We had a moment last night. Standing on the cobblestones of the Neumarkt in Dresden, the majestic Frauenkirche looking down on us and Christmas markets surrounding us. The bells of the church were pealing, our fingers and toes were icy and it was absolutely magical. We stood until the bells were silent, soaking in the atmosphere so as to never forget it.
We are beside ourselves with the pure joy that is the Christmas markets in Germany. They have been a beautiful surprise and a highlight of our time away.
Each market we’ve visited has been in a fairytale setting – huge domed churches, squares that are hundreds of years old and filled with history, cobblestones and gaslights. It’s been freezing cold, but that’s ok, there’s glühwein at every third stall. Enormous copper pots steam invitingly from the front counters. You can add rum, or amaretto, or even alcoholic cherries. There’s eggnog, there are hot toddies, there’s cider, and from 10am onwards everybody has their hands wrapped around a ceramic mug filled with their choice of hot drink.
There are rows and rows of stalls to wander down, all surrounded by decorated pine branches. Exquisite wooden Santas and Christmas figures holding steins, fishing rods or rolling pins. Delicate white ceramic stars and hearts, miniature German buildings to house candles. Ironwork happening as you watch, lacework, felting, glass. One stall filled with brushes of every kind, another with tiny mechanical boats. Wooden candle holders, trees and cutout decorations. Christmas figures made of prunes!
There is so much food – barbecued bratwurst, currywurst, goulash, potatoes. It’s being dished out as fast as the alcohol. Cured meats, the biggest slabs of grilled cheesy bread we’ve ever seen, chestnuts on open fires. Something sweet? Enormous mounds of nougat piled on top of one another, hot sugary nuts being stirred around bowls, gingerbread hearts hanging from the eaves. Dough balls frying in hot oil before being covered in icing sugar or filled with marmalade. Stollen, apple fritters, pancakes, chocolate covered fruits. The food smells mingle with the glühwein – sugary dough, warm alcohol, barbecue smoke.
Everybody is smiling, laughing, talking, having a good time. It’s like a gentle happy murmur across the square. There’s Christmas carols – in Berlin there were choirs all night, in Dresden a small group of trumpeters in the giant German Christmas pyramid. Our room was so close in Dresden that when we got home, frozen but full of food and glühwein, we could keep our window cracked open and listen until late.
We’re in Nuremberg now, our last stop in Germany. I’m sure I’ll add to the many photos I’ve taken and beautiful decorations already bought, but the best souvenir I’ll have is the memory of that moment last night.