Munich, Croatia & Prague
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
This summer, Peter traveled to Munich, Croatia and Prague and brought back souvenirs for his employees that are very unique to the areas and cultures that he experienced. Below are some of those item and the history behind them.
GOLUM T-SHIRT, PRAGUE
There are many different tales about the golem but the most well-known involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a rabbi of Prague in the late 16th century. Reportedly, he created a golem out of clay from the Vlata River and breathed life into it with Hebrew incantations in order to protect the ghetto in Prague from anti-Semitic attacks under the rule of Rudolf II. The golem was known as both Josef and Yossele and it was said that he could become invisible and summon spirits from the dead. Rabbi Loew would remove a piece of the golem each Friday evening before the Sabbath began in order to let the golem rest. Supposedly, the rabbi forgot one night and feared that the golem would desecrate the Sabbath. Some accounts describe a golem that was in love but got rejected and as a result became a violent monster. Some even account that the golem went on a murderous rampage until the rabbi was able to immobilize him. According to legend, the golem’s body was stored in the attic of the Old New Synagogue, where the rabbi could restore it to life again if needed. However, when the attic was renovated in 1883, there was no evidence of his body found. Some claim that the golem’s body was stolen at some point and buried in a graveyard in the Žižkov district of Prague, where the Žižkov Television Tower now stands. A more recent legend tells of a Nazi agent who entered the synagogue attic during World War II and tried to stab the golem, but the agent ended up dead instead. Some Orthodox Jews do believe that the tales and legends about the rabbi and golem are fact rather than fiction.
CANDIED ORANGE PEEL, CROATIA
Arancini are traditional Dubrovnik homemade sweets made from orange peels. A favorite in winter months, people like to prepare them for Christmas and New Year for guests. The name itself derives from their shape and color, which is reminiscent of an orange and means “little orange.”As a dessert, the arancini is actually the candied orange peel combined with the aroma that is characteristic of the Mediterranean climate. They are very simply prepared but the secret of their fruity, bittersweet confection lies in using local oranges from Dubrovnik gardens.
LAVENDAR SOAP, HVAR CROATIA
Hvar is world famous for the lavender they produce which is the among the finest in the world. Legend says that this abundance of high-quality lavender was the product of a of an old love story. Supposedly, a poor villager from Velo Grablje and a girl of much higher status fell in love but because of their social status, could never marry. The poor villager expressed his grief with his priest, who advised him to plant a crop of lavender, which he insisted would surely bring him riches. The villager followed this unusual advice and before he knew it he was exporting lavender oils to Paris. This enabled him to build the best house in the village and marry the girl of his dreams! Unfortunately, taxation, emigration and forest fires have drastically reduced the quantity of lavender in Hvar, but those that still remain are magical. Between mid-July and early June, the fields are in full-bloom and many abandon their cars on the side of the road to visit the fields. In recent years, Hvar’s lavender fortunes have been revived since the creation of a local NGO called Pjover. A group of youngsters whose ancestry linked them to this village, put in the work to revive their traditions and heritage. They have attracted EU funds and almost tripled the population. They have been wildly successful in just under a decade and have helped firmly put this village back on the map due to it’s lavender traditions.
In 1550 BC, wine-soaked wormwood leaves and wormwood extracts were used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Greeks. In addition, they also produced a worm-wood flavored wine that was called absinthites oinos. In the 18th century, we see the first evidence of absinthe in the form of a distilled spirit which contained green anise and fennel. Popular legend claims that absinthe was first created and used in 1792 as an all-purpose remedy by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire who was a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland. The Henriod sisters who also lived in Couvet, inherited recipe and then sold it as a medicinal elixir. However, some claim that the Henriod sisters were already producing the elixir before Ordinaire. In 1797, a Frenchman named Major Daniel-Henri Dubied, acquired the formula from the sisters and opened the first absinthe distillery with his son-in-law in Couvet. In 1805, they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France under the name Maison Pernod Fils. Pernod Fils was one of the most popular brands in France until absinthe was completely banned in 1914.
Underberg is a digestif bitter which is produced by Underberg AG in Rheinberg, Germany. This bitter is made from a secret Underberg family recipe that includes aromatic herbs from 43 different countries. Underberg is one of the most widespread kräuterlikörs on the market. The product contains 1.3% herbal extract by weight, which includes aromatic, digestive-stimulating, relaxing and calming active substances, and naturally occurring vitamin B1. The recipe requires that the drink matures in Slovenian oak barrels for multiple months in order to enhance the flavor. Underberg is classified as “food and drink” in the United States and can be sold without the requirement of a liquor license.
RUSSIAN NESTING DOLL
Matryoshka dolls are a set of wooden dolls in decreasing size placed one inside the other. Matryoshka literally means “little matron” and is a diminutive form of the Russian, female first name Matryona or Matryosha. These dolls are also known by the names Babushka Dolls (common in the West), Russian nesting dolls, Russian dolls or stacking dolls. A set of Matryoshka dolls includes a wooden figure which seperates at the middle, to reveal a similar and smaller figure inside. This smaller figure then opens revealing another similar, smaller figure inside it and so on. In 1890, the first Matryoshka set was created by Vasily Zvyozdochkin, a wood turning craftsman and wood carver. He used a design created by Sergey Malyutin, a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo. The most traditional sets show, on the outside layer, a woman dressed in a traditional Russian, peasant, jumper dress that is long and shapeless. Each figure within the outside layer may be a boy or girl, while the inner most layer is most often a baby created from a single piece of wood. You can see the elaborate artistry in the painting of each doll. All dolls within the set are generally painted to follow themes which may vary from fairy tales to Soviet leaders.