The next Christmas market to visit on this year’s tour takes us to the far eastern part of Germany. Specifically, what we are talking about is the city of Freiberg in Saxony. Located between Chemnitz and Dresden in the eastern part of the state, Freiberg is located in the top half of the Erzgebirge (translated freely as Ore Mountains), one can feel the ascension to the top while travelling by train or car. But when arriving in the city, one sees a maze of streets and historic buildings, where if one finds a way to go down hill, fighting curves and cars, one will reach the market square- Obermarkt. This is the stage of the Christmas market, where the city hall serves as a backdrop and the statue of Otto the Great is surrounded by 90 different huts, a stage, one of the tallest moving Christmas pyramids in the region and lastly, one of the tallest Christmas trees in the mountain region. Since 1989, the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Christmas market has been held here, which is ironic for most of the products a person will find at a German Christmas market come from the mountain which had once been part of East Germany and the socialist regime. This brought a question to mind: what was Christmas like during that period between the end of World War II and German Reunification, especially as the western half quickly reestablished its tradition? This would require some research which will surely mean some history lessons in the Files in the near future. 🙂
And as Freiberg is located directly in the Erzgebirge, everything a person will see is clearly in connection with this theme: Gabled housing with several shades of brown and mahogany, statues of miners as well as chisels and lanterns, wooden products made locally such as pyramids, Räuchermänner, Lichterbogen (Christmas arches) and other Christmas decorations, local drinks including spiced wine and punch, and local eateries including Stollen and Pulsnitzer Kuchen (a fruitcake with cherries and almonds). In other words, simply Erzgebirgisch!
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Across the tracks from Alexanderplatz is another Christmas market with unique attractions. The Christmas market at Rote Rathaus (EN: Red City Hall) is located in the vicinity of several key attractions. It is located directly southwest of the famous TV-Tower. Once used as a spy weapon to keep track of East Germans trying to flee to West Berlin, the 1969 structure, dubbed as the tallest in Germany, is now one of the key attractions for people to see, as one can see the entire city and its suburbs for kilometers on end. To the west of the tower is The Church of St. Mary’s, a typical German catholic church with a lot of charm. Directly west of the TV-Tower is the Fountain of Neptune, named after the Roman god of fresh water and the seas. At this spot one can ice skate around the statue during the winter months and of course the time of the Christmas market. In the spring and summer months, the fountain is in use, with its high spraying water making it attractive for tourists waiting to go up the Tower. And lastly, to the east is the famous City Hall. Built in 1869 by Hermann Waessermann, the building was created in the form of high Italian Renaissance architecture, featuring a clock tower similar to Big Ben in London. With the exception of the Cold War period between 1950 and 1991, this popular attraction has housed the City Senate since its opening.
As for the market itself, despite its location in the sea of high-rise apartments along Unter den Linden, it has a feeling of small town and hominess, as the market is divided up into two parts: the smaller part which features a facade of old buildings from a small community and is enclaved by a sea of dark mahogany huts. They all have one thing in common: they sell a variety of local and international goods, including alpaca woolen boots made of llama fur, fabrics from Peru and even merchandise in connection with the German cartoon series The Mole. Plus there are homemade candles and ceramic ware to choose from. Even wooden products made of Ore Mountain wood can be seen at the huts as well as in the Pyramid Candle located next to the ice skating rink. In any case, locality can be found here and presents a person with a break from all the commercial items one can find at a primary Christmas market, like the one at Alexanderplatz, for example.
But apart from the huts, there are many displays that are made of wood, but resemble construction in an era where there were no saw mills. Many of these are located near the Ferris Wheel and feature a pair of mangers- one for the horses and one for displaying Baby Jesus- as well as a tent where horseback riding can be found. One can say the artwork resemble that of the time of Jesus’ birth, but that may be stretching it. Yet the Ferris Wheel, painted in a combination of blue and white is the glaring eyesore in that particular corner. Yes, one can see the entire market and all of the City Hall and the TV-Tower, yet the claim that it is the largest wheel in Germany is disputable. There is one a Janowitzbrücke that may be even larger, as well as others at the markets in other parts of Berlin that might eclipse it. When even comparing the two from the TV Tower, one can see that the one at Janowitzbrücke is bigger. But given the fact that the Ferris Wheel came from Bavaria (most likely Munich), it would not be surprising if the marketers learned a lesson on how to deceive the customer from former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, who stressed the importance of marriage before sex and women being the home-maker when he was involved in many scandals himself, which eventually forced him out of office in 2009. The right to brag about the largest wheel in Germany is a classic example of the lessons learned by the likes of Stoiber, which the Bavarians still maintain a loyal devotion of his party, the Christian Socialists (CSU) today, but the counterparts in the rest of Germany have long since figured out.
But enough of the bragging and the criticism, for it was a sunny day during the visit, what time is great but to teach my five-year old daughter how to ice skate. The fortunate part of this market is despite being open later than other Christmas markets in Mitte (11:00am to be exact in comparison to 8:00am at Alexanderplatz), the market had ice skating rentals, which featured a push-penguin figure weighing over 20 kilos. A heavyweight indeed, but it served as an incentive to push the penguin on the rink and learn to skate. It worked like a charm for after awhile, the penguin was relieved and she was on her way by herself. A pair of big steps on a rink that is sparsely populated right now, but will be crowded with people in the evening. It sums up how homey the market is, when there are a few people around in the day time, taking their time in finding the best gift, drinking a hot drink, such as Apple Punch with Rum, eating fried potato chips and watching your kids grow up on the rink to become the next Kati Witt. Apart from the one at Opernpalais, this one is my highly recommended place to visit during the Christmas season. 🙂
FAST FACT: The Mole is known as Krtek the little mole, which was the work of a Czech cartoonist Zdenek Miller. Created in 1957, it was common in the former East Germany until 1990 and later in Germany. The US is planning on introducing it in the toy and book market in the near future. More info can be found here.
More photos on the Christmas market at Red City Hall can be found here.
The fourth and final stop on the tour of the Christmas market in Dresden (and the last stop on the 2011 Christmas market tour) is the Striezelmarkt. Located at the Altmarkt market square adjacent to the Kreuzkirche and across the street from the Medieval market at Frauenkirche, this market is one of the oldest known Christmas markets in Dresden, let alone Germany. Founded in 1434, the Striezelmarkt is the most popular of all the markets in Dresden as it is visited first by the majority of the millions of visitors who see the Christmas market yearly. It has over 80 shops, two theaters, two carousels, one kiddie railroad located near the church and of course, the Altmarkt Gallerie, the largest shopping center in the city center.
When looking at the Christmas market in the daytime, one will be amazed at the architecture and exterior decorations that each hut has to offer, each theme being different but representing the true meaning of Christmas. One will have the opportunity to try the different entrées and Christmas treats in the daytime when it is not so crowded. At night one can enjoy a cup of mulled wine while watching some Christmas theatricals at either the small Christmas theater located next to the kiddie railroad or on stage at the east end of the market, where each number on the advent calendar represents a theatrical for people to enjoy. And if a child is looking for something special to give to his/her parents for the holidays, there is the opportunity to make homemade cookies at a cookie bakery located next to the theaters.
While one will see some familiar Christmas market products at the Striezelmarkt, like the snowballs of Rothenburg ob der Tauber or gingerbread cakes from Pulsnitz or Nuremberg, one of the most commonly found commodities that can be found at this Christmas market are the wood products made from the Ore Mountain region (Erzgebirge), located to the south and west of Dresden. In particular one can purchase a Lichterbogen, a lighted Christmas arch with various themes, for as much as 100- 200 Euros pending on the size and quality. These can be placed on the window sill of every house and apartment where the outside world can see it. These have become more and more popular over the past five to ten years, as many families have been able to put some money aside to add this value figure to their Christmas decoration. However if one does not fancy such a lighted arch, there are also wooden Christmas decorations for the Christmas tree, pyramid candles and even Christmas villages that are worth considering. I even remember purchasing some wooden decorations for my grandmother originating from the region in the first years I lived in Germany which made it look really nice on her Christmas tree. A third of the total number of huts consist of these wooden products from the Ore Mountain region, even though one will find one or two at each of the other aforementioned markets in Dresden.
Another theme worth noting are the fairy tales that one can see at the Striezelmarkt regardless of shape or form. Anywhere from Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Little Red Ridinghood, one will see a bit of fairy tale there, no matter where they are at the market. This includes some of the themes at the kiddie railroad, underneath the market’s Christmas tree, or even a four-sided fairy tale tower at the church. If one does not know about the fairy tales and happens to see them at the market, it will serve as an incentive to read about them over the holidays.
It is very difficult to say when the best time to visit the Striezelmarkt is, but by judging the pictures that you can see below, there is no time of day where you cannot see the market as it is a real beauty during the holiday season, day or night. But from an author’s point of view, there are many places in Germany (and Europe) where one should see before moving on. Dresden is one of them, as over 5 million people pass through the city every year. However if one has some time during the holiday season, one should take a weekend and spend it at the city’s Christmas markets, for as can be seen at the Striezelmarkt, there’s more to the Christmas market than meets the eye.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Christmas market in Dresden runs up to Christmas Eve with mass service to follow on Christmas Day. The only caveat to this visit was the fact that there was no snow on the ground and since the visit during the weekend of 18 December, there has been no snow on the ground except for the mountain areas. Like in the Midwest (USA), Germany will close out 2011 as the warmest winter season on record, and there is a chance that this may be the first winter where absolutely no snow Germany.