Weekend Wanderlust: Scenery as far as the eye can see in Saxon Switzerland

An easy day-trip from Dresden or even Berlin, the uniquely beautiful Saxon Switzerland is not to be missed, including when temperatures dip.

Weekend Wanderlust: Scenery as far as the eye can see in Saxon Switzerland
A morningtime view of Saxonian Switzerland from October 30th, 2018. Photo: DPA

“Winter is sin, spring is penance, summer is a state of grace and autumn is perfection.” Four centuries have passed since poet Angelus Silesius penned these words about the German seasons, but there is little in them to take issue with today.

Who hasn’t spent March and April pleading to any higher power who’ll listen to breath a bit of warmth back into the air? That said, no one who woke up in a bath of their own sweat this July would describe summer 2018 as a state of grace.

But no one can say a bad word about den Herbst. A cooler sun allows us to leisurely stroll the streets of Berlin or Hamburg, finally freed from the hectic masses of summer tourists. And in the great outdoors this country of vast woodlands comes into its own.

Several regions mark themselves out as exceptional spots to take in autumn’s Vollkommenheit (perfection). The banks of Lake Starnberg transform into a sea of red as the deciduous trees start to lose their leaves. A cycling tour around this magnificent glacial lake is highly recommendable. The rolling hills of the Eifel also become dappled in a thousand different shades of orange.

A point of inspiration

But no place I have visited compares to Saxon Switzerland in the fall. The yellow sandstone rocks and red beech trees become one long spectrum of colour. From famed viewpoints such as the Affensteine, rocks and trees in different shades of yellow and red speckle the mountainous scenery as far as the eye can see.

Hikers resting with a view of Saxonian Switzerland's marvellous Affensteine. Photo: DPA

Saxon Switzerland is famous primarily for its huge, fissured sandstone rock faces, which jut out from the valley floor as isolated pillars or huge walls. The enormous stones seem to defy gravity as they stretch forty or fifty metres into the sky. Just as impressive though is the foliage of the red beech trees, which turns a deep red in autumn and bring a dash of colour to the national park’s thick forests.

It is no accident that this region next to the Czech border inspired Germany’s two greatest romantic artists – Caspar David Friedrich and Richard Wagner. Friedrich painted Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, perhaps the most famous work of German romantic art, after several visits to the region. In Friedrich’s imagination, a hiker looks out from the top of a sandstone rocks onto a valley shrouded in fog.

Richard Wagner meanwhile told a friend: “Thank God I am in that place three hours from Dresden, Saxonian Switzerland, where I can begin to breath again as both an artist and a human.”

Thankfully for the modern traveller Saxon Switzerland is no longer a three-hour trip from Dresden. In fact these days it is reachable from Berlin within three hours. If you are coming from Dresden, all you need to do is hop onto an S-Bahn and you will be taken right into the heart of the region in less than an hour.

A day trek like no other

I set off from Berlin with two friends in the early hours of a clear October morning. Our rucksacks were packed with belegten Brötchen to make sure we would make the most of the day. The plan was to hike up two or three of the most famous sandstone rocks to take in the views and make it back to Dresden by the evening.

The rising sun over the Elbe river on October 30th, 2018. Photo: DPA

The S-Bahn route from Dresden up the Elbe valley to Bad Schandau gave us the sense that this was going to be something very special. After passing through Pirna, the river valley narrows, and jinks round corners to reveal ever larger chunks of sandstone – teasers for the breathtaking views awaiting us. On the south side, Festung Königstein Fortress, an enormous fortification that dates back to the 13th century, sits dominantly atop a huge piece of rock appropriately named Tafelberg (table mountain).

From Bad Schandau we travelled with a tiny train up the (impossible to pronounce) Kirtnitzschtalstraße. The hike began at Beuthenfall, where we made our way through a thick forest. Confident footing was required as the path wound up through steep and damp gorges and occasionally bent around exposed pieces of rock.

Less than an hour later, we reached the the Affensteine (monkey stones), a long chain of rocks that make up the most impressive feature of the national park. At Carolaflensen, we leapt over deep fissures in the rock and looked on in awe at the towers of sandstone in front of us. Below, three or four stone fingers rose out of the trees like the remains of an unbreachable ancient wall.

Folklore has it that the Affensteine got their name from the remarkable escape of a young nobleman who had been imprisoned nearby. The young man is said to have had a monkey who he taught to climb the sandstone cliffs carrying a rope, thus securing his escape into the neighbouring kingdom of Bohemia.

The story is most likely made up, but the name seems fitting nonetheless. The rocks have a bamboozling geography to them. We lost our direction for two hours before finally finding our way back to the Starke Stiege, another well-known viewpoint.

It's not too cold: hikers in November. Photo: DPA

Our hike ended at the small town of Smilka on the banks of the Elbe. The locals did their best to uphold the Saxon reputation for being less than welcoming to strangers (one man stopped and stared at us as we walked down the street as if he’d never seen a tourist before). On the other hand a mill that has been turned into a restaurant provided the perfect end to the day. The delicious Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) and homemade beer provided just the revitalization we needed after a long day of walking.

In the winter, walks over the rocks of Saxon Switzerland become a bit riskier, depending on the weather. But if you are fearless (and experienced) enough, the sandstone turrets are a sight to behold when they are capped in snow.


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Five of Germany’s most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021

Despite rising infection numbers, most of Germany’s Christmas markets will be open to fill our hearts with festive cheer this year. We give you a rundown of five of the country’s most magical Christmas markets.

Five of Germany's most magical Christmas Markets to visit in 2021
The entrance to the Stuttgart Christmas market in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Germany had to close or were scaled back massively because of the pandemic. This year – at least at the time or reporting – lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks. 

Here are five we love at The Local Germany. If you have any suggestions for magical Christmas markets in Germany, please leave a comment below. 

Maritime Christmas Market on the Koberg, Lübeck

Lübeck, the so-called “Christmas city of the North”, will be welcoming the festive season this year by lighting up its old town with over 500,000 Christmas lights.

The northwest of the old town island is where you’ll find the maritime-themed Christmas market which has been going since 2011.

Centred around the gothic, middle-aged church of St. Jacob, this Christmas market celebrates the city’s historical sea-faring residents by creating a cosy harbour atmosphere with old wooden barrels, nets and a stranded shipwreck as well as a Ferris wheel with an unforgettable view of Lübeck’s old town and harbour.

Culinary stands offer visitors sweet and savoury dishes, and beverages such as hot lilac punch, mulled wine and, of course, rum.

Extra info: The current rules for events and hospitality in Schleswig Holstein is that 3G applies (entry for the vaccinated, people who’ve recovered from Covid or people who show a negative test)  but from Monday, November 15th, indoor areas will be enforcing the 2G rule (excluding the unvaccinated).

The Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Christkindlesmarkt, Augsburg

With its origins in the 15th century, the Christkindlesmarkt in Augsburg is one of the oldest in Germany, and the Renaissance town hall provides a particularly beautiful backdrop to this winter wonderland.

As well as a wide variety of stands selling handcrafted nick-nacks and tasty treats, the Augsburg market also has some especially magical features, including the “Heavenly Post Office,” and “Fairytale Lane”: an animated fairytale depicted in ten scenes in decorated shop windows around the market place.

Extra info: In order to keep dense crowds to a minimum, the Angel performance will not take place this year. The market will also be spread out over more locations in the historic centre and there will be fewer mulled wine stands than in previous years. The stalls will be distributed over the Hauptmarkt, Lorenzer Platz, Schütt Island and Jakobsplatz.

Meanwhile, masks will have to be worn due to the high Covid numbers in Bavaria – and there will be 2G rules around the mulled wine stands, meaning unvaccinated people will not be served alcohol.

READ ALSO: State by state – Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

Medieval Market and Christmas Market, Esslingen

The Medieval Market and Christmas Market in Esslingen, with its backdrop of medieval half-timbered houses, offers visitors a trip back in time, with traders and artisans showing off their goods from times gone by.

The stands show off the wares of pewterers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, broom makers and glass blowers, as well as some old-fashioned merchants selling fun themed goods like drinking horns and “potions” in bottles.

Extra info: This year the number of stands will be reduced from more than 200 to around 120 and the stage shows, torch parade and interactive activities will not be taking place.

View from above the historic Streizelmarkt in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Streizelmarkt, Dresden

No Christmas Market list would be complete without the Streizelmarkt – Germany’s oldest Christmas market in the “Florence on the Elbe”.

This market, which you will find in Dresden’s city centre, first took place in 1434, and since then it has acquired quite a reputation.

The ancient market is home to the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world, as well as the world’s largest nutcracker.

Amongst the dozens of traditional stands, visitors to this market must also try the Dresdner Christstollen: the famous fruit loaf that is baked according to a traditional recipe with chopped dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices and dusted with powdered sugar.

Visitors can also take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel and gaze down upon the lovingly decorated huts of the Striezelmarkt.

Extra info: This year there will be no stage program and the mountain parade has been cancelled.

Old Rixdorf Christmas Market, Berlin

Although not as well-known as some of Berlin’s other Christmas Markets, the Old Rixdorf Christmas market is a romantic and magical spot which is well worth a visit. In the south of city in Richardplatz, Neukölln the old village of Rixdorf was founded in1360.

This charming setting is home to historic buildings such as the Trinkhalle and the Alte Dorfschmiede, and is illuminated every year with kerosene lamps and fairy lights. The stalls and booths are run by charitable organizations and associations. There are homemade trifles and handicrafts, but also culinary delights such as fire meat, waffles, pea soup, and numerous varieties of mulled wine and punch.

Extra info: The Old Rixdorf Christmas Market will be following the 2G model, meaning that all visitors over the age of 12 will be required to be fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.