Prague is located at the heart of Europe, meaning that there are lots of travelling opportunities on our doorstep with no planes required. Wanting to settle in Prague and get used to this latest chapter in our lives has meant that Hannah and I have stuck to travelling around the Czech Republic thus far, but the opportunity to sample some traditional German markets in the big neighbour next door was too good a chance to turn down.
Germany is famous for its Christmas markets. What makes them so special? What makes them better than markets in Manchester or Milan? It was time to find out, so a group of six of us popped on a train which took us across the border to the city of Dresden.
Our driving adventure in the summer didn’t take us anywhere near what used to be known as East Germany. The little I knew about the city revolved around its near-demolition by British air forces in 1945. Some of the buildings seemed to be more than seventy years old, but you can see elements of reconstruction and modernity as you amble from the train station to the aldstadt.
Dresden wasn’t just chosen as our destination because of its close proximity to Prague, though a two-hour train ride meant that we could visit just for the day. It also hosts one of the oldest Christmas markets around, which started in 1434. Can you do the maths? Don’t worry, being a teacher I can help you with this, and inform you that it has been running for a whopping 579 years. This market was doing a roaring trade even before Columbus set sail.
This market thus has history and prestige in its favour, yet it has much more to offer a visitor. Tradition abounds here, with all generations slowly meandering along the wooden huts hunting for a special gift for a special someone. I find it charming and nostalgic that children are still given wooden toys rather than computer games (a fact which renders me a massive hypocrite as the one inedible and undrinkable purchase I made was a robot from a department store).
In addition to the 14-in-1 robot which didn’t work, most of my euros were spent on gigantic bratwurst and heart-warming drinks. Gluhwein and hot chocolate were the order of the day. Hot chocolate with amaretto may now be my favourite Christmas drink, even ahead of Baileys.
The warm drinks were necessary in sub-zero conditions such as these. What made Dresden’s market particularly special were the large snowflakes gently dropping onto the stalls and our coats. Walking around the large Christmas tree (admittedly I didn’t think it was as pretty as Prague’s) and absorbing the atmosphere was a very pleasant experience, and the snow seemed to add an extra element of magic.
So what makes a traditional German market special? I’m not sure if there is a defining statistic or factor. Based on our experience in Dresden, they’re expensive and very crowded. Based on our experience in Dresden, they’re charming, traditional and beautiful.
Love you all