Dresden opens chamber of Turkish delights

Saxon kings both feared and admired the Ottoman Empire. Andrew Curry heads to Dresden to explore Germany’s long fascination with Turkish art, culture and military prowess.

Dresden opens chamber of Turkish delights
Photo: DPA

Teutonic interest in Turkish delights started long before the tasty döner kebab came to German street corners everywhere.

This Sunday, Dresden’s Royal Palace will open the Türckische Cammer, or Turkish Chamber, as part of ongoing renovations of the city’s historic quarter overlooking the Elbe River.

The chamber is a permanent space devoted to Ottoman weaponry, textiles, horse trappings and armour collected by the rulers of Saxony beginning in the early 1500s. Over 600 objects – from tents and pennants to helmets, swords and elaborate folding leather cups – are on display in a 750-square metre space.

Click here for a photo gallery of the exhibition.

Closely controlling the lighting, temperature and humidity makes it possible to display centuries-old textiles in the open. At the centre of the exhibition is a massive tent, 20 metres long and six metres high. Elaborately embroidered in deep red, gold and blue on the inside, the tent is a pale blue on the outside. It was acquired by the most powerful ruler of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, in 1729, and used at official events including royal weddings and military parades.

“The tent looks like it did 300 years ago,” says exhibition curator Holger Schuckelt. “It’s not just a display, but a trip to the past.”

Visitors can walk under and through the massive tent, which survived centuries in the state vaults and was nearly lost in 2002, when severe flooding filled the storerooms of Dresden’s museums with water. Restorers spent more than a decade carefully cleaning and preserving the tent’s fabric.

Many of the original Turkish Chamber’s treasures weren’t so lucky. Wood horses used for centuries to display the jewel-encrusted riding equipment (themselves based on live Arabians given as gifts to the Saxon royalty) were burned in World War II, and had to be re-created by a master woodcarver for the exhibit. “They cost about as much as a real horse,” says Saxon State Museum Collections official Dirk Syndram. “But they last a lot longer and they don’t cost anything to feed.”

In addition to gold and silver horse trappings, highlights of the exhibition include swords encrusted with sapphires, lapis lazuli and opals and engraved in Arabic, elaborately inlaid rifles and embroidered velvet pennants.

Some of the items on display date back nearly five centuries. Beginning in the 1500s, the ruling classes in some parts of Europe were obsessed with Turkish culture and art. According to curator Schuckelt, European rulers were deeply impressed by the Ottoman Empire’s military prowess and a little bit jealous of the sultan’s unbridled power. “The Saxon electors had a mixture of fascination and fear when it came to the Orient and Turkey,” Schuckelt says.

As Turkish armies defeated western European forces in battle after battle throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the fascination grew into an obsession. Captured weapons and tents were proudly displayed and copied; rulers dressed their elite soldiers in uniforms inspired by the Turks.

A climactic clash outside of Vienna in 1683 – ending in a resounding defeat for the Ottoman forces – did nothing to diminish the phenomenon. Gradually “the Orient” became synonymous with luxury, sophistication and decadence. European craftsmen were inspired by Turkish design and architecture. Nobles had their portraits painted wearing caftans and curved Ottoman-style swords. The fanciest parties of the year were masquerade balls where everyone came in Turkish costumes.

As a result, most of the art and weaponry on display was bought at great cost by the Saxon kings or given as gifts by ambassadors or Polish and Saxon aristocrats, Schuckelt says. Only a small percentage was actually seized in battle – and there have been no calls to return any of it to Turkey.

Museum officials hope the exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday, can help teach visitors about the long history of German-Turkish relations. It’s also a way to engage the many people of Turkish descent who live in Germany. “In a time of xenophobia, when Dresden is too often in the news for negative reasons, it’s great to have an opening like this,” says Martin Roth, director of Saxony’s state museums. “This is a cultural corridor that may help bring many Germans of Turkish background to Dresden for the first time.”

Organisers have reached out to nearly 3,000 Turkish cultural groups and foundations to spread the word. And the museum arranged for nation-wide advertising on a modern example of German-Turkish fusion: Over the next few months, 4.5 million specially printed döner kebab wrappers will serve as mini-billboards for Dresden’s latest Turkish delight.

Türckische Cammer in the Residenzschloss

10 am to 6 pm, closed Tuesdays

Tel: +49 (0)3 51 / 4 91 42 000

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‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”


“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”