Erzgebirge - a synonym for craftsmanship

written on 14/12/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

The ‘Erzgebirge’ (ore mountains), a low mountain range is located in the south of the free state of Saxony on the border to the Czech Republic.

It stretches for 130km from the southwest to the northeast and is between 30 and 70 km wide. In Saxony it slowly rises up to 900 metres and then drops down sharply into the Czech Republic. 

The highest mountain is the Fichtelberg at 1214 m. The ore mountains are one of the most densely populated areas in the east of Germany.

They are also among the most beautiful low mountain ranges in Germany and are famous for their touristic highlights and winter sports.

The region is also well known for its Advent and Christmas customs as well as for its traditional wood art.

Alles kommt vom Berge her - Everything comes from the mountains

Mining shaped the ore mountains and gave them their name. It made Saxony one of the richest countries in Europe for a while.

Life in the ore mountains has never been easy. Mining was not able to provide the people with a stable livelihood. It was a constant up and down.

During wintertime the miners were unemployed, so the families had to improve their livelihoods through a sideline activity. In the western ore mountains, wood was carved after work. 

In the eastern part, woodworking developed into a new source of income.

Over the years, new technologies have constantly been developed, bringing about new ideas and propositions which have led to new forms and uses.

The abundance of wood, as well as the knowledge and skills of the miners in dealing with wood, turned the ore mountains into a unique handcraft region. 

These figures and toys, which were lovingly handcrafted, quickly gained a good reputation beyond the borders of the country.

From the 19th century onwards, deliveries were also made to America. The most famous cities for toy production are Seiffen and Olbernhau.

But there, more than anywhere else, the highlight of the year is the Advent and Christmas season.

Who does not know the Räuchermänner, Weihnachtspyramiden, Nussknacker and Schwibbogen and many more? The range is diverse.

The Schwibbogen is said to have originated at a time when tin and silver were still being mined. It is a half-moon shaped decoration, featuring a mining motif.

This motif arose from the miners’ tradition of leaving their lit lamps behind in the gallery entrance after finishing their shift on Christmas Eve.

The Räuchermänner were intended as a cover to safely burn incense and avoid apartment fires.

The nutcracker was the result of a tender. The legend says that a rich farmer loved nuts, but hated to crack them open.

So he put up a reward for whomever could find a solution. The winner came up with a wooden manikin with a big mouth and a strong jaw.

According to fact, the nutcracker was produced a lot earlier in other regions of central Europe. The grim look has tradition, it was an allusion to the dogged authorities.

The appearance of the Nutcracker king today was thanks to Friedrich Früchtner. Around 1870 he painted a crown on a figurine’s hat (the so called Steiger Hut).

The duo “angel and miner” are also indispensable. These are probably the oldest motifs known from the ore mountains.

And last but not least, the famous Christmas pyramid. The rotation of the disc, driven by the heat of the candles, was copied from the conveyor technology of shaft systems in the ore mountains.

If you are looking for a very typical German Christmas gift that you can be sure will bring a lot of joy, you can’t go wrong with one of the traditional crafts from the Erzgebirge.