Miniatur Wunderland and the Hamburg Christmas Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the time of year when friends ask “Where are you vacationing this summer?” as openers of conversations.  The answer one of my students gave me this week was “Hamburg, Germany.”  He is a big model railroading enthusiast, and Hamburg has the world’s largest model railroad, Miniatur Wunderland.  One of my favorite Christmas topics is train gardens, but I had not heard of this miraculous sight.  Right now, there are eight unique areas with over 13,000 meters of track with nearly 1,000 trains.  The current design requires 46 computers and over 230 employees.  I am including a video of the trains with a link to the website.

Although the Miniatur Wunderland does not advertise any specific Christmas trains or train activities, I learned that Germany is proud of its traditional Christmas Markets, and Hamburg’s especially interesting.  Opening this year on November 25, the event is hosted by world-famous Roncalli Circus performers.  Each evening, Santa visits, arriving on a sleigh in the sky. I watched a video, and I can’t exactly figure out how Santa is flying, but it’s quite the spectacle.

The market advertises beautiful hand-crafted gifts, including traditional German Aachen Spice Cookies.  I looked up a recipe, and I am suggesting that Jeremy and I will need to experiment with the cookies.  I suspect that they will be close to a molasses/gingerbread taste.  We’re going to have to find a German baker who will guide us through the process, and I have one of my mom’s friends in mind.



Collectible #1- Hummel Figurines

This week we have decided to focus on Christmas collectibles and collections.  One of the most recognizable collectible makers is Hummel.  These cute porcelain figurines depict mostly children in all types of scenes and settings.  There are a wide variety of lines in the collection and the Christmas figurines are certainly among the most popular.  The Hummel figurines were created originally by the Goebel porcelain company in Germany.  They are named for the artist who created the drawings Goebel used as inspiration for the figurines.  So who was this Hummel?

Berta Hummel was born in Germany in 1909.  She was a gifted young artist and a faithful Catholic.  Her family allowed her to study at a school focused on the arts and run by the church.  When she graduated in 1927 she then attended the Munich Academy of Applied Arts.  WHile there she connected with some sisters from a nearby Franciscan order.  Upon graduation she entered the COngregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Siessen.  She continued her artwork, mostly simple scenes featuring children.  These were published on series of postcards.  A local porcelain company craftsman, Franz Goebel, liked what he saw and came to an agreement with SIster Maria and the convent to produce porcelain figurines of the art.  This new partnership was signed on January 9, 1935 when Maria was just 26 years old (this date is considered the birthday of the Hummel creations by collectors).  The new figurines were introduced at the 1935 Leipzig SPring Fair and drew strong interest immediately.  The rise of the Nazi government and World War II caused a restriction to the production of porcelain and brought great hardship to Sister Maria.

The Volunteers

Her piece, the Volunteers, enraged Hitler causing him to ban the distribution of her art. Hitler and the Nazis hated the manner children were depicted by Hummel as “brainless sissies”.  In 1940 the Nazis seized the convent, forcing over 200 of the residents to leave. ABout 40 remained, including Sister Maria, under horrible conditions. Hummel was allowed to sell art directly to buyers, but the Nazis kept a huge percentage of the profits. Her art sales allowed the convent to continue through the war. By the end of the war, Sister Maria had grown ill and contracted tuberculosis. She continued her work until her death in 1946. She left her drawings and entire collection under the control of the Convent of Siessen.

The figurines produced by Goebel would take off like crazy after the war.  They immediately were sought after all over Germany.  American soldiers stationed in West Germany sent them to family and friends as gifts and returned home with them as well.  The huge American popularity was partly due to nostalgia by the many German immigrants living in the US and by the fact that the Army PX system carried the figurines in its inventory.  For the next 50 years the figurines continued to gain popularity as collector items and the prices skyrocketed.  A simple basic figurine today might cost $50.  More elaborate creations, collections, and limited or rare editions easily fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  I did a little searching to find prices for Hummel Nativity sets.  I found two I liked.  One of them was $1275 and the other was $1900!  To find the complete official information for all things Hummel, visit the official website including price lists and guides.  Check out the new offerings for 2012 at this Hummel Discount website.  A bit pricey for my collection but could be a great gift to give recognizing some special event for 2012 (new baby, new couple, etc). If you’re interested in just looking at HUmmel collectibles, there are a number of museums for you to visit.  Two are located in the United States.  The Hummel Museum is located in Texas and was started by Sieslinde Schoen.  Schoen was one of the child models used by Hummel to create her art.  Schoen found nearly 300 original works by Hummel that had been stored in Switzerland. The museum opened in 1992.  The Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels is located in Illinois.  Stephens was the first mayor of Rosemont, IL and an avid collector of Hummel figurines.  The museum boasts the largest collection of figurines in the world.  If you are interested in more about collecting Hummels there is MUCH information for you to review.  I will be keeping my eyes open at yard sales and auctions to find a super bargain treasure.