14.48 meters high – the world's biggest hand-carved Christmas pyramid on the Striezelmarkt in DresdenImage: Fotolia/A. Erdbeer
A superlative Christmas
Caroline Bock (dpa)
December 8, 2014
The longest Stollen cake, the biggest nativity scene, the oldest market - in the run up to Christmas, Germany is gripped by the desire to break records. But do these spectacles really attract more visitors and money?
Offering only tasty mulled wine and roasted almonds is no longer enough. There are more than 1500 Christmas markets in Germany. In order to make the headlines, many cities opt for superlatives. Here is a selection of spectacular market features.
The Stollen cake and the nativity scene
Bakers in Dresden have again createded a record-breaking "Striezel" - the local name given to the traditional German Stollen Christmas fruit cake. It is an impressive 4.34 meters long with a width of 1.77 meters and it consists of 400 parts. On the second weekend of Advent, the gigantic Stollen is paraded through the streets of Dresden on a horse-drawn carriage to the Christmas market. There, using a 1.6-meter-long knife weighing an impressive 12 kilograms, the cake is ceremoniously cut into pieces and the slices sold for a small sum which goes to charity.
Waldbreitbach in the Westerwald region of Germany is home to the world's biggest nativity scene made of natural roots - it is even listed in the Guinness Book of Records. It consists of 1000 roots, which were collected by hand, and 40 carved wooden figures as well as 85 animal figures. The nativity scene, which has steadily grown every year, covers some 92 square meters and boasts a height of 7.5 meters in the Maria Himmelfahrt church.
The calendar, the tree and the Advent wreath
In Gengenbach in the Black Forest, the historic town hall's 24 windows create the world biggest Advent calendar house in the world. This year, the display will focus on favorite children's books characters, so every day of Advent until Christmas Eve one window is opened to reveal an image or figure like Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking. More than 100,000 people come to the small town during Advent to admire the attraction. The organizers say that is twice as many as when they first started the calendar 18 years ago.
This year, the financial hub of Frankfurt will again have a Christmas tree that will be taller than most others. The spruce on the Römerberg is an impressive 30 meters tall. Dortmund however also claims to have the tallest Christmas tree. The one there is 45 meters tall, but it is made up of some 1,700 individual fir trees.
Europe's biggest advent wreath can be found in Lüneburg in Lower Saxony. The wreath, perched on the top of the town's historical water tower at a height of nearly 60 meters is made of aluminum and has a diameter of 13 meters and weighs 1.5 tons. The wreath is lit be those donating to a refugee children's charity by sending a text message or calling a number. But competition is not far off: in the small village of Erbstorf, not far from Lüneburg, for a charity drive the fire brigade has created a wreath from fir tree branches that has a diameter of 19.5 meters.
The market and the candle
Germany's most famous Christmas market is the Christkindlmarkt in Nüremberg, which by Christmas Eve is expected to have attracted some two million visitors from around the world. It dates back to 1628 - which doesn't make it the oldest market in Germany. There are two candidates for that claim, and they are both in Saxony. Bautzen is celebrating 630 years of the Wenzelmarkt and Dresden's Striezelmarkt is taking place for 580th time.
Probably the largest candle in the world can be found in the small town of Schlitz in Hessen. It is 42 meters tall. The candle is created by covering a tower with red cloth and on the top of the tower there are 110 light bulbs arranged to create the image of a six meter flame. Local businesses began the candle action in 1991, and it has even merited a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.
The bottom line
And what does tourism make of all these superlatives? "Christmas markets are more popular than ever and they are very much part of German cultural heritage" said Claudia Gilles, Managing Director of the German Tourist Association. She also thinks that superlatives are justified as attractions. But she adds that many markets offer alternatives with hand made and traditional goods. Gilles says however that the principle of "higher, bigger, more extraordinary" should not become an end in itself, to avoid Christmas markets turning into exchangeable fairgrounds.