Traditional market stalls selling good-quality handicrafts, fairground rides, the aroma of mulled wine and tasty food – this captures the spirit of Christmas markets in many German cities and towns. One of the oldest of these markets takes place in Dresden every year: the Striezelmarkt.
Thirty-three-year-old Abdullah Elsayed from Egypt is waiting next to a small kids’ ride – surrounded by booths selling all manner of delicacies, as well as handmade candles and soaps. It is 10am and the Striezelmarkt has just opened. The first Bratwürste, those famous German sausages, are being grilled, the air is filled with the aroma of candied almonds and fresh Glühwein (mulled wine). 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 city centre can be traced back to the year 1434. “This market really is different than the others, the Christmas spirit is especially strong here.”
„I especially like all the hand-crafted items at these markets, you only see those at this time of year.“
Abdullah is standing in front of the world’s largest Christmas pyramid built in the typical style of the Erzgebirge region. Dresden and the surrounding area are renowned for traditional handmade wooden toys and decorations. The pyramids are the region’s calling card 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, there is a huge, walk-on Christmas candle 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 at this time of year. You get to know Dresden and Saxony a little better.”
International students in Dresden take advantage of the Christmas season to learn more about German traditions. “We meet for Christmas parties, and bake and cook together. The Christmas season is special for us, too,” Abdullah reports.
When you live in Dresden, you can hardly avoid the Christmas markets, even if you want to. The walk from Dresden’s main station to the Striezelmarkt takes a bit longer during the Christmas season. Stalls are set up not only on the Altmarkt for all of December, but also line the entire length of Prager Straße. So you can already get your first Glühwein or non-alcoholic punch on the way to the city centre to get you into the Christmas spirit.
From the Striezelmarkt, you can easily reach the other parts of Dresden’s historic city centre. “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 friends, we’ll cook and have a nice evening together. 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.