German Gifts that live forever – my Short Sustainable Gift Guide
As much as I love to bring gifts while travelling, there are some thing that I have loved for years that are so quintessentially German, that I want to share them here with you. Bring on some Classic German gifts!
I followed the example of many a traveller to make a gift guide as well, and like everybody’s, mine is different. Firstly, I use these products, often over many years. Secondly, all gifts are German designed and also made in Germany. This was once a guarantee for finest workmanship, but since the German automobile industry cheated on their emissions and caused a world-wide scandal, not so much. So, lets not put any German cars in here. Which brings me to Point Three: they are, with the exception of a piece of top notch investment luggage, all well under 100 EURO. No need to spend a ton of cash just because it’s the holidays.
Also, I have some Christmassy things on here, that I have loved for years, but that may not be so well-known outside Germany, but which you can still buy online easily no matter where you live!
Disclosure: I have bought all these products and used them long enough to recommend them without reservation. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which mean I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, some of these products can be purchased through the manufacturers own websites, which usually offer English language option, and sometimes a web shop, so you can buy direct if you prefer.
Lamy Fountain Pen
If you like inexpensive fountain pens, you simply cannot beat the German ones. I learned to write with Geha and Pelikan pens, and I used about three all through school and uni, such is the appeal and longevity of these pens. Lately, I have taken to Lamy for their classic and sturdy looks. Lamy is a family-owned company founded in 1930 and has kept manufacturing their pens in Heidelberg, Germany.
You can get their pens in plastic and aluminium, and in pretty much every colour. Unless you are doing hand-lettering I recommend to stick to a fine nib and purchase a bunch of ink cartridges as they use their own cartridge system (or use the inexpensive Lamy converter). My seasonal favourites are this plastic version in Red with fine nib and the somewhat pricier aluminium version in Gold.
If you are into journaling, you may be familiar with Leuchtturm as journalers recommend them. They can even take watercolours and hand lettering. So, when I used up my cut-price stack of Moleskins in weird colours, I tried Leuchtturm and found them to just have an edge over current Moleskine quality. The paper is a little thicker and the binding more sturdy. I always used Moleskine for work and travel notes, and while the work ones are fine even after years, the travel ones get more abuse and look skanky pretty fast nowadays.
You get the classic notebook in over 20 colours as blank, lined and squared and some in dotted for bullet journals. Then there are special editions, like this seasonal-looking one in metallic tones or this five-year one for notes and poems.
Primavera Essential Oils
For something that smells good while dispensing healing vibes, you cannot beat a good essential oil. Forget the smelly candle, the artificial rooms scenting, the essential oil is where it’s at. Best choose an organic and fair trade one. In Europe, you get several manufacturer of organic essential oils, and you may already have your firm favourites. I like Primavera best – they have been around for a long time and always produced organic quality oil from fair trade organic ingredients. Primavera is based in Oy-Mittelburg in Bavaria, where they appear to produce and package their entire range of essential oils and base oils. You can even visit parts of the production site.
Amazon Germany is your place to go if you want the biggest choice, for example this six-essential-oils set of citrus and medicinal tea tree, lavender and mint. Or try making your own cosmetics with this set of essential oils, rose water and almond oil – all certified organic.
A reusable stylish coffee cup
If you like to save on rubbish, and hate plastic, nothing beats sitting down with your cup of coffee, served in a porcelain cup. But when you’re out and about and just want to pick up a quick coffee? There are a ton of reusable coffee mugs for sale, but nothing beats a nice glass mug for ultimate taste. If you go online, the KeepCup like the one on the left is usually the default option. I have this glass/cork one and quite like it. The glass is tempered and sturdy, but it doesn’t keep my coffee very warm, and let’s admit, they are pricey, so I looked for a better one!
Since Germany is a decent glass producer, I had a little look and found a pretty cool double-walled glass mug from Schott Zwiesel, a Bavarian manufacturer that makes, among other, good wine glasses and also safety class. It’s shown in the picture on the right. I have not done the breakage test yet, but it costs less than half the KeepCup one. If you want super tempered double-walled glass coffee-to go mug, try a Jenaer Glas coffee mug. Again, at a fracture of a price of the more popular mugs, it looks slightly ugly, but Jenaer Glas is super sturdy and I would expect this one to be nearly unbreakable.
Birkenstock Vegan Sandals
I believe they were once in fashion, which makes absolutely no sense, because they last forever. I always wear them for work and I wear them a lot in the summer, too. They are extremely comfortable, and when I travel, I usually just take sturdy walking shoes and these. They come in so many different styles, including safety shoes, but the Arizona is my favourite, as it is so comfy, versatile, and you just slip in! Since they started to make this vegan version, I’m a big fan. Their microfibre and leather substitute upper look pretty similar and don’t break, and can easily be washed and scrubbed when they get dirty.
A suitcase with Eternal Life?
I remember being laughed at with my first wheelie trolley ca. 2000. Now they are everywhere, and paying for checked luggage and hand luggage rules means most of us have one. I think I may be on my third one right now – although I always bought branded luggage, they never lasted amazingly long. The current one is a T-Tech by Tumi which is no longer produced, and holds up pretty well, but it is also a bit larger than most board trolley, which is great for shopping while away, but too large for a quick weekend trip.
So, this year I treated myself to an aluminium Rimowa case. Rimowa is a longstanding manufacturer from Cologne that makes sturdy and stylish luggage – their “grooves” in their suitcases initally made just from an aluminium alloy. LVMH bought a majority stake in 2016. While they initially produced their luggage in Cologne, they added production sites in the Czech Republic, Canada and Brazil, so they are no longer an independent German company producing just in Germany, so take this one with a pinch of salt. However, their luggage is fantastic.
I bought my suitcase second hand through an auction site – for reasons of price, patina and two wheels ( now out-of-production). The cats really like it! The aluminium version is the most expensive one, heavier and you will get scratches and dents eventually. The polycarbonate version comes in more colours, costs about 25-40% less and keeps their as-new look a bit longer. All cases come with a warranty and their service is exceptional – often they replace parts beyond the five-year warranty. You can buy them new from Breuninger, a classy reputable department store, or directly from Rimowa though the latter usually rarely goes below RRP.
And last not least, some German Christmas Classics
This paper or plastic star gives you great festive style with minimum effort. It may take a bit of fiddling to assemble it, but outside the festive season, you can store one like this in a small paper box. I’ve had my medium sized indoor star for years and it survived annual assemblies and about ten house moves with just the slightest gentle kinks.
You just buy the star and a lighting kit and you have festive fun for years to come! Beware of cheaper imitations many of which are made under worse conditions from poor materials. The Herrnhuter Christmas star was first made in the early 1700s by Christian migrants into Lusatia in Saxony. Their manufacture building today looks strikingly modern, but every star is handmade in Herrnhut in Saxony. And, like many production sites mentioned here, some parts are open to the public, too.
Buy Herrnhuter Stern here or here. For the full whack of styles and sizes go directly to the manufacturers website. They are quite pricey, but seeing they are handmade, they are a good investment into years of classy festive decoration. My mother had hers hung so high up in her staircase, she finds it troublesome so take it off and now uses it as a standard light.
If the fiddly assembly is not your thing, take a look a the Annaberger Faltstern, another more recent (1926) Ore Mountain Original. Available for indoor use only, it is similar in looks, but comes flat-packed, ready to unfold and hang.
Knox Smoker House
Southern Germany is famous for its wooden carved Christmas figurines. The Ore Mountains in Saxony especially, and even nowadays a lot of the higher-quality stuff is made by artisans in their homes or smaller manufactures. So all that comes at a price. But the humble tin smoker is a true Eastern German classic! You lift the house, put an incense cone in, and you get lovely Christmas smell. The houses and the cones are made by Knox. The cones were invented by a pharmacist from near my birthplace, but his apothecary was nationalised under the name “Knox” in the Ore Mountains in the 1950’s. In Eastern Germany, you could buy sweet plain houses in a range of colour and two favours of cones, pine and incense. Nowadays you get about 30 flavours of incense, but only the slightly garish motive houses instead of the sweet plain ones, at least online.
If you want an original little smoker figurine, I really recommend the weekly flea market by the river Elbe in Dresden. It runs every Saturday year-round. I visited once just before Christmas and picked up a couple of vintage medium to large “smoking men” for 5-10 EURO. Otherwise, Dresden is full of Christmas shops where you can purchase originals, and the Dresden Christmas market, in my eyes one of the best in Germany with a good balance of craftsy-cosy and boundless commerce, has several stalls of original Ore Mountain carving, but sadly, plenty stalls with cheaper factory-made decorations.
Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen Gingerbread
For ultimate Christmas fun, all routes lead to Saxony, or so it seems… and indeed, a trip to Saxony in winter is probably great for the beautiful scenery, should you be blessed with early snow, which happens rarely. If not, you could visit Dresden – and the small towns of Meissen, Freital, Görlitz or Seiffen for festive mood but without the busloads you might encounter in Dresden. And you simply cannot have Christmas without this wonderful gingerbread. Forget Nürnberger gingerbread, this costs a fraction of the price and tastes better. The gingerbread is made by eight traditional bakeries and one larger factory in and near the town of Pulsnitz, and only they are allowed to use the protected name “Echte Pulsnitzer”.
The ones you see here, and that are usually available more widely are from the factory, but are still made using traditional methods, meaning the dough is made on-site and may rest for years. You can usually buy them in all food shops in Saxony and neighbouring states around Christmastime, as well as on Christmas markets in the region. But they are by no means a purely seasonal product! I once went to a wine festival near Meissen in September and there they were, out in the summer sun! It might be worth looking around Eastern German Christmas markets for them, but if ou you don’t make it to a Christmas market, you can always buy them online here or here .
Going away before the holidays?
I have some shopping ideas for Greece, Italy and and Israel. There are some more to come, but for some good gift shopping within easy reach of mainland Europe, I really recommend Istanbul and the Moroccan city of Fez. Turkey is a top producer of textiles so if you know the right places, you get wonderful stuff here, as well as foodstuffs and spices, and Fez is full of market stalls with carpets, lamps and ceramics. I love to look around and look at the quality of things but I have not actually purchased a lot in the last few years, so my shopping articles are pretty much a work in progress.