Germany Holidays: Meissen and porcelain

Meissen is a small town on the Elbe about 15 miles downriver from Dresden, with the prominent Albrechtsburg castle and Meissener Dom (one of the smallest cathedrals in Europe) squashed together on a patch of raised ground above the water. The town has existed for over 1,000 years and was the capital of Saxony until the 15th century, when the royal court moved to Dresden.

Scenic though these sites are, what really makes the town special is its longstanding association with some of the finest porcelain manufactured anywhere outside China.

The first European porcelain was produced here in 1708. The key to the success of the manufacture of what was known as ‘white gold’ was the large deposits of kaolin (China clay) and potters’ earth to be found in the nearby hills. Two years later the first factory was commissioned by King Augustus the Strong of Saxony at the Albrechtsburg castle. In the mid 19th century production was moved to the Triebisch valley where it has remained to this day.

With its trademark logo of two crossed blue swords, Meissen is possibly the most famous and recognised porcelain brand in the world. Sitting on a back catalogue of over 700,000 moulds and with over 10,000 colours the factory claims to have the most variety of any manufacturer worldwide. Famous for its figurines and tableware, the company’s products have been able to maintain their reputation for the highest quality for the best part of three centuries.

In the 19th century its pieces were highly sought after among the ruling classes in Europe, which often built up huge collections. A Meissen porcelain chocolate pot from around 1780 formed one of the wedding gifts for Queen Elizabeth II.

During the period of the German Democratic Republic the Meissen porcelain works were one of the few businesses that operated profitably and continued to export internationally, thereby bringing in much needed foreign currency for the communist regime.

How to visit

The factory is open to visitors all year round (except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and offers daily guided tours plus a visit to the Meissen museum. As a measure of its international renown, the accompanying audio guide is available in 14 different languages. Visits start with a 30 minute tour of four studios where artists demonstrate base throwing, plate painting, figure moulding and glazing. The museum then allows visitors to appreciate historic pieces at their own leisure.

Whilst in Meissen visitors should include a walk up to the castle and its adjacent cathedral. The castle features an exhibit on the initial production of porcelain in the 18th century, but the views from here over the Elbe are worth the walk alone.

The town is easily reached by taking S1 from Dresden, with trains running every 30 minutes. – Mark Arrol

Looking for more? See other destinations in Eastern Germany

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