Christmas Market Tour 2015: Chemnitz

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Christmas market at Alte Markt next to City Hall. Photos taken in Dec. 2015

The first place on the 2015 tour we’ll have a look at is Chemnitz. Located in western Saxony near the Ore Mountains between Dresden, Hof, Leipzig, Zwickau and Glauchau- in other words, smack in the middle of all the action, Chemnitz was first recorded in the 12th Century when Kaiser Lothar III established the Church of St. Benedict. The city plan of the town was presented over a century later. The city’s origin comes from the river running through it, whose name was derived from a Sorbian name meaning stone. The city was substantially destroyed in World War II and the people suffered a great deal afterwards, as it became part of the Soviet Zone, and the city was subsequentially renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1953, named after the founder of Socialism. Like many cities in the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic), the cityscape was transformed rapidly over the next 30 years, as architects placed high rise after high rise wherever the Socialist Party (SED) pleased. That is the reason why the city center and its churches surrounding them are flooded with more high rise buildings than necessary. Can you imagine looking at the city without these concrete slabs just for a second?

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Chemnitz Central Station: looks like an East German gym for sporting events. One needs to subtract the tracks and the platforms.

1990 and the people, fed up with the importance of Marxism and Leninism, were granted their wish, and the name Karl Marx Stadt was converted back to Chemnitz. Yet much of the architecture from the East German period remains today, and people can see them while driving past, especially the statue of Karl Marx at the corner of Brückenstrasse und Street of Nations. Even the Central Railway Station, despite its lounge looking more modern than 25 years ago, looks like a hangar gleaming with yellow sodium lighting. If one takes away all the platforms, it would resemble a sports center, with a wrestling ring and matches featuring the likes of Velvet McIntyre and Mathilda the Hun, two of the many professional wrestling stars during the 1980s. Yet it could also look like an ice skating rink, featuring the likes of Katarina Witt, Germany’s beloved figure skater who was born in the city.

However more modern architecture is popping up in an attempt to drown out the  architecture the SED wanted there at any cost. This includes the expansion of the Technical University in Chemnitz, where because of the increase in students, the campus has expanded to the south, thus leaving the former main campus next to the train station with a purpose of having extra space for classes.  Check your Googlemaps app if you have an appointment at the TU, to ensure you are at the right campus, please, or you will certainly get lost.

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The 1884 Chemnitz Viaduct serving the rail line connecting Dresden and Nuremberg via Hof

Yet despite the concrete settings, which resembles the scenes from the dystopian film The Cement Garden, Chemnitz has several features that standout. The city has the Opera House, Roter Turm at Neumarkt, historic buildings at Schillerplatz and several museums focusing on technology, archeology and art, as well as churches and castles. Even the river Chemnitz features many parks and historic bridges, namely the Railroad Viaduct built in 1884.

And lastly, the city is famous for its Christmas market. Located in the city center at Neumarkt, the market is laid out in three areas: Between the apartments along Am Neumarkt, between the Old and New City Halls and at Roter Turm.  Yet, getting there from the train station or other parts of the city, thanks to the maze of concrete one has to go through, takes lots of navigating, regardless of what kind of Verkehrsmittel a person uses. In my case, despite having my bike companion Galloping Gertie, which always gets me from point A to point B, my sense of orientation was lost in the concrete. So to the city council officials who want a word of advice from me: signpost the directions to the market next time, please!

Barring the author’s critique, I was told that the city had won the prize for the best Christmas market in Saxony. Given the architecture that drowns out the historic nature of the city center- at least the ones that were built before 1914, it was hard to believe at first glance. But then again, learning from my visit in Halle (Saale) and its Christmas market in 2012, one cannot judge the book by its cover but should read the first few pages before making the first judgements. This was why I wanted to take an hour to look through the place.

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After fighting through the concrete maze, my first stop was at Neumarkt. Located adjacent to the Roterturm, the market is the second largest of the city’s Christmas market. Visitors are greeted with the black gate, flanked with Christmas angels holding candles and a large black Schwibbogen, resembling the miners and angels. As mentioned in a previous article, the color of black represents the color of the ore found in the Ore Mountain region, the birthplace of the arched candle-holder. To the right is another typical Christmas figure found in the households in Germany, the Pyramid. More on that in a later article.  The market is at the doorsteps of two major shopping centers, one of which is named after a popular historic landmark, Der Roter Turm. Built in 1230, the tower served as a watchtower overlooking the town as its original purpose. It was later a watchtower for the prison complex, which existed in the 17th to the 19th century. It later became a gateway, welcoming people to Chemnitz before it became a historic landmark in the 1990s. The shopping center, located next to the tower, opened in 2000, mimicking the architecture of the tower and the adjacent city hall.

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The market at Altmarkt. The New Town Hall (left) and the Old Town Hall (right) are in the background

Going left one will find the rest of the market and then some, located at the Market Square. The one at the Alte Markt is the largest and features the Christmas tree and the Spielwerk, a Christmas merry-go-round-like featuring Santa Clause, an Angel, a Snowman and gifts.   Counting the extension along Rosenhof, which has a line of huts, the markets are surrounded by apartment complexes from the GDR era. Judging by the appearance, these modernized apartments are well occupied, which means the families have front-row seating on each floor, especially during the holidays.

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A Christmas market surrounded by high-rise flats.

When looking at the huts, one can see a unique uniform pattern- namely gabled huts with mahogany siding. The color is typical of the wood found in the Ore Mountain region, and most of the products sold at the market- whether they are Räuchermänner, Pyramids, Schwibbogen or even figures for the Christmas tree, are handcrafted with this unique type of  wood originating from the region. Add the red and white lining and lettering and the place looks really Christmassy, even without the snow, as I saw in my visit. Admittedly, it would make the market look really romantic with the snow, even viewing it from the apartments above.

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Das Spielwerk at Altmarkt: another typical feature coming from the Ore Mountain region. 

Most of the huts are lined up into long rectangular islands with the backs to each other. The purpose behind that is to provide more space for people to maneuver towards the stands without the feeling of being crowded. Despite having to fight a maze to get to there, the market itself is rather spacious, enabling the people to move around more freely than in some markets visited until now. That means between rows, the width is equivalent to the width of 3-4 cars, pending on location. Lots of space and less risk of injury by pushing and shoving, or even getting smacked in the face with a heavy backpack. It’s lesson that markets in some cities, like Dresden and Nuremberg should take note, even though the problem with the former is with the Striezelmarkt as Neustadt has a concept similar to this one.

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Typical Christmas market huts with lots of space. 

Despite all the Chemnitz features, many people are sometimes of the opinion that the market is just like any other market: selling items from the Ore Mountain region, having amusements and a large Christmas tree. If that is the opinion, I beg to differ, especially when it comes to food. The market in Chemnitz offers several delicacies one will rarely find at other markets in Germany. Some of the items I tried during my brief stay at the market. Highly recommended is the Bohemian smoked sausage (Böhmischer Rauchwurst), with  or without the cheese filling.  Similar to the Thuringian Bratwurst and the Frankfurter, this sausage comes from the Czech side of the mountains and are smoked to perfection. The sausage has a really tangy taste when biting into it. With the cheese filling, it is even heartier. 🙂   Another delicacy that is a must-eat is the Wickelklöße. Similar to the dumplings, this Sächsische recipe features a combination of dough and pressed potatoes, rolled out and filled with either something sweet, like apple and cinnamon or hearty, like peppers. The recipe on how to make it is here unless you wish to visit one of the booths in Chemnitz to try before doing:

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The market also offers delicacies from the Medieval Ages and from different countries, many of which can be found at the market in Dusseldorfer Platz, whose setting matches the Middle Ages with dark-colored huts covered with darker-colored roofs. This includes the Turkish specialty that sells kebaps and kofta.Koftas are mini hamburger patties with special spices imported from Turkey. When placed in a pita bun and adding all the fixings, they look like the typical kebap but without the sliced meat. Yet they taste like Jennie’s Grinder, a submarine sandwich found at the Iowa State Fair.  And like the sandwich, the kofta is best eaten hot. Taking it to go will mean the loss of taste when it is even lukewarm. This was a lesson I learned upon buying it at the booth to take for the trip home. But in any case, the kofta is one that is recommended if one wants something spicy at the market.

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The Medieval Market at Dusseldorfer Platz

After more than an hour at the markets, it was time to leave for the next market, but not before taking with the impressions from the market. Despite the city’s concrete settings and scars that still remain from the Cold War era, Chemnitz has salvaged much of its pre-1933 past and has built off from it, with modern technology that is attractive and serves as a source of inspiration for future engineers and architects, most of whom are students at the TU. The Christmas market itself, despite being surrounded by many high rises still caressing the city center, definitely deserved the title given out this year. The market offers many local goods and food and beverages from the region and all points in the Ore Mountain region to the south. With its settings, the market is rather spacious, accomodating the residents and visitors. But most importantly, the market does provide a sense of Christmas and hominess for those who love a good Bohemian sausage, mulled wine, kofta and pastries typical of Saxony. If one ignores the concrete settings and imagines the historic places, such as the Town Halls and the churches, one can conclude that the market is typical of the markets one can find in Saxony. It is just the question of finding the way through the maze. But if you do it successfully, the hunt for the market is well worth it. 🙂

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Striezelmarkt at Altmarkt

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.

PHOTOS:

 

Lichterbogen (Lighted Christmas Arch) on display

 

Fairy Tale Tower
Homemade Bakery House
Teddy Bear shop with a big surprise on top.
The Glühwein hut with people waiting for a drink.
Oblique view of the market overlooking the Kreuzkirche