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CULTURE

German word of the day: Das Laternelaufen

Forget Halloween – Laternelaufen is the autumn tradition you need to know about while living in Germany (with or without kids). 

Children walk with lanterns through Berlin.
Children walk with lanterns through Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

“Das Laternelaufen” or lantern walking, is an annual celebration in honour of St. Martin’s Day.  While St. Martin’s Day is an occasion celebrated by Catholics across Europe, including the UK, this children’s tradition seems to only be commonplace in German speaking regions (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and some areas of Belgium, Italy and Poland). 

As the legend goes, Saint Martin, a Roman soldier, gave a beggar half of his red cloak to protect him during a snowstorm. Through this good deed, Saint Martin is considered the patron saint of travellers and the poor and is seen as an example to children to share and be giving. While this holiday has its roots in Catholicism, it has become commonplace for German children of all faiths to be taught St. Martin’s story and celebrate the occasion through Laternenlaufen.

READ ALSO: Where to enjoy St. Martin’s celebrations across Germany

Once the sun sets on November 11th, children across Germany, and in some other countries, take part in a procession through the streets, carrying handcrafted paper lanterns and singing traditional St. Martin songs. The procession is usually organised through local kindergartens and schools, and the lanterns are often made by the children themselves during their classes. The children are often accompanied by a man dressed as St. Martin in his iconic red cloak. This procession is then referred to as “der Laternenumzug” or lantern procession. At the end of the walk, you will often find a large St. Martin’s bonfire and a traditional meal of goose, the “Martinsgans” (Martin’s goose), red cabbage and dumplings waiting for you. 

But what do paper lanterns have to do with St. Martin?

As far back as the Middle Ages, to mark the end of the autumn harvest in the Alemannic region of western Upper Germany, traditional lanterns were crafted out of turnips, called “Räbenlichte” (literally: turnip lanterns), with a candle flame in the centre lighting up the vegetable. Turnips were a staple food at the time and their harvest was therefore celebrated in this way. Nowadays the lanterns are no longer made out of turnips, instead children opt for coloured cardboard and tracing paper as tools for creating their glowing pieces of art. Naturally, for safety reasons, the candle of the lantern is now replaced with an LED light. 

So, the two aren’t explicitly linked, but it seems the harvest season overlapped with St. Martin’s day, resulting in today’s celebrations combining the two. Either way, “Laternelaufen” is something children love to take part in, and many German adults reminisce over. 

Examples:

Bevor wir mit dem Laternenlaufen beginnen können, müssen wir zuerst unsere Laternen basteln.

Before we go on our lantern walk, we must first make the lanterns.

Morgen ist Sankt Martinstag, das heißt, es ist Zeit für unseren Laternenumzug!

Tomorrow is St. Martin’s Day, which means it is time for our lantern walk!

Haben Sie die Lieder für dem Laternenlaufen schon auswendig gelernt?

Have you memorised the songs for the lantern walk yet?

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CULTURE

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

Depopulation threatens the future of Switzerland's picturesque mountain villages, but three brothers are trying to keep theirs alive by capturing its essence in a bottle.

Brothers keep Swiss mountains in high spirits

In the one-road hamlet of Souboz, nearly 900 metres (2,950 feet) up in the Jura mountains, the nature-loving Gyger brothers distill whatever they forage, such as gentian roots and juniper, in a bid to sustain the local economy.

Switzerland is trying to stave off the slow-motion extinction of its remote communities as young people move to the cities for jobs and opportunities.

Thanks to a grant from the Swiss Mountain Aid foundation, the Gygers were able transform their grandfather’s old home into the Gagygnole distillery,
turning professional a couple of years ago.

The name comes from eldest brother Gaetan’s nickname Gagy, and gnole — French slang for a drop of the hard stuff.

On the ground floor of an old farmhouse, the scent of coriander and juniper berries hangs in the air, while warmth emanates from the 2.5-metre-high copper still in which Gaetan distills gin over a wood fire.

“This production site has been in our lives since we were very young. We really have roots anchored in our village,” he told AFP.
 An agronomist by training, Gaetan, now 30, had studied in Geneva.

“We didn’t want to set up in the city,” he said, despite the bigger potential client base.

 Mountains in Swiss DNA

The brothers’ choice is a rare one in Switzerland.

The mountains cover 70 percent of the country, but three-quarters of the population lives on the plain between the Juras in the north and the Alps in
the south and east.

Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Zurich all lie in the area of relatively flat terrain between the two mountain ranges.

The mountain villages are emptying, their grocery stores are closing and, as in Souboz, the schools are shutting, too, as the population gradually
shifts ever more towards the lower-lying towns and cities.

The population of Souboz has dropped from 135 in 2012 to 85 last year.

Faced with the slow-motion exodus, some villages are trying everything they can to reverse the tide, including financial incentives to attract newcomers,
such as offering empty houses for a symbolic sum of one Swiss franc.

READ MORE: ‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

And Swiss Mountain Aid provides funding to hundreds of entrepreneurs, such as the Gyger brothers, to bring jobs and business to the hills.

The mountains are “part of our genes, our DNA”, but “if we want to keep the mountains alive, there must be people”, said the foundation’s chairman Willy Gehriger. “We act like the spark,” he explained.

Established in 1943 to help lift mountain dwellers out of poverty, the privately-funded foundation mainly supported farmers initially — but broadened its scope around a dozen years ago. Now it helps small businesses, installs Wi-Fi, pays for computer courses and funds the transformation of dilapidated listed buildings into tourist accommodation.

Gehriger said the agricultural sector alone was no longer enough to keep the mountains thriving.

 Message in a bottle

 Dressed in baseball caps and t-shirts and armed with an iPad, the Gygers are far from the stocky, rustic, grumpy stereotype of mountain men.They are on a mission to repopulate Souboz and revive the economy in the local Juras.

“We’re aware of doing something good for Souboz. Our mountain regions have enormous potential. They’re really something that we Swiss should be proud of,” said middle brother Luca, 27.

Their gamble has paid off as the family business has a handful of employees and occasionally takes on local artisans and farmers to help bottle up the
brothers’ original gin, whisky and vodka recipes.

Last year, they produced 18,000 bottles of spirits.

Gagygnole’s eaux de vie are sold in 200 shops around Switzerland and one of their concoctions was voted the best gin in the country last year — while the brothers’ gin fondue is also a hit.

The Gygers think it is still too early to consider exporting.

“We always refused because it was difficult in terms of logistics, but why not… as long as it goes with our philosophy,” said 26-year-old Tim.
 

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