The Adventures of the Fummel

Trip Start Mar 26, 2010
Trip End Apr 04, 2010

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Flag of Germany  , Saxony,
Thursday, April 1, 2010

I was under the impression that the ship would move from city to city while we were sleeping. Which makes sense if you're on a big river. The Elbe is such a small river that it doesn't take long to get anywhere. More often than not the ship would move while we were eating: case in point, today the ship left Dresden at 7am and we arrived at Meissen around 8:30am.

Almost all our 'shore excursions' started at 9am. Leaving the ship we got on our buses (there were always three, one for each of the groups), which meant nap time for me. Our tour guide talked about the town as we drove up to the famous porcelain factory. She was very exuberant and had a hilarious German accent to listen to. It was very over the top and sounded like what you'd hear in a movie stereotyping Germans and how they speak.

Ever heard of Meissen porcelain?
Me neither. From what I gathered from the facial expressions from everyone on the ship, it's pretty expensive and everyone was rather in awe of it.

Meissen is a town, with the porcelain factory built at the top of a hill in the town. The factory, showrooms, headquarters, and shop are all located in Meissen. No exporting jobs to China for Meissen, it's all done in good ole Saxony. The buildings devoted to this porcelain making machine were interesting to look at. With a history of 300 years the buildings go from rather recent to rather old.

Getting out of the bus and onto the parking lot the factory buildings were all recent-y (and ugly). The farther away from the parking lot we got, the older the buildings got. We saw a bike 'garage' full of employees bikes (you know you're in Europe when there's an empty parking lot for cars and a full lot for bicycles), and crossed blue swords on signs. The main entrance was pretty new looking. They had a lot of 'celebrating 300 years' signs on the outside of the main building and in the inside too.

We were led upstairs and waited in the hall. This was what I had been waiting for: a tour of the factory. My excitement died down when we were finally let inside 'Workshop I' and all it was, was a room with a flat screen tv and chairs facing it.

The video we watched explained the history of Meissen porcelain, all of which was new to me as I knew nothing about porcelain whatsoever. Porcelain originated from China (duh), and the Saxons loved porcelain so much the Saxons tried to make their own. They succeeded, and to this day Meissen porcelain is the best of the best.

After we finished the movie (which was only 10-15 minutes long) we were shuffled into another 'Workshop', this time to see a demonstration. A guy was sitting at a table and showed us how the 'stuff' is molded. Meissens molds are very old. They have the original molds from when Meissen first opened shop 300 years ago and they are one of a kind. No one else in the world has anything like them. While the guy was showing us the molds and the forming and shaping, a stereo set up behind him played a track of someone explaining in English what he was doing. The end product was a creepy little angels head, which, we found out later, was available in great quantities in the gift shop.

The next 'Workshop' featured the same set up: woman sitting at a table and a voice via stereo explaining what she was doing. Her job, I believe, was to demonstrate the sculpting, refining and cleaning up of the shapes once they are taken out of the molds.

'Workshop' numero 4: same setup again, with the demonstration being the 'under-glazing' (painting before glazing). In the picture I have uploaded, look at the bottom shelf with 5 plates on it. Each plate has the same pattern on it, but each plate is in a different stage of 'glazing', with the last plate being the final 'glaze'.

Next 'Workshop' was the over-glazing (painting after glazing). What makes Meissen porcelain so one of a kind is that every piece is hand painted. There is no Model T assembly line churning out the exact same figurine one after the other. The only thing that isn't handled by hand is the baking. Everything else is 100% done by hand.

After that workshop we were set free for about an hour. There was a museum we could explore upstairs, or we could go downstairs to the giftshop. Ms Jones and I chose the museum. The museum was interesting, but it reminded me of the Green Vault syndrome: lots of incredibly expensive things that aren't very useful to anyone so they sit around and gather dust while people starve in the streets. So it was a little depressing, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. I'm here, this stuff is here for me to look at, so I might as well take the opportunity to enjoy it.

After the initial show stoppers in the beginning of the museum, they had exhibits of porcelain Meissen had made for different countries/areas of the world. Fascinating as they were, I didn't want to stay too long and not have enough time to look at the giftshop.

Not only did they have a giftshop, they also had an outlet across the hall. I was a little annoyed (I went to the outlet in Dresden, why couldn't they have mentioned there was one here too?!). The giftshop and the outlet were decorated very differently. The giftshop looked rich and pricey, with crimson and gold on the walls. On the other hand, the outlet had no decoration whatsoever and looked very much like a place where you buy the duds from a factory.

Down in the outlet I found Mrs Mary and her husband John. Mrs Mary and I didn't dare go into the actual giftshop, so we roamed around in the outlet and oohed and ahhed and every so often asked 'should I buy this?' In the end, even the outlet was too much money. I had decided that if I saw something I really loved though, I would consider buying. In the end, I didn't feel like I liked anything well enough to buy it. In fact, I thought a lot of the patterns and color schemes were ugly and not worth the hundreds of euros they were asking for. At the cash register they had those creepy angel heads for only 10 euros and Mrs Mary and Mr John bought some for their grandchildren.

Leaving the museum we boarded our buses and were given a choice: we could either have a guided tour walking from one part of the town to the heart of Meissen where we would only have 10 minutes to explore and shop on our own, OR we could stay on the bus and drive straight to the center of the town and have 40 minutes to explore on our own before heading back to the ship.

Hard? Yes. I had loved roaming Dresden, and with only 40 minutes to spend I decided to roam Meissen. Ms Jones, on the other hand, chose the tour. The bus dropped off the tour peoples at the top of a hill and drove the rest of us to the town, where Martin came out of nowhere and we simple tourists followed him to the town center where he pointed out some shops.

Meissen turned out to be lovely. It's small, quaint, quiet, and again, very colorful and unique. I was, however, at a loss as to how to spend my time. Should I just walk? Should I buy postcards? Look for books on this beautiful town and its famous porcelain? I walked into a small souvenir shop and picked out a few postcards (I realized I hadn't bought any of Dresden, so I bought a few of Dresden and a few of Meissen). Casually flipping through one of the little Meissen guidebooks on display, I happened to see something about a pastry that you can only get in Meissen.

This piqued my interest. Back in Dresden we had been given the option to stay in Dresden and lunch at one of the local resturants instead of going back to the ship. I had needed to go back to the ship to recharge my camera, but exploring Dresden afterwards made me regret that I hadn't eaten in town. Before we had gotten on the ship, I had loved eating in the different resturants in Prague. After being on the ship though, Dresden was the first place I had been where I didn't want to go back on the ship to eat. The food looked and smelled so good, I decided that the next town I was in, no matter what it was, if something smelled and/or looked good, I was getting it. No questions asked.

So here was this guidebook telling me about a Meissen fummel that you can only get at one bakery. I headed out the door and up the street. Looking back, I don't remember what my game plan was exactly. I didn't have an address or the name of the bakery and I started to forget what it was called. I started to regret not buying the book ('What was I thinking, I'm running out of time and I will have nothing interesting to say about what I did in Meissen and nothing to show except I was looking for some random bakery that had some random pastry and geez WHAT WAS I THINKING?') I ran into some people from the ship while I was wandering around and went into some shops that didn't appeal to me at all. One had an upstairs that was full of American scrapbooking equipment that looked like it was straight from Jo-Anns.

Eventually I saw John and Mary and I told them my conundrum. They laughed at me (I can't blame them) and sent me to a bakery they had just passed down the street. I walked into the bakery and started to ask if she had a certain kind of pastry that was only available in Meissen. As luck would have it, she didn't speak English. I tried to remember what the picture in the guide book had looked like and I tried to show her the shape of the pastry with my hands. 'Ah, fummel!' she exclaimed. I asked/gestured where I could find it and she pointed me back up the street.

I hurried up the street, not sure what time it was and how much time I had left, but at least I was headed in the right direction and knew what it was called. A fummel. The next bakery was at the top of slight hill, and it seemed to be more of a candy shop than a bakery. I asked at the counter anyway, but the lady didn't speak English and had to go to the back to get someone who did. That lady pointed me to the bakery just at the top of the hill. Yes! I thought. I'm zeroing in to my target! Sure enough, I walked into the next bakery and I didn't even bother with a 'Hi, I was wondering, do you have the pastry known as a Fummel that is only available here in Meissen? I was told you make them'. Instead, I just said 'Fummel?' and the girl behind the counter said 2 euros (which is convenient because that's just 1 coin and I had plenty of those) and then took down a monster of an oval-shaped pastry and wrapped it carefully into a paper bag.

My eyes were probably the size of silver dollars. I hadn't really read what the guidebook had said about the fummel. I had assumed it would be a little cake like pastry filled with cream or jelly and the size of a cupcake or perhaps a little larger. When the bakery girl put the bagged fummel on the counter I expected it to thud. It didn't. Puzzled, I gave the girl the coin and picked up the bag. It was light as a feather. I was confused but I didn't dare open the bag. I dashed out the door and tried to think what to do next. I walked quickly back the square where we were supposed to meet, and I saw the people from the bus were just now getting back from their tour. Ahh, I thought. I have 10 more minutes. I have time for more exploring.

I took off down another street. I found a small bookstore and went inside (because I have been programmed to never miss a bookstore if I can help it). I found adorable children's books, but they were all in German. Leaving that store, I saw a woman who had sat at the same table as Ms Jones and I our first night on the ship. She and her husband were from Westminster, MD, but today we were both on a mission and couldn't stop to chat. So we smiled and passed each other by. The longer I walked in this town, the more I Ioved it.

After a few minutes I also realized that I had walked long enough and far enough to have no clue where I was. Time was running out, and I could just imagine the lady from Westminster being the last person who had seen me (I dramatically ended that sentence in my mind with the word 'alive', but in all seriousness, I felt perfectly safe and, aside from being lost, I was having a great time).

I turned to the left and started going up a street. This was the direction from which I had come, so I hoped it would empty into the town square and that the group would still be there.


I don't know if it showed (or if anyone saw) but I literally felt relief flood my face. I said nothing to anyone, but walked casually with the group as if I had been in control all morning.

Back at the ship, I had a lovely lite lunch of soup and sandwich. Ms Jones and I ate with a man to whom I ended up talking for about a hour. He and I had very different views and opinions about a great many things but I enjoy hearing what other people have to say. While talking to him, the 'cruise politics' came into play.

'Cruise politics' are what I've come to call the mannerisms of how people treat subjects while getting to know people on a cruise. These are people you're going to spend a week with. It's best to stay away from any discussion that might cause people to hate you. Politics was the big one, but religion came in a close second (we'd heard a couple be rather abrasive about their personal brand of Christianity to a non-Christian, and while Ms Jones and I are staunch Christians, neither one of us agreed with their attitude and were offended and embarrassed).

We were staying on the ship for the rest of the day as it sailed to Wittenberg (tomorrow's excursion), so we lounged around all afternoon. We sailed past Torgau and the Hartenfels castle, at which we were supposed to stop but because of the strong river current, we couldn't. The captain slowed the ship down so we could take pictures, but overall it was pretty uninteresting.

When we were in our room, I opened the bag containing the fummel. Ms Jones had picked on me for not sharing the pastry I had gotten in Prague: 'She bought a pastry back in Prague and walked around eating it in front of me and never gave me a bite!' In my defence, since we were walking around and in a hurry when I was eating the Prague pastry, it never strayed far from my mouth and when if wasn't in my mouth, I was probably breathing all over it. It never occurred to me to offer anyone food that I had breathed all over. I thought that would be gross, but that's just me. If it was my father, he wouldn't have cared and would have requested a bite, but as Ms Jones has manners, she waited for me to ask. Haha, oh well!

This time I knew better. I got out the fummel, and after exclaiming over its overall largeness and its lightness, I popped a hole in it. It was sugar coated, and very tough to break a hole in, so after wrestling with it for awhile I ended up being coated with sugar. Ms Jones and I broke off some pieces to eat, and then I traipsed upstairs to find John and Mary. They were in the lounge and were excited to eat this mythical pastry for which I had scoured the city. It was ok and I ended up eating most of it. I probably ruined my dinner with my snack of Meissen fummel and Viking ship hot chocolate, but it was worth it!

From Wikipedia: It is a hollow body made of very thin, plain dough. The shape is an irregular round "balloon". The pastry is very brittle and thus fragile. Meissner Fummeln have no particular taste, and only because of the extremely thin air trapped inside the Teigschale they have no significant nutritional value.

I concur.
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