On Black Friday we awoke in Dresden and headed for the Freiberg LDS Temple. We had the good fortune of being in town at the same time as our friends, the Nelsons, so we met up at the temple and swapped babysitting so that both us couples could enjoy a few hours of quiet contemplation together. It was fantastic! Also, this temple is interesting historically, as it is the only temple that was built behind the Iron Curtain. If you want to read a brief history of the Church in Germany, (beginning with a branch in Darmstadt in 1843,) you can find it here. But to summarize, East German Mormons were not granted visas to travel to the temple in Bern, Switzerland. Due to the constant requests from members to do so, the government authorized the building of a temple in Freiberg. Church meetings and members were routinely monitored, and the head of the church in East Germany was constantly followed and hauled in for questioning regularly. So the Church was confident the temple would be desecrated before too long, but built a very small temple anyway to allow as many people the opportunity to attend as possible. It never was desecrated and was just re-furbished this past year. It is tiny, but mighty.
After our morning at the temple we headed downtown to the Christmas market near the Frauenkirche. This is a Lutheran church that was built in the 1700s. It has one of the largest domes in Europe, but would be somewhat unremarkable if not for the building's more recent history. On Feb. 13, 1945, Allied forces firebombed Dresden. The attack and fires continued for 2 days, and on the 15th the church collapsed into a pile of rubble. (Related book recommend: Slaughterhouse Five.) After WWII, the Communists left the pile of rubble where it sat. At the reunification of Germany in 1989, more than 50 years later, a group that had been planning for some time, cataloged the rubble and raised funds to resurrect the church. The blackened stones are original, the others are new. And so the Frauenkirche became a symbol of sorts, of the healing of Germany.
Inside the dome.
This cross was originally atop the church. It was found in the rubble with surprisingly little damage and is now housed inside the sanctuary. A new golden cross, of the same design, was made by a British blacksmith whose father was an RAF bomber pilot in WWII. Officially it is a "gift from the British people and the House of Windsor." It's so poetic to me. I just adored this place. Our German LDS apostle, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a talk in which he spoke of the Frauenkirche as a metaphor for how no human is so far lost or broken that they cannot be healed by God. It can be found here.
Dresden is really gorgeous.
Anyway, let's talk Christmas markets now.
When we were in Georgia we really missed German Christmas markets. So this time around I have been trying to figure out what it is about them that is so magical. First of all, you have the setting. Whether it is a village or city, you are walking on cobblestones and surrounded by hundreds of years of tradition.
Then there are the street performers.
The guy in the green coat is forming huge bubbles for the kids to chase and pop. At the same time we were listening to a pianist playing in the square. We also saw at this market, a stilt walking "chimney sweep," an Elvis impersonator, an angel statue (a guy posing as a mannequin dressed as an angel,) and a Santa Claus who switched languages effortlessly and gave out free little stuffed animals. Surprises around every corner!
They throw in a few rides, but never a ton. Smaller markets might only have little kiddie merry-go-rounds, while large ones like Dresden have double-decker, ornate, crazy carousels.
Next you have the traditional German Christmas stuff. Pyramiden, Nutcrackers, incense smokers, carved ornaments... they are all a little different and I could browse them for hours.
There aren't many places to sit. The markets seem to be designed to keep you moving, but if you do luck out and find a seat it is sure to come with a little table, lap blankets or "furs", and maybe even a small firepit.
This is a good thing, as you then have a home base for taking turns running to different food stands and bringing back delicious things to eat. Here are just a few of the things we ate (dinner Friday, and lunch on Saturday): saurkraut with speck in a bread bowl, bratwurst, champignons (mushrooms in a sauce of some sort,) flammkuchen, and roasted chestnuts.
And there must be a hundred things to drink. Since we don't do alcohol, we stick to the Kinderpunsch (a hot fruity juice kinda like wassail) and Heisse Schokolade, but you can get mulled wines and beers of sooo many varieties. Each served in a souvenir mug, which many people collect. These were all of the different mugs at Dresden's market this year. (I stole this picture from my friend's fb.)
I still am not sure if I am doing the Christmas Market experience justice, but these are a few of the things that make them special. I think we should go to a few more just to make sure I'm not missing anything.
PS. For those who have asked me about safety: we did see police cars parked here and there, and the Polizei in them were cleaely busy monitoring cctv feeds, communicating with each other, etc. We assume there were plain clothes cops around, though there wasn't an overt presence. We didn't feel unsafe at any time.