February 13th, 2015
If there is one thing that makes the Germans outstanding and unique during the Easter holidays, is the way they celebrate it. The tradition of decorating tree branches and bushes with Easter eggs has been practiced for numerous centuries now and does not seem to end soon. The tradition, commonly known as Ostereierbaum, is also practiced in places such Australia and a few other German-influenced countries such as Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Moravia, Hungary and United State's Pennsylvania Dutch region, but Germany's seriousness with the custom makes them stand out from the rest of the nations practicing it.
Saalfelder Ostereierbaum is an apple egg tree in the Volker Kraft garden in Saalfeld, Thuringia. It is an all Kraft family thing as the tree was noticed by Volker Kraft in 1965 and is being maintained and decorated up to now by the family. As a youth in 1945, Kraft was going to school when he came across a lilac bush that he later transformed into this world-famous tree. He started decorating it in 1965 with only eighteen plastic eggs and by 1994 the number had increased to 350. As the tree became bigger each year, the Krafts realized that more eggs were needed for decoration. That year (1994) the Krafts almost blew out almost all the eggs used in their household and the eggs were reused each year after.
Averagely, the family introduced 700 new eggs annually between 1994 and 2009. Due to vandalism and storms that caused damage to the eggs, though, the net annual egg increase reduced from 700 to 590. By the end of 2012, there were around 10,000 eggs on the Easter tree, a figure that Kraft said will not be added on. The reason behind this decision to maintain the figure at 10,000 was apparently to avoid any damage that would come with overloading. Saalfelder Ostereierbaum however, does not hold the record for most Easter eggs on a single tree. Rostock Zoo holds the record after decorating a red oak tree with 79,596 eggs in April 2007, a feat that earns him a place in the Guinness World Book of Records.
As a way of recognizing Kraft's efforts, a ver.di training center was built just near the tree in 1995, bringing more local and international tourists to the Easter egg tree. Its fame rose tremendously when, in 2003, newspapers from South Africa, Netherlands, the USA, Kuwait, Australia, Spain, and Austria started making news coverage about the tree and its history. Since then, the place, whose entry fee is zero, has been receiving visitors frequently and in large numbers. A statistic shows that the number of people who visited the place in 2011 alone is around 8,000, a figure that is said to be increasing year after year.
Hanging of the eggs starts four weeks before Easter, between late February and late March. When the action takes place largely depends on weather conditions of the area. It took them nine days to completely decorate the tree in 2009. Most of the time the task involves family members: Volker Kraft himself, his wife Christa Kraft and daughter Gabriela Rumrich. They use ladders to reach the highest heights and decorate each and every branch of the tree in the most careful of approaches to avoid breakage. Once the celebrations are over, the eggs are removed immediately before the leaves grow to prevent causing damage.
Design of the Eggs
To start with, all eggs are mouth-blown. Most of them are given different color decoration patterns giving the tree its characteristic conspicuous nature. Every year, different decorations are done on the eggs according to the then theme. Some eggs are perforated for decoration while others are transformed to shapes like turtles, doves, and frogs through enhancement with clay. Each year, there has been a tendency of visitors bringing with them eggs that are given to the Krafts as a donation. Eggs made of precious material are viewed from a protective display case.
Saalfelder Ostereierbaum is just but a sample of what happens in the whole of Germany. Many families in Germany have their own Easter egg trees for the special occasion, just that most of them do not hang as many eggs as the Krafts. Other trees are owned by community groups such as churches and learning institutions and celebrations during the holidays are done around those trees.