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Dresden in Winter: Striezelmarkt Christmas Market and Street Art

by Silke Elzner

Dresden’s Striezelmarkt was named after a local pastry: sweet and soft and simply delicious. When thinking of this famous Christmas market you cannot help but also think of the other great things that you will find here such as warm and fragrant glühwein, handmade carved decorations from the Iron Mountains, and hearty steaming meals. Striezelmarkt is the oldest Christmas market in Germany and is also considered one of the most beautiful. This alone is almost enough reason to make the trip down from Berlin for a visit.

Dresden in Winter is not Just a Christmas Market

But we are not just daytripping to Dresden to see the Christmas market. That’s just not us. We also want to see some other sides of Dresden, the alternative attractions, places less known. We want to explore the quarter where the students and artists live. Plus, we also want to explore the historic city centre with its marvellous Baroque buildings such as the royal residence, the opera, and the churches.

We knew that this was going to be a lot to see within just one day, in particular since we were taking the kids along. But in the end, all this walking was well worth the effort. Dresden must be one of the most beautiful and most fascinating cities in Germany, and even though we found that Striezelmarkt was too busy for our liking on that day, there were plenty of other highlights that I also would like to share with you.

The Kunsthof is a passage of courtyards in Dresden's Neustadt. It is home to a number of art galleries, boutiques, and craft shops.

The Kunsthof is a passage of courtyards in Dresden’s Neustadt. It is home to a number of art galleries, boutiques, and craft shops.

Dresden’s Neustadt: Home of Artists and Students

We  began our visit to Dresden with something quite unusual. The quarter of Neustadt (“New Town”) is a couple of kilometres north of the old city centre, hence it is not widely known amongst visitors from outside of town. You will need around 20 to 30 minutes by foot to reach it if you start your visit from the historic centre of Dresden (or you could take a taxi, of course). Since we wanted to visit both parts of the city on the same day we decided to park the car in the middle between these two, somewhere close to Albertplatz.

Die pipes and funnels at this house channel rainwater to the ground in the most peculiar way while at the same time making musical sounds. A great way of turning something unpleasant into a thing of beauty.

Dresdner Neustadt is the nightlife and cultural quarter of the city. Inbetween the wonderfully restored old-age streetscapes the alternative culture was very much alive. We saw a number of huge murals on the houses, graffiti and other street art. A small grocery shop asked in big letters above the door ‘Who the Fred is Fuck?’, and the square next to Katy’s Garage looked to us like the perfect place to have a beer in summer.

But our main destination for our visit to Neustadt was Kunsthofpassage (Görlitzer Str. 21-25, 01099 Dresden). If you don’t know what you are looking for, you will almost miss it from the street. But once you walk into the first courtyard you reach a creative space that is populated with boutiques, craft shops and art galleries. The houses all around were vividly decorated and colourful, with artwork and tiles and canopies made of gauze. We were being watched by funny looking creatures painted on the walls as we walked from one courtyard to the next. One house had a wonderful installation of pipes and funnels and chimes, channeling rainwater to the ground while making musical sounds. Another housefront was decorated with curved golden metal sheets.

The well restored streets in Neustadt that surround Martin Luther church were among my favourite discoveries of the day.

The well restored streets in Neustadt that surround Martin Luther church were among my favourite discoveries of the day.

Hand-Painted Tiles From top to Bottom: Dresdner Molkerei Pfund

From our starting point in Neustadt we slowly found our way down south, but not without stopping first at a restaurant to feed the kids. It has become some sort of tradition for us as a family to eat out at an Indian restaurant when on a daytrip. It’s a risky thing to do, but in most cases we’ve been lucky. Like in this case, where we chose RajMahal in Louisenstraße 60. This street is at the heart of the nightlife in Dresden, lined with plenty of Indian restaurants and bars, even though at this time of day most places were still closed.

On the Old Jewish Cemetery in Neustadt the rows of tombstones all face the direction of Jerusalem. A visit can only be arranged by prior appointment.

On the Old Jewish Cemetery in Neustadt the rows of tombstones all face the direction of Jerusalem. A visit can only be arranged by prior appointment.

After our meal we walked past the charming square Martin-Luther-Platz and continued on to a shop called Dresdner Molkerei Gebr. Pfund (Bautzner Str. 79, 01099 Dresden). This historic dairy is well known for its fantastic shop decorations as it is tiled from top to bottom in beautiful hand-painted tiles. Now, with the Christmas season in full swing, the shop was brimming with activity, mostly day trippers from Czechia who had come to stock up on original Christmas gifts.

The shop was crowded, but still worth a look. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures, so you will need to visit the official website to get a better idea of why I think you need to add this to your Dresden itinerary. We studied some of the details of the shop for a while, the motifs of naked children and happy cows, and took a deep noseful of that wonderful cheesy smell that lingered in the air.

You only need to cross one of the bridges across the Elbe to get a sense of Dresden's splendour on the other side of the river.

You only need to cross one of the bridges across the Elbe to get a sense of Dresden’s splendour on the other side of the river.

The Beauty and Splendour of Dresden’s Old Town

From the Pfund dairy we found our way to Albertbrücke bridge, which afforded us with unforgettable views of the winterly Dresden panorama of domes and church towers topped with winged figures. No wonder that Dresden is also known as the Florence of the Elbe. Clearly visible was the glass dome of the Academy of Visual Arts which many locals like to compare with a citrus press due to its shape.  The views from the bridge were so nice I would have loved to switch over to the other side of the road but there was too much traffic.

But the wait wasn’t too long because soon we had crossed the river and reached the middle of the historic centre of Dresden. We followed the riverfront and found ourselves within minutes on Brühl’s Terrace which was lined with stunning old buildings. We didn’t quite care what kind of buildings these were or what they housed these days, we just enjoyed the completeness of the ensemble and the overall splendour and vibrant atmosphere. A street artist was busy entertaining the crowds by blowing giant bubbles in the air that the light breeze carried to the middle of the river. The little kids around us screamed with joy.

A busker on Schlossplatz playing Beyoncé's hits on a grand piano.

A busker on Schlossplatz playing Beyoncé’s hits on a grand piano.

We continued on to Schlossplatz, where a piano player was playing popsongs on a grand piano. With no traffic in sight, the square was a perfect echo chamber for the music, adding an unexpected charm to the ambience around us. Just a couple of metres further we discovered the Fürstenzug, a huge mural made of tiles which shows a procession of Saxon princes throughout history. And this is not where we stopped. The attractions kept on coming in short intervals: We walked around Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral) and the Royal Residence and then to the Semperoper, then visited right next door the Zwinger with the glockenspiel with bells made of porcellain.

The Fürstenzug is a bit like an antique street art mural depicting the Saxon rulers through the centuries.

The Fürstenzug is a bit like an antique street art mural depicting the Saxon rulers through the centuries.

Crafts and Christmas smells at the Striezelmarkt

After our walk around the city we headed to the Altmarkt, the place were every year the Striezelmarkt takes place. The Christmas market in Dresden is very famous, not just in Germany. Not without reason, of course. It is in particular the traditional craft stalls from the Iron Mountains that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. We also couldn’t resist the temptation and bought our daughter a tiny wooden snowman with a carrot for a nose, and we spent some time admiring the beautifully carved Christmas stars, pyramids and schwibbogens.

Germany's Iron Mountains are famous for their traditional woodcarving. This alone makes the trip to Dresden worthwhile.

Germany’s Iron Mountains are famous for their traditional woodcarving. This alone makes the trip to Dresden worthwhile.

Most people will want to visit the Striezelmarkt because of the high quallity wood carving and the beautiful Christmas decorations. But we also found the stalls themselves quite fascinating and unique. On their roofs, most of them would have a little shop window displaying wares and products or some kind of Christmas motif. This helped with orientation on the rather crowded Christmas market. We saw a huge variety of stalls, selling everything from fresh pine cones, nuts, sweet stollen (striezel), and hearty venison dishes to traditional mulled wine. The market was packed with people, squeezed into the confines of the Altmarkt square, and consequently we cut our visit a bit short.

The Striezelmarkt in Dresden is one of Germany’s best tourist attractions, without a doubt. People come to visit not just from Germany but from around the world. We overheard many conversations in Czech and Polish language. Unfortunately, when you visit a crowded market with kids, it”s not so much fun. We didn’t want to queue forever to ride the historic Ferris wheel nor walk across the giant schwibbogen. It had been a long day anyway, first Neustadt, then then historic city centre, now Striezelmarkt, so we called it a day.

A crowded Striezelmarkt. The Christmas pyramid is an oversized model of the craftwork you can by at the Iron Mountains stalls.

A crowded Striezelmarkt. The Christmas pyramid is an oversized model of the craftwork you can by at the Iron Mountains stalls.

A Winter’s day in Dresden

Even though our visit to the Dresden Christmas market turned out to be more strenuous than expected we still had a wonderful time in the city. We realise, of course, that we barely scratched the surface on our visit and that we need to come back.

Maybe we can return in spring, when the trees on Brühl”s Terrace show their first delicate leaves. When the beergardens open at Neustadt and you can have a beer or two in the graffiti-clad surroundings of Katy”s Garage. And when we can sit for a while on the steps of the sunny Königsufer on the other side of the Elbe to admire the picture-perfect panorama of the city.

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