When I started sketching the itinerary of my travel to Germany’s eastern most state, Saxony, I was overwhelmed with the experiences it encapsulated. Needless to say that capturing the glory of Christmas was my focus, but accommodating all my wishes in a week’s visit was rather hasty.
Oldest Christmas market in Germany
Striezelmarkt in the heart of Saxony’s capital city, Dresden, is known for being the most traditional and oldest Christmas market in the country. When I first walked around the market in Altmarkt or Old Market square, I felt overcommitted to cover each of the numerous stalls. From piping hot bratwursts, dense Dresdner Stollen, spiced glühwein (or mulled wine), wooden handicrafts, delicate ornaments and votive offerings, the market exhibited the finest creations from Saxony.
I felt the magic of Christmas grow manifold amongst music and shenanigans. Children enjoyed plays and musical performances on stage. Youngsters cupped their hands around their warm drinks and conversed animatedly. Couples walked hand-in-hand exploring different elements for their homes. Everyone came together rejoicing, under the fervent of Christmas.
Local culinary delights and beverages
Winter gives Saxony a pedestal to showcase its local food and drinks. In Leipzig I tried the delicious Braised Salmon Fillet with vegetables and red wine onions along with the locally brewed dark beer in the atmospheric restaurant of Auerbachs Keller in Mädlerpassage on Grimmaische Strasse. This restaurant was founded in 1525 and is divided into two sections–the Grosser Keller (big cellar) and the Historische Weinstuben (historic wine bars). I walked into the former which serves traditional Saxon dishes, whereas the latter is a fine-dining German gastronomy experience.
Dresden surprised me with its vegetarian fare. I tried the Quinoa with winterly vegetables at a themed cafe, Sophienkeller in Taschenbergpalsis building, near the Zwinger. Warm and flavoursome my main course beautifully concluded with a sharp and potent local digestif, Original Dresdner Trichtertrinken Hausmarke Coselträne, a green coloured herb liqueur which finds its origin to the reign of King August of Saxony.
My two-hour long dinner in the snow town of Seiffen was kept warm by three local liqueurs–Vogelbeerschnaps, Kräuterweib and Lauterbacher Tropfen. Each are typical to the geography and are made from rowanberry and different herbs, respectively. Erzgebirgischer Sauerbraten was an elaborate main course, which consisted braised beef on vinegar and almonds and raisins sauce. It was served with red cabbage and potato dumplings and was a classic meat preparation from the region. I concluded the meal with a large serving of Sächsisches Tiramisu, or a version of Saxony tiramisu with sour cream mousse on a bed of blackberry and marinated pumpernickel.
Christmas markets of Dresden, Leipzig and Seiffen were abundant in local German fast food like bratwurst (German pork sausage) or currywurst (fried pork sausage topped in ketchup) and larger portions like Wiener Schnitzel or Goulash (spiced curry) of various meat. Glühwein, hot chocolate, hot chocolate with alcoholic infusions and alcohol-free punch were available in copious varieties, every few steps. The chill of the weather was beautifully softened by the warmth of Saxon traditions.
German arts and crafts
Ore Mountains was the home to the first silver mine in Germany, as early as the 11th century. This Silver Road paved the way to the rich industrial history of the country and very creative wooden toy-makers. Today the towns along the Germany-Czech Republic border are known for the traditional wooden craft and have numerous workshops illustrating the details of the craft. Before Christmas, the procession of miners is a special event in the region, which welcomes visitors from various parts of Germany.
However, the extensive and very impressive collection of porcelain in the Zwinger in Dresden fascinated me. These artefacts were a part of the king of Saxony and Poland, King August’s palace. He was highly influenced and interested in Asian art, which resulted in the famous Meissen porcelain, flourishing from the city of Meissen, about 25 kilometres from Dresden.
Only a few metres away from the Zwinger, New Green Vault in the Dresden Palace has a spectacular collection of treasures from the King’s property. This supersedes the beauty and delicacy of the Meissen porcelain display. Perhaps the most brilliant artefact in this museum is the Throne of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb. This is an enactment of the ruler’s courtyard where he can be seen seated in the centre. It was designed by Johann Melchior Dinglinger and bought by August the Strong to grace his court. The miniatures are said to be made of 3-5 grams of gold and entirely from the designer’s imagination.
For those who take interest in Germany’s industrial engineering, Dresden is home to Gläserne Manufaktur or Transparent Factory of Volkswagen. This factory has built the Phaeton and visitors are welcomed to a virtual tour and test drive VW electric cars.
Displaying more aspects of German engineering in Leipzig is the Porsche Centre, which has made the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW 3-Series.
Charming towns and snow magic
No sooner the train pulled over at Olbernhau-Grünthal (the last stop to Ore mountains), I saw fresh snowflakes settle on my jacket. The 15-minute drive to Seiffen was accompanied by magical landscapes.
At dusk, white of the snow glistened on the tall trees. And once the car entered the main town of Seiffen, golden lights lined the length of charming cottages and the silhouette of toy-street lamps flanked my way. Later that night, I saw the spruce trees lit at every alternate home, the large bell sounded from the church and a few remaining shops placed the wooden shutters to make their way back home. I walked around the deserted town’s Hauptstrasse, photographing the charms of this German town, layered in snow. Seiffen’s winter beauty has mesmerised me for a lifetime.
Which is your favourite winter destination?
I travelled to Saxony, Germany on assignment for Outlook Traveller India in December 2017. You can read the edited story here.