Until yesterday Easter for me was synonymous with eggs: chocolate eggs, painted eggs, hidden eggs. Highlight of each Easter was always turning the house upside down in the hunt for the chocolate eggs my parents would have hidden just before my little sister and I woke up on Easter morning. As neither of us was terribly fond of chocolate, the pleasure was more in the hunt than in the actual treasure. But after we tried to substitute our chocolate eggs for candy we were more fond of, my parents abolished this tradition. By then we had also stopped painting eggs. A long diner took the place of all this, but in all other ways Easter became like every other Sunday.
This year is the fourth time I spent Easter abroad. In 2010 I was in Scotland, although I have absolutely zero memory of what exactly I did that day. Easter 2014 I spent in Kuwait, with Tatiana painting eggs Macedonian style. We had to eat coloured eggs for days to come, but it was fun. Last year I was in Alexandria, with the lovely miss Lara V. and our Egyptian friend Tony. Such a wonderful city, such an amazing Easter trip. And this year I found myself in Hamburg, Germany. Want to know how I spend Easter this year? Keep reading!
The most important Easter tradition in the north of Germany is of pagan origin: Osterfeuer, Paasvuur or Easter fire. On Easter day wood that was collected throughout the year would be assembled, piled up (creating a pile of several meters) and lit at sunset, when entire communities would have assembled around the fire. It was incorporated as an Easter tradition after the Christenization of Europe and the Osterfeuer tradition continues until today in Hamburg and the surrounding area. Going to one of these bonfires should be on any expat’s (or tourist’s) to do list if you happen to find yourself in the area at Easter.
The most famous Easter fires in the Hamburg area take place in the west of the city, between the Elbstrand and Blankenese. Should you have taken ferry line 62 around sunset yesterday, you would have seen a great many Easter fires along the Elbe and thousands of people around them, drinking, eating, socializing. While a handful of firemen and women keep an eye on safety, children enjoy throwing twigs in the fire and entire families roast marshmallows at one of the many smaller bonfires. And of course every bonfire needs a guy with a guitar, singing classic songs that most of the gathering people know by heart.
A local guy tries to explain the history of the fires to our international group. “This is not a Germanic tradition, it was brought to Germany by the Slaves. They burn bitches here”. Some of the girls in our party feel a tiny bit uncomfortable all of a sudden, until another spectator clarifies: “witches, not bitches”. Was it a coincide that we left shortly afterwards? I cannot tell..
More than just a community happening, the Easter fires too are family events. In the gardens of their Hamburg houses unofficial bonfires are lit by local inhabitants. On our way to the bonfire we pass one, father and son busily burning all the wood they seem to have been able to lay their hands on. Full speed ahead, the look on their faces suggests that this is not so much of a ritual, but more one of those necessary tasks to get over with as soon as possible, like cleaning the grass of leaves in autumn or removing the snow from your doorstep in winter. In this case, very little laughter, music, drinks and food are involved.
From Hamburg, I wish you all Happy Easter, Vrolijk Pasen, Frohe Ostern!