Will you be my Valentine? From hearts to hogs, Valentine's Day around the world

Ah… being in love, there’s nothing quite like it, so it’s no surprise that countries from all over the world have a special day dedicated to celebrating ‘that special someone’… Valentine’s Day.

So, wouldn’t you like to know a little more about the different Valentine’s Day traditions, past and present from countries near and far?
Whilst some are what you might expect – traditional chocolate hearts and bright cards scrawled with adoring messages – there are others that are a little unorthodox!
So, if you’re looking for a truly unique way to surprise your loved one this Valentine’s Day, we might just be able to help!

Germany

Let’s start with one that’s a little out of the ordinary, shall we?
Although the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Germany is not as commercial as it is in places such as the UK and America, it’s a popular tradition with the locals there.
And, whilst lovers will exchange gifts of chocolates, flowers, and gingerbread cookies displaying romantic messages, they also like to exchange… pigs!
Yes, that’s right, pigs! Pictures of pigs, chocolate pigs, statues of pigs… even a real pig for those who want to really go for it!
In the country, the pig symbolises lust and luck.
It’s also pink, and so we can see why this little animal could be synonymous with the festival of love.

Italy

Going back to a more traditional way of celebrating one’s love for another, in Italy, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by way of a classic spring festival.
Couples shower each other with romantic poems, enjoy sweet ballads and scrumptious meals together, and often exchange boxes of ‘baci perugina’ – chocolate hazelnut ‘kisses’.
However, Italy also has a strange legacy surrounding its Valentine’s traditions, which states that the first man a girls sees when she wakes on February the 14th, she will marry within the next year…
To all those singles out there, keep an eye out this Wednesday morning!

South Africa

If you’re a hopeless romantic who likes to wear their heart on their sleeve, then the South African Valentine’s tradition might just be the one for you.
As well as the traditional celebrations, women in South Africa can often be seen to, quite literally, wear their hearts on their sleeves, by pinning the names of their significant others (or crushes!) to the sleeves of their tops.
A perfect way to let that special someone know you’re interested, perhaps?

China

In China, they don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day exactly, but they do celebrate Qixi.
During Qixi, young women gather, prepare and offer fruits to Zhinu, in the hope that the goddess will send them a good husband.
Qixi falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year and pays homage to an old Chinese legend.
It is said that Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, and Niulang, a poor cow herder, fell in love (against Zhinu’s father’s wishes), married and had twins.
Once her father learned of their marriage, he sent for her to be brought back to the heavens.
However, upon hearing the cries of Niulang and her children, the king allowed Zhinu to meet Niulang back on Earth, once a year, hence the start of Qixi.

Denmark

And finally, we have Denmark, located in Scandinavia which adds its own little Danish twist to this celebration of love.
Whilst friends and lovers in the country do exchange flowers, it’s not the traditional red rose, as the Danes instead swap pressed snowdrops to show their love.
It’s also common for men to give their secret admirers a ‘gaekkebrev’, which is a form of funny love poem presented on intricately cut paper.
For even more fun, the poems are signed off as anonymous and the receiver then has three guesses to work out who their poem is from.
If guessed correctly, the receiver will also be given an Easter egg by their admirer, later in the year.
If not, they must be the ones to buy the admirer an Easter egg – a great way to keep the gift-giving going, and get even more chocolate!
If this blog has given you some inspiration for a unique gift, or maybe even a unique trip, visit our website and discover a world of romance!

Tempting Wine Regions: Europe’s Top 5

Have you been true to your word and not touched a drop of wine, beer or your favourite spirit throughout the whole month of January? Well, there’s some good news in store… the end of dry January is nigh!

And, to all those who’ve soldiered on through the month, abstaining from alcohol, this one is dedicated to you.
We all know that a holiday just isn’t a holiday without a little – or a lot – of overindulgence, and for all you wine connoisseurs out there, there’s no better place to sample the local delicacies than within the wine regions of Europe!
So, if you’re more than ready for that first tipple of your favourite beverage, but you’re still trying to power through those last remaining days, turn those cravings into wanderlust and find out about the fascinating places behind your favourite glass.

The Loire Valley – France’s Picturesque Wine Region

The Loire Valley - France
Deep within central France, marking the border between the north and south, and just a short distance away from the capital city of Paris, lies the lovely Loire Valley.
Or, should we say the ‘Garden of France’? A name awarded to the region due to the abundance of vineyards lining the banks of the river. And, that’s a great start, right?
The Loire Valley produces grapes such as the popular white Chenin Blanc and the red Grolleau and amongst the stunning natural scenery, you’ll find châteaux, castles and palaces dotted along the river… but it’s the 4000 wineries that we’re most interested in.
Producing an array of world-renowned quality wines, from light rosés to deep reds and sparkling whites, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whatever your tipple of choice.

La Rioja – The Famous Wine from Spain

La Rioja, Spain's famous Wine Producing Region
If you’re a glass of red sort-of-person, then Spain could be the one for you… Situated at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, La Rioja is close to the ‘Way of St. James’ pilgrimage route and is centred on the Ebro River Valley.
With beautiful views of medieval villages, endless vineyards and olive groves – not to mention the unbroken blue skies – the La Rioja region produces an abundance of full-bodied red wines.
And, the wines from Rioja are as age-worthy as those from the Chianti and Bordeaux regions – they’ve even been produced since Roman times!
Rioja’s main grape is the Tempranillo, however, most wines are blended with smaller amounts of others, such as the Garnacha and the Mazuelo grapes, but, one thing is certain, they always taste divine!

The Douro Valley – Portugal

The Douro Valley - Portugal
Often overlooked as a wine region within Europe, we say the Douro Valley in Portugal is amongst one of the best!
It’s home of the world-famous Port and, as a matter of fact, was the first wine region in the world to have a formal demarcation. Yes, just like Champagne, the Douro Valley is the world’s only producer of Port.
History played a huge part in the production of the sweet tipple. When England was at war with France in 1756, it was decided that they would import wine from Portugal instead.
However, due to the long journey, the wines would often become spoiled by the time it reached England. So, in order to preserve them, they were fortified… and in the city of Porto, Port was born!
And, due to its deliciousness, the sweet, red dessert wine is still extremely popular to this day.

Tuscany – Italy’s Iconic Region

Tuscany, Italy's famous wine producing region.
It’s true what they say, it really is hard to find a bad glass of wine in Tuscany! And, not only does Tuscany produce one of the most beautiful wines in the world, the Chianti, it is also one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Unique landscapes of lush green, sloping hills full of olive groves and vineyards, are scatted with tiny traditional villages, seen for miles and miles.
Chianti, typically and traditionally presented in a bottle known as a ‘fiasco’, wrapped in a straw basket, is a dry red wine, which goes very well with the delicious cuisine that you can enjoy in Italy!

The Moselle – Germany’s Top Wine Region

The Moselle Wine Region - Germany
Germany is home to thirteen different wine regions which make the country one of the top producers in Europe. But, out of all thirteen, the Moselle is arguably the most famous… and for good reason.
Vineyards cover the steep hillsides that border the Moselle River, and it’s here where the celebrated Riesling grapes are produced, along with the Elbling, Pinot Blanc and Kerner, to name a few.
These grapes create some of the most delightful light and crisp wines you’ll ever taste. And, they’ve been made here since the 15th century, when the Romans planted their crops along the Rhine and Moselle rivers in order to supply their garrisons with wine.
Add to that the fact that the Moselle Valley looks like something straight out of a fairy tale, you’ve got the perfect destination for wine lovers and old romantics alike.
Visit these impressive wine regions and much more on a Leger Holidays escorted tour – we even offer wine tasting excursions, if this blog has whet your appetite.

Ten Facts About The Christmas Truce

1. It was instigated by the Germans

In the lead up to Christmas, German soldiers on various parts of the British sector of the front were seen to be placing lanterns on their Trenches, in some cases Christmas Trees, and reports of carol singing were also received. Then on Christmas Day wooden signs could be seen on the German parapet saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and then German soldiers emerged into No Man’s Land, calling for a Truce. Many British soldiers were initially suspicious of this, but gradually the Truce spread. In some cases it lasted a few hours, in others it lasted several days. Thousands and thousands of men on both sides took part.

2. It was largely on the British sector

Despite some recent films, the Truce really only took place on the British sector of the front. Whether this was because British soldiers felt some natural affinity with the Germans due to shared history and culture is difficult to say. On the French front there was little desire for fraternisation, and while there were some isolated examples of a Truce, most were related to burying the dead after recent fighting.

3. No Football was played

Again, despite cinema and a recent supermarket advert, evidence shows that there were no football matches in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914, between British and German troops. The nature of the battlefield, with shell holes and barbed wire, made such a match difficult anyway, but footballs were used for physical training when out of the trenches, and it is unlikely if any were available. Letters from the time show a desire to play matches, but the only example that comes anywhere near is on the front of 1/6th Cheshires where what was described as a ‘kick about’, featuring more than 100 soldiers of both sides, took place. So no organised match, and Germany did not win!

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 11745) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

4. Peace on Earth? It was about burying the dead

For many soldiers in the front line area there was a practical reason for a Truce: to bury the dead. On the British front in Flanders there had been some local attacks on 19th December 1914, and the unburied bodies of the dead were lying out in No Man’s Land. The smell was terrible, and soldiers wanted to bury their comrades, so one of the most common activities that day was not to share your rations with Fritz, but to find and bury your dead.

5. Did they swap gifts with each other?

In many cases soldiers did give each other gifts once the Truce was active. Opposing soldiers swapped cap badges and buttons, food and drink, and some took photographs of each other, as at this stage of the war personal cameras were not banned. The 1/6th Cheshires cooked a pig in No Man’s Land and offered to share it with their German counterparts. German soldiers brought a barrel of beer to the men of 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, for which they gave plum puddings in return. But the beer was of poor quality to the hardened Welsh regulars so it was not a popular present!

6. The Truce was not universal

Not every German unit wanted a Truce, and not every British unit agreed to participate. British soldiers had witnessed many examples of the Germans implementing ‘ruse de guerre’ (tricks of war) during the campaign from Mons to Ypres, and as such they did not trust the motives for the Truce. Some units were proud of their martial reputation and did not want to be seen to fraternise, and even in sectors where there was a Truce, some soldiers did not take part: having lost mates or family members in the war, as well as the diet of anti-German propaganda that had started on the outbreak of war, they perhaps had little inclination for it.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50721) British and German officers meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026891

7. Men Died on Christmas Day 1914

Along the British front on 25th December 1914 more than seventy British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed or died of wounds. Of these 32 are commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Ploegsteert Memorial or Menin Gate, and have no known grave. With shelling, random sniper and machine-gun fire, for many soldiers Christmas Day 1914 was a typical period of trench warfare with the usual losses.

8. There were many remarkable coincidences

Men of the London Rifle Brigade who took part in the Christmas Truce were Territorial soldiers from the City of London. Before the war many waiters in London hotels were German, and a large proportion of men’s barbers were German too. One veteran recalled meeting a German soldier who used to cut his hair, in No Man’s Land that day; a few months before he had been the man’s client, now they were enemies.

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914 (Q 50720) British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector). Burying those killed in the attack of 18 December. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205025418

9. Famous people who witnessed the Christmas Truce

Among those who took part in the Christmas Truce was wartime cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, who drew the famous ‘Old Bill’ cartoons of the period. He was photographed by one of his men in No Man’s Land that day, and wrote about it in his best-selling book ‘Bullets and Billets’ published in 1916. Nature writer Henry Williamson, most famous for his 1928 classic ‘Tarka The Otter’ was in the Truce at Ploegsteert. Having German ancestors, he felt some kinship to the enemy he met that day, and it was a life changing moment for him: one German soldier told Williamson that he was fighting for King, Country and Freedom, something he could not square that with the fact that supposedly he was fighting with the British Army for the same thing. Later in life Williamson used to get very morose on Christmas Day, thinking back to the Truce and the terrible loss of life in the war.

10. It was a remarkable day

While aspects of the Christmas Truce have been exaggerated, and there may have been no football, it was a truly remarkable day. Soldiers who were enemies stopped fighting and met each other on the battlefield. They obeyed a basic human instinct, rather than just follow orders. As the majority involved were professional soldiers they may have seen it as a rare opportunity to have a day off. Others would have been curious to actually meet a German, as it was likely few ever had. Whatever the reason, it was an event unique to 1914. While the odd battlefield truce, and a small scale one at Cambrai in the winter of 1917/18 took place, there was nothing on this scale ever again: whatever innocence remained in 1914 was lost in the great battles of the war on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

10 interesting facts about Germany

Germany is proudly the seventh most visited country in the world and it sure is packed with so many things to see and do, so there’s no wonder people flock there in their droves.

Whatever you are looking for, whether it’s a city break, Christmas market trip, a cross country tour or even a historical pilgrimage, there’s something for everyone in Deutschland.
So, if you’re still in the research phase of your holiday planning, or just wanting to brush up on you knowledge before heading off on your German adventure, we’ve compiled our top 10 interesting facts about Germany just for you.

Here are our facts about Germany…

1. Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe

The country has a staggering population size of 80,636,124 people, which means even though Germany is a rather large country, there are actually 231 people per square kilometre!

2. One third of Germany is still covered in Forest and Woodland

Despite the population density, a good proportion of Germany is actually still covered in foliage, and boy is it spectacular. If you’re a fan of the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales, you might just want to pay a visit to the beautiful Black Forest… the setting of many of their stories.

3. Berlin is nine times bigger than Paris and has more bridges than Venice

Did you realise how big Berlin actually is? Dating back to the 13th century, the city spans a whopping 891.8 km², which gives plenty of room for the 1650 bridges it houses.

4. During JFK’s famous declaration of “Ich bin ein Berliner” he actually likened himself to a jam doughnut.

Yes, you read that right… What JFK should have said is “Ich bin Berliner” meaning “I am a citizen of Berlin”, as a Berliner is actually a type of jelly donut made in Berlin, so “Ich bin ein Berliner” can actually be translated to “I am a jam doughnut”.

5. Germany’s Capital City has shifted 7 times!

Now here’s one to remember for the pub quiz! Germany’s capital has shifted from Aachen during the Carolingian Empire to Regensburg, Frankfurt-am-Main, Nuremberg, Berlin, Weimar (unofficially, during unrest in Berlin), Bonn and East Berlin, and, since 1990, Berlin again!

6. Germany is sometimes known as the land of poets and thinkers

German writers and have won 13 Nobel Prizes and Germany was home to world-renowned writers such as Friedrich Schiller, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Günter Grass and Maria Stona.

7. Germany is Europe’s second largest beer consumer

Just behind the Czech Republic, the German’s are known to consume a fair amount of ‘liquid gold’. However, given the Bavarian’s consider beer to be a basic food and drink an average of 150 litres per person per year, so we think they’re giving the Czech’s a good run for their money.

8. The longest word published in the German language is Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

This loosely translates to Danube steamboat shipping electricity main engine facility building sub clerk association. It is a law delegating beef label monitoring, was removed from the German language in 2014.

9. The German football team is the second most successful football team in the world

The beautiful game is a British sport and a hard fought rivalry in the football world. We have to hand it to Germany on this one, falling just behind Brazil, winning four world cups and three European championships, so they certainly can play us at our own game.

10. The first book to ever be printed was the Bible by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s in Germany

The first mass produced printed book was the Latin Bible and was originally published in February 23, 1455 in Mainz.

Are you tempted by Germany? Then join one of our many escorted tours for a great value holiday to some of the best destinations. Click here to see what’s on offer.

The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site – Part Two

The abandonment of Soviet prisoners by Stalin and the subsequent re-establishment of the camp as a special Gulag.

The first Soviet prisoners arrived at Sachsenhausen in August 1941. By the end of the year, more than 11,000 of these living skeletons were being held in the camp in appalling conditions. Impossible work conditions, meagre rations and mass executions steadily reduced their numbers.

The most common method of execution was by shooting in the so-called ‘neck shot facility’ located close to the camp crematoria. Here, an estimated 10,000 Soviet prisoners were executed over a ten week period during late 1941. Total estimates of Soviet prisoners murdered in the camp between 1941-45 vary between 11,000 – 18,000.
None of this mattered to Stalin, whose attitude towards captured troops was underlined in his statement that, ‘There are no Soviet prisoners of war. The Soviet soldier fights on until death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community’. This attitude even extended to his own son, Lieutenant Yakov Dzhugshvili, following his capture during the Battle of Smolensk on 16 July 1941. Soon after, Stalin ensured that the wife of this ‘Traitor to the Motherland’ was not spared the state’s wrath. Yakov’s wife Julia was subsequently arrested, separated from her three year old daughter and imprisoned in the Gulag for two years.

Stalin and the Son he Abandoned to his Fate

Following the German disaster at Stalingrad in February 1943, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus was taken prisoner. Soon after, the Germans suggested a prisoner swap, their senior officer for Stalin’s son. Inevitably, Stalin turned the offer down, saying that, ‘I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant’. On 14 April 1943, Yakov was shot and killed. Contemporary reports indicated that he was shot whilst approaching the camp’s prohibited ‘Neutral Zone’ which bordered the electric fence. More recent investigations point to him being killed for refusing to obey an order to return to his barracks. In March 1945, Stalin talked with Marshal Zhukov about his son, whom he believed was still alive and being kept as a hostage. His hard heart began to soften a little towards a son who had once been dismissed by him as ‘a mere cobbler’. When the death of Yakov was later confirmed, Stalin rehabilitated him posthumously in the knowledge that he had died honourably.
Brick Built Baracks in Soviet Special Camp

The liberation of Sachsenhausen on 22 April 1945 came too late for Stalin’s son. Neither did liberation bring comfort to thousands of Soviet prisoners who had effectively been abandoned by the state. For them, there was no hope of rehabilitation, just interrogation by Smersh (Soviet Military Counter Intelligence). Stalin’s assertion that there were no Soviet prisoners of war, just so-called ‘Traitors to the Motherland’ condemned them to imprisonment and hard labour in the Siberian Gulags. Some Russian  prisoners  were held in Sachsenhausen (renamed by the Soviet authorities in August 1945 as Special Camp No.7).
Soviet Prisoner at Sachsenhausen

The arbitrary enmity of the Soviet organs of repression resulted in the convictions (after interrogation and torture) of alleged Nazi collaborators and soldiers who had contracted venereal disease in Germany. By 1946, the camp held approximately 16,000 German and ex-Soviet citizens (including 2000 women prisoners). In 1948, the camp was redesignated as Special Camp no.1. That year, some 5000 German prisoners were granted an amnesty and freed. Another 5,500 German prisoners were freed in early 1950.  More German prisoners were freed shortly before the camp was shut down in the Spring of that year. The few remaining Russian prisoners were transferred to the Gulags on Soviet soil.
For those so-called ‘Traitors to the Motherland’ who somehow survived their harsh treatment and subsequent cold-shouldering by the state, their ordeal was not over. Their rehabilitation did not finally come until after the fall of Communism in 1989. We still tend to associate cruelty and barbarity almost exclusively with Nazism, yet Stalin’s state was also brutal and unforgiving. Learn more about Soviet Special Camp No.1/No.7 on Leger’s ‘The Holocaust Remembered‘ tour.
 
Read part one of David’s Sachsenhausen blog, here.

David McCormack: The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site – Part One

How a place of detention, torture and murder became the home of the largest state sponsored forgery operation in the history of economic warfare.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was designed in early 1936 by SS Second-Lieutenant Bernhard Kuiper. The site was constructed in the shape of an isosceles triangle, with the apex at the rear of the camp and the two equal sides forming the camp boundary.

SS Architect Bernhard Kuiper

The base of the camp housed the gate house and administration building from which the whole camp could be observed. The wooden barracks were built on a semi-circle around the roll-call square. In 1937, Kuiper looked back on his work with pride, stating that Sachsenhausen was, ‘the most beautiful concentration camp in Germany’.
Andrzej Szczypiorski who survived the horrors of the camp disagreed. Years later, during a visit to the site of his detention and torture, he asked his fellow visitors, ‘do you remember our Sachsenhausen as an elegant camp?’.
Sachsenhausen gate house and administration building

The first prisoners incarcerated in the camp were those placed into ‘Protective Custody’ for either real or perceived offences against the state. By the end of 1936, the camp held 1,600 prisoners. Later, the camp held several other categories of prisoners including Jews, homosexuals, career criminals, asocial elements, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war and Allied commandos/agents.
Salomon Smolianoff

Prominent prisoners included Pastor Martin Niemoller, former Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, Georg Elser (responsible for planting the Burgerbraukeller bomb in November 1939), Herschel Grynzpan (responsible for assassinating German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris in November 1938), Yakov Dzhugshvilli (Stalin’s son) and three of the ‘Great Escapers’ Sydney Dowse, Johnnie Dodge and Jimmy James.
Apart from being a place of detention, torture and murder, Sachsenhausen became the home of Operation Bernhard, an audacious plot to destabilise the British economy by flooding it with fake currency. The operation was essentialy a revival of Operation Andreas which ceased operations after it’s head SS Major Alfred Naujocks fell out of favour with the head of the Reich Security Services Reinhard Heydrich.
The new operation began in July 1942, and was headed by SS Major Bernhard Kruger who had arrested and subsequently incarcerated master forger Salomon Smolianoff in Mauthausen Concentration Camp three years earlier.
Operation Bernhard produced some 9,000,000 backdated notes in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50 to an estimated value of £134,000,000. For many years after the war, large numbers of fake notes remained in circulation, prompting the Bank of England to take drastic measures by withdrawing all notes larger than £5.
A recovered Operation Bernhard forged £5 note

A new £5 note was produced in 1957. Seven years later, the £10 was reintroduced. However, it was not until 1970 that the £20 note was reintroduced. Incredibly, it took until 1981 for the £50 to be finally reintroduced. Such was the legacy of Operation Bernhard. Learn more about this fascinating subject on our Holocaust themed tour ‘The Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler‘.
The second part of the Sachsenhausen blog will focus on the murder of Soviet prisoners of war, the liberation of the camp and its subsequent establishment as a Soviet ‘Special Camp’.

David McCormack – The Soviet Treptower Park Memorial: A monument to victory, or propaganda set in metal & stone?

In the autumn of 1946, the Soviet military administration in Berlin sponsored a competition to construct a memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park. The thirty-three entrants were given a design brief which stipulated that the finished monument should symbolise liberation from Fascism, rather than victory over Germany.

The winning entry came from a ‘creative collective’ consisting of the architect Yakov S. Beloposki, the sculptor Yevgeni W. Vuchetich, the painter Alexander A. Gorpenko and the engineer Sarra S. Valerias.
The construction of the memorial was carried out by German labourers, supervised by a unit of Soviet engineer officers. On 8 May 1949, the completed memorial was inaugurated in a solemn ceremony attended by high ranking Soviet officers and German Communist politicians.

The imposing statue of a heroic Soviet soldier cradling a young German girl in his arm formed the centrepiece of the memorial site. In some respects, it follows in the tradition of the ‘Hermann’ monument at Detmold and the ‘Battle of the Nations’ monument at Leipzig.
These German monuments symbolised the heroic struggles of the German peoples against the tyranny of occupying powers. In the same vein, the Soviet monument in Treptower Park portrayed the Red Army and it’s German Communist allies as heroic defenders against an alien Nazi regime.
It has long been assumed that the soldier represented in the statue was Guards Sergeant Nikolai Masalov of the 220th Guards Rifle Regiment. General Vasily Chuikov’s  Fall of Berlin, a chronicle of the advance of 8th Guards Army through Berlin (published in 1968) contained a gripping account of Masalov’s supposed feat of courage in rescuing a three year old German girl during the battle for the Potsdamer Bridge.
Whilst Chuikov’s account added substance to the Masalov story, not everyone remained convinced. In 2009, Pravda journalist Maksim Kondratyev argued that, ‘It cannot be ruled out that the architect simply created a perfect image of the Soviet soldier’. In my own view, the statue is a propaganda piece loosely based an Masalov. Indeed, rumours persist that the soldier who sat for Vuchetich was not Masalov, but Ivan Odartschenko, a Soviet soldier who happened to be blessed with film-star good looks.

As Vuchetich was Stalin’s favourite sculptor, the direct involvement of the Soviet dictator cannot be discounted. Stalin was determined to demonstrate that whilst the capitalist democracies expended their wealth to defeat Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union paid a much higher price in blood. Therefore, the memorial is a means of conveying the massive losses incurred by Soviet forces and civilians during the apocalyptic struggle between the two diametrically opposed regimes.
Moreover, the memorial symbolises the liberation of the German people from Nazism. With this in mind, could it be argued that Chuikov’s account of the incident on the Potsdamer Bridge is no more than a companion piece to the memorial? Could it be, that the young girl, gently and reassuringly held by the humble Soviet soldier featured in the main memorial was no more than a symbolic creation? On our fascinating Rise & Fall of the III Reich tour, we look into these questions, and much, much more.

Lights, Camera, Action: Our Top Film and TV Locations in Europe

Have you ever watched a film or TV show and felt so engrossed in the setting that you wanted to pack your suitcase there and then, and set out on your own action packed adventure?

Well, what if we were to tell you that some of the most famous movie locations are right on our door step, here in Europe, and you could visit some of the world’s most famous, real life movie sets, on one of our tours? You better believe it! Take a look at some of our favourite film and TV locations we love to visit.

Prague – Casino Royale

Charles Bridge, Prague
Charles Bridge, Prague

We begin with Prague, which has a long list of movie location credentials, and it’s no surprise that directors and producers alike have chosen to shoot some of the most famous silver screen scenes here.
The capital city of the Czech Republic boasts some pretty amazing architecture, which provides the perfect back drop for any action movie, which brings us to one of the most famous action heroes of all time…Bond, James Bond.
Since the release of the 2006 movie, Casino Royale, Prague has become popular with Bond fans from all over the world, with many visiting the city in order to take snaps in the famous locations.
Some locations in Prague even doubled for scenes in Venice and Miami! The Czech National Museum was used as the setting for the Venetian hotel, and both Prague Ruzyne Airport and the Ministry of Transport, which are both portrayed as locations in Miami.  However, the opening scene for the film was actually set and filmed in Prague at The Danube House, which tell us the story of how Bond gained his Double O status.

Salzburg – The Sound of Music

Aerial View of Salzburg
Aerial View of Salzburg

Home to the Vonn Trapp family, the fairy tale city of Salzburg is a must do in its own right. However, it has become renowned for its Sound of Music tours, with fans of this heart-warming story flocking from near and far to walk in the footsteps of Julie Andrews.
Salzburg is home to many wonderful sites, so it’s no wonder the director of the 1965 Oscar winning musical chose to shoot as many of the scenes as he could in the city itself. With an abundance of movie scenes to visit, such as the Do-Re-Mi fountain, why not take a look at our very own Austria, Sound of Music tour?

Taormina – The Godfather

View Over Taormina
View Over Taormina

Ah Sicily, home to one of the most notorious families of all time, the Carleone family, from the hit crime series, The Godfather.
Based on Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel, which was inspired by real life events carried out by the Sicilian Mafia, there was really nowhere else for the typically Italian scenes to be filmed but in Italy itself.
Aside from its claim to fame, Sicily is truly memorising and would be enjoyed by anyone, even if you’re not a fan of the hit crime series. However, if you are a Godfather fan, why not take a tour of some of the most iconic spots of the film? Our Treasures of Sicily tour dedicates a whole excursion to the Al Pacino classic.

Dubrovnik – Game of Thrones

View over Dubrovnik
View Over Dubrovnik

Stepping away from the movies, we take a look at one of the most popular TV shows of the present day, Game of Thrones. With the seventh season just around the corner, over the past few years many fans of the show have been journeying to Croatia, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the stars, in the real life’s ‘Kings Landing’. Or, as we know it, the old town, Dubrovnik.
That’s right, the medieval town offers the back drop for the southern city in this make believe world of fire and ice, and we can see just why it was chosen. The UNESCO world heritage site is filled with wonders and the ancient stone walls of the city really give it that enchanting feel. And whilst you’re certainly not going to catch a glimpse of any dragons, who knows, you may brush shoulders with one of the shows many stars, making Dubrovnik a must visit for any GOT fan.

Verona – Letters to Juliette

River Adige, Verona
River Adige, Verona

This gorgeous romantic comedy, gives you a real sense of the passion of Italy. Set and mostly filmed in Verona, the film tells the story of a writer struggling to find her muse, until, among the sights, she ends up discovering the “Secretaries of Juliet”. The “Secretaries of Juliet” being a group of women in Verona, whom spend their days replying to letters left to Juliet for love advice.
There she discovers one that was written 50 years ago, which then leads to the main character, played by Amanda Seyfried, setting off on a quest to aid one woman whose story she has become engrossed in. It’s a truly beautiful film, with some truly gorgeous scenery, as the cast travel through the Italian countryside in the hopes of reuniting two lovers.
So, if you’re looking to set the scene for your own romantic tale, Italy, and namely Verona, is the perfect place for you.

Copenhagen – The Danish Girl

Nyhavn, Copenhagen
Nyhavn, Copenhagen

The streets of Copenhagen’s Old Town set the scene for this dramatic tale. Based on real life events, The Danish Girl, was an immediate success when it was released in cinemas a little over a year ago, and it’s no surprise when you see the Oscar nominated and Oscar winning performances of both Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.
But aside from the outstanding performances, the stunning scenery of Copenhagen is also Oscar worthy, from the cobbled waterfronts, to the curving and colourful streets of Nyhavn. It really is one for the bucket list!

Bruges – In Bruges

Canal in Bruges
Canal in Bruges

Although the 2008 film didn’t quite make the cut when it was released in cinemas, it soon became a cult classic. The film has the perfect mix of some brilliant comedy moments and an excellent script, but the real star of the show is Bruges itself.
The film follows two hit men who have been ousted to Bruges for making a mess of a job. Whilst there, the lead characters Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) take a tour of the town, visiting celebrated sites such as the Belfry and the Basilica of The Holy Blood, meaning there are probably few places that you can visit whilst there that weren’t key locations in the film.
It is the case that the movie made the medieval town so popular, that the Bruges tourist board even created a map dedicated to the dark comedy, so fans could make sure that they didn’t miss any of the famous sites whilst touring the town.

Rome – La Dolce Vita

Trevi Fountain, Rome
Trevi Fountain, Rome

The classic black and white film follows a tabloid journalist called Marcello, whose life is torn between wanting to become an establish writer or continuing to publish profitable but meaningless magazine articles.
Set and filmed in the glamorous Roma, the film includes many of the ancient cities treasures, however the most famous scene in the film comes as Marcello meets the beautiful socialite Sylvia, played by the 1960s Swedish bombshell, Anita Ekberg.
As Marcello takes the star on a tour of Rome, we see her character plunge into the Trevi fountain in an all-black evening gown. The scene is mesmerizing, and so it’s no surprise that it attracted fans from around the globe, many of whom wanted to come and recreate the moonlight splash. However, as there’s a ‘strictly no bathing policy’ this is unfortunately not possible, but you can pay a visit to the spectacular monument and the beautiful city of Rome on one of our many tours.
If this blog has you in the mood to visit some of the most famous film and TV sets in Europe, why not star in your story on a Leger Holiday?

2016: Our Top Viewed Tours of the Last Year

Another year has come and gone and whilst it seems to have gone in warp-speed, there was plenty to remember it by. From a spectacular show from team GB at the Rio Olympics to Andy Murray lifting his second Wimbledon trophy, unexpected results at the polls and a certain Pokémon game sweeping the nation, we can truly say 2016 has been a roller-coaster of a year. With all that being said we do hope that your Leger holiday brought bundles of happiness and incredible memories to last a lifetime.

But, as we move on into 2017, we take one more look back into the year just passed and bring you our top 10 viewed tours of 2016. Compiled from the most popular tours you viewed on our website, we reflect on which tours caught your eye in 2016.

10. Beer & Battlefields

Soldiers drinking beer

Coming in at number 10, a relatively late arrival in 2016, our Beer and Battlefields tour has certainly caught your attention in the short time it’s been online. A brand new concept tying in the prominent battlefields of Belgium alongside the prominent breweries of WWI and WWII.

A perfect Battlefields starter tour, expertly crafted by our specialist guide, Marc Hope, it’s a great way to gain knowledge of our history and the impact and sacrifice of these wars alongside a more light-hearted approach looking behind the front lines and just how these beers and breweries affected our soldiers. As Marc himself said, there are ‘hoppy’ times ahead as we kick off our maiden tour in 2017.

9. Cruising the Rhine and Moselle

Boats along the Rhine river

River cruises are becoming increasingly popular and where better to set sail than down the Rhine and Moselle? Known as the heart of River cruising, you get everything you could wish for meandering through two of Germany most picturesque valleys.

And, it’s certainly proving popular among Leger customers! Sailing on the MV Prinses Christina, you’re in for a real treat. Plus, with both valleys being notorious for their wine production, let’s raise a glass to a fantastic river cruise.

8. Beautiful Bruges

Bruges canal
The pinnacle of short breaks? It is no surprise that our Beautiful Bruges tour pops up on this list. A short hop across the channel yet a world apart from the day to day life at home. Stunning architecture, quaint canals and chocolate! What more could you ask for?

With a four-day tour starting from as little as £249*pp, it really is the perfect little getaway.

7.The Elegance & Charm of the Italian & French Rivieras

Portofino Harbour
The glitz and glamour capital of Europe, who wouldn’t fancy time on the Riviera? With this one, with all those fantastic places to visit, you don’t have to choose between where to go. From the iconic French Riviera taking in the likes of Cannes, Nice and Monaco, to the stunning Italian fishing village of Portofino, you really will enjoy the best that this exquisite part of Europe has to offer.

With air options and dedicated single traveller packages available, there really is the perfect trip to the Riviera lifestyle for everyone.

6. Austrian Gems

Kitzbuhel

The hills are alive with the sound of music, and it seems to be calling you over to Austria, the home of the Von Trapp family. Touring through Austria’s most beautiful villages, stopping off at the wonderful Krimml Falls and, of course, enjoying time in spectacular Salzburg. You don’t have to be a fan of the film to enjoy this trip.

With prices from just £349*pp for 7 days, you’ll be stepping into the shoes of Julie Andrews and feeling like bursting into a rendition of ‘My Favourite Things’ before you know it.

5. Lake Garda, Venice and Verona

Lake Garda

The Italian lakes are still a hit for British tourists and where better to get a true taste of a lake holiday than at the wonderful Lake Garda? And with excursions to Verona and the picturesque and popular city of Venice, there’s plenty to enjoy whilst you’re there.

Departing from April to October, there’s the perfect opportunity to experience the changing seasons in an already stunning destination.

4. Belgian Grand Prix

Williams Formula 1 Car on track
The highlight of the racing calendar, the Belgian Grand Prix proves ever popular in our list of most viewed tours. In fact, for the 2016 race, we sent out 13 coaches taking around 650 Leger customers to the summertime race at the Spa-Francorchamps.

If it’s the electrifying race atmosphere you’re looking for, this could be the tour for you in 2017.

3. Imperial Capitals – Prague, Vienna and Budapest

Budapest Parliament Building
There’s plenty to be said about each of the focus destinations on this tour, so combining them into one trip seems to be perfect for the adventurous traveller among you. Who could say no to 9 days taking in the most delightful destinations that Eastern Europe has to offer? Your journey of discovery will be second to none when you embark on this tour.

From the Astronomical Clock and the Charles bridge in Prague, to the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest and, of course, the Hofburg Palace standing pride of place in Vienna, you can’t deny this tours popularity.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front

The Menin Gate, Ypres
One of the staple battlefield tours, the ever popular All Quiet on the Western Front was still one of the most popular tours on our websites in 2016. It’s an ideal introductory tour covering the major battlefields of Flanders and France and is a great trip for people of all ages with an interest in our military history.

Our expert guides provide a 5* service giving you every chance to really walk in the footsteps of heroes. We think this tour will still be standing proud at the top of this list as we head into 2018, the centenary year of the end of WW1.

1. New Orleans, Nashville & Memphis

Memphis
You can’t seem to get enough of the Deep South, our New Orleans, Nashville and Elvis Presley’s Memphis tour is once again our most viewed tour of the year.

The idea of jetting off to the USA and sampling the soul of these fantastic cities is extremely popular, once again. And, with a visit to Graceland itself, it sure is one of the best (if we do say so ourselves). If you’re wanting to rock ‘n’ roll over to the states for a trip that’s music to your ears, we’ve got you covered with this one.

*Prices including early booking discount, correct on publication date.

Top Wine Regions in Europe

From impressive architecture to some of the world’s most iconic attractions, Europe really does have it all. And, to top it all off, it’s also home to some of the best vineyards, producing the world’s most popular wines, year after year.

Whether you’re a wine connoisseur, looking to indulge in some wine tasting or just enjoy a glass of the grape, what could be better than getting to know just where your favourite tipple comes from?
But, don’t just go by what you heard through the grapevine. Delve into some of the picturesque vineyards on the continent as we take you some of the best wine making regions that Europe has to offer.

Bordeaux

St. Emilion, Frankreich
Nestled in the southwest of France, needing little introduction, Bordeaux is one of the largest and most recognisable wine regions in Europe. And, whilst it may not be known for its striking beauty, it is home to some of the most sought after and expensive wines in the world.
In fact, the most expensive bottle of wine ever to be sold by auction came in at an eye-watering £105,000! The name? Chateau Lafite, a Bordeaux wine.
Its reputation as a great wine region comes from its superb reds. With its perfect combination of climate and soil, around 75-80% of the wine produces
Wine Producing Grapes from the Bordeaux Region
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot

Champagne

champagne-13041
Of course, we can’t forget about the Champagne region in northern France. EU law actually states that only sparkling wines made in this region can go by the name Champagne, which certainly helps with its label as one of the world’s most elite drinks.
The Champagne province, just a short hop across the channel, is actually pushing the northernmost limits of the winemaking world. With its high altitude and low temperatures make it difficult for the grapes to fully ripen – but do make the grapes highly acidic, making them perfect for sparkling wine.
But, not only does the area produce world-famous champagnes, but there’s also a nice selection of non-sparkling wines and even the odd rosé.
Wine Producing Grapes of the Champagne region
Pinot Noir, Meunier, Chardonnay

Douro Valley

obidos-12907
One of the oldest and more picturesque European wine regions. Stretching from Porto to the Spanish border, it became the first wine region in the world to have a formal demarcation, meaning only in that region can Port wine be made.
And, of course, it’s famous for its production of Port. Packed into the north of Portugal, the Douro is also a popular producer of some brilliant, and relatively cheap, young table wines of all types – red, white and rosé.
The area is split into 3 sub-regions; Baxio Corgo which is the mildest and has the most rain, the largest Cima Corgo, standing at an impressive 47,000 acres and the hottest and driest region, the Duoro Superior producing the best quality wines.
The general rule of thumb is that the further east the region lies, the drier the climate and the deeper the wine, giving a great selection if you’re wanting to bring home some delicious Duoro wines.
Wine Producing Grapes from the Douro Region
Tinta Barroca, Mourisco Tinto, Tinta Roriz, Malvasia, Viosinho

Mosel

river-rhine-14206
Taking its name from the Mosel River, it’s the third largest wine region in Germany. But, most will consider it the best, thanks to the regions international prestige.
Whilst many people associate Germany with beer, its wine production has brought about some highly sought-after bottles.
It’s thought that the vineyards were first introduced to this area by the Romans, who planted their crops along the Rhine and Moselle to keep a local source of wine for their garrisons.
It’s considered to be one of the most difficult to maintain vineyards in the world, thanks to its steep river bank slopes, making the fruit of their labour even sweeter.
Wine Producing Grapes of the Mosel Region
Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Elbling, Kerner

Tuscany

tuscany-10827
Tuscany, it certainly oozes romance. From its picture-perfect rolling hills, quaint villages and its Italian charm… and the fact it’s Italy’s most famous wine region.
Tuscan vineyards produce an array of internationally recognised wines in various styles, including the popular Chianti. Its perfect combination of hilly terrain and warm daytime temperatures allow for the grape to maintain its acidity, sugars and aromas.
Ever heard of a ‘Super Tuscan’? Super Tuscans are an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognised in the wine classification system of Italy. Winemakers of the region thought the rules of producing Chianti were too strict, thus producing their own super variety.
But in no way does this make the wine cheap and of low quality, they tend to be modern, rich and some carry a hefty price tag of over £100.
Wine Producing Grapes of Tuscany
Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malvasia Nera, Trebbiano

Rhône Valley

View of historic center of Avignon town from Papal Palace. France
The Rhône Valley wine region is divided into two sub-regions, both with individual winemaking traditions, the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône.
The northern region, with its continental climate, produces both red and white wines and the southern, with its Mediterranean climate, offers a wide array of reds, whites and rosé wines – including the popular Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
By law, there is only one red grape permitted to be planted in the northern region – Syrah. However, to offer a unique selection of various wines, it is often blended with white wine grapes to soften the wine and produces a great choice of varying tastes and aromas from the one red grape.
Wine Producing Grapes of the Rhône Valley
Syrah, Viognier, Red Grenache, Marsanne
So, there you have it. Let’s raise our glass to the brilliant vineyards of Europe.
Why not take a trip to these wine regions and even enjoy a spot of wine tasting? Head over to leger.co.uk to find your perfect tour.