Christmas Market Tour 2018: Plauen (Vogtland)

Our last stop on the 2018 Christmas market tour keeps us in the state of Saxony but takes us way out west, to the wildest of west, namely the Vogtland. The reason we say this is for three reasons: 1. The Vogtland region is laden with rich forests, a large number of reservoirs and lakes and hills. For some of the rivers in the region, such as the White Elster, Zwickau Mulde, Eger and other notable creeks, the region is their starting point. 2. The region is rustic with wooden houses along the countryside, buildings with wooden facades, etc. Despite it being a part of East Germany with its communist housing, the region has a lot of attractions, competing with the likes of the Fichtel Mountains in Franconia (Bavaria), Thuringian Forest and even the Ore Mountains (Czech and German sides). 3. As far as activities are concerned, the Vogtland is filled with outdoor activities year round, including skiing, horseback riding, biking and hiking, just to name a few. And lastly, the Vogtland is the archrival to the Ore Mountain regions in terms of woodcrafting. Especially with regards to Christmas arches (Schwibbogen), pyramids, and other figurines typical of Christmas, the Vogtlanders pride themselves on their work and there has been a debate as to which regions these products were made, let alone their origins.

But that is for another time.

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The largest city in the Vogtland is our focus of the Christmas market and is one that has a tradition and a history. Plauen has a population of 65,400 inhabitants and is the second closest city in Saxony to the Czech border behind Oberwiesenthal. At one time, the population had been hovering over 120,000 inhabitants before the two World Wars decimated much of it. Since 1945, it has been under the mark and decreasing steadily as people have emigrated away for better jobs in neighboring Bavaria and in bigger cities. It is 30 kilometers northeast of the nearest city of Hof (also in Bavaria) but 45 kilometers southwest of Zwickau. The White Elster River as well as the Syra and Mühlgraben flow through the city, and the city is rich with historic bridges, big and small, spanning them in and around the city. They include (in the city) the Friendensbrücke, the second oldest known bridge in Saxony in the Alte Elsterbrücke (built in 1228) and the brick stone viaducts at Syratal and Elstertal. The Göltzschtalbrücke, which is located 10 kilometers to the north, is the largest viaduct of its kind ever built.  Apart from three federal highways, Plauen is also served by the Motorway 72, as well as three different raillines, including the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate, the Elster route going to Gera and Leipzig as well as the Vogtland route going to Cheb (CZ).

Despite having lost 75% of its buildings during the waning days of World War II through ariel bombings, much of Plauen’s architecture has been rebuilt to its former glory and still functions for its original purposes. This includes several churches, such as the Johanniskirche, Lutherkirche, and Pauluskirche, the Nonnenturm, the castle ruins of Schloss Plauen, the two city halls- one built in 1385; the other in 1922 which features a tower with clock- and several other historic buildings flanking the two market squares- Altmarkt and Klostermarkt.

Plauen has a lot to take pride in- its green hills and valleys, its beer, its theater and  orchestra, but it is world famous for its Plauener Spitze, a type of pattern fabric that is carefully orchestrated by needles and other cutting tools. An example of such a Spitze can be found here:

Source: Tex8 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Inspite of this, Plauen is also famous for its Christmas market, which is the largest in the region. It covers three-fourths of the city center, covering Altmarkt, extending along Obere Steinweg and Rathausstrasse, part of Klostermarkt and ending at the shopping center Stadtgallerie. Yet most of the shopping and eating possibilities can be found at Altmarkt and the shopping center. Because of parking issues, only the tree and some street performances were found during my visit at Klostermarkt.

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At Klostermarkt

Another area in the city center that was somewhat left out was the area around the church, Johanniskirche. While church services commenorating the birth of Christ, combined with concerts, were taking place there, the lot was empty with no cars around. Given its size, there could have been some potential to have some religious exhibits and/or booths in and around the church to encourage people to visit them before or after visiting the church. This was something that was found at some other Christmas markets, most notably in Glauchau and Zwickau as well as in some places in Berlin, Dresden and Nuremberg.

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Johanniskirche and Kirchplatz, next to Altmarkt

To summarize in that aspect, the space availability for Christmas market booths and events is somewhat misaligned and the focus should be less on consumption and more on the holiday and religious traditions that Plauen offers and what is typical for the Vogtland region. That means aside from the church area, Klosterplatz should be filled in a bit with some booths and other holiday events and less glamour for the shopping area for Christmas markets are an outdoor event and not indoor.  A note to some of the city planners for future reference.

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Stadtgallerie Shopping Center

Aside from this, the market itself features a combination of shopping possibilities in the Stadtgallerie and traditional products and foods in the Altmarkt. Both market appear to be well-decorated, with the Stadtgallerie having somewhat too much glamour with the Christmas decorations, thus creating more traffic for shoppers than what is needed at the market itself. Again, an imbalance that needs to be corrected. The Altmarkt itself is perhaps the nicest of the Christmas market in Plauen. The booths consist of small mahogany huts made with real wood from the Vogtland region, all decorated with spruce and pine tree branches as well as other forms of decorations. There are several picnic tables and benches, all made of cut-up wood; some of them have shelters in case of inclimate weather.

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Altmarkt

Much of what the Christmas market at Altmarkt offers is local specialties, such as the woodwork products made in the Vogtland, such as the pyramid, Christmas arch, incense products and figurines that are religious based. For eateries, the market offers not only local foods and drink, but also some international products. Most popular at the market include the Bemme- a bread with fat and pickles, in come cases with liver sausage. Then there is the Baumkuckenspitze, a layered, donut-shaped cake covered in chocolate; some of which with a thin-filling. Holzofenbrot that is cooked in a wood-burning oven is one that is most recommended, and one of the booths had a mixture of both local and international specialties. Especially in the cold weather, these bread products with are really good and filling.

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As we’re talking about international specialties, the market offers products from the Middle East and parts in Europe. Included in the mix is from the Netherlands, where I had a chance to try different kinds of Gouda cheese- those that are sometimes 2 years old and more than ripe. Regardless of what kind, the cheese is highly recommended, and the salespeople selling them, we had a chance to talk about different cultures between Germany, the US and the Netherlands. Their booth features a good place to chat, where even Father Christmas and the angel can entertain themselves over cheese:

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Apart from two different pyramids- one of which is over a century old, one can also spend time at the Spitzenmuseum at the older city hall, which by the way provides a great backdrop to the market together with the tower of the newer city hall, which one can tour the place and enjoy the view of the city and its landscape.

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Christmas tree on the side of the Old City Hall/ Spitzenmuseum with a century-old pyramid

Plauen’s Christmas market features a combination of culture and history all in a historical setting. Culture is in reference to the local products that are offered, especially at the Altmarkt, and history is in reference to the historic setting the market has- to the south, the church and to the north, the two city halls. The market is well-visited and is not so crowded, although my visit was after the first Advent. Yet the magnet of the shopping center next door does raise some concern as to how to balance out the visitors and better utilize the space of Plauen’s city center. Having open but unused space makes a city center rather empty, especially at the time of the Christmas market. However, when planned better and through cooperation with retailers and property owners, Plauen can have a well-balanced Christmas market that is well-balanced in terms of visitors but also whose themes would make it attractive to visitors coming from Saxony, Germany, Czech Republic and beyond……

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Rathausstrasse going to Stadtgallerie

Photos of the Plauen Christmas Market can be viewed via facebook (click here) and Google (click here)

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Christmas Market Tour 2018- Zwickauer Schlossweihnachten

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A couple years ago in 2016, I had a chance to tour the town of Zwickau and write about its Christmas market. Located in the city center at two different market squares, the Christmas market presented a combination of anything that is typical of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) combined with local folklore and local specialties that were not only typical of the region, but also very delicious. More on that you’ll find here. 🙂

Yet as the market expanded during my most recent visit in 2018, and in connection with the city’s 900th anniversary, there is another Christmas market in Zwickau that is just off the main highway and lured me there as I was with my family during a visit. Here, one needs no more than a 10 minute walk from the main market to this historic site…..

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Schloss Osterstein! 🙂

Mentioned for the first time in the history books in 1297, the castle used to be one of the centerpieces of Zwickau, housing three dynasties before it was vacated in 1770 and later converted into a prison, where prominent people, including writer Karl May, were locked up for their offenses. In the 1960s, the East German government converted the former complex into a washing complex, which lasted only 15 years. By 1980 the complex was abandoned, and for 26 years, it became a focus of a heated debate as to whether it was sensible to keep the complex and renovate it, or just tear it down altogether. Finally in 2006, the green light was given by the city council to restore the castle to its former glory, a project that took over two years to complete. The castle is a combination museum and center of the arts, featuring a courtyard, art gallery and an theater stage for performances by some well-known/ local personalities.

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The Schlossweihnachten at the castle has been going on since 2010, but it is one that has received lots of visits and great reviews. The market takes place only on the Advent weekends from Friday through Sunday in the afternoon and evening hours. Originally, the market featured booths and eateries in the main court. The Christmas tree is flanked with Schwibbogen (Christmas arches) with the murals representing the cities in Saxony (Zwickau included) as well as the Ore Mountains, Vogtland and places along the Mulde, which flows through Zwickau. Booths offering food and handcraft items surround the tree in a circle.

Yet 2018 marked the first time that market extended to include the Schlossgraben on the west side, where the bridge to the castle is located. Some of the booths and other places were also at the eastern entrance facing the street and inside the building itself, thus allowing for people to have a closer look at the castle on the inside and out. Part of this extension has to do with the extensive renovations that were being carried out on one of the wings of the castle.  Nevertheless, with parking scarce at the castle because of areas restricted to only customers of a local grocery store combined with residents of the nearby condos, it was highly recommended to use the city’s numerous parking garages encircling the market square and then take the 10-15 minutes to walk there. The nearest park house is at Centrum, just off the main highway.

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Inside (and around) the castle there were a lot of products offered that had to do with handcrafts mainly from the region. Whether it was made from paper, stones or other materials, shoppers had a chance to either purchase them or even make some on their own. It depends on what they were looking for: Christmas cards, tree decorations, soap products, honey, braceletts and necklaces, or winter clothing. They even had ceramics either for dining or in a shape of figurines, such as Christmas angels and manger sets. Many of them carried white and red colors, which are typical colors for Christmas (alongside the green). And while woodworking was rare to find at this market, they also had the traditional Schwibbogen and pyramids on hand, both in the traditional form with candles and/or incandescent lights but also in LED. The main outtake from this tour was homemade and with some class from the locals who put a lot of time and effort into making them for the market.

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And if it wasn’t enough, the market was loaded with fire bins, where people can warm their hands over the fire or even roast some of the local foods that were there. The market has a lot of meat and bread products that are handmade and from the fire-ovens, thus resembling memories of camping with an open bonfire. This was useful, especially for children, as the market had enough to offer them for both indoors as well as outdoors. For outdoors there is a sledding ramp, where kids can slide down with rafting tubes, yet they had outdoor performances on stage and were also greeted by Santa Claus, who came around to visit the kids daily.  The visit is not complete without taking home a custom-made Christmas market ceramic cup with the slogan on there in either black or white with contrasting writing, again all homemade but a souvenir that represents a well-worth visit.

The Schlossweihnacht at Osterstein Castle in Zwickau represents a combination of history and locality, all in the city of Zwickau. It is different from the main market in a way that everything that is offered for eateries and products are homemade and from the region, but it is family friendly in a way that whatever the child (and the parent) is looking for that is not commercialized can be found here. Children can enjoy making or buying hand-made products, watching Christmas fairy tales on stage and doing some fun activities. Adults can enjoy a little bit of food and drink and some good company in a place that one can call “home” after many years of neglect. A visit to Zwickau’s Christmas market is definitely not complete without a couple hours at this castle- conveniently located so one cannot miss it.

 

fast fact logo More than 1.5 million visitors visited Zwickau to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2018. With a population of 98,000 inhabitants, the city is famous for its churches, culture and even the bridges. A guide on the city’s bridges you wll find here.

You’ll find more photos of this Christmas market by clicking here. 🙂

 

FlFi Christmas 2018

Christmas Market Tour 2018: Oberwiesenthal

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Our next Christmas market tour takes us up the mountain- literally. Through “knee-to-waist-deep snow”, the heavily populated forest and lots of twists and turns along the road that is sometimes too narrow for cars to meet. However when up there, the town, its market and the views of the mountains will take your breath away.

Oberwiesenthal may be a very typical town in the Ore Mountains, that is also one of the most traditional when it comes to Christmas. However, do not be fooled with the fact that with a population of 2,600 inhabitants, it’s just a simple, quiet village, for the town is very popular for many reasons. At the height of 2,999 feet (941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest town in Germany, located at the foot of the Fichtelberg, the highest mountain point in the state of Saxony. It is only three kilometers east of the Czech border and only 22 kilometers from the nearest city of Karlsbad (Karoly Vary). And like the Czech town, Oberwiesenthal is not only a resort town, laden with hotels and resorts within a ten-kilometer radius, it is also a ski resort town- home to ski resorts, and all kinds of ski facilities available, from slalom to downhill, cross-country to alpine! It hosts several ski championships on the national and international levels annually, attracting over a million visitors, pending on how cold the weather is. And it is also anchored by traditional but nationally known ski-teams.

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When it comes to Christmas and winter time in Oberwiesenthal, they go together like bread and butter. When looking at the Christmas arches alone, one will see that right away. The town has one of the highest number of these traditional decorations in Germany- every window in every house and building is occupied with these arches. Dozens of them can be found along the town’s streets, whether it is at the railroad viaduct on the east end, at the resorts,

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…..or even at the Christmas market in the city center!

After fighting through snow drifts, snow piles and snow-packed streets, I found my way to the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal. It is located smack-dab in the market square in the center of town, surrounded by the city hall, several traditional shops and a historic mile-marker. The square is cut in half by a street going diagonally in the northwesterly direction, going up the hill. And with that, especially on weekdays where there is not much going on, cars can go through the market square, albeit at a snail’s pace.

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The market itself consists of a traditional Christmas pyramid, a stage flanked by a Christmas arch and some other exhibits on the right-hand side, and eateries that flank the historic marker on the left. The eateries provide the most traditional dishes in the mountain regions, from its bratwursts to the goulash and its mushroom hotdishes. Beverages include hot drinks, like spiced wine (Glühwein) and Heisse Met (honey punch), but also children’s punch, hot chocolate and the basics in coffee.  It’s not much but the market is the central meeting point for tourists who not only want to go skiing, but do some shopping while in town. Oberwiesenthal is connected with the Fichtelberg Ski Lift, which takes the people to the top of the mountain, seven kilometers away. It cuts down the travel time needed by the car by up to half of the 15 minutes needed.

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There are no stores directly at the market due to space, yet there are traditional stores that sell virtually everything made of wood and from the mountain region within only a 2-3 minute walk, mostly along Markt and Bergstrasse where one can find most of the cafés and restaurants going up the hill. At least five or six stores have a wide array of products that are made out of this bountiful material. Even one store sells wicker products, including chairs and even lamp shades! 🙂  But the bulk of the wood products have to do with Christmas, and in particular, Christmas in the mountains, which makes Saxony special to begin with. And unlike some Christmas markets in the mountain regions, the sculpture work done on the figures is very detailed, enough to look at the figures in real like on a 1:25 or 1:40 scale.  Apart from the arches and the holders (the latter of which is as well-decorated as the arches themselves, the stores sell incense men of all shapes and sizes (Räuchermänner), Christmas pyramids and the most popular of the products: a concert of figurines!

These consist of figurines that have a typical theme, such as angels performing a music concert, the traditional manger set of Jesus Joseph and Mary with angels and animal figures, the parade of miners and angels, skiiers and angels….. 😉 I think the reader can follow the pattern from there, right?  Because of the town’s location in the Ore Mountains and the traditions of “Angels we have heard up high,” Oberwiesenthal is popular for their angels and angelic figures one will find everywhere. Even guardian angels are really popular in the stores, based on my observations. 🙂  It is unknown why, especially as the town has only one church in the Martin Luther Church, next to the market square. But the impression with the angels is that Oberwiesenthal is rather religious- predominantly Lutheran, which makes the community a traditional one of sorts.

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Yet as far as fixed eateries are concerned, they are rather multi-cultural as restaurants offer not only traditional foods from the region, but also Italian, and even Anglo-Saxon culinary products. For the latter, one should check out the Kiwi Coffee-Bar-Lounge, located on Schulstrasse across from the Sparkasse Bank. Originating from New Zealand, this restaurant offers one of the widest varieties of coffee, burgers and other pastries in the region. They are usually open during the evening hours yet during my visit, there were only a handful there. On the weekends, they are sometimes filled to the brim, especially when the skiiers are around or if there are winter sport enthusiasts in the area.

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When we think of Oberwiesenthal, we think of winter time and the feeling of Christmas time. It goes beyond the market, its city center and its popularity for winter sports. It has the sense of hominess to it. Even when passing through the villages enroute, they are laden with Christmas decorations for every house and apartment alike, with small villages having their own manger set with pyramids and arches set up at small parks along the way to encourage tourists to make a stop, especially in the evening when they are lit. And this was my overall impression of the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal- it is a very popular place for winter sports, but has a feeling of home for the holidays. And one can feel this while passing through. It is worth the couple hours of stopping and enjoying the snow.

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flfi-travel-tips

The roads leading up to the market in Oberwiesenthal are narrow and sometimes treacherous, especially as the area receives the majority of the snowfall in Saxony. Therefore, one needs to plan ahead, pack accordingly and take the time getting up there to avoid an accident or going into the ditch.  In Germany, it is required to have a warning vest, warning triangle and a first aid kit in your car just in case.  However, highly recommended is a winter-survival kit. There you need a blanket, jumper cables, tire-repair kit and air compressor for the tires, flashlight, warm winter clothing, something to write, cigarette charger cable, emergency contact information, a fully-charged and functioning mobile phone and some dried food- all in addition to the above-mentioned items. It is not required by law in Germany but is mandatory in the US; this has to do with the population density of the former for in case you are stuck, your are more likely to get help quickly than in areas of the US, where the population and the towns are sparse. Still, in case of bad weather and no help arrives even while in the forest, it is handy to have it with.

 

 

fast fact logo

  1. The German word Fichtel is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to region. We would use the word Fichtelberg to describe the highest point in Saxony, at 1,215 meters. Oberwiesenthal is located at the foot of this summit, which can be called Mount Fichtel. However, the Fichtelgebirge (translated literally as Fichtel Mountains) is located in northeastern Bavaria and western Czech Republic, where the cities of Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weiden and Eger (Cheb), Czech Republic are located. Like in the Ore Mountains, the mountain region is known for its winter sports and is the starting point for some of the rivers and streams in Germany and the Czech Republic.
  2. While the Fichtelberg is the highest point in Saxony, it is not the highest point in the Ore Mountains. That belongs to the Keilberg (Klínovec) in the Czech Republic, which is 12,44 meters above sea level.
  3. Although founded in 1529, only a couple tiny relicts of Oberwiesenthal can be seen today. Among them is the historical Mile Post Marker, which can be found in the market square in front of the city hall Neues Haus. It was built in 1723 and was part of the mile marker system that connected Saxony with its neighboring states.
  4. The Fichtelberg Ski Lift (a.k.a. Cable Railway) is the oldest ski lift in Germany. Built in 1929, it was renovated in 1956 and again in 1984. It connects Oberwiesenthal with the Fichtelberg.
  5. Oberwiesenthal is connected by the historic railroad that connects the community with Cranzahl to the north. The 17-kilometer narrow gauge railway was founded in 1897 and is privately owned.

 

Two photo galleries of the Christmas Market in Oberwiesenthal can be found via facebook (here) and Google Photos (here).

 

FlFi Christmas 2018

Christmas Market Tour 2018: Meissen (Saxony)

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December 5th, 2018- the day before St. Nicolas Day. It is a quarter past five in the afternoon, the city center is lit with a wide array of colors, from the buildings flanking the Market Square to the City Hall, to the Church of our Lady. The tree is lit but in a much greener fashion. Huts are filled to the brim with people drinking mulled wine, hot chocolate and tea using the cups that are locally made.  Mushroom Hotdish and Hirtenkäserollen (a meat roll with cream cheese filling) are being dished out and people are having a great time, talking, eating and drinking. The mood is very cheerful and there is not much crowding.

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Suddenly, the attention turns to the stage and the city hall- each window converted to a day in each month of December, thus turning the entire building into a giant Advent Calendar.  The window of the Fifth opens and a unique form of artwork is presented with the question: From which fairy tale does this piece come from?

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The Answer: The Princess and the Pea, a work written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Each open window has a unique drawing and/or painting, all of which are homemade just like the postcards and paintings done by a family that has resided in the community for at least three centuries.  The backdrop of the market is the castle and cathedral on the hill, overlooking a major waterway and the rest of the community. It used to house a royal dynasty until a century ago when they were forced to abdicate because of the Treaty of Versailles.

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People associate the city of Meissen, located 23 kilometers along the River Elbe northwest of Dresden in the German state of Saxony, with its world-famous ceramics, as the Meissen Porcelain Company produces and exports pottery worldwide. Yet they still don’t know what they are missing. As a tip, if one visits Dresden to see the Christmas markets there, one can afford a half-hour trip to Meissen to see this one. There are many reasons to visit Meissen in general, aside from the ceramics:

  1. Albrechtsburg and Meissen Cathedral (Meissner Dom): One cannot miss seeing this tall Gothic architectural artwork which is right next to the Elbe. The castle needed 53 years to be built, having been completed in 1525. It housed the House of Wettin, a dominant force that played a role in the Kingdom of Saxony and later the German empire before 1918. The castle houses the Meissner Dom, which was completed in the 13th Century and is the tallest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany.
  2. The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche): This is located on the western side of the market square. The official name is the St. Afra Church and the church is famous for its organ and especially the bells, all made with Meissen porcelain. The bells play every quarter hour. That church is one of over a dozen that have a historic flavor for Meissen.
  3. The Historic City Center: Featuring the City Hall, several restaurants that have existed for over a century, the Theaterhaus and countless historic houses, people can spend a whole day window shopping, visiting ceramic and painting exhibits and enjoying the culinary dishes that are typical for Meissen and the region.
  4. Domherrenhof: Dating back to the Baroque period (and even further back), this area features a series of walls, steep steps, walkways and bridges surrounding the historic city center and extending from the St. Afra Church, all the way to the Alrechtsburg and Cathedral. The whole pathway provides visitors with a splendid view of the entire city from down below, as well as regions along the Elbe and beyond.
  5. The Meissen Vineyards: This is the signature of the region along the Elbe. Known in Europe as the northernmost vineyards, this area extends for over 60 square kilometers, along the Elbe and deep into the Spaargebirge. Festivals in the spring and fall are dedicated to the planting and harvest of grapes and the production of the wine, most of which you can only find in Saxony.

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But when it comes to Christmas markets and the like, Meissen brings out the best, not just in terms of its porcelain but also in the form of artwork. It goes all the way down to artwork on the Christmas market cups, where each year has a commemoration of some sorts, a different design that includes anything typical of Christmas and Meissen and the writing which turns the standard fonts of Times New Roman into shame. You can have a look at a pair of cups I got from there to find out.

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If you collect Christmas market cups, then Meissen is the place to stop for them.

Another feature of Meissen that one will not see is when visiting Brück and Sons, a store that was established in 1723 and still serves today as not only a bookstore- one of ten that serve the city of 28,000 inhabitants- but also a publisher.  Brück and Sons’ bookstore also has a function as a Christmas specialty store and a local shop. In other words, the store has everything but all homemade.

What does the store have? Nicht leichter als folgendes:

The store features homemade Christmas cards, Advent Calendars and other paper items, all handpainted and all have different themes, whether it is with a Christmas market scene, or a historic place of interest or even a general theme. The artwork there is genuine and is as good or even better than the works of the late Tom Kincade because of its realistic setting and the use of lighting.  If one is looking for something for Christmas, this is one of the seven wonders of Meissen that is worth seeing, especially as the store also offers homemade products, such as liquours, jams (some with whisky in it) and praline candies. The lone exception of products offered at the store are the products imported from Sweden, yet they appear to be homemade.

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But the store is not the only place where a person can stop to shop. Homemade products can also be found at the St. Afra Church. Open every day until 6pm, the church’s  basar sells a wide array of products that are handmade by several different groups, whether they are homemade Christmas stars, paper stars for the Christmas tree, homemade jam, Christmas cards and even some winter-wear, even though during my visit, the temperature was a couple degrees above zero and quite mild.  As a bonus, one can be greeted with some organ music from time to time.

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The booths at the market itself offers a lot of Christmas products that are made from the Ore Mountain region as well as the Vogtland, mostly from the latter. A real treat are the mini-Räuchermänner at a stand at (….). These are mini-incense men which uses mini-cones, half the size of a Räuchermann on average. Also found there are the Christmas Gnomes, which use the normal cones. In Germany, gnomes are becoming popular year round for they used to be found in most gardens in the summer time. Yet in the past five years, the gnomes have found their way to fame on the Christmas stage, either as incense figures or decoration on the Christmas tree.  Yet at the main market, one will find most of the city’s culinary foods, such as mushroom hotdish and Hirtenkäse-Rollchen, and pastries. Yet much of the mulled wine are produced locally, in addition to the hot chocolate.

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The only caveat to Meissen’s Christmas market is the parking. Because of the narrow streets and the close proximity of the buildings, parking and even driving is restricted when going through the Meissen Christmas market. Even the streets leading to the two markets- the smaller one included, is blocked off to ensure the safety of the visitors passing through. Henceforth, it is recommended to use the parking garages to the south and the east of the Christmas markets, including those along the Elbe, and walk to the places directly. They will save the person a lot of time and headaches, especially as the areas are restricted as is. Because most of the buildings are rather historic, there is no leeway in terms of providing better parking possibilities.

However, this may not be even necessary given the charm that Meissen has in general. When walking through the city center for the first time, there was a sense of going back into time where cars were non-existent, and the only way to get around anywhere was on foot. Even the bike trail system is rather restricted because of the narrowness of the streets, combined with the steep grades. Just add the Christmas market in Meissen to the scenery of the old town and one will be in Winter Wonderland. It’s like leaving the stresses of city life and entering a different world when walking through Meissen.  While one could add another theme to the market, such as something Medieval, etc., but it would be somewhat overkill, given the sittiing Meissen has to offer, combined with the points of interest the city has.

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To sum up this visit, there are enough reasons to visit Meissen and spend the day there. The Christmas market is one of the key reasons. It features locally handmade products that go beyond the ceramics the city prides itself on- namely artwork, clothing and anything related to paper. It offers food and drink that is based on what is offered in the region. It has a large, life-sized Advent Calendar that people can look forward to everyday. Even the market itself features events that extend until January 6th. And lastly, the market has a small-town feeling which is atypical for a town as big as Meissen itself is. One does not need to have an overcrowded but popular Christmas market, like in Nuremberg, Berlin and even neighboring Dresden. It just needs that perfect touch that makes the market the place to spend the whole day in. And Meissen is just that when looking at just the Christmas market, alone. The rest is already a given.

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More about Meissen can be found through the following links:

http://www.meissner-weihnacht.de/

https://www.stadt-meissen.de/Advent.html

More photos on the Christmas market in Meissen can be found via facebook (here) and Google (here)

FlFi Christmas 2018

Santa Goes Shopping- Kaufland Commercial ’18

 

With the holiday season around the corner, we have Father Christmas (Santa Claus) in action, as seen in the Christmas commercial presented by German supermarket chain Kaufland. This was released shortly before Thanksgiving and even though it is a tradition over here in Germany to have food chains to release commercials with special themes just in time for the holiday season, this one is special as Germany, like many countries in Europe, is latching onto the Black Friday tradition, where people line up in front of malls and major stores to get the best deals for Christmas. The difference here is that Kaufland, like many store chains, are introducing Black Week. Taking place at the same time as Thanksgiving, Black Week shoppers can find the best deals both in stores as well as online- mostly through Amazon, who may have started this tradition. Whether it is a good idea to order online or not remains to be open, but if Father Christmas keeps huffing and puffing to get everything last minute, he won’t have to worry about weight loss come Christmas time. It’s just a matter of persuading people perceiving him as fat and jolly that being slim and active is a wonderful thing. 😉

 

So let’s shop and celebrate smart, shall we?

 

The Flensburg Files is about to go on tour to the Christmas markets again, as the first one opens after Thanksgiving. To look at the previous places visited, click here.

There is also a collection of other Christmas stories, films and poems in the Literature and Genre section. Click here and scroll down, there are some funny ones worth seeing.

While the Christmas market tour will include some catching up from last year (the author was sick during much of the holiday season last year), it will include some cool activities for you to try out, not to mention a couple things to think about- the author sometimes has to get them off his chest and many can benefit from it.

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Christmas Market Tour 2010: Frankfurt (Main)

Despite having to put up with overcrowding trains as well as trains arriving two hours later, I did make it to the last Christmas market on my places to visit list- in Frankfurt am Main.  A couple of interesting points about Frankfurt that one should know about: First and foremost, there are two Frankfurts- one in the western half of Germany in the state of Hesse, and one in the far eastern part of the state on the border to Poland. When the Iron Curtain sliced the two Germanys into two resulting in 45 years of hostility between the Communists and the Westerners, the people in the eastern part of Germany (known at the time as the German Democratic Republic) could not imagine that region to not have a town called Frankfurt. Therefore, they fought to keep the name Frankfurt, which after the Reunification of 1990 became known as Frankfurt an der Oder. Both Main and Oder are rivers that flow through the cities respectively.  Another point about Frankfurt am Main that is well-known is the fact that the city is the third largest in Germany (in terms of the population), is the headquarters of the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange (DAX), but yet despite being the largest city in Hesse with a population of over 600,000 (minus the metropolitan area), it is not the capital of the state. That honor goes to the one of the Twin Cities straddling the Main and Rhein Rivers, Wiesbaden (ironically, its sister on the other side of the rivers, Mainz is the capital of Rheinland Palatinate).

The Frankfurt Christmas Market, which is located along the Main River at Römerplatz between the St. Paul’s and St. Nicolas Cathedrals was touted by many as the cream of the crop with regards to the Christmas markets in Germany- even more popular than the Nürnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Yet still, despite its size and various shops located in three different areas around the two churches, the market still offers the same goods as the ones in Nuremberg and Erfurt, which doesn’t really make it that spectacular to begin with. Furthermore, for those who are claustrophobic, most of the area is located in tight quarters, which does not provide for some breathing room to manoever; especially when it is on a Saturday, when most of the people do their Christmas shopping. It is even more depressing when the weather is gloomy, as it was the case when I visited the market. And finally, for those wanting to stay longer at the Christmas market- meaning beyond closing time for most shops- so that they can enjoy their last cup of Glühwein, they are more or less screwed for when the clock strikes 9:00 at night, the shops and food/drink areas close almost simultaneously! It is not like in Bayreuth, where Winterdorf is open longer than the shops, or in Erfurt where every food and beverage stand is open longer than the shops (even at Domplatz). This caused some considerable anger among those wanting to grab one more Glühwein or visit one more food stand only to find that the lights are shut off and the windows and doors hastily shut right before their eyes! I found the experience to be rather disappointing for someone who has visited the market for the first time but has seen other Christmas markets that were more flexible and relaxed than this one. I can imagine when the market is open and in full action that a person can get a considerable amount of aggression after a short time, which is easily comparable to the market in Nuremberg although the latter is more genuine than the one 3 hours to the west (by train, that is). For a person living in or near Frankfurt and does not like to travel that much, this market will provide people with a taste of typical German goods, although almost all of them originate from the south and far northwest of the city. However, if one wants to see a real market and find genuine goods, than they should look elsewhere as there are enough places to go around. It does not mean that a person should avoid the Frankfurt Christmas Market altogether. One could use the place as a venue for meetings over Glühwein and pretzels or other local specialties from Hesse and the surrounding area. The people at the stands would benefit from listening to all kinds of negotiations that take place in front of them, while at the same time, listen and learn the different languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. It is also a place for any last minute Christmas shopping ideas, although you have to put up with some elbowing and some lectures on how to be polite, which is something that many in Frankfurt have forgotten about. But like the city itself, the Christmas market is something that you see only once and never again. It is like living in the city- you only live there for a short time and then you move on to greener pastures unless you are: 1. A naturally born city slicker, or 2. You were born and raised in Frankfurt and you would never trade it in for anything else.

With that said, I went back to the hotel where I could try and get a good night’s rest before taking off for home, which is in the great state of Minnesota. As I was going back by light rail and subway, I was thinking of the events that occurred earlier in the day, where I befriended a German police officer who originates from Saxony but works in Frankfurt, and her company I got while drinking a coffee and a Glühwein, while waiting for the next ICE Train to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought to myself that good company from someone you never met before can create paths that you never knew existed. Seeing the Christmas markets in Germany are only a side dish to having some good company from your family, friends, and people you meet along the way. There are times in your life that people come in and out and don’t think about who you really are until they’re gone. However there are some who come into your life and stay there because you are who you are and they like you for that. This was probably the most rewarding effects when you go to a certain event or place, like the Christmas market in Germany.

Entering the honey shop, only to get the lights turned off as they entered and shown the door a second later.

 

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Christmas Market Tour 2010: Bayreuth

Overview with the Christmas tree Photo taken in December 2010

After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main).  Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s The Langoliers- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.

However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film The Langoliers. There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nuremberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.

But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there.

And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays.

Feuerzangenbowle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle

Winter Dream:

http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/12678283/How-To-Make-The-Amaretto-Sunset

Glühwein (EN: Mulled or Spiced Wine):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulled_wine

Reference to the Langoliers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Langoliers

More pics:

West end overlooking the book store and old town hall.
Winterdorf at Sternplatz on the east end of the market
Inside Winterdorf, where the drinks run wild and the guest are even wilder.
Ah yes, the Feuerzangenbowle!

 

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