Germany Travel Tip – Potsdam’s St. Martin’s Day

On the 11th day of the 11th month each year special celebrations take place all over Germany. Also marking the start for the annual carnival season this day is widely known as St. Martin’s Day. Children walk the streets with self-made lanterns singing traditional songs, the St. Martin’s bonfire is ignited and traditionally a Martinsgans, Martin’s-Goose, is served to commemorate the life and legend of St. Martin.The public park of Potsdam, capital city of Brandenburg and very close to Berlin, is a good place to experience this old tradition and cozy restaurants are nearby, where you and your family can share a fresh, oven baked Martin’s Goose.

The history takes us far back to the 4th century and to the young Martinus, who served as an officer in the Roman army. One night he was riding on his horse through a town and was approached by a beggar asking him for warm clothes, since it was freezing cold. Martinus split his coat with his sword and gave a half to the beggar. Later Martinus quit his job in the Roman army and became a soldier of God and lived a life of an anchorite. When the story of his good deed spread he should become a bishop. Legend has it that Martinus was too shy to take this honor and tried to hide in a goose hutch. People equipped with lanterns, searched the half night for him and were finally alerted by the twitter of the geese. The geese were butchered and eaten, Martinus became Bishop Martin and was later canonized and still today his story is told and celebrations take place to remember the good deed of St. Martin.

Although this is a nice story to explain why a goose is on the menu on this particular day, there is a far more rational explanation to that. In the yearly calendar of the church- and farmers, the 11th of November marks the beginning of the winter and the 40 days lent before Christmas, where no fat food is allowed. It was also the day, when the farm laborers were laid-off, got paid and received a present and when the annual land lease had to be paid. As currency and presents a goose came in very handy, since money was not often used in the Middle Ages.

All that is left today, thinking of the goose, is the traditional way of preparing this festive meal. Basic rule is, the more aromatic the filling, the better the taste of the meat. In the north of Germany it is common to fill the Martinsgans with a mix of ground pork, onions, garlic and herbs while in the south soaked buns, chestnuts, roasted nuts, apples, plums, sugar, salt, vinegar and red wine are widely preferred. The goose is placed in an oven and constantly basted with its own stock to ensure the meat doesn’t dry out.

A good place to experience the traditional St. Martin’s Day is in the Public Park of Potsdam, Brandenburg. Celebrations start at 3:30 p.m., on the 11th November 2009. First you can watch or help tinker the lanterns later used in the romantic procession through the park. Before that the St. Martin’s Play, displaying traditional, colorful costumes is shown to all visitors, reminding of Martinus good deed. Finally a bonfire will close this event in the early evening hours and you might like to continue your St. Martin’s Day experience in the nearby restaurant. Beautiful located in the San Sanssouci Park, the Restaurant & CafĂ© Drachenhaus, Dragon-House, invites all guest to a delicious prepared Martinsgans. Starting at 7 p.m., a whole goose with green- and red cabbage, dumplings, potatoes and plenty of tasty brown gravy is served for a party of 4 people. Half a goose with all side dishes can be shared by 2 people. Reservations are recommended and you can contact them through their web site.

This is an example of what you can do in Potsdam while traveling in Germany. If you want learn more about Potsdam we compiled a more comprehensive Potsdam travel guide in collaboration with local residents that provides unique travel insider tips which you can use during your Germany vacation.