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Fröhliche Weihnachten!

26 Dec

Fröhliche Weihnachten (Merry Christmas in German) to all of the people who read my blog, so mostly friends and family. I first want to say how much I love and appreciate each and every one of you, and I cannot wait to see you when I get back to wherever you are living!

That being said, I was fortunate to experience a new kind of Christmas this year in my explorations of Germany. I was adopted by my German family (The Grothe Family) for the season and could not have been more thrilled! They really took me under their wings and helped me get the most out of the season. This post is dedicated to them and will show how I really got the chance to experience a traditional German Christmas.

Advent Calendar– Der Adventskalender

My Milka Advent Calendar

My Milka Advent Calendar

The advent wreath and calendar were actually invented by a German pastor, Johann Hinirch Wichern, in 1833 when he was working in an orphanage in Hamburg and the children kept asking when Christmas was going to arrive. He made the wreath as a way for the children to count down the days. I totally didn’t know that! I had always helped my Grandma Pipher light her advent wreaths, but I didn’t know where it came from. Now I do! Lucky for me, this was the first introduction I got to German Christmas traditions. When I visited my German family earlier this year, they sent me home with a Milka Chocolate advent calendar. Starting December 1 I got a piece of Milka chocolate every day for 25 days! It was a delicious countdown! 🙂

My chocolate piece from 1 December 2013

My chocolate piece from 1 December 2013

German Christmas Markets (Weihnachstmärkte)

I have a new love in life, and its name is “Christmas Market”. I had SO much fun going through the Koln (Cologne) Christmas markets with my friend Alex for a few days before I ended in Langenfeld. Though the city of Desden has the oldest Christmas market in Germany (dating back from 1434), Koln is one of the most popular ones. It had 9 markets spread out across the city, and there was a little train that you could pay to take that would go between all 9 of them (we decided to walk instead). They have everything ranging from food, drink, decorations, souvenirs, and presents. It was perfect!

German Mulled Wine (Glühwein)

1387881714226When coming to Christmastime, every person who has ever been to Germany says that you have to try Gluhwein. No matter what Christmas market you go to, you will see lots of these stands all around. For me, I finally got to try it our last day in Koln at the restaurant LyLy (which we went to twice because it was so good and the people were great!). Though Alex didn’t like it (she doesn’t drink alcohol, but I made her try it anyway), I thought it was delicious!

 The Christmas Tree (Der Tannenbaum) 

The first Christmas tree on record was in Freiburg, Germany in 1419. It was set up by the town bakers who put fruits, nuts, and baked goods on it as decoration that the children of the town could remove on New Years Day. Traditionally the tree is put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, but some German families put theirs up during Advent. Christmas trees have always been a favorite of mine, and up until I left for college we would always get a real, 8′ tree to put in our house. This year, I got to have a real tree again! Though the Grothe family does not put real candles on their tree like some German families do (Thank goodness in my opinion! Can you say fire hazard?!), it was still beautifully decorated!

Christmas Eve (Heiliger Abend or Heiligabend)


Presents from Christkind

In most European countries, including Germany, they celebrate St. Nicholas Day on 6 December. This day is based on the Catholic St. Nicholas who lived in the 4th century in present-day Turkey. He is known as the protector of children. Traditionally, this was the day that children received their gifts. However, the Middle Ages brought the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church, led by Martin Luther (a German). It was through the Reformation that the glorification of saints was replaced with the focus on Jesus himself. Therefore, Luther changed the traditional date of receiving present from St. Nicholas Day to closer to Christmas Day itself. He also replaced the image of gifts coming from St. Nicholas to gifts coming from Christkind (also seen spelled Christkindl), which translates to “Christ child”. Some say that Christkind is an interpretation of Jesus as an infant, but Melissa informed me that their version of Christkind is an angel. Rather than coming during the night like the American Santa Claus, Christkind comes while the children are away and sneaks the presents under the tree. After our Christmas Eve dinner, us children (Melissa, Norman, Migel, and I) were sent to our rooms and were not allowed to leave until we heard the bell announcing that Christkind had left. We returned to the living room to find the tree with presents under it!

Christmas Days (der erste und zweite Weihnachtstag)

Table set for Christmas dinner

Table set for Christmas dinner

In Germany there are two legal days of Christmas, December 25 and 26. They are known as the First and Second Days of Christmas. This is the time for the extended family to get together and visit. This is exactly what we did. On the 25th Melissa, her boyfriend Jonas, and I went to Jonas’s family’s house where we had dinner with his extended family on his mother’s side. There we had some traditional German Christmas food, including red cabbage and potato dumplings. Then we came back to Melissa’s house where we had dinner with Melissa’s father’s extended family. After dinner we went to Jonas’s fathers house for drinks with his father, step-mother, and sister. On the 26th we had Melissa’s mother’s parents over for cake and coffee.

All in all, I had a fantastic Christmas time with the Grothe family! I learned a lot about their language and customs and laughed the whole time! This is a Christmas I will never forget!


Grothe Family + Adopted Children (from the back, left: Klaus, Migel, Sabine, Norman, Me, Melissa)



Historian Heart: Halloween at the Tower (Fall Break Day 6)

8 Nov

Most people can pinpoint the exact moment when they knew what their passion was. Though I had always been interested in history, I know the exact moment that I fell in love with history. That moment was when my dad gave me the book The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. Though I bought this book for him for his birthday and I read it after him, I absolutely loved it! I became obsessed with Tudor and Reformation English history. Therefore, it can be understood that going to The Tower of London was an absolute dream come true. For those of you who do not know much about the history of the Tower, here is a brief description.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

On the sight of former Roman ruins, the Tower of London has a history of being a fortress, a prison, a castle, a palace, and now a museum. It is also the home of the ravens. The ravens that are housed at the Tower have their wings clipped, so they cannot fly away. The presence of these ravens at the Tower are traditionally thought to protect the monarchy. It is said that “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”

The Norman Beginnings

Remains of the Roman city wall

Remains of the Roman city wall

Edward the Confessor died in 1066 without any direct heirs, which left many people attempting to claim the throne. Though Edward’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson was crowned, William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that he was the rightful king of England. William eventually defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. After William’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he travel to Barking in Essex, ‘while several strongholds were made ready in the City to safeguard against the fickleness of the huge and fierce population, for he saw that his first task was to bring the Londoners completely to heel’.(1) The location of this fortification was on the sight of the former Roman city walls. Those fortifications were eventually replaced by the White Tower, which was completed by 1100.

Medieval Times

The medieval kings built on to the original White Tower to make the Tower of London the fortress that is famous today. Additions were added by Richard the Lionheart, John Lackland, Henry III, and Edward I. By the reign of Edward I, the Tower was already being used for military purposes, as a residence, and as a prison. However, Edward saw the Tower as a safe place to store valuables and papers. The Royal Mint was established an the institution played a significant part in the Tower’s history. The Tower became of great importance after the Wars of the Roses. It saw the tournaments of Henry VI, the coronation celebration of Edward IV, and victory parties for Henry VII. However, it also saw the executions of Henry VI, Edward V, and his brother.

Tudors and Reformation

Armor of Henry VIII

Armor of Henry VIII

The reign of Henry VIII saw the end of the Tower’s role as a royal residence. His break with the Catholic Church caused the number of prisoners held at the Tower to increase. Some of these prisoners included Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher of Rochester, and his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. All four of these prisoners were eventually executed.(2) After the death of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey was crowned queen. Unfortunately, she only held the throne for nine days before she was overthrown and Mary I ordered her execution. Lady Jane Grey was executed at the Tower. Mary I also had her half sister, Princess Elizabeth (future Elizabeth I) imprisoned there. When Elizabeth finally became queen, she continued the trend of imprisoning large numbers of people in the Tower.

Civil War

Along with Charles I’s reign came a devastating civil war that saw the fall of the English monarchy. During the war, the Tower fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. The first permanent garrison was added to the Tower by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1653. After the monarchy was reestablished with Charles II in 1660, the Tower became less of a prison and became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance.

Tourist Attraction

Though the Tower had guided tours as early as the 1590s, the amount of visitors to London who visited the Tower increased dramatically in the 19th century. By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, over half a million people were visiting the Tower each year.(3)

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

Famous Prisoners of the Tower (4)

  1. Anne Bolyen- The second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn resided in the Tower twice, once while as queen-in-waiting before her coronation and again as a prisoner. After three years of being married to Henry VIII and her continued inability to give birth to a male heir, she was arrested and charged with adultery, treason, and an alleged incestuous affair with her brother. She was executed on May 19, 1536. Her cousin and fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, was also executed at the Tower in 1542.

    Room of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Bloody Tower

    Room of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Bloody Tower

  2. Sir Walter Raleigh This prisoner is known as the longest-serving prisoner of the Tower with his confinment of 13 years, though not always at the same time. He engineered the failed English colony at Roanoke Island, but was a favorite of Elizabeth I. His first imprisonment was in 1592 when he secretly married one of the queen’s maids of honor. His second imprisonment was in 1603 when he was accused of plotting against King James I. He was housed in the Bloody Tower, but lived in relative comfort because of his high social status. Sir Walter Raleigh was eventually released and sent to Central America to look for El Dorado, but was eventually executed for attacking a Spanish outpost without the King’s orders.
  3. The Princes of the Tower- The Princes of the Tower included Prince Edward V (12) and Prince Richard of Shrewsbury (10) who were the children of King Edward IV. They were housed in the Tower after their father’s death in 1483. They were placed there by their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and had their titled stripped from them so that he could take the throne and become King Richard III. These two boys disappeared and were never seen again after mid-1483. Though the bodies of two small boys were eventually found, it has never been proven that they were the bodies of the Princes of the Tower. (At the Tower, there is an interactive voting system where visitors can cast their vote on who they think killed the children: Richard III or Henry VII.)
  4. Guy Fawkes- Guy Fawkes was imprisoned in the Tower after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot that was meant to kill King James I and other members of the British government by blowing up the House of Lords. This plot was meant to be taken out on November 5, 1605 (November 5 is now a holiday in Britan known as Guy Fawkes Day). Due to an annonymous tip, Guy Fawkes was caught, tortured, and condemed to be hanged, drawn and guartered. He escaped this fate by jumping off of the gallows and breaking his own neck.
  5. Lady Jane Grey- Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, died without a male heir. He did not want the throne to fall into the hands of his Catholic half-sister, Mary, so he chose tennager Lady Jane Grey to take the throne so that it would remain in Protestant hands. Lady Jane only held the crown for 9 days before Mary raised a rebellion and caused Jane’s downfall. She was taken prisoner in the Tower and was found guilty of treason in 1553, but was pardoned by Queen Mary I. Unfortunately, her father took part in a Protestant rebellion that led to their execusions, her’s being on the Tower Green on February 12, 1554.
  6. Rudolf Hess- Though the Tower became a tourist attraction by the 20th century, it was briefly reinstated as a state prison during World War II. Rudolf Hess was one of two Nazis captured on British soil and were held as prisoners in the Tower. Hess was known as “Deputy to the Fuher” and served as second-in-command to Hitler. He was capturedafter her parachuted into Scotland in 1941 in a renegade attempt to negotiate peace with the British. Churchill did not trust that he really wanted peace, and imprisoned his in the Tower. He only remained there for a few days, but he was the last state prisoner held at the Tower. He was eventually put on trial at Nuremberg and served a life sentence. (Added note for Agnes Scott students: During the 1930s, Rudolf Hess’s niece was a study abroad student at Agnes Scott. Another Agnes alumae, who was a translator at the Nuremburg Trials, actually met up with her again and asked her opinion of the war, in which she apologized for the role of her family in the war).

I hope you enjoyed that little history of the Tower of London! Now it is time for Abroad With Amy Trivia!!

Answer from last post: Congrats to Lesa Ward in correctly guessing the last trivia question! The first Ferris Wheel was introduced in 1893 at the Chicago Worlds Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition to celebrate 400 years since Columbus found the new world. The World Fair committee wanted to find a centerpiece to their fair that would outshine the centerpiece of the last world fair, the Eiffel Tower from the Paris Worlds Fair. The Ferris Wheel is named after its designer and constructor, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

Entrance to the Crown Jewels

Entrance to the Crown Jewels

This post’s trivia question: One of the highlights of visiting the Tower of London is getting to visit the Crown Jewels. However, these are not the original Crown Jewels. What happened to the originals?

Works Cited

  1.   “The Normans,” Historic Royal Palaces, buildinghistory/normanbeginnings.
  2. “The Tudors,” Historic Royal Palaces
  3. “19th-Century Tower,” Historic Royal Palaces
  4. “6 Famous Prisoners of the Tower of London,” History Channel

Historian Heart: A Day at the Citadelle de Namur (Fall Break Day 1)

27 Oct

I officially started my week of fall break! Since it is a full week and I will be traveling around a great deal, I will be updating my blog almost every day to make sure that I get as much information in as possible (plus, I’m really enjoying writing all of this down!).

On the train from Brussels to Namur

On the train from Brussels to Namur

Today marked my first day trip to somewhere in Belgium. I don’t know what took me so long, but it finally happened! Though my friend Hannah and I were originally going to go to Paris for the weekend, we decided it would be easier and more economically sound to just do two day trips here in Belgium. Today’s adventure was to the historic town of Namur, Belgium in the Namur province of Wallonia. We had a blast walking through the vendor-filled streets as soon as we got into the city (even when my purse strap ripped and I had to buy a new bag) but we spent most of our day enjoying the amazing weather trekking to and visiting the Citadelle! There are three main parts to the Citadelle (The Castle of the Counts, Médiane, and Terra-nova) and the some of the most extensive underground passages in the heart of a citadel in Europe. I’ll go into a little bit of the history of the different parts of the castle, because we had an amazing tour guide and we learned so much!

The Castle of the Counts

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.


The Castle of the Counts is the original, medieval portion of the Citadelle. It was built between the 10th and 15th century. It is located between the Sambre and Meuse river, in between the county of Namur and the beginning of the Liege province. The Citadelle was originally the home of the earls of Namur. There are very few pieces of this original castle left. Some of the doorways and arches in the underground passages were taken from the original structure. There are also a few towers and pieces of foundation left. Hannah and I realized we were really meant to be friends when we both got way too excited about touching an archway from the Middle Ages. It was like we were kids in a candy store. It is also interesting to see how these original pieces have been mixed in with other structures throughout time. The Country of Namur and the castle were sold to the Duke of Burgundy in 1421.



The Médiane

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of the windows along this wall. There was also a set of ventilation shafts to get rid of the smoke from firing their weapons.

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot.


The Médiane was added in the 16th century. The location of the Castle of Counts at the junction of the rivers and important trade routes made it important strategically, but also made it vulnerable. It was because of this vulnerability that Charles V ordered the Médiane to be built. This area was more equipped to the use of cannons, which was becoming more and more prevalent, as well as have better resistance to bombings. This is also the area where the underground galleries were started. Most of these galleries were used for storage of supplies.  Today, the general outline of the Médiane and a casemate still stands.

There was a specific room in the underground passages that was designed for soldiers to be able to shoot out of to the oncoming enemy. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of these windows and they would take turns shooting. There was also a ventilation system built into the hallway to take the smoke from shooting out of the room.




The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

Terra-nova is the newest portion of the Citadelle. The work to establish this new defensive system was started in 1631. There were numerous improvements and modifications to the site after that time. When Louis XIV came through this area, it took him 3-4 days to take over the county of Namur, but 4-5 weeks to take over the Citadelle. When he did, he asked his military architect (Vauban) to review the Citadelle and improve upon the weaknesses. One of the main areas that Vauban changed is the underground passageways. Not only did they expand them, but they changed the way in which they were formed. Where they were originally formed with limestone, Vauban constructed the new tunnels with double-fired bricks, which was meant to try to keep out the water and moisture that the limestone did not. At the end of the 18th century, the Citadelle was dismantled and abandoned by Napoléon Bonaparte. The area then saw a revival under Dutch rule from 1816 to 1825. The Citadelle eventually lost its military necessity in 1891 and was progressively opened to the general public.

Underground Passages

Officer's barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

Officer’s barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

The underground passages, also known as the Termite Nest, are the most well-known part of the Citadelle. They go below the the Médiane and Terra Nova. They range from limestone, brick, and stone covered in concrete (to keep the moisture out). It is clear to see the different impacts each of the previous owners of the Citadelle have had on the construction of these passages. As stated before, you can see the efforts the French made in improving upon the construction of the tunnels. You can also see the specific influence the Dutch made on also waterproofing the tunnels, especially in their specific construction of the stairs with trenches running down the sides to easily rid the stairs of water.

These tunnels were also used by the Belgian army during World War II. Starting in 1939, the Belgian army spent 8 months improving the tunnels to be functional for large amounts of soldiers, as well as their officers. Two different barracks areas were established in the tunnels under Terra Nova and Médiane. The officer’s area was built to hold 20-30 officers and had 3 restrooms available for them. The enlisted men’s area was built to hold 200-300 soldiers and also had 3 restrooms available for them. They also worked hard to design a special ventilation system to support extended stays below ground. Unfortunately, Belgium fell to Germany in only 18 days when the war finally started for them.


All in all, we had a fantastic day in Namur! Here are a few more pictures of our day, and I look forward to writing about my next fall bread adventure!

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