Set upon the banks of the Elbe River, the city of Meissen (Meißen) is synonymous with the manufactory that has been producing the pricey porcelain since 1710. A half-hour drive from the Baroque skyline of Dresden, in the eastern German state of Saxony, Meissen is an idyllic place to spend a leisurely day. Whether strolling its winding streets or the ornate banquet halls of the Albrechtsburg Castle, Meissen’s charming atmosphere will leave a lasting impression from the days of yore.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The perfect introduction to Meissen is its quaint Marktplatz, with the town hall and the Frauenkirche serving as the square’s prominent structures. The church also prides itself on having the world’s first porcelain carillon. Consisting of 37 bells, they have been chiming different jingles six times a day since their installation to celebrate Meissen’s 1,000th jubilee in 1929.
The Marktplatz is always a center of activity. From enjoying a frosty beverage on a hot summer day to sipping warm mulled wine at the traditional Christmas market, the square bustles to a small-town rhythm throughout the seasons. From here, it’s easy to explore Meissen’s compact Altstadt, but once seeing the sights at street level, it’s time to take a step back into the city’s Medieval past.
A Lofty Perch
To reach the Domplatz atop the rising mount, follow the signs leading from the Marktplatz, passing through the Mitteltor, or central gate. Upon reaching the square, the imposing Gothic cathedral and the Albrechtsburg Castle set a dramatic scene of architecture, not to mention a panorama of the surrounding area.
Towering over one of Germany’s longest rivers, the Elbe, Albrechtsburg Castle is Germany’s oldest residential palace. Construction began in 1471 by means of the wealthy brothers Ernst and Albrecht of Wettin. The two Saxon electors commissioned Arnold von Westfalen to build the luxurious digs within a short span, by Medieval standards, of just 20 years.
Visitors enter the bright rooms in the Albrechtsburg by ascending the Grosser Wendelstein spiral staircase in the palace’s tower, which soars 57.5 meters. Entering halls and apartments, one can see that the brothers had spared no expense. Vaulted ceilings in banquet rooms boast exquisitely painted ornamentation with flawless attention to detail. Moreover, Albrechtsburg Castle was also the original center of Meissen porcelain production from 1710 to 1864. Some priceless pieces, befitting of a palace, are also on display here.
Reaching for the Heavens
Adajcent to the Albrechtsburg Castle is the city’s impressive cathedral. Built between 1260 and 1425 upon the site of a former Romanesque church, the structure has all the makings of prime Gothic architecture. The looming twin steeples, however, only became a part of the cathedral in the early 1900s yet follow the new Gothic style. Along with wonderful stained glass windows and artwork by Lucas Cranach the Elder, there are also wooden statues of Holy Roman Emperor founder Otto I and his wife, Adelaide. The Prince’s Chapel, which dates to 1425, holds the final resting place of the House of Wettin.
After visiting the sites of the Domplatz, follow the sign „Nach die Stadt,“ or to the city, and take another route to the cobblestoned streets via the the castle’s terraces and small vineyard. A wave of terracotta rooftops also unfold when winding one’s way down the hill.
What’s in a Name?
Well, a lot if the product carries the name Meissen. The twin blue swords on the bottom of each piece have been a symbol of masterpiece in porcelain for 500 years. This iconic mark, which celebrates perfection in quality, has undergone a series of modifications throughout the centuries, with its current design dating to 1972.
Visitors may take a 30-minute tour of the workshop plus admire the invaluable selections on display in the stunning museum, which further exhibits a dining room table complete with Meissen’s signature Baroque swan service set. The second floor also presents a world expo, promoting collections that represent various nations and regions, along with vases by Emil Paul Börner, who was also responsible for the carillon in the Frauenkirche.
What would a trip to the Meissen manufactory be without purchasing a souvenir of the premium porcelain? A wide range of items are on sale in the onsite outlet shop with bargain prices. A tea cup, for example, is just €75.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
Either going to or returning from the manufactory, walk along Neugasse and snap a photo of the brightest yellow building on the block: the Schmales Haus. Built in the early 17th century and renovated in the late 20th century, the narrowest house in Meissen measures only 2.65 meters (8 feet) wide and serves as a youth club for local kids.
Amid a picturesque landscape on the Elbe River with the charm of small German city, Meissen is a true gem of Saxony. For the ultimate day-trip from Dresden, step aboard a steam boat and sail up river to Meissen; the laid-back trip takes 2 ½ – 3 hours each way.