The German Democratic Republic or GDR (a.k.a. East Germany) existed for nearly forty-one years, from October 7, 1949 to October 3, 1990.
During this time, Dresden and vicinity had the dubious honor of being known in the rest of the GDR as the Tal der Ahnungslosen or "Valley of the Clueless." This was because they were so far away from West Germany and from West Berlin that they could not receive western television stations.
People from other parts of the GDR claimed that for this reason the people of Dresden had an uncritical attitude towards the actions of the East German regime.
I don't know it this is really true (the ones I knew seemed perfectly normal). Have there been studies done on this point? Perhaps some German VT-members might have information about this.
Update: Many thanks to VT-member german_eagle (Ingo), who lives in Dresden, for a very thoughtful and informative e-mail on this topic. He says it was true that West German television could not be seen in the Dresden area except under unusual weather conditions. But it was not true that the people in Dresden were uncritical of the GDR-regime. On the contrary, peaceful protests began there as early as February 1982.
He points out that there has long been a rivalry between Berlin (Prussia) and Dresden (Sachsen) going back as far as the 18th century, so people in Dresden have always been suspicious of anything coming from Berlin. Also Dresden has a strong and self-confident educated bourgeoisie which was always critical of the GDR government and never forgave them for building a "new" socialist city instead of rebuilding the beautiful old city of Dresden which was destroyed during the war.
Dresden's Christmas Markets are legendary. The Striezelmarkt on the Altmarkt Square, in existence since c.1500, is one of the oldest and most famous in Germany. We visited on the 30th of November which was the day most of the markets opened for the season. At lunchtime, walking round the Neumarkt we came upon the small but vibrant market at Mungasse Lane and stopped for lunch.
At the entrance to the market was a large yellow object which looked like something from The Magic Roundabout. This apparently is an Erzgebirge Christmas Pyramid and the one at the Striezelmarkt is the largest in the world. The base of this pyramid is a bar where you can get Gluwein and other drinks. I've seen a lot of Christmas Markets over the last few years but this was the first time I'd seen one of these large colourful pyramids.
Later in the afternoon I crossed the river and visited the Christmas Market on the Haupstrasse. There was no pyramid here but it was far less crowded and not thronged with tourists. Families were shopping, little children were riding on the carousel and it was unbelievably festive and atmospheric. There was plenty of room to move here and space to admire the merchandise. Great crafts and food as well as bags, scarves and traditional beverages.
A really lovely feature of Christmas in Dresden is the Paddle Boats on the River Elbe, all decorated with lights and Christmas trees. The Christmas trees around the city were not all up and while visiting the Frauenkirche a truck trundled on to the square with the biggest tree I'd ever seen, tied on the back. Much later in the evening I came back and the tree had been erected. The square and Christmas market stalls were now absolutely buzzing and the crisp, frosty air was laden with delicious smells and sounds.
There are several Christmas Festivals in Dresden. I have details on the most unusual of these in one of the tips below.
As well as shopping, eating at the Christmas Markets is obviously hugely popular with visitors and locals alike. My photo shows the 'main course ' I had for lunch. The mug came from the bar at the base of the pyramid and was filled with lifesaving hot, spicy gluwein, the food from a stall just nearby. I chose this instead of the succulent sausages spitting on grills all over the place, because I'd never seen it before. It looked like a baked potato but was actually a hot brown bread roll filled with melted cheese. These were baked by the tray load in a huge oven next to the stall, and served by two really friendly guys who went to the trouble of telling me the name of this local delicacy. Unfortunately, I didn't have the usual notebook to hand and the scrap of paper with the information vanished. I can tell you that they were a little on the hard side, but very tasty.
Lots of the other stalls sold food as well and I wandered down the street in search of something different for desert. This I found on a stall that sold apple slices covered with chocolate, crunchy roast almonds and my eventual choice - a banana covered with chocolate. (See photo no.2). The banana was......... ???? Let's settle for 'different' but the bag of hot roast almonds kept me happily munching and scrunching for quite some time.
Eating at the Christmas Markets is such a pleasurable experience and one I wish I could indulge in at home. Freezing cold, hot mug of gluwein warming your hands, music playing, people chatting and warming themselves by the ovens and heaters. Bliss!
I'll never forget my first Christmas market. It was absolutely freezing and I was amazed as the hearty Germans walked around outside shopping, snacking around apparently unfazed by the weather. Well, then I had my first glühwein and I understood why! After many more, I wasn't cold either. This hot spiced wine is the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold winter night. These photos are from my first outing with D's family and friends, having one at Dresden's Christmas market.
This has to be the food most associated with Dresden at Christmas and there were signs and shops selling it and advertising it everywhere. One of the trams was decorated with stollen images and kept flashing by like an enormous, animated, wiggling cake.
Like most things in Dresden Augustus the Strong had something to do with this tradition and in 1730 he got the members of the Bakers Guild to make a giant stollen weighing 1.8 tons. This laid the basis for the festival which happens in Dresden each December and over the years a legend has emerged which suggests that the stollen with its white layer of icing sugar is a symbol of the Christ Child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Definitely a little far-fetched but as I once considered a bottle of wine wrapped in a white cloth to be like a swaddled new-born, I can't really refute the idea.
The Stollen Festival is a huge and colourful affair with a procession through the Old Town and the election of a Stollen Maiden. A giant stollen is carried through the streets and the Grand Stollen Knife, which looks big enough to chop off a few heads with.
It all sounds way over the top but I was not surprised to read about this because every where I looked in Dresden I saw Stollen. Eventually I got to taste some and it was indeed light and delicious. There is a basic recipe but apparently every baker has his own variation usually handed down as a family secret.
Later in December, seeing stollen for sale in our local Lidl, I was quirte excited. However, it wasn't made in Dresden so I didn't buy it.
The so-called Pyramiden are a tradition form the Erzgebirge / Ore Mountains, where farmers and miners made woodcarvings to earn a little extra money. The pyramid consists of a triangular frame and a mobile interior part that turns round the central axis. The propeller on top moves it because of the hot air that rises from the candles. By turning the wings of the propeller steeper or lower, you can influence the speed.
My pyramid, which I got at the Striezelmarkt in Dresden in 2004, is a smaller model. It needs special pyramid candles of about 6 cm length. Larger pyramids have 2 or even 3 storeys.
Mine shows Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus in the crib and a shepherd accompanied by two sheep. The central axis is a carved fir tree. Other traditional themes involve miners' scenes or carol singers round a church, usually the characteristic octogonal church of Seiffen.
The trick to keep the pyramid moving smoothly is cleaning the glass bearing underneath the metal tip of the axis and inserting a drop of olive oil every year before putting up the pyramid.
WE got to one of these located at Grossner Garden area, and it was very large. Typical fare for all the entrepreneur tents is cheese, sausages and meats of all kinds; fresh and skinned where needed, vegetables and fruits, clothing of all types for all ages, and a number of eating places with good Deutsch food. It is always a treat to visit these events, and this one is every Friday at the park entrance on Lennerstrasse.
WE always end up buying some goods, and usually too much to carry back to the apartment, but manage. It gives us some home meals.
Dresden is not only full of earlier or later baroque architecture pearls, but also of atmosphere, created mostly by tourist attractions – mummers with baroque dresses, actors with white shining and curly periwigs, tourists driven in baroque style carriages through old town of Dresden, classical music of that time.
I visited Dresden in first days of June, I don‘t know it is special days for Dresden, but I loved to see massive celebrations for these two days I visited place. First day, Saturday there was parade of equality with different types of people, not being afraid to show they are atheists, gays, so on. Evening time was filled with different kind of people, in a square near Semper Opera and Cathedral.
Second day I have found nice celebration in a park near Hygienic museum. My host told me it was something like family day with entertainments for children, also places to drink bear or eat sausages.
Dresden's buildings, magnificent as they may be, are quite dark and indeed decidedly grimy looking. Standing in the centre of Theater Platz at 11.00 a.m. with a wind from the Elbe that would cut you in two, there was a distinct abscence of colour. Suddenly, this girl appeared on her bike and cheerfully propped it against the wall as she sorted out the mail. I was intrigued to see a woman as a post person, because this is something I never see at home and absolutely tickled pink at the notion of a postman/woman riding a bycicle. Here post persons haven't ridden bycicles since the 70's and would probably strike immediately if they were asked to do so. This girl lit up the morning with her bright yellow uniform and bike, not to mention her lovely blond hair.
When we were in Dresden in 2007 we more or less stumbled over the Stadtfest, since 1998 celebrated on the third weekend of August.
This is Dresden’s biggest party, and entry is free. The whole inner city is full of food and drink stalls, stages for live music, and comedy. and tables and seats for your convenience. A great way to have fun, meet people, and enjoy some fresh local delicatessen at low prices.
The biggest stage shows are at Theaterplatz, which is really fabulous with the magic Semperoper in the background.
A highlight is the animation of the historic “Fürstenzug”, the Procession of Princes you see depicted on the outer wall of the Royal Stables, on the way from Frauenkirche to the castle. This pageant includes 45 horses and 90 actors in historic costumes, and takes place on the Sunday of the big party.
On Saturday evening there is a steamship fest on the Elbe.
Another festival Dresden is famous for is the Dixieland-Festival. It takes place in May and attracts half a million people.
More info on www.dixieland.de
The Striezelmarkt in December is Germany’s oldest Christmas market (see tip about Altmarkt).
The Ampelmann, the little man in traffic lights for pedestrians, has more or less become a symbol of the former East's cultural identity after the German reunification. Traffic lights in the East looked different from those in the West. After the reunification, when new traffic lights were installed, authorities used the Western type. People in the former GDR area were offended. The fight for the Eastern Ampelmann was successful.
To be honest, the Eastern Ampelmann with his little hat is indeed much cuter than the simple silhouette on West German traffic lights.
Since we live in times of gender equality, there is not only an Ampelmann but also an Ampelmädchen, a traffic light girl (see photo 4). In Dresden, for example, the girl can be found on the traffic lights at Prager Straße tram stop.
A clever company invented Ampelmann souvenirs which have become quite popular. There are t-shirts, umbrellas, bags, towels with both the man and the girl in red and green. A nice idea for a gift, maybe?
The Elbe River is notorious for flooding especially in light of what happened in 2002, but one good thing that comes of this is no one builds anything on its shores. This leads to a big grassy area adjacent to it that locals take full advantage of. It's typical on a warm afternoon, to walk along it, or bring a picnic or something to drink. Why pay an inflated river side price for a beer when you can bring some down and drink at a fraction of the price, or just wander around and soak in the atmosphere of the sun's waning rays.
Feldschlossden is Dresden's big brewery and though not impressed with their Pils, they are linked to brewing giant Holstein and hence, you can get the tasty Duckstein locally. This hot air balloon happened to take off as we walked along the Elbe River one day as the sun set.
During the weekends, and lesser extent, the local people come to the parks to play, relax and enjoy the days. WE saw a large number come to the Alaunpark off Bischofsweg Strasse. It is a very large park, and it got to a point where not many places were left to put down a blanket. Frizbies are the main item to lay with by the people.