A visit to one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets -: the Striezelmarkt in Dresden
Traditional market booths, the aroma of Glühwein (mulled wine) everywhere you go, regional and international crafts, rides, and delicious food – this is the atmosphere at the many Christmas markets in lots of German cities and towns. One of the oldest of these markets takes place in Dresden every year. Together with Abdullah Elsayed from Egypt, 33 years old, we visit Dresden’s Striezelmarkt and talk about German Christmas traditions and ways to spend Christmas while studying abroad.
by Janine Funke
Abdullah is waiting next to a small kids’ ride. The ride is surrounded by booths selling all manner of delicacies and offering handmade candles and soaps. It is ten o’clock in the morning, the Striezelmarkt has just opened. The first Bratwürste, those famous German sausages, are on the grills, the air is filled with the aromas of candied almonds and fresh Glühwein. At this hour, things are rather quiet at Germany’s world-famous Christmas market in the heart of Dresden. “Right away, you sense the history,” says Abdullah as we start strolling through the market. The history of the famous Dresden Christmas market on Altmarkt square in the centre of the city can be traced back to the year 1434. “This market really is different than the others, the Christmas spirit is especially strong here.”
Now we are at the heart of the market. We stand before the world’s largest Christmas pyramid built in the typical style of the Erzgebirge region. Dresden and the surrounding area are known for traditional wood crafts. The wooden pyramids are the region’s trade mark during the Christmas season. The pyramid at the Striezelmarkt is 14.62 metres tall and has even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. “This is all very new to me,” says Abdullah. “In my home country, there are no big festivities around this time of year. In Germany, the Christmas season is a real event. It is impressive: people go out in the freezing cold for hours to visit these markets and meet friends.” At the entrance to the Striezelmarkt, we admire a huge, walk-on Christmas arch. It, too, is one of the largest of its kind and is traditionally made in this region. “I especially like all the hand-crafted items at these markets, you only see those this time of year. You get to know Dresden and Saxony a little better.”
The international students in Dresden take advantage of the Christmas season to learn more about German traditions. “We meet for Christmas parties, bake and cook together. The Christmas season is special for us, too,” Abdullah reports. When you live in Dresden, you hardly have a chance to avoid the Christmas markets, even if you wanted to. The walk from Dresden’s main station to the Striezelmarkt takes a bit longer during the Christmas season. Booths are set up not only on Altmarkt for all of December, but also line the entire length of Prager Straße. So you can already have your first Glühwein or non-alcoholic kids’ punch on the way to the city centre to get you into the Christmas spirit. From the Striezelmarkt, the other parts of Dresden’s historic city centre are easy to reach. “Next to the Frauenkirche, there is another, smaller historic Christmas market that is also well worth seeing,” Abdullah says.
Abdullah will be celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in Germany. “I’ll meet with friends, we’ll cook together and have a pleasant evening. Of course, I miss my family, especially now, but we are in regular contact and I send them lots of pictures.” There are many international students who celebrate Christmas with German friends or take advantage of the time off to do some travelling.
As long as you are in Dresden, you should definitely try the Dresdner Christstollen (fruit and nut loaf) or some Pfefferkuchen (ginger bread). The city is famous for these Christmas specialities, but you can also sample different varieties of the Christstollen in many neighbouring towns and villages. The Stollen is a very enduring cake, it keeps for days or even weeks after the first slice has been cut. It is a perfect gift for surprising the family at home with a German delicacy. And if you are making up a parcel, you might as well include an original “Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen”. If, after visiting the Striezelmarkt, you still feel like catching more of the Christmas spirit, a trip to Seiffen is well worth it. There you can buy original wood crafts from the Erzgebirge region – all year long.