On the tower of the Kreuzkirche with our Ukrainian Neighbours
As part of our project, Support Your Ukrainian Neighbours, we planned to introduce a group of Ukrainian refugees to the Christmas traditions of Dresden. We decided to meet on the 10th of December at 14:00 near the Striezelmarkt (the Christmas market on the Altmarkt) which is the oldest Christmas market in the world and home to many unique traditions. The Kreuzkirche (Kreuz Church)-community had pre-emptively granted our group free entrance to the tower which would give us a nice overview of the square and the decorated inner city.
Unfortunately, in life there are unforeseen events which can put a damper on even the best laid plans. On the same day we planned to meet, a hostage crisis erupted at the Altmarktgalerie (Old Market Gallery) near the Striezelmarkt. Due to closures and police action, only about half of those who had registered were still able to join us for the tour. We met up anyway at the Julius-Otto-Denkmal (Julius Otto Memorial), where the participants were introduced to a brief history of the Kreuzkirche, the Kreuzchor (the famous all boys-choir) and the Kreuzschule (Kreuz School) and their importance to Dresden.
After that there was another short hiccup in our plans. When we arrived at the church, we found it locked. Because of the earlier police action and a later concert, the church decided to close to the public for the day. Luckily after some knocking on our part, church officials let us in anyway and then we had the tower to ourselves! We went up the 256 stairs to the platform and enjoyed a magnificent view over the Striezelmarkt and the inner city. Our group took plenty of photos and selfies.
After visiting the tower, we headed off to the bakery for a taste of Dresden’s famous Christstollen. The question of where the Strietzelmarkt got its name was answered: Striezel is an old word for Stollen which is a German fruitcake and Christmas tradition that is baked with nuts, spices, raisins, and candied fruit and then dusted with powdered sugar. While enjoying the rich and sweet buttery goodness of the moist slices, we discussed the recipe and history of the dessert. We learned about the butter-privilege of the 15th century in which the pope granted an exception to the rulers of Saxony to use butter in the plain tasting food for the time of lent in exchange for financing the Freiberg Minster. Along the way, Stollen evolved with later bakers adding raisins, almonds, and candied citrus fruit. The fierce competition of the Dresden bakers with other bakers in Saxony led Dresden to seek a monopoly for the selling of Stollen in Dresden. The monopoly was granted in 1648 and paved the way for the success of Dresden’s Christstollen in the coming centuries. And while nowadays all kinds of Stollen can be bought everywhere, only Stollen produced with the right ingredients by selected bakeries in Dresden along with a few surrounding villages are allowed to be called Dresdener Christstollen thanks to the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) rules of the European Union.
After enjoying our Stollen we moved on, discussing the history of Dresden’s Christmas decorations and art, especially the tradition of wood carvings in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountain). After the 30 years war, the former prospering mining area experienced an economic decline and many of those living in the area started woodcarving as a way to earn money in the winter. Christmas pyramids, Schwibbögen (candle arches), Räuchermännchen (smoking men), and Nussknacker (nutcrackers) are the most popular forms. They can be bought on the Striezelmarkt and range in size from tiny tree ornaments to larger-than-life – the biggest being the 14.62 meter-high Christmas pyramid and a 13.5 meter-wide Schwibbogen on display each year at Dresden’s Christmas Market.
Our group was also curious about Dresden’s Pflaumentoffel, an edible figure made of dried plums. The Pflaumentoffel represents a chimney sweeper and was originally sold by the children of poor families until doing so was outlawed in 1910.
Probably next to Stollen, the most famous baked good sold at the Striezelmarkt is Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen (Gingerbread). Unlike the name in English suggests, Pulsnitz Gingerbread does not contain ginger, but rather a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, ground gloves, and allspice.
There was still one Dresden Christmas tradition left to be explored, Glühwein. However, this hot, spiced wine did not need introduction. Everyone in our group had already heard of it. We ended our fun and informative tour in Dresden’s famous Striezelmarkt and began the Christmas season with rounds of Glühwein and Eggnog. Cheers and Merry Christmas!