According to legend, St Martin was a soldier in the Roman army when one day he saw a beggar walking outside the city gates. Upon seeing the destitute figure, Martin took his cloak and cut it in half, giving half to the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed he saw Jesus wearing the half-cloak and Jesus told him, “Martin clothed me with this robe.”
In Berlin St Martin’s day is a big deal, especially for parents who lead their children through the streets carrying lanterns, sometimes accompanied by a man on horseback dressed in a robe, meant to represent the Roman soldier turned Christian saint. It’s known as Laternelaufen or ‘walking with Lanterns’. So where are the best places to see this old and perhaps fading tradition, which increasingly gets sidelined due to the ever-expanded phenomenon of Halloween?
Parading through the streets to the St Johannes Basilika on Hasenheide, this lantern walk is good for those who don’t want to venture too far outside the city. On the steps of the church, there will be a performance of the St Martin legend, while spectators can warm themselves with Glühwein, for the parents, and children’s punch, for the youngsters.
November 11, 16.00
One of the more lavish events, the lantern walk at Neukölln’s Britzer Garten will have visitors listen to the legend of the saint and the accompanying songs, before following St Martin on horseback to the bonfire. Upon arrival, attending children will receive a Weckmännchen (a sweet bread roll shaped like a gingerbread man) as a gift.
November 11, 16.30
This is another one for those who live more centrally, the celebration of St Martin at the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) kicks off at 5pm on November 11. First a play of St Martin will be staged, before songs are performed on the steps of the cathedral at 5.45pm. Lantern processions will then begin circling museum island, accompanied by horses and the playing of instruments.
November 11, 17.00
The lantern walk at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark consists of two rounds; the first begins at 4.30pm and the second one an hour later at 5.30pm. Again, there will be a St Martin to follow around on horseback to a warming bonfire. Songs will be sung, the traditional play performed and warm drinks and sausages to keep everyone satisfied.
November 11, 16.30
Walk the streets!
If you can’t catch any of these events, many St Martin’s Day lantern walks are organised privately. Keep your eyes peeled and you can’t miss the children walking the streets carrying lanterns and singing the traditional songs, the most famous of which begins: Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne (Lantern! Lantern! Sun, moon and stars!)