Monday, November 28, 2005

Guide: Elsewhere - Meissen

As part of the Berlin Review ethos of Monday to Friday blogging, because "weekends are for living", we left the lap-top behind this weekend for a couple of days in Meissen, and decided this would be a good place to start the Berlin Review Guide to Elsewhere...

Meissen: Distance from the Hauptstadt= 180km

If the big city life gets a little to much, and you want a town small enough to wander in a day, that has a nice 'German' feel, a big castle on a hill, and is not in Bavaria (so reachable in a couple of hours), then you could do much worse than Meissen. A medieval market town about 20km north of Dresden in Saxony, Meissen is a charming place. Sitting next to the Elbe, with the historic old town climbing the side of a hill to the castle perched on top, it is a collection of narrow, cobbled streets, houses with red-slate roofs, and cosy pubs and restaurants where you can attempt to get your mouth around the Saxon accent and cuisine.

Meissen is famous for a couple of things. In 1709 an alchemist by the name of Johann Friedrich Böttger was trying to find a way to make gold...and in the process he discovered how to make Porcelain. His boss, August the Strong (Saxon elector to the Holy Roman Empire, history fans) set up the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture, and it has become one of the most prized, and therefore expensive, porcelains you can buy anywhere in world. I saw one dinner service set, dating back to 1910, that would set you back a cool €21,000 if you want all 30 pieces. No wonder the locals call it 'white gold'.

Other things Meissen is famous for: a puffy baked good, that is basically dough inflated. Hollow, it doesn't taste of much, but is a locaspecialtyty that they are somehow proud of. This came about because August the Strong (him again), suspicious that one of his couriers was enjoying the local wine a little too much, ordered his baker to create something extremely fragile. The courier then had to deliver the messages whilst keeping this Fummel intact, to prove his sobriety.

Some decidedly more tasty local specialities, include the Meissen wine, from vineyards around the town, and various Saxon dishes, which at this time of year included a lot of game (wild boar, venison), which we tried at the oldest Inn in town, the Domkeller by the castle and the cathedral, that dates back to the 15th Century.

About two hours drive from Berlin, Meissen is close enough and small enough for a day trip from the capital to be justified, and being only half an hour from Dresden it can be combined easily with the larger city as part of a Saxon long weekend. We had a great time, just wandering the streets, stopping in cosy pubs and restaurants to eat and drink, checking out the views from the castle...there wasn't all that much to do (although we could have gone to the Porcelain factory) but it wasn't that kind of town...a place for strolling, eating and drinking. It's not rock and roll, but nevertheless, I liked it.

Useful Info

We drove in a hire car, but you can take the train. Meissen is on the Leipzig-Dresden railway line, so you'll have to change if you are coming from Berlin. You can find some more information on the whole deal with the porcelain from the website of the Staatliche Porzellan Manufaktur itself, and about the city in English at Meissen Online.


Blogger BerlinBear said...

Interesting. I've never been to Meissen, but I might have to now. Somehow I am reminded of that delightful scene in Blackadder where Percy tries his hand as an alchemist and invent "pure green." To which Blackadder replies: "So, Percy, you think there's a market for jewellery which looks like snot, do you?"

All class.

5:31 pm  

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