So then, to continue the Seinfeld-esque theme we’ve established: what’s the deal with stollen? Well it’s German, that much you probably know already. It hails from Dresden, the capital city of the German state of Saxony, which is located far in the east of the country on the border with Poland. Like I care, Joe, are you close to making a point? I have a meeting in six minutes!!!
Actually no. However I am wondering this morning why, since Germany (and northern Europe in general) is chock-a-block with rich, eggy, fruit-filled breads, the only one that ever gets any real attention is stollen. It’s darn good eating, but well…what’s the deal with that?
It’s not as if Saxony was ever a major player in German history. Back before the German Empire was formed in 1871 it was just one more German kingdom, before that just another territory of the Holy Roman Empire, before that just some run-of-the-mill duchy of the Carolingian empire, yadda yadda yadda.
If Saxony is known for anything in European history, it’s for changing sides smack in the middle of wars. Back in the day, I’m told, Saxony’s coat of arms featured a mounted knight with a knife sticking out from between his shoulder blades. Saxony. Watch Your Back!. (That last bit was written in Latin, obviously).
The pity of all that cold calculation and backstabbing was that it never seemed to much work much in its favor. Saxony typically found itself on the losing side of conflicts, forced to cede more territory and towns. Even so, it did experience something of a cultural high water mark in the eighteenth century. Two of Saxony’s kings (Augustus the Second and Augustus the Third) became great patrons of the arts, building gorgeous castles and cities, especially Dresden. Saxony’s universities at Leipzig and Wittenberg flowered, becoming centers of both music and literature.
Of course the golden age didn’t last very long. Saxony shortly joined in the French Revolutionary Wars, first with the Prussians against Napoleon, then later — in true Saxon style — with Napoleon against the Prussians (who won). Fifty years after that they fought on the losing side of the Austro-Prussian war. As part of the German Empire they were on the losing side in World War I and as part of the Weimar Republic, on the losing side of World War II, during which the city of Dresden was firebombed to ashes. Perhaps the ultimate humiliation then came in 1952, when Saxony was dissolved by East Germany, at which point their long and mostly depressing history finally came to an end. Or so it seemed.
When Germany was reunified in 1990, Saxony became a state again, and since then it has undergone a kind of rebirth. Although parts of it are heavily polluted from rampant Soviet-era coal and uranium mining, it’s one of the most economically vibrant of the former GDR states. Here’s hoping that the coming thousand or so years are kinder to Saxony than the last thousand.
What the hell does all this have to do with stollen, Joe??? I wonder the same thing, friends, believe me. What I’m trying to figure out how a sweet bread from a region like Saxony came to be world famous…on your time. Was it Saxony’s brief moment in the sun as a cultural powerhouse that spread stollen’s fame far and wide? Or is stollen just that good? I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.
On with your day…