A saint called Martin

Different handmade lanterns, Sankt Martin

Have some of you expats, newly-arriveds and visitors ever wondered about parades of children with lanterns accompanied by a horse and rider crowding the streets in the November twilight? Or about open fires that no-one seems to be concerned about? And what is a Martinsgans, anyway?

Apart from the regional beginning-of-carnival-season craze, 11 November in Germany is also St Martin’s Day. In late October and early November, schools and nurseries are busy making lanterns with the children, which the little ones then carry proudly on the day of the parade, suspended from poles with little light bulbs to illuminate the precious artworks. Songs are sung, ‘Sankt Martin’ being the most famous one, and ‘St Martin’ and the horse guide the crowd around the block to the bonfire. And then, there’s the best part: each child gets a Weckmann, also called a Stutenkerl in some regions, a man made of fluffy white yeast dough clutching a clay pipe (which used to be a real pipe until everyone knew that it was excellently suited for smoking weed, so now it is just a phoney thing).

This is all in honour of St Martin of Tours, an ascetic monk-turned-bishop who, the story goes, compassionately cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar who was freezing in the snow. The custom of the bonfire (‘Martinsfeuer’) is likely to stem from Germanic midwinter and thanksgiving traditions, with the lanterns (and sometimes torches) fulfilling the same role. The Weckmann probably represents St Martin himself.

During this time of year, many restaurants offer a traditional ‘St Martin’s Goose Meal’ of roasted goose leg served with red cabbage and potato dumplings. This goes back to a legend of St Martin hiding among geese to avoid a fuss over his becoming a bishop and being ‘told on’ by the animals. If your bouche has been ‘amused’ by this, you will look forward to the Variations of Lime on next week’s menu.

The Pommes Buddha says: We love a bit of goose-flesh in the winter.

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