. Martin's Day. Photo: DPA

What exactly are we celebrating?

Martinstag is named after St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church for being a kind man who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm.

What do the lanterns mean?

In many parts of Germany it is traditional for children to participate in a procession of paper lanterns in remembrance of St. Martin. They make their own little lanterns in school or kindergarten and then gather on city streets to sing songs about good old Marty and their lanterns. Often a man dressed as St. Martin with a long red cloak leads the parade on horseback.

So this is actually a big deal then?

It's officially a Catholic holiday, but in recent years the lantern processions have become widespread even in Protestant areas of Germany. So just like Santa Claus has little to do with the birth of Christ, these days St. Martin Day's is probably better known for the luminous procession than the saintly history.

So what do I do on St. Martin’s Day?

Normally, if you have kids, you’ll probably spend the evening outside with a bunch of other parents and their children. In 2020, these parades won't take place throughout most of Germany, but people are being urged to find alternative ways to celebrate the holiday, such as displaying lit-up lanterns in their windows.

You’ll be busy relighting the tea candles in those fiddly little lanterns with cold, stiff fingers, and drying off children's tears because, as upsetting it is for the kids, paper lanterns lit by candles tend to catch fire quite quickly. Who would have thought…

Heavens! That sounds dangerous.

Well, definitely worrying for the parents, forced to prevent their little ones from accidentally setting each other on fire during the procession. But on the other hand, it wouldn’t really be a proper St. Martin’s procession without someone stamping out a flaming lantern, or a sad-faced child clutching to a charred stick.

What do I do if I don’t have children? Is there anything else to it?

Like most holidays, St. Martin's Day is also about eating food. The traditional victuals are goose with red cabbage and dumplings.

A St. Martin's Day parade in Riedlingen, Baden-Württemberg on Sunday. Photo: DPA

Yummy! But why goose?

According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become a bishop as an honour for all his good deeds, so he hid in a stable filled with geese to escape from Church officials. Martin might have been a very kind and gentle man, but he apparently wasn’t the smartest. Otherwise he would have considered a better hiding place than a pen filled with gabbling geese – who ended up giving away his location.

And the geese had to pay for that?

Perhaps, but the more likely reason is that November 11th is the beginning of Advent fasting and hardcore Catholics get a last chance to feast before they abstain from greasy food and booze until Christmas.

And if I am not Catholic, don’t like goose and have no children?

Then you might want to huddle around one of the many Martin bonfires, eat something else or simply celebrate the beginning of carnival, as it starts on November 11th as well.

READ MORE: Stricter rules means no pony for St Martin

 

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TRAVEL

When will tourism in Germany open up again?

Some German states, including Bavaria, have announced that hotels will reopen after months of a Covid -shutdown. We looked at what the next weeks have in store.

When will tourism in Germany open up again?
People on the beach in Sylt on April 23rd. Photo:picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

For around six months, overnight accommodation in Germany has only been allowed to open for business or essential travellers.

But things are looking up – finally. Some states are taking the first steps towards reopening the tourism sector, allowing people to think about travel.

READ ALSO: When will Germany ease international restrictions on travel?

Germany has two national public holidays coming up – Ascension Day, which is also Father’s Day in Germany, on Thursday May 13th. Then there’s Whitsun holiday on Monday May 24th. Corpus Christi on June 3rd results in a day off for six states, including Bavaria.

What are German states saying at the moment?

Bavaria

On Tuesday, the southern state of Bavaria – a major holiday destination for Germans – announced holidays should be possible in areas with low coronavirus infection rates from Friday May 21st. That’s just in time for Whitsun.

In districts and cities with a stable 7-day incidence of less than 100 Covid infections per 100,000 residents, hotels, holiday apartments and campsites would be allowed to reopen to all guests under the plans.

Outdoor dining, theatres, and cinemas are also to open in the state soon.

Bavaria is especially popular for its picturesque Alpine locations such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berchtesgaden.

READ MORE: Bavaria plans to open for tourists on May 21st

Schleswig-Holstein

Tourism is already starting up again in parts of Schleswig-Holstein, which has the lowest Covid rates in Germany. So-called ‘model’ projects are testing out how tourism can open up step by step.

READ ALSO: Dozens of German districts and cities see major drop in Covid-19 cases

Holidaymakers returned to Sylt – the largest German North Sea island – on Saturday May 1st, as part of the North Frisian tourist model initiative.

Tourism there is ramped up again under strict conditions – and all with the proviso that infections do not increase significantly.

Holidaymakers need a negative coronavirus test upon arrival and have to be re-tested every 48 hours. During the project, restaurants are also allowed to open on Sylt and certain leisure activities, such as hikes and city tours, are also possible.

Enjoying beach life on Sylt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

North Friesland is one of four model tourist regions in Schleswig-Holstein. The projects are to initially last a month with the option of extension. The pilot is already underway in the Schleiregion and Eckernförde, Büsum and the Bay of Lübeck with the popular Timmendorfer Strand on the Baltic Sea to follow.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about the latest rules on travel to and from Germany

Lower Saxony

In Lower Saxony, too, the first steps in bringing tourism back to life slowly is on the cards. The retail and hospitality sector will begin to open from next week in districts with incidence rates ​​below 100.

All shops will be allowed to open under strict conditions from Monday.

The hospitality sector and hotels will then be able to start gradually opening under strict precautionary rules.

Hotels will be able to open at 60 percent capacity, provided that guests present a negative Covid test on arrival and take new tests every day.

Hotels are initially only allowed to accommodate guests from Lower Saxony. According to the state government in Hanover, two thirds of all districts in Lower Saxony currently have an incidence rate of less than 100. These include many districts from tourist regions along the North Sea coast.

What are the rules right now on travel – and what’s the overall picture?

Across Germany there is no ban on travel. However, as has been the case since November last year, non-essential travel is strongly discouraged.

Germany also recently tightened measures across the country to battle a third wave of Covid-19. In areas where there are more than 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, restrictions including curfews and tighter contact rules are in place.

But coronavirus infection rates are falling in Germany, and vaccinations are ramping up. This is all good news – and experts hope that the country is on the way to beating the third wave.

READ ALSO: ‘Summer will be good’: Has Germany broken the third wave?

All states will start to open public life further when the infection numbers fall below 100 Covid cases per 100,000 residents in seven days. The hope is that they will continue to drop even more so that other facilities can open.

The federal government’s Tourism Commissioner Thomas Bareiß, of the CDU, said he is “very confident” that widespread travel within Germany will be possible again from June.

“I am very confident that holiday trips with us will be possible in more and more regions from June onwards,” said Bareiß.

He had a bit less hope for travelling over the Whitsun holidays around May 24th. “This will unfortunately fall through again in many holiday regions,” he said.

He told German daily Bild that hotels and restaurants have safety plans in place for when they reopen.

The German government is pushing through new measures which will see fully vaccinated people – and those who’ve recovered from Covid – face fewer restrictions, such as the need to provide a negative Covid test to go shopping or to the hairdresser.

However, there are no plans to open facilities like restaurants and hotels only for these groups.

READ ALSO: ‘Closer to normality’: Germany takes step to ease Covid curbs for vaccinated people

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