Advent in Graz:
The city of Graz comes alive in the Advent season with Christmas markets, decorations, and events. Every year there is an ice nativity in the inner courtyard of the Amory, and I happened to actually catch it this year before it melted!
Glühwein and the First Snow of the Season:
One of the most fabulous Christmas "traditions" I can think of is meeting up with your friends at the Glühwein (mulled wine) stands at the Christmas market. It may be cold, but that nice warm spicy wine makes standing outside super appealing. Here we are with the first Glühwein AND the first snow of the season! (And I love how the snowflake on the right makes my friend look like a pirate!)
The Prettiest Fire Hazard Ever:
Austrians light up their trees with real candles. Sounds scary at first, but it's a beautiful effect, and far less scary if you have a bucket of water nearby. Traditionally, trees don't go up until the 24th--the day Christmas is celebrated in Austria--and don't come down till January 6, or Three Kings Day (Epiphany). It's the Christkind--"Christ Child", or basically a little blond-haired baby angel with wings--who flies in through the window on the afternoon of the 24th when the children are suitable distracted and puts up the tree and leaves the presents. On the way out, the Christkind rings a bell, and the child knows that the Christkind has been there! Time to open presents!
An American Tradition:
I had the good fortune to celebrate Christmas twice this year--once on the 24th, Austrian-style with Austrians, and then again on the morning of the 25th, American-style, with an American friend and her husband. Later that day we again celebrated Austrian-style: going to lunch with family...or an Austrian family, anyway.
What can I say? Berlin was an awesome city. I arrived on the 26th, when it was still in all of its Christmas glory--here you can see just one of the many ferris wheels at the various Christmas markets around the city. I stayed mostly on the East side, but between the tours and museums and history, I was hooked. I've got to go back.
Remnants of the GDR:
The East German TV tower is just one of the many remants of East Germany's past. It was contructed to boast of East German engineering, but since Berlin makes a city out of swampland, the original tower designed by East German engineers kept sinking. Literally overnight, Swedish engineers were secretly flown in with the expertise necessary to fix the plans, but when they got back, they broke their secrecy agreement. East Germany was embarrassed in the eyes of the West, but thanks to the ever-convenient policy of media censorship, the East Germans were none the wiser and ended up admiring the tower as their own handiwork and beacon to the world. Berlin is chock full of interesting history like this, and I couldn't get enough of it.