If you thought the Yule Trolls of Iceland were terrifying, meet Krampus. He is pretty much the exact opposite of Santa Claus. Krampus is a twisted half-demon/half-goat creature with sharp horns and hooves who enjoys terrorizing children in the central and eastern European Alps.
Every year, on Krampusnacht (December 5th) he punishes the unfortunate misbehaving children that St Nicholas refuses to give candy to. He will hit the poor bad children with branches. Sometimes if they are really naughty, he stuffs them into his bag so he can take them back to his lair for dinner.
Krampus most certainly originated from pre-Christian, Germanic paganism. His name derived from the German word “Krampen” which means claw. According to folklore, Krampus is the son of the Norse God Hel, who is the daughter of Loki and overseer of the underworld.
The Catholic Church and the Austrian government have attempted to abolish the tradition multiple times throughout history. However towards the end of the 20th century, the fierce Krampus tradition was revived.
Today people celebrate by participating in annual parades such as Krampuslauf (translated to Krampus Run in english). Young people dress up in terrifying costumes resembling Krampus and march around nearby Alpine towns and cities. Below is a video of the celebration.
Krampus and other exciting pre-Christian celebrations are gaining popularity in North America thanks to the Internet. Americans even made a movie about him which earned 61 million at the box office.
As one of the most popular cakes in Germany, it’s interesting to note that the inspiration for the cake may have come from Switzerland instead. The kirschwasser, or cherry firewater, on which the cake is based, came from the area around the central Swiss lakes. This region is still famous for its kirsch brands Etter and Dettling. During the mid-to-late 1800s, kirschwasser began to be widely produced and used in the Black Forest region of Germany.
During the 1800s, desserts using cooked cherries, kirsch, and whipped cream or cream became a staple in the region. The first known kirschtorte appeared near Zug in Switzerland, where kirsch was distilled from the famous Zuger sour cherries.
Some folk traditions suggest that the cake is meant to resemble the traditional costume of
the country girls in some parts of the Black Forest. The cake is said to represent their black or dark brown skirts, their white blouses, and their traditional hats covered with large cherry-red woolen bobbles.
The Schwarzwälder kirschtorte appears in recipes for the first time in the 1930s. Its popularity in Germany grew quickly and it’s now considered a traditional dessert.
In Germany, the baking industry works under regulations that require a kirschtorte to be made under specific guidelines. The rules define it as either “a cake made with Kirschwasser and whipped cream or with Kirschwasser and buttercream, or a combination of the two” — so without the kirsch, the cake isn’t genuine. The presence of fruit is actually considered secondary to the presence of the kirsch, the flavor of which has to be clearly apparent. The layers — of a light Viennese cake or sponge — must contain at least 3% cocoa or chocolate (though there can be more), and the topping must be of either buttercream or whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate.
For the cake:
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
1 cup flour, sifted
For the syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons Kirsch
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar / icing sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons Kirsch
For the topping:
2 cups canned sour cherries, drained
2 tablespoons confectioners’ / icing sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
FOR THE CAKE: Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Alternately fold chocolate and flour into the egg mixture, ending with flour. Pour the batter into 3 8-inch cake pans that have been well greased and floured. (Do not use oil to grease the pans: use butter or Crisco or a similar solid fat. If you use oil, the layers will probably stick to the pans. Also: make sure you do the greasing and flouring even if you have nonstick pans.)
Bake the layers in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes; then carefully turn out on racks and allow to cool completely.
FOR THE SYRUP: Make syrup by mixing together sugar and water and boiling for 5 minutes. When syrup has cooled, stir in kirsch. Prick the cake layers and pour syrup over all 3 layers.
FOR THE FILLING: To make the butter-cream filling, beat together sugar and butter until well blended. Add egg yolk; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in Kirsch.
CAKE ASSEMBLY: To assemble cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread with butter cream filling. Using 3/4 cup of the cherries, which have been patted dry, drop cherries evenly over cream. Place second layer on cake. Repeat. Place third layer on top. Fold 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar into the whipped cream. Cover the sides and top of the cake with whipped cream.
Decorate top of cake with remaining 1/2 cup cherries. Grated chocolate is perfectly acceptable as a topping, but if you prefer to make chocolate curls from a chocolate bar, shave them off the bar (at room temperature) with a vegetable peeler. Refrigerate the curls until ready to use. Press the chocolate curls on sides of cake; sprinkle a few on the top. Chill the cake until serving time. Afterwards, because of the cream, keep the cake in the fridge until it’s finished.
NOTE: The cake layers are made without any leavening agent such as baking powder so the only thing that makes the layers rise in the baking is the air you’ve beaten into the batter. You therefore have to concentrate on incorporating as much air as possible during the beating process. If using a mixer, make sure to use the whisk attachment instead of the normal cake beater. If using an egg beater or hand mixer, you may need to beat the basic egg and sugar mixture for longer than ten minutes to get it light and fluffy enough.
Externsteine is a mysterious rock formation near Ostwestfalen-Lippe in northwest Germany. In an area that is largely void of massive stone structures, the uniqueness of these soaring columnar rocks is what makes them especially interesting. Many theories abound about this very interesting site located on the northeastern slope of the Teutoburger Wald, the place that the Romans were defeated by the Germans in 9 CE.
The formation of multiple free-standing stone pillars stretches for several hundred meters. In total, there are 13 stone structures. The etymology of the name Extern- is unclear (-steine meaning “stones” or “rocks”). The Latinized spelling with x is first recorded in the 16th century, but became common only in the late 19th century.
The oldest recorded forms of the name read Agistersten and Eggesterenstein, both dated 1093. Other forms of the name include Egesterenstein (12th century), Egestersteyn(1366), Egersteyne (1369), Egestersten (1385), Egesternsteyn (15th century), Eygesternsteyn (151), Externsteine (1533), Egesterennstein (1583), Agisterstein (1592).
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne.
One thing is for certain, from the very earliest times this place was a very sacred spot for many tribes. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC. Beneath a rock overhang on rock VIII, microliths from the Ahrensburg culture such as arrow heads or blades were found. Evidence of fire sites was also found. Further adding to its sacred connection, Externstein is associated with archaeoastronomical speculation; a circular hole above the “altar stone” in the Höhenkammerhas been identified in this context as facing in the direction of sunrise at the time of summer solstice.
It is thought that perhaps the Goddess Ostara/Eostra was worshiped here and it has been suggested that the Bruchterian prophetess/oracle Veleda (from a tribe along the lower Rhine) about whom The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote, resided, unseen by men, in the upper sanctuary – a space where men were not allowed to enter. This upper temple on the rock pinnacle – the only one of the rocks that has retained its original peak – was probably originally an enclosed cave-chamber within which the prophetess studied the heavens, the movements of the stars, moon and sun, through the circular opening in the rock wall. This space was an observatory and has an almost exact northeasterly alignment.
The roof of this rock-chamber was either deliberately destroyed or it eroded naturally and it is now only semi-enclosed. But considering that (according to the Carolingian annals) the “Irminsul” was destroyed, or broken off by Charlemagne in 772 AD one can be excused for thinking that it was deliberate. This pinnacle was, according to legend, the site of the sacred “Irminsul,” the Saxon spiraling Tree Pillar. The oldest chronicle describing an Irminsul refers to it as a tree trunk erected in the open air.
After the Externsteine was purged of its pagan influence by Charlemagne, hermit monks began to settle into caves at the base of the rocks. Their task was to Christianize the site and to “drive out evil influences.” During this period, the monks, with the help of local bishops, began to render carvings into the rocks to memorialize their Christian influence in the area. There is no doubting the powerful symbolism of represented in the central bas relief, the largest of its kind in Europe. The famous carving depicts the Tree of Life, a pagan representation of Earth power, bowing down beneath the body of Jesus Christ being taken from the cross. Converts would have immediately understood the various symbols represented, especially the weeping sun and moon, both important pagan fertility images of the masculine and feminine. They would have seen the ancient tree of pagan knowledge being changed to represent the Christian Tree of the Cross. This carving is unique because it is the only known German sculpture showing a distinct Byzantine influence.
The hermits eventually abandoned the site in the fifteenth century, the chapel they built left to ruin, and the site was transformed to a small fortress. When this system of fortification was outdated, the counts of the region used the site for court banquets. After the death of Count Adolf in 1666, everything fell into decay.
Over time, the legend of Externsteine inspired a great number of books, essays, paintings, and novels. In 1824, the author Goethe wrote an essay on the descent from the cross carving, even though he never visited Externsteine himself.
The Externsteine is now a recognized pagan center and mystical site. It has been inhabited by pre-Germanic people, the Saxons, Christian monks, and today it is a popular New Age destination. Today, between a half to one million people annually visit the stones, making the Externsteine one of the most frequently visited nature reserves in Westphalia.
Because of its reputation as “pagan sacred site” in popular culture, there have often been private gatherings or celebrations on the day of summer solstice and Walpurgis Night. Despite the varying views on the origins and significance of this site to prehistoric peoples, there is no doubt that the Externsteine is a magical place to behold!
Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren(Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which has its name from the Austrian emperor Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who was very fond of this kind of fluffy shredded pancake. It is a popular meal or dessert in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and northern Croatia.
The name Kaiserschmarren is a compound of the words Schmarren (shredded pancake) and Kaiser (emperor). Schmarren is a colloquialism used in Austrian and Bavarian to mean “trifle, mishmash, mess, nonsense and folly.” Kaiser Franz Joseph’s love for this dish was referred to humorously as his “folly.” The word “Schmarren” is related to scharren (to scrape) and schmieren (to smear). Its Slovenian name is “cesarski praženec” or “šmorn.” Its Hungarian name is “császármorzsa;” its Czech name is “trhanec” or ” kajzršmorn.”
Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) aren’t in the original recipe and just additions made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe there are only raisins (before cooking they are soaked in rum.)
It is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I (1830–1916). There are several stories. One apocryphal story involves the Emperor and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach. Obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline, the Empress Elisabeth directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her, much to the consternation and annoyance of her notoriously austere husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he finished his and even his wife’s serving.
Another story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup rum
1 cup whole milk
5 eggs, separated
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon butter, melted
pinch of salt
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
plum preserves or peach preserves for serving
In a small bowl, combine raisins with rum and let soak 30 minutes, then drain.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Stir in the drained raisins.
In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook 5-6 minutes, or until the pancake has set and the bottom is golden brown.
Using a spatula or two forks, tear the pancake into bite-size pieces.
Drizzle in the melted butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Turn up the heat to medium high and use a spatula to gently toss the pieces for 5 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized.
Sprinkle with additional confectioners’ sugar and serve with the preserves of your choice.