5: The Dresden Weekender

Magaluf, Aiya Napa, Kavos, Malaga.. the choices for a Brits abroad weekender were endless. After much deliberation, we opted for Dresden, famed for its Christmas markets and far-right tendencies. The ‘we’ refers to Jenny, Anna and Katie, who are the friends I went to Dresden with. I wrote that sentence purely to confirm that I do have friends as I realise that, despite this being my 5th blog, I have yet to mention the existence of any. They are real, I promise.

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An authentic GDR experience

Well, the plan was go to Dresden, anyway. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually find any available accommodation in Dresden and ended up booking a youth hostel in a town called Radebeul, a twenty minute train ride away from Dresden.

You thought you understood what I meant by ‘youth hostel’, but you were wrong. In Germany, a youth hostel does not mean the kind of modern, value for money, sociable hub that Hostel World might refer you to. This is the East. The ‘Jugendherberge’ (youth hostel) rather refers to the kind of accommodation school/youth/scout groups would go to for a training weekend away. Consider Germany’s history for a second, and then imagine the type of youth group that might also have stayed in this 60s-esque facility.

Its exterior looked unsettlingly like the care home in Tracy Beaker, whilst the interior resembled an interesting hybrid of a boarding school and a half-way house. Whilst this might sound like I am complaining, on the contrary, I was thrilled to be experiencing an authentic GDR experience; there was no heating or hot water on the first night, there was one toilet to share between us and our corridor of school children and we were told off (twice) for arriving late to breakfast.

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Pulling Capital of Europe

Yet our big ‘Brits abroad weekender’ certainly didn’t disappoint. I arrived a bit earlier than the others to get there before check-in closed (20:00) and, having espied several young people, assured them that Radebeul was the “pulling capital of Europe” over the phone. Whilst they assumed I was being ironic, just as they arrived, we were approached by three guys of our age. Well, one guy (Sasha) looked about our age, the second looked about 12 and the third about 32. Sasha explained that he was here with his football team and seemed a bit confused as to what Dresden tourists were doing in a residential German town. After deeming our holiday to Radebeul to be a ‘coole Story’ (whilst speaking German) he invited us to have drinks with him and his very under-aged and overaged football team, boasting that they had a whole four beers between them. Although the prospect of some German conversation was tempting, we opted to return to our non-heated bunker instead. Sasha and his prepubescent/middle aged friends will forever be the ones that got away.

Happy 21st birthday to Dresden’s cake festival

Prior to this weekend, the only thing I knew about Dresden was that it has the highest concentration of Neo-Nazis in Germany. So when hundreds of people descended on the city’s main square on Saturday, you can imagine my first thought.

Fortunately, rather than incite racial hatred, these people came out in force to celebrate Dresden’s 22nd Stollen Festival. Whilst I’ve been to a number of festival before (music, fringe, literary, Jewish, etc) I have never been to one which chose to exclusively celebrate a specific type of cake. As a mini Stollen bounced off my head and in to my arms, I questioned whether we had in fact chanced upon heaven, rather than Dresden.

As processions of Stollen bakers and marching bands paraded through town, the Dresdeners lined the streets, desperate to catch a glimpse of the tantalising finale: the ‘Riesenstollen’ (giant Stollen). As if awaiting a monarch, we cheered, applauded and waved our flags as she glided past us in all her 1800 Kg glory. Determined not to miss a piece of the action (or cake), we decided to join the parade and soak up the atmosphere from the inside. Ten seconds later, however, we were dragged out the limelight by a raging Dresdener, furious that we had the audacity to walk side by side with these elite bakers.

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I was impressed not only by the size of the Stollen, but also the people of Dresden’s sheer enthusiasm for this rare breed of cake. I couldn’t help but imagine my name in lights as I pictured myself introducing a festival of a similar vein back home. Could this be my future? Rebecca Heitlinger: founder of Great Britain’s regional cake festivities. Then again, if a giant Victoria Sponge was paraded around Finchley Central high street every year, I’m not sure it would have the same charm.

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The festival culminated in taking the ‘Riesenstollenwagen’ (carriage used to transport the giant cake) to the Striezelmarkt, the most famous Christmas Market in Dresden. After a number of lengthy speeches and an opportunity for the press to pap the 1800 Kg beauty, she was then cut up in to thousands of pieces, ready to be purchased by the insatiable crowds. As €5 seemed a bit steep for a piece of royal Stollen, we bowed out of the mosh pit gracefully and admired the festivities from afar.

In true ‘Brits Abroad’ style, this ‘Stollenfest’ was the closest thing we came to culture on our mini-break; the rest of the time was divided between eating, browsing the Christmas markets, eating, drinking ‘Glühwein’ (mulled wine) and eating.

On leaving Radebeul, I decided that it was a shame that Dresden has been somewhat tainted by its far-right reputation. Mid-reflection, however, I spotted Neo-Nazi graffiti out of the corner of my eye.  On second thoughts, I might hold off on returning for a while.

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