2016 Christmas Market Tour: Freiberg (Saxony)

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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. 🙂

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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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Well, almost.

 

I found a couple stands that are worth noting for you on the next visit to the region. The first one was a Finnish stand, selling Grandma’s Manor House Cookies with filling. These are like our American Oreo cookies except they are made with a soft, sandy-like cookie dough and they come in several flavors, like vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut. There were other pastries that are typical of Finnland that are worth trying including mini-cakes and fruitcake. As I was trying each one from the lot, I had a chance to chat with the saleperson who originated from Afghanistan but has been living in Germany for over a year. A student at the University in town, she found the country to be a great place to make a living, but the language as one of the most difficult because of the grammar rules and vocabulary. If you look at this argument from a person having grown up with Arabic writing and Persian, one would agree. When asked about the amount of time one needs to learn German, my response is simple: Take your time. If you can speak English well enough to get around, German will come naturally, even if it takes a couple years to master it. This is speaking from experience. 😉

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After trying out and purchasing a package of goodies, I went onto my next booth, which is the Schloss Wackerbarth Winery. For 180 years, the winery, located inside a castle near Radebeul,  has been producing the finest wines and liquors in the state of Saxony. In connection with its celebration, one could find some stands in Mitteldeutschland, including some in neighboring Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. I had an opportunity to taste the winery’s finest spiced white wine, which tasted just right- not too sweet, but not like a typical  dry wine. The finest grapes are used for the wine and with that, just enough alcohol for flavor. No wonder why the wine is so good! 🙂

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And lastly, we have the crown of booths, the one selling silver accessories. Freiberger Zinngießerei (tin foundry). For over 500 years, Freiberg has prided itself in its mining of silver in the mountain regions near the city. Many foundries had existed to produce the goods needed for human needs, be it for the household or for defense. One of them was located in Freiberg. Even though its current foundry was established in 1992, its family tradition goes back many years. In 1998, the headquarters was relocated to Niederschöna where it has been ever since. According to the salesperson I talked to during my visit, silver is no longer mined, but the foundry still produces figures made of metal, which include several mining figures, animal figures, key chains, gargoyles and even an Amethyst Pyramid. As tin figures are exotic and difficult to find even in Saxony, it is highly recommended to visit the shop to find the best valuable gift. 🙂

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Yes, Freie Presse, I was the one who did this. And yes it was not cool. But it was also not cool to not have a bike rack available at the market.

Inspite of some great stands and events that take place at the Freiberg Christmas market, three key caveats were found that could help improve access to one of the most popular places in Germany. The first is providing signage and directions to the market. Given its maze-like infrastructure, it is very difficult to find the market, especially when there is a lot of traffic going through the city. Highways 101 and 173 cross in the city, but there is considerable traffic between the city center and the suburbs, including the train station, which sees 10 trains in both direction per hour per day. Therefore it is important to provide feasible directions and signage for drivers, bikers and pedestrians wishing to visit the market, even for an hour or two.

This brings me up to the second issue to settle, and that is access by bike. While the Christmas markets take place in December, people still go there by bike- even the author accessed the market by bike as had travelled by train to the station from the west. Biking to the city center proved to be a nightmare, for the streets were packed with cars, and in some cases, they were narrow enough that there was little space to pass. Regardless of time of year, it is important for Freiberg to follow the example set by the first city to do this: designate streets for bikes and push the traffic back as far away as possible to make the city center pedestrian and biker friendly. Have bike racks available for parking, instead of having to park it against the building of a local newspaper outlet, like the author did (and yes, I’m sorry to the Free Press for that). Also important: designate lanes on main streets for bikes so that they have space to share the road. We all know the city that started and even spearheaded this effort, and many other cities in Germany, including Saxony, have already taken steps to follow suit.

And lastly, as large as the Obermarkt is, it was quite disturbing to see the market blocked off with fencing and tarp with only one way in or out of the market- minus the city hall. Having such restricted access presents a feeling of isolation, especially as the market is in the middle of the shopping area, Freiberg’s city center has to offer, nor does it make much sense. During my visit in Kiel, the market (Weihnachtsdorf) at Rathausplatz was also restricted but had multiple entrances because of its proximity to the corridor connecting it with three other markets in the city center, as well as the port and train station.  Having more access to the market in Freiberg makes it feel more open to customers and enables them to move more freely than in its current feature. Plus in the event of an evacuation due to fire or storm damage, more access means more chances to escape and avoid any accidents.

Despite its shortcomings, Freiberg’s Christmas Market represents a typical but attractive Christmas market in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony. Most of the products sold there are made locally, yet a couple outliers are just as appealing and worth trying. The market is not so crowded, but better measures are needed for better access and to make the market safer. However, with one of the tallest pyramids in Saxony (at 15 meters), a good spiced wine with a good local sausage at the Bergbaude and some good company with the sales people from different regions, the Freiberg Christmas Market brings in many local specialties from the mountain region, and many locals and tourists alike, to honor the silver miners, celebrate hundreds of years of tradition, and talk about what Christmas was like in the region in the past, be it the East German period, or even before that. And with that, plus a good old-fashion lantern and chisel, I close with the slogan “Glück Auf”(Good luck), head to the next Christmas market, and like the miners, see how lucky I am. 😉

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