Landeshauptstadt Dresden - 21.11.2019 13:33:50 Uhr 31.05.2020 03:54:56 Uhr

Christmas memories

Christmas memories

For some 200 years, travellers, artists and famous Dresdeners have been writing gushing memories of Christmastime in Dresden. A ‘lover of German poetry’ once sang a ‘Lange Ära’ (‘epic’) about what the Dresden Christmas market looked like during the Biedermeier period. Bookbinder Benjamin Brückmann had it in his shop at Breite Strasse 63. One of the verses reads as follows:

‘There are almost more people
here at the doll stall
than paying their dues
in reverent prayer at church’

Wilhelm von Kügelgen

In his Jugenderinnerungen eines alten Mannes (‘An old man’s memories of his youth’), Wilhelm von Kügelgen describes his impressions of the Dresden Striezelmarkt as follows:

‘We children would flock to the market called the Striezelmarkt for its curious baked goods. Eight days before the festivities, Dresden’s Altmarkt would set about covering itself in a heaving mass of amazing stalls, which were lit up at night and provided a great feast for the eyes. The glittering Christmas trees, decorated with tinsel, colourful scraps of paper, and gold fruit; the little brightly lit mangers with the Baby Jesus; the creepy Knecht Ruprecht; the prune chimney-sweeps; the peculiar taper-candle pyramids in all sizes; and finally the crush of buyers and polite beckoning of salespeople …it all created a sense of festive excitement.’

Ernst Rietschel

Sculptor Ernst Rietschel recalls his youth, giving a good insight into the lives of the ‘little people’ at the time:

‘My father would often go to the Christmas market, and would also go to Dresden at other times of year, taking charge of a small secondary business for my aunt, who was continuing to run a little merchants’ vault following the death of her husband. My father would collect about 30 or 40 pounds of toasted mangold, which people would use as a coffee substitute, and carry this in a sack on his back for five hours from Dresden to Pulsnitz, his load further weighed down by other objects he would agree to carry for other people on commission. My father, by selling every last of those mangold beets, would make a few pennies’ profit from every pound, which made his efforts worthwhile.’

Julius Winkler (1850)

An unfortunately almost totally forgotten story entitled Der böse Dreier oder Ehrlich währt am längsten (‘The Evil Trio or Honesty is the Best Policy’) by Julius Winkler contains a social study from 1850 that is rendered all the more stirring by its lack of prominence:

‘One Christmas Eve, when the wind was blowing, frost had formed patterns on the windows, and snow was crunching under the feet of passersby, the three siblings, Ernst, August and Christel, valiantly continued their catch-cries in an attempt to sell the last of their prune dolls. A portly baker’s wife finally approached, followed by a maid carrying a heavy basket full to the brim with presents. Touched by the freezing children, the maid called: ‘Madam, take a few of the chimney-sweeps too!’ The baker’s wife did just that, sweetly asking the children: ‘Who are your parents?’ ‘Our father is the shoemaker Badler,’ said Ernst, ‘and we make prune dolls at Christmas to earn some money.’

Carl Canzler (1865)

Over the centuries, the Dresden Striezelmarkt has opened its doors at various squares around the city. Council actuary Carl Canzler had some extremely critical thoughts on this in 1865:

‘How different our once great Striezelmarkt looks! Where once the vibrant little marketplace, with its pyramids, Feuerrüpel prune dolls … and other historic Christ Child delights, sold its wares in front of the buildings of the Altmarkt and neighbouring streets, everything is now dull and deserted! That is to say, Dresden is becoming a big city, and, it had it coming, all the poor people who did their Christmas shopping here, and who depended on the charity of compassionate people, have now been relegated to Antonsplatz. Who will go looking for the destitute there?’

Kurt Arnold Findeisen

Popular regional writer Kurt Arnold Findeisen, on the other hand, appears not to care at all when he writes the following in his Goldenes Weihnachtsbuch (‘Golden Christmas book’):

‘A sweet almond on every corner.
How civilised your way of life.
It has parked my heart
at Dresden’s Striezelmarkt
with you!
Beloved Mariandel,
sweet almond of my being,
sugarloaf of my life,
ay, how good love is!’

Max Zeibig (1923)

In his 1923 work Die Poesie der Gasse zu Weihnachten (‘The poetry of laneways at Christmas’), Max Zeibig describes Christmastime in Dresden as follows:

‘Amidst the cheerful hustle and bustle, and its endless cornucopia of colourful toys sending children into raptures of delight, was the Stollen. It would prompt endless singing and jingling, for the people from Klingenthal and Markneukirchen would be there with their harmonicas, violins and other instruments. Christmas carols and military marches would ring out in the carefree chaos, as if welcoming the swaddled child, the Stollen, into the world in a blaze of glory. ... Just a few weeks before Christmas, however, my mother would sit with my siblings and make ‘Pflaumenruprechte’ out of wooden picks, small rods and prunes, with a dab of gold leaf on top, and my friend would then sell these on the street during Christmas week.’

»Weihnachten 1945«

Wistfulness, courage, hope, and even confidence are all evident in the poem Weihnachten 1945 (‘Christmas 1945’) about the first post-war Christmas in Dresden: 

‘White flakes swirl in the wind,
blanketing ruins, buildings and trees,
a sense of childhood Christmas magic
comes over us, as if in a dream.
The night-time Striezelmarkt!
What joy it brings us:
Bright lights and tolling bells
Christmas in the old city.’

Werner Ehlich (1972)

In 1972, Werner Ehlich, author of countless local-history articles, recounts the following in his Advendserinnerungen eines Dresdners (‘A Dresdener’s memories of Advent’):

‘The Striezelmarkt would start eight days before Christmas. There would be stalls selling Pulsnitz gingerbread, Ore Mountain toys, passementerie, ribbons and Plauen lace, artificial flowers, slippers and household items. In the warm light of the dim petroleum lamps illuminating the stalls, everything looked magical, especially if it had been snowing. How the Christmas tree decorations glittered, with their Thuringian glass baubles, stars and tinsel, as well as their colourful, often similarly decorative wax candles and tapers. But if you walked through the Striezelmarkt squares on the first day of Christmas festivities, you would see that every stall had been swiftly packed away overnight, and any remnants of it swept up. This was typical of what was considered to be a particularly clean city.’