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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST)

Pirna’s old world charm

From centuries-old fountains to ancient castle and Gothic church, this German town honours its history

Khursheed Dinshaw

PIRNA in Saxon Switzerland of Germany was first documented in 1233. Even today, this town has retained its historical and cultural charisma. Start your tour with the Sonnenstein castle that overlooks the Elbe river and gives a panoramic view of the town. Once a fortress, it is now used as a venue for sculpture exhibitions. 

According to a belief, here sandstone can be turned into gold. Some centuries ago, most of the local population was engaged in working on sandstone. The  tradition has been kept alive and visitors can sculpt their own creations on small sandstone blocks under the supervision of experienced sculptors. These blocks can be carried back as souvenirs. 

The pride of this German town is the church of St. Mary that was built between 1502 and 1546. It has a 60 m high tower. A typical late Gothic hall church, it has an intricate altar made of sandstone. The ceiling is an architectural wonder. The church also has original paintings dating back to the Reformation era. It is also used as a concert venue as it has fantastic acoustics.

Behind the church, in one of the cobbled lanes is the Erlpeter, one of the oldest fountains of Pirna. This 600-year-old fountain supplied spring water, which originated under the Sonnenstein fortress. Erlpeter was an important beauty spot for young girls, who came to collect water during Easter. The belief was that if they washed themselves with its water, they would become pretty. For this to work, when they went to the fountain and took its water, they had to remainsilent.

The town hall, which was built in 1300, reflects four architectural influences — Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Renaissance. The town hall is where the re-enactments are done, exemplifying the bravery of the locals. The re-enactments are realistic complete with live cannon firing. The oldest house of Pirna is known as Tetzel’s House, where Johann Tetzel, the well-known Dominican priest was born. 

Italian painter Canaletto painted 11 landscape paintings of the town between 1753 and 1756. These paintings can be viewed in the tourist service building located in the market area. Even today, Pirna’s market area has an almost unchanged view as these paintings were used as reference for reconstruction.  

Every lane of this town offers a slice of history. In the olden days before the invention of taps, water from the wells was used for drinking, washing clothes, tanning, dyeing and to extinguish fires, and brew beer. Wooden pipes were used to channel the water got from beneath Sonnenstein to 20 wooden wells in the old town. 

Almost 250 years ago, the wood of these wells was replaced by a huge block of sandstone which weighed up to 26 tonnes.  Today the town centre has 12 preserved wells. Depending upon your timing, you may get to see the town squire, who strolls around the town reading from old scrolls with feathered pens.

Don't leave this German town without relishing the delectable three-layered Dresdner eierschecke cake (Dresden egg custard cake). The bottom crumbly layer is made of flour, butter, eggs and sugar, followed by the middle layer that is made from curd, sugar and vanilla essence. The top layer is made of finely beaten eggs, sugar and milk. The timing of baking the cake is important because if the oven is opened before the cake is baked, the entire cake collapses.

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