The best Eastern German Christmas Goodies
Some amazing things come from Eastern Germany but are below many people’s radar. Eastern German Christmas goodies are one such thing, and it is a real shame they are not celebrated worldwide. And as a proud Eastern German, I see it as my job to show them to you.
I admit to you, there are a few Eastern German things that remind me too much of those days when borders were shut and one’s future limited to working in the local factory and earning and doing pretty much the same as your neighbours. Up until today, I cannot stand margarine, Nautik soap or those colourful plastic chicken-shaped eggcups. But traditional Eastern German Christmas goodies are dear to my heart – perhaps because you could barely get them in the old days.
Normally, you can buy many of these unique gifts at Christmas markets in Germany, especially the southern half of Eastern Germany. Christmas markets in Leipzig, Dresden or Erfurt or smaller towns in that area would be good places to visits, with fewer crowds than the bigger and more popular markets of Nuremberg, Cologne or Berlin, but… most of the markets have been cancelled this year.
So, we went online and did a bit of ordering in time for a lockdown Christmas. Let me introduce these superb Eastern German seasonal goodies to you, and where to buy them online. While I have already published my holiday gift inspirations for this year, this post is especially about Eastern German Christmas goodies that no self-respecting classy fan of all things Christmas can go without.
Eastern German Christmas baking: Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen and Dresdner Stollen
You probably all have heard of that German Christmas staple, the gingerbread. It may surprise you to hear that gingerbread originally hails from Armenia. An Armenian monk brought the tradition to France and made them popular in Europe. Around the 13th Century, several bakers, most notably those of city of Torun (Poland), but also in Germany and Sweden, began making and selling gingerbread big style. Nuremberg ist most famous for its gingerbread, which is to contain less than 10% flour – must most Nuremberg-style gingerbread contains more.
The Saxonian town of Pulsnitz was relatively late to the game, starting out in the 16th Century. Then several other Saxonian towns made their own gingerbread and sold it at the famous Dresdner Striezelmarkt.
Only Pulsnitz has managed to keep a flourishing tradition of all things Christmas bakery until today, with at least eight traditional artisanal bakeries producing the popular sweets all year round. Their cakes are relatively soft, contain no or very few nuts and are made from rye flour, syrup and honey. I always bought some at the Christmas markets around here, but this year, all Christmas markets are cancelled.
Here is a selection of our family favourite, the “Spitzen”. They are bite sized soft gingerbread filled with fruit jelly. The cherry filling is my favourite. They do not keep as long as many of the other gingerbread, so it is better to buy them for the holidays only.
You also get the more standard heart-shaped of rectangular gingerbread. They normally keep for ages, at least a year, unless someone sold you last years batch. Which does happen. You want fresh ones that keep until 2022 or longer.
I ordered from Georg Graefe just before they were overwhelmed by orders and had to temporarily close their online shop. I am unsure whether they regularly ship abroad, but it may be worth dropping them an email.
Frenzel, the only factory, produces larger quantities of excellent quality gingerbread and currently sells through their own online shop.
Stollen fruit loaf is actually a Saxonian invention, one that has spread rapidly all over Germany and is one of the most popular seasonal cakes now. It was invented a bit later than the Lebkuchen, around the mid-15th Century. Stollen was not much of a delicacy, as anything too rich was forbidden according to Catholic tradition. However, the Saxonian bakers pleased with Pope Innocent VIII to allow them to use butter and other things that make cakes tasty and since then, the Stollen became what it is today: a rich and rather decadent tasty loaf enjoyed by the Saxonian court but also sold in Dresdens seasonal markets.
The Stollen is a large loaf cake made from raisins, lemon and orange peel, almonds folded into a rich dough from butter, flour and yeast. It is generously topped with powdered sugar and like a Christmas pudding, will almost keep forever if stored properly. Therefore it is an ideal cake to be shipped long distance and enjoyed throughout the winter season.
You can buy the Stollen in many bakeries in Dresden, in shops all over Germany. Some bakers have opened their own online shops, too. They sell a variety of Stollen type cakes. For the original Christmas cake look for “Dresdner Christstollen” .
Eastern German Christmas Decoration
And after getting the foods sorted, let’s move on to those great classic Eastern German Christmas decorations
The Herrnhuter Stern is an old favourite, and I recommended it as a light, space saving but unique gift in my “Look at all that great German Stuff” gift guide in 2018.
This beauty takes inspiration from the Star of Bethlehem which rose on Christmas Eve. The Herrnhuter Christmas star was first made in the early 1700s by Christian migrants into Lusatia in Saxony. It was first introduced in boarding schools in Southeastern Germany in the Christmas season to help ward of homesickness. The very first stars were white and red to represent the purity and blood of Jesus Christ. Children would tradiionally craft them on the first Advent Sunday, and to this day it is a bit of a family tradition to assemble and hang the stars on that day.
The manufacture building today looks strikingly modern, but every star is handmade in Herrnhut in Saxony. And, like many production sites mentioned here, some parts are open to the public, too.
This paper or plastic star gives you great festive style with minimum effort. It may take a bit of fiddling to assemble it, but outside the festive season, you can store it a small paper box.
My Eastern German Christmas stars
The paper version accompanied me to England and has been my Christmas light for many years through hospital accommodation, dingy flats and finally my first home. It survived annual assemblies and about ten house moves with just the slightest little kinks.
This year I wanted to make our house a bit more christmassy from the outside andbought an outdoor star. Just look at this German engineering!
And an hour later, the star was up and lit. And for a change, I assembled it on the first Advent Sunday, with my nearest and dearest. The cats tried their best to jump all over the star bits while my husband snoozed on the couch. Then we made a joint effort to climb a ladder and secure it to the house. The paper ones have a somewhat softer shape, whereas the plastic outdoor ones are quite sharp and angular looking.
You just buy the star and a lighting kit and you have festive fun for years to come! Beware of cheaper imitations. Many cheap imports are made under poor labour conditions from poor materials.
Herrnhuter Sterne are quite pricey. But seeing they are handmade in Germany, they are not only made fairly and responsibly, but are a good investment into years of classy festive decoration.
If the fiddly assembly is not your thing, take a look a the Annaberger Faltstern, another more recent (1926) Ore Mountain Original. Available for indoor use only, it is similar in looks, but comes flat-packed, ready to unfold and hang.
Interestingly, my obsession with Lauscha glass Christmas ornaments started in the Midlands in England around 2008. I was casually browsing the local charity shops when I came across a pretty vintage red bauble for 50p, which had “Made in GDR” embossed on its metal hanger. I bought it, and that was the start of my little collection.
The fashion for handblown glass ornaments originated in a small Thuringian town of Lauscha, in Southeastern Germany. Lauscha was a glassblowing town. Glassblowers from Lauscha made their money producing table ware and prosthetic eyes. However many of them were poor and unable to afford the customary Christmas tree decorations of apples and nuts. So they blew colourful baubles, and that fashion took off.
I wrote a separate blog post about Lauscha Christmas ornaments, so I won’t go into too much detail here about where to buy them etc. My favourites are baubles, and as 95% of my ornaments are vintage, I don’t really stick to a colour scheme.
The traditional Lauscha ornament is a mouthblown glass bauble. It is coated with an antique silver (or mercury in the old days) and hand-painted.
New ornaments mostly come from moulds. I mean, try and blow a guinea pig. Which, by the way, went to my friend who loves guinea pigs, But I have been guilty of spending rather a lot of money to buy a new ornaments in shape of the Trabant car, a few cats and maybe a cucumber or two.
But really, the vintage ornaments ar the best! Many are handblown, and all bear a lovely patina of decades past, along with bits of candle wax. I never had to buy them in online shops at the ridiculous price of 80Euro a box or so.
You never know where you might fund them! I bought my first one outside the family stash in Nottingham for 50p. After my grandmother no longer put her own tree up, she gifted me two boxes of 1950s baubles which remain my favourites, for obvious reasons. And then I always found some at tiny Christmas markets around Berlin, the ones far enough from Berlin vintage lovers, at 3-4 Euro a box. Etsy has some, of course. If you want some new ones, Krebs Glas is one of the local producers that has a reasonable online shop with cheaper machine made and dearer blown ornaments, as well as an Englsih website and worldwide shipping.
Woodwork from the Ore Mountains is another great Eastern German Christmas classic. This has by now become really popular, but also has many German and Far East competitors. Having grown up with the sweet simple folk style, I can spot a fake at half a mile. And seriously, only buy the original is all I can say!
Here’s another tradition that goes back centuries. The Ore Mountains were dominated by mining for over thousand years. Around the 16th century, many workers looked for alternative means to make money, and started making things out of wood – at first, wool spinning implements and tableware, but also decorations. The angel and the minder remain very traditional symbols of that period which are still popular today.
Traditional items to decorate homes for the festive season are the Nutcracker, the Christmas pyramid, the festive arch (“Schwibbogen”), the incense smokers and wooden figurines to assemble a nativity or Epiphany star singers.
I admit that my collection of this folk art is rather small, with most still sleeping in removal boxes. However, this early 20th Century heirloom already made it out of the books and onto my kitchen shelf.
Here is one of many shops that show you the variety of goods and styles. It is a mainstream shop, with a decent website in English.
Seiffen is beautiful and definitely worth a side trip from Dresden any time of the year. Once travel is safe again, that is. Other than that, the Christmas markets of Dresden offer a large choice of genuine Ore Mountain folk art.
I also found the flea market at the river Elbe in Dresden excellent for inexpensive vintage traditional carved Christmas decorations.
Enjoy Eastern German Christmas Goodies
And with that, my dear friends, concludes the First Advent Sunday of this weird 2020 year, where travel has come to a grinding halt. A batch of Christmas cookies are cooling as we speak. And I actually went outside yesterday to gather some twigs and make festive decorations. At a time when I would normally swan about the first Christmas market and plan a winter getaway.
I hope you are safe and healthy and enjoy a bit of seasonal Eastern German Christmas cheer from the heart of Eastern Germany!
I have used all the products introduced here and can wholly recommend everything without reservation. Everything you see in this post is sustainably produced in Germany and of high quality. Most links direct to either the manufacturer or small online shops. There are no affiliate links in this post. I receive no monetary or material rewards from any of these producers or shops. These goodies are genuine personal recommendations.