There is an old stereotype that many Americans go by when they hear of Germany, which is beer, bratwurst and Bavaria. Everything else is backwards and is not worth the time or money to visit. This was the stereotype I had encountered among my compadres during my days at my alma mater in Moorhead, Minnesota (Concordia College) and learned during a month long seminar on public policy when we visited Munich and Berchtesgaden. So it is no wonder why the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Munich are so popular among the Americans passing through the region. Little do they realize is the fact that even though these markets- and in particular the one in Nuremberg- may be the most marketed and beloved by so many people, there is one Christmas market in Germany that tops the one in the district capital of Franconia in terms of size, diversity and even popularity.
Go three hours to the northeast by train on the Franconia-Saxony Express and you will end up in Dresden. With a population of over 400,000 inhabitants and located on the Elbe River, Dresden is the capital and largest city in Saxony. While it may be the meeting point for multi-culture and technology- thanks to its proximity to Poland and the Czech Republic and two technical institutions (the Technical University of Dresden and the Dresden Institute of Science and Technology), it is Germany’s crown jewels with regards to history and architecture as they both go hand in hand. But when the holiday season comes around, millions of people from all over the world flock to this city of crown jewels to visit the Christmas market. From the columnist’s point of view after visiting the place, the Christmas markets in Frankfurt and Nuremberg (which I saw last year) may be big in the eyes of the residents living there, but in Dresden, the Christmas market is huge! And when one sees all the places connected to this historic and most popular Christmas market in Germany, one can only say it is awesome!
Dresden’s Christmas market is the oldest in the world with the first one dating as far back as the 900s. The Striezelmarkt, located in Dresden’s Altmarkt, is the oldest annual market in Germany with its origins dating as far back as 1434. There are eight different markets throughout all of Dresden’s immediate city limits and dozens more in the city’s suburban areas, making it one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. And given the various themes and settings of each market, one does have the right to boast about it being perhaps the most multi-cultural of Germany’s Christmas markets, overshadowing the Nuremberg Christmas market by a long shot.
Given the size of the Christmas market in Dresden, there is really no choice but to cut them down to bite-size articles so that the reader can picture what the place looks like from the eye of both the columnist and the photographer. I will start with the Christmas market in general, which will feature the specialties that are offered in Dresden, using the smaller markets as examples- namely, the market at Dresden-Blasewitz, the corridor between Dresden Central Railway Station and the Striezelmarkt (but minus the latter as there is a separate article on that) and the one in front of the Residential Palace. The second article will feature the Medieval-style Christmas market, located in front of and along the Frauenkirche (Church of the Ladies) when facing the Elbe. The third article will deal with the Christmas market at Dresden-Neustadt, while the last article will explain about the Striezelmarkt, located in the Altmarkt.
DRESDEN- RESIDENTIAL PALACE:
Walking towards the Elbe River and the promenade that runs alongside the river, if one wants to walk into or around the palace on the left side towards the Augustusbrücke, one will be greeted with a market similar to the one at Weimar’s Theaterplatz in terms of size, which features local specialties from Saxony. In particular, one can take advantage of the pastries from a bakery in Pulsnitz. Established in 1909, the Gräfe Pastries Company produces a wide array of pastries going beyond the beloved Dresdner Stollen, a fruit cake coated with powdered sugar, and Saxony’s only version of Lebkuchen (Gingerbread biscuits). It produces and sells a wide array of honey bars, Spitzen (small bars with filling in them) and Baumkuchen (a donut-shaped stacked cake with a chocolate covering). If one thinks that they taste the same as the ones at the Christmas market in Nuremberg, think again. Each Christmas pastry tastes different in each region and the one in Dresden is one that is unforgettable. That combined with a cup of Dresdner Glühwein (mulled wine) makes an afternoon lunch (Kaffeetrinken) a memorable one. The market at Residential Palace serves as a break spot for people touring the historic buildings or visiting the other markets in the city and is one that is a must-see if one wants to try the specialties from Saxony.
This is one of a dozen examples of suburban communities holding a Christmas market during one or two weekends, but during the rest of the holidays, is a farmer’s market offering local specialties that is typical for the suburb. This includes goods from local meat butchers, bakeries and the local produce stands. What is so special about this market apart from the Christmas tree? Simple. Apart from the surroundings consisting of historic buildings dating back to the 1800s with its ornamental appearance, the market is located next to one of Dresden’s beloved bridges, the Loschwitz Bridge (a.k.a Blaues Wunder or Blue Wonder/Miracle), an 1894 cantilever bridge spanning the Elbe River that is famous for two reasons: 1. Legend has it that when one painted the bridge green, it turned to blue when the sun shone on it, and 2. A last ditch effort to diffuse the explosives- set by the fleeing Nazis during the last month of World War II in an attempt to prevent the oncoming Russian soldiers from marching into the city- was successful and the bridge was spared from becoming a pile of twisted metal and rubble. One can see the bridge today either from the market or from the terrace of the Schiller Restaurant located on the southeast end of the structure.
DRESDEN CENTRAL STATION AND CORRIDOR:
When getting off the train at Dresden Central Station, one will be greeted by a gigantic Christmas tree that is in the station building. Yet it is not the only greeting you will receive when you leave the station enroute to the city center. Just outside the the entrance to the station and along Prager Strasse to the Striezelmarkt one will be greeted with a row of Christmas market huts located along the corridor. If one chooses not to take the tram to Pirnaischer Platz (which is the stop closest to the Christmas markets at Altmarkt and in front of the Frauenkirche), one can walk straight to the Altmarkt along the corridor where one can see the huts lining up on each side, offering specialties and merchandise pertaining to the city of Dresden. This includes Radeberger Beer, merchandise pertaining to the professional soccer team Dynamo Dresden, or souvenirs from the city. In either case, one can easily try the local specialties before entering the city center or pick up something to remember on the way out of the city, as a way of showing the friends and family back home that they were at the Christmas market in Dresden.
Going to Part II, the market at Frauenkirche……