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Dresden beats the cake cheats

The most famous of all was baked for August the Strong, Elector of Saxony, in 1730. It weighed two tonnes, and took 60 bakers to prepare. Eight horses transported it to the Elector's banquet, where it was sliced with a five-foot knife.

But the Dresdner Christstollen, or Dresden Christmas cake, existed long before those eighteenth-century flamboyancies. The Dresden Christmas market, or Striezlmarkt, held annually since 1534, is named after an old word for the Stollen, first mentioned inthe early fourteenth century.

The Dresden cake contains rum-soaked raisins, candied fruit, and almonds. It even became a symbol of East German pride, one of the few objects easterners were happy to send to western relatives.

After the collapse of the East German regime in 1989, sales plummeted. People were reluctant to spend money on the same old east German products now that they could get glossy western items that had been inaccessible before. For west Germans, too, there

was no longer the same buzz from the plain package from the severed east.

In the past two years, however, there has been a turnaround, and rediscovered pride. Manfred Gopfert, spokesman for the Dresden bakers, says the market for Dresden Stollen is now "bigger than ever - not just in Germany, but worldwide".

A Stollen Protection Association has been created. Every week "Stollen experts" meet and cakes are cut apart, scrutinised, sniffed, and tasted, before receiving the seal of approval.

Even more importantly, the Dresden bakers have launched a battle in the courts to ensure that only cakes from Dresden may in be called Dresden cakes - not the imitations now produced in Munich or Cologne. One Dresdener argued: "The cakes from the west all look so nice - but there's nothing real in them. They're worth nothing. You can't put a BMW badge on your car if you're driving a Volkswagen, can you?"