The huts are open. The mulled wine is flowing into the cups. Seasons greetings are being sung in front of Christmas trees. And new local goods are being introduced to tourists and regular visitors. This means the Christmas markets in Germany are officially open. And for yours truly, this means I will be on the road, profiling the best and finest of Christmas markets in Germany. 🙂
This year’s Christmas market tour is very unique for its main focus is on history and tradition. History because of the interest in typical holiday traditions in the past in comparison with the future. And tradition because of the interest in comparing the family traditions in the past and present. We know that the Christmas markets originated from eastern Germany and most of the popular figures- the Christmas Pyramid, the Lighted Christmas Arch and the incense people were mostly made in the Ore and Fichtel Mountain regions in Saxony and Bavaria. But while we know our Christmas markets based on the ones from the western half of Germany, which includes Nuremberg and Munich, plus the Christmas traditions, which are typical in the same region, we don’t know much about the history of the ones in the eastern half, which had been under Communist rule until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited a year later. We know that Christmas was more or less not focused on Christianity per se because of the government’s crack down on religion. We also know that despite having wooden products made in the Ore Mountains be sold in markets in the western part but not to the people in the region. However, what makes Christmas in the former East Germany unique from the ones we’re accustomed to?
We can start with a pair of commercials that were produced during that period and focused on Christmas and shopping. The questions we have are the following:
What is meant by Konsum in general and how was it used here? Was it a store or propaganda?
What were the themes behind these commercials?
What gifts were common during that time?
How do you perceive the commercials in comparison to the ones accustomed to from an outsider’s perspective?
Have a look at the two examples:
A lot of themes were picked up during my last tour in Saxony, in places like Glauchau, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Leipzig and even Freiberg, which leads to the decision to find out more about Christmas during the Communist era. This includes items like Christmas songs, food, incense men, and other items. Therefore, this year’s tour will take us deep in the heart of the Ore Mountains in hopes to find out exactly how Christmas was celebrated before 1989 and what traditions from the past are still alive today.
Many of these factors will be integrated into the markets I visit, yet there are some factors that will be produced in separate articles, whether it is in a form of interviews, short summaries, video examples or other genres. The bottom line is to compare the tradition of eastern Germany to that of the western counterpart and allow ourselves to decide which tradition was better.
So sit back, relax and havge a look at my tour and findings that will help you (re)define the meaning of Christmas. 🙂
Stay tuned! 🙂
Note: Public Radio Station MDR is also doing coverage on Christmas in Eastern Germany, picking up from a few years ago with their podcasts. Click here for previous broadcasts and stay tuned for news coverage that will come beginning December 1st and will be added here.
While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.
Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.
During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles. Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.
What foods were served at Christmas time?
What gifts were customary?
What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?
In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories, some of which will be included there as well.
Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.
Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.
And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂
After getting warmed up with the Sächsisch Deutsch, as shown in Part I of the Quiz (click here to get to the page) Part II takes us to the state of Saxony itself. Having spent quite a few months there as well as having a few contacts from all over the state, I found that there is more to Saxony than meets the eye. If you ask someone who has yet to visit Germany (or even has passed through there once) the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Germany, 90% of the respondents would say Bavaria. Sure, Bavaria is home of the beer, the Oktoberfest and the sports club Bayern Munich. It would be considered the German version of Texas and would better off being on its own if the likes of Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer had it their way. 😉
However, we have the German version of California in the state of Saxony- yes, that’s right, Saxony! 🙂
Saxony used to be part of the Kingdom of Saxony, which includes present-day Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Since 1990, it has become a free-state after having spent 40 years being part of East Germany and having been divided up into districts. With the population of 4.1 million inhabitants, Saxony is the birthplace of many products that we use everyday, both at home as well as on the road. Many personalities that have become famous and placed their names in the history books were either born in Saxony or have passed through leaving their mark. The Christmas market got its start in Saxony, most of the automobles we know started its business in Saxony because of its proximity to the mountains and its natural mineral resources. And most recently, many professional sports teams are climbing their way up the ladder in soccer, handball and even basketball!
Now that’s a lot right there about the state! :-O
But what do we know about the state? This is where Part II of the quiz comes in. Dividing it up into general information, personalities and its infrastructure (which was difficult enough as is, by the way), this guide will give you a chance to test your knowledge and do some research about the state, especially if you wish to visit the region someday. As Saxony is the where many people made their inventions, especially for the household and for the highway, a part III will be devoted to the inventors.
But for now, let’s test our knowledge and get to know the Saxe, shall we? 🙂 Good luck!
The Black Triangle, infamous for years of pollution and environmental destruction caused by strip mining, consists of three states meeting near which town in Saxony? Identify the three states and choose which city.
The three states: ______________, __________________, & ___________________
Hint: A beverage named after the region and this city, consisting of (10%) vodka, (40%) Vita Cola and (50%) Czech beer was created by the author in 2005.
Which cities are served by the ICE-train line? Which ones will be served by the InterCity line beginning in 2023?
Dresden Chemnitz Leipzig Glauchau Riesa Bad Schandau
T/F: The Leipzig-Dresden Railline, the first railroad line ever built, was completed in 1839
Mark the following cities that have a professional soccer team (1, 2 and 3rd leagues) with an X, a professional handball team (1st and 2nd leagues) with a check-mark, and check-mark the cities that have an American football team.
T/F: FC Dynamo Dresden is the only team from Saxony that has defeated FC Bayern Munich in a soccer match.
How many soccer teams does Leipzig have, including the Red Bull Team?
Information about the Christmas markets in Saxony:
The oldest Christmas market known to man can be found in which city?
a. Dresden b. Leipzig c. Bautzen d. Nuremberg e. Glauchau
The origin of the Stollen (the German fruit cake with raisins and powdered sugar) originated from which city?
a. Plauen b. Naumburg (Saale) c. Dresden d. Rochlitz e. Flöha
The shortest Christmas market in Germany can be found in this city?
a. Glauchau b. Crimmitschau c. Werdau d. Meerane e. Aue
Which region in Saxony was the birthplace of the Schwipbogen (Christmas arch)?
a. Ore Mountains b. Vogtland c. Lausitz Region d. Black Triangle
T/F: Customary of a Christmas market in Saxony is the parade of miners in the villages Ore Mountains. If true, name at least one town that does host this.
T/F: Räuchermänner were common but rare decorations during the East German Communist era.
T/F: Pulsnitzer Kekse is a cake with a jelly filling that can be found at a Christmas market in Saxony.
Which Christmas market does NOT have a castle setting?
a. Wolkenburg b. Glauchau c. Zwickau d. Crimmitschau e. Waldenburg
Who is the disco-king in this picture? Have a look in the activities below. 😉
Information on the Personalities from Saxony:
Look at the quasi-autobiography of these personalities of Saxony and guess who they are. The first and last letters of the names are given. Some research is required. Good luck! 🙂
I was born in Chemnitz, which was known at that time as ______________, and started ice skating at the age of six. I won several gold medals in the Olympics and the world championship in figure skating, while pursuing a side dish career in acting and sports commentator. I was not only the face of East Germany before the Fall of the Wall in 1989 but also one of the best models of all time. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden to a family of actors and became one myself. I also love writing and conducting musical pieces and playing golf. While I used to be one of the most outspoken opponents of Communism during the 1989 revolution, I settled down and became the well-known, politically correct, sometimes stuck-up and arrogant professor of forensic medicine in a well-known but very popular “Krimi-series” playing opposite a St. Pauli junkie of a police officer. Who am I?
J_______ – J___________F L_________________S
I was born in Leipzig but grew up in Potsdam. I started acting in 1982 and have continued this career ever since. I star in many krimi-series including a Tatort series, where the setting is my hometown of Leipzig, and I play the hot, saucy investigator who eventually dies in the arms of my detective partner in the very last episode played in 2015. Who am I?
I was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal in 1842. While I later became a teacher in Saxony, I started a life of crime which resulted in me losing my teaching license and being jailed many times. During my time in a prison in Zwickau, I became a librarian and was interested in reading books. It was then when I started writing, having produced several works focusing on the American Wild West, many of which had the character Winnetou in it. I continued writing until I died in 1912 and am buried in a tomb in Radebeul (near Dresden). Who am I?
5. I was born in Görlitz in 1976 to a father who was a soccer player and a mother who was a swimmer. I followed my father’s footsteps and started playing soccer at the age of seven, having played for Chemnitz and Kaiserslautern before making my breakthrough with the soccer team Bayer Leverkusen in 2000. There, my aggressive play brought forth many championships with Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and even Chelsea in England. I even became the captain of the German national soccer team before retiring in 2012. Who am I?
I was born in 1873 in Dresden. Even though I was a housewife, I became famous for inventing and patenting the modern coffee filter in 1908. Six years later, I founded the coffee company which still exists today, producing coffee and filters for the coffee machine. I relocated the firm to Minden (Hesse), where I lived to be 77 years old. Who am I?
I was born in a small village in Saxony 80 years ago, but I became famous for becoming the first German astronaut to fly in space in 1978. After working for the Potsdam Institute for Physics, I later worked for the Russian Institute for Space Education and later for the European Space Agency. I was a household name in East Germany as well as in films. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden and learned the trade as a massage therapist and remedial gymnastics teacher. I hated corsets and many of my female clients always had problems with their posture and their sensitive areas. Henceforth, I learned another trade as a seamstress and invented the modern Busenhalter (BH), which is bra in English, in 1899. Because of its simplistic design for these sensitive areas and its sexy appeal, it has since been revolutionized and one can find them in different shapes, sizes and forms, including sports bras and bikinis. Because I was the one who made the bra in Saxony, who am I?
Which of these statements are true or false?
T/F: Richard Wagner, composer and founder of the annual Bayreuth Festspiel which takes place in July, originated from Saxony.
T/F: Robert and Clara Schumann, a husband-wife piano duo of the 19th Century, were both born in Zwickau, but married in Leipzig. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
T/F: Frederike Caroline Neubert, born in Reichenbach, was one of the first female pioneers in acting, having done stage performances in the 1600s.
T/F: The Semper Opera House in Dresden is named after the world renowned composer, Gottfried Semper.
T/F: The Princes is a rockmusic band that was created last year in honor and memory of Prince.
T/F: Catherine of Bora, who married Martin Luther, originally came from Glauchau.
Information on the Bridges (and Bridge Builders) in Saxony:
1. When was the Dresden-Chemnitz-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate railline completed? How many viaducts in Saxony does this line have?
2. List the following railroad viaducts in Saxony based on the following (click on the highlighted names to see the pictures):
From shortest to longest
From oldest to youngest
Of which, which one(s) was built by Johann Andreas Schubert?
3. Which city in Saxony does not have/ never had a bridge builder/ bridge engineering firm?
Chemnitz Zwickau Glauchau Wüstenbrand Niesky
4. Bridge builder Johann Andreas Schubert who built the _________________________________________, was responsible for the building of Germany’s first _______________________ (multiple choice). The name of it was: S____________________A.
a. automobile b. steam locomotove c. typewriter d. steam ship
5. T/F: The Blaues Wunder Bridge in Dresden, the work of bridge engineer Claus Köpke, was built in 1893, but survived the Huns’ desperate attempt of blowing it up at the conclusion of World War I. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
6. Where are these bridges located? Match the pictures with the names below.
The next Christmas market on the tour takes us back to the Erzgebirge Region- or should I say the gateway to the mountains to be specific? Zwickau is located in the southwestern part of Saxony, 17 kilometers south of neighboring Glauchau along the Zwickauer Mulde River. Access to the city of 100,000 inhabitants is easy, thanks to access to the Autobahn 72 that connects Hof (Bavaria) and Leipzig via Chemnitz and two key railways: The Nuremberg-Hof-Dresden Magistrate operated mainly by the Mitteldeutsche Railway (MRB) and the Franconian-Saxony Route connecting Leipzig-Halle and Hof with a branch extending to Zwickau from Werdau. Another rail route to Karlsbad (Karoly Vary) in the Czech Republic provides direct access to the mountains. Zwickau is the gateway to the Erzgebirge region (Ore Mountains) with the historic Silver Road being the western terminus that provides access through the mountains enroute to Freiberg (Saxony), offering tourists a glimpse of the story of the miners and how they lived, in places like Annaberg-Buchholz, Schneeberg, Schwarzenberg, and Tharandt. Zwickau is also the gateway to the heavily forested and hilly Vogtland region in the south, where Plauen, Greiz and Hof are located, but also the agricultural regions to the north, where Glauchau, Gössnitz and Altenburg are located. The landscape changes when passing through Zwickau, enabling people to choose which region to hike (or bike if you have two wheels). 🙂
Zwickau is also the birthplace of automobiles and infrastructure. Audi Motors, which was created in 1932 thanks to the fusion with Horch, had its start in the city. The beloved East German car Trabant was manufactured in Zwickau until 1990. Now Volkswagon handles most of the manufacturing of cars at its headquarters between Zwickau and Glauchau. The city is home of very unique bridges stemming from six different eras, including the Paradiesbrücke, Röhrensteg and Zellstoff Bridge (a tour guide of the bridges can be found here). It is unknown whether the largest bridge builder in Zwickau, whose history goes back 160 years may have had something to do with it, but it would not be a surprise. Yet a surprise to musicians and Germanists would be if they never knew that composer Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau and had his start there before becoming a famous pianist and music writer. The house where he was born is still standing and can be seen while in the city center.
Then there is the Christmas market in Zwickau. When compared to the markets in the Erzgebirge or Vogtland regions, let alone in the western half of Saxony (minus Chemnitz), the market is the largest with over 300 stands in two markets plus four different streets connecting them. From the author’s perspective, Zwickau’s market is one of the most centralized markets ever visited on tour, as one needs only two minutes walk between the two markets. It’s comparible to the ones in Leipzig, Halle (Saale), Nuremberg, Quedlinburg and to a certain degree, Freiberg. Yet in terms of access, when compared to the likes of Chemnitz, Glauchau, Freiberg, Frankfurt (Main) and Weimar, it is very difficult to reach, especially by bike but also by car. While one can be daring enough to bike the Zwickauer Mulde bike path and access it from Paradiesbrücke, which takes only three minutes to reach, from the train station, let alone the main highway B93, one needs 10-15 minutes to reach. The reason: The market is located deep inside the walls of the historic town, and that is located right next to the river! Allow some time and patience to find it and have your Google Map app handy.
I had two different opportunities to visit the market this year because of my commitments teaching English nearby combined with my plan to visit the markets in the mountain. Both times I came away with the same impression as before, which was very local but diverse, very historical but fancy, very religious but educational, and very wide in selection but also very tasty. In short, if you want a taste of Erzgebirge and Vogtland and have a time and money budget, you should take some time in Zwickau, as the city provides you with a glimpse of the markets you could (and should) visit when going deeper into the regions.
As mentioned earlier, the market is divided up into two different ones. The larger of the two markets is located at Hauptmarkt, which is between Alte Steinweg and Marienplatz. At this place, one will find everything typical of Saxony and the Erzgebirge. Like in Chemnitz and Freiberg, this market has its usual black Lichterbogen (lighted arch), laden with stands made of wood from the mountains, all of which have the usual yellowish-brown and mahogany colors and resemble log cabins and huts. The backdrop of the market features the Historic Theater (Gewandhaus) with its white and light brown Fachwerk design, the City Hall and the Robert Schumann House, where he was born. Looking towards the theater, one will see the large pyramid with its figures of the miners in the foreground; the Christmas tree is in the background. The former is a key eatery, serving traditional delicacies but also a dozen types of Glühwein (mulled/spiced wine), including apple and spice, sanddorn (sea buckthorn) and wildberry. It is also one of three places where a person can find a Christmas market cup in several different colors and designs. Two of them I have at home as souvenirs, btw. 🙂
Crossing Marienplatz and going adjacent from the Hauptmarkt, there is St. Mary’s Cathedral (the official name is St. Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). While visiting the church, one really needs to see the manger set, located behind the church in front of the museum and Brauhaus restaurant and brewery. While the market has more manger sets than any of the markets in eastern Germany (at least five of them are located at the Christmas market in general), this one is the largest as the figures are life-sized and depict the scene where the three wise men visit and bless Joseph and Mary, the proud parents, and baby Jesus. While the site is more visible in the daytime, one can play with photography at night, using the lights to depict the actual scene and the lighted church as the backdrop.
South of the church, going 300 meters, is Kornplatz. This section is the smaller of the two markets but serves as a symbol of the more traditional Christmas market on a wider German scale. This goes beyond the pyramid, which has a more modern mahogany appearance, as several gabled dark brown houses sell local clothing and cooked goods, including the Mutzbraten, which is smoked marinated pork that is cooked for 2-3 hours in a wooden stove and is a Thuringian tradition, like the Bratwurst. However there are two more local cooked specialties to be mentioned later that are even local than the Thuringian specialties offered at this Christmas market (no offense to those from Thuringia.) The market has a carousel and children’s railroad track for them to ride the train through the market. The market area itself is more suitable for families with children because of the space and some stands that are children friendly. Also as an incentive to visit the market is the children’s story alley. Located along Münzstrasse connecting the Korn and Haupt markets, it features a display of 3-4 fairy tales which are decided upon annually by the planning committee. The artists then construct the mural and the figures depicted in the story, which is recorded by the narrators and played by the tourists.
LOOKING AT THESE DISPLAYS, CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY ARE?
Other amusement rides can also be found at the Hauptmarkt, but across the streetcar tracks and on the opposite side of the statue of Robert Schumann. They were purposely placed there to provide better access for children and to avoid overcrowding. The planning of the Christmas market was perfect in a way that the children’s section was placed in the outer portions of the Hauptmarkt while the market itself can focus on local goods from the region. This plus its openness- meaning no fences and key entrances like at the one in Freiberg- enables people to enter and exit the market anywhere freely without overcrowding. It’s convenient and most importantly, it’s safe. This is probably the main reason why Zwickau’s market is so centralized- not to mention well organized. 🙂
As mentioned before, Zwickau’s Christmas market has a wide selection of food and drink- the more traditional Christmas market foods are at the Kornmarkt, while the more local goods from the region is found at the Hauptmarkt, with a few exceptions of foods from Switzerland and France at a couple booths, including Cheese Fondue. One of the prized goods worth trying is the Zwickau Brühlette. Based on a recipe dating back to the 1950s, the Brühlette is simply a meatloaf made of ground meet combined with flour, breadcrumbs and spices, but what exactly goes into there and how it is made has remained top secret since it was presented by a married couple who invented this in light of the food shortage during the days of Socialism in East Germany. After the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the unique delicacy became nearly an overnight hit among “Westerners” that eventually, a restaurant was established, which still sells the Brühlette- with or without bread and with or without topping. I tried one at the stand across from St. Mary’s Church during my visit with mustard and it topped all the Leberkäse (basically meatloaf slices) I’ve tried since moving to Germany in 1999! It was a bit spicy but really tasty and one that stands out! When visiting Zwickau, it is recommended to put this food on top of your list of delicacies to taste.
Not far from the top of the list of foods to taste is horse meat. Regardless of whether they are meat slices or sausage, horse meat is different from other forms of meat that people eat as it has a tender, hearty and somewhat tart-like flavor, regardless of how it is served. The place selling this is Ulrich Engelhardt, and the business has been selling horse meat since 1990, the same time the Zwickau Christmas market started up again! I tried one during my first visit in a form of a sausage on a bun and it tasted similar to Polish sausages, a common commodity sold in American supermarkets. Having that with my dad and brother while growing up, that was quite addicting and tasty! 🙂
Also recommended is the Dresden Landbrot. Originating from the capital of Saxony, the Landbrot is baked bread with filling, cooked in a wooden oven. Filling included cheese and meat, and can be served with sour creme and chives, just to name a few. This bread is best served hot with a good Glühwein to go along with that. 🙂
Despite all that is offered at the Christmas market, sometimes it hurts to say good-bye, especially when the market closes at 8:00pm. Zwickau usually ends its market day on a musical note, singing Christmas carols and a farewell song as a way to signaling the visitors mulling over some Räuchermänner made of Erzgebirge wood, accessories for a doll house, lanterns with a wooden frame, miner figures made of silver or wood and other typical local products to make the purchase and allow the merchants to close their doors to prepare for the next day. Believe it or not, I witnessed this on my visit, especially as the number of visitors had already reached its peak. But it was a way to look back at Zwickau’s market and summarize it in simpler terms:
Zwickau is one of the largest Christmas markets in a region where the city sits at the gateway to three different landscapes: Vogtland, Erzgebirge and the agricultural plains. Like the markets of the past, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides people with an opportunity to try and purchase products locally. In other words, the market is one of the more local ones when looking at the themes mentioned and the heritage that goes along with that. While some markets are really spread out, Zwickau is one of the more centralized of the Christmas markets, with two key markets, two corridors with only a three minute walking distance and a large church with the largest of the five manger sets to see. Even if it takes a long time to get to the city center where the market is located, the visit in the end is well worth it. Given its access to the three regions and its western terminus to the Silver Road going through the Erzgebirge, Zwickau’s Christmas market provides the tourist with a whiff of the city’s history with the miners and perhaps encourages the person to explore the other Christmas markets and places along the path to look at their history and heritage and learn a bit more about the history of Saxony and to a greater extent, Germany.
Because of that, I have a lot of towns along the Silver Road to explore, in addition to the Vogtlanders. And what will be interesting is seeing how these markets, like Annaberg-Bucholz, Schwarzenberg, Schneeberg, etc. celebrate Christmas and their miners. Will it be different or similar to what I visited during the tour? My bet is each market will be different but the miners’ legacy will be the same, affecting the lifestyles of the people in the Erzgebirge that is different than the rest of the country. And sometimes a different lifestyle opens new doors to knowledge and understanding. 🙂
Check out the Flensburg Files’ photo album with additional photos of Zwickau’s Christmas market, which you can click here. An ongoing collection of Zwickau at night, taken by the author, can be accessed here. Stop here occasionally as the collection will be bigger. Enjoy! 🙂
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!
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! 🙂
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. 🙂
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. 😉
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. 🙂