FX Excursions

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It’s Christmas Year-Round in Germany’s Ore Mountains

by Barbara Rogers

Aug 14, 2018

© Balipadma | Dreamstime.com


It’s a balmy August afternoon, but to look at almost any shop window in the German town of Annaberg-Buchholz you’d be sure it was mid-December. Brightly painted nutcrackers march in rows, rosy-cheeked angels hold candles and jolly Santas hang from evergreen boughs. Little wooden elves are everywhere, making toys, baking cakes, wrapping presents; tiny angels form miniature choirs. Wooden Wise Men and shepherds move round and round on candle-powered carousels.

Annaberg is deep in the Erzgebirge, or Ore Mountains, in Germany’s state of Saxony. It’s a corner southwest of Dresden not often explored by American tourists, but we were curious about this region when we heard that it was the source of most of the wooden decorations and ornaments that fill Christmas markets all over Germany in December. The kids couldn’t wait to visit towns where it was Christmas year-round.

They weren’t disappointed. Inside a shop in Annaberg-Buchholz they watched fascinated as an artist deftly guided a whisper-thin paintbrush to form the mouth of a singing angel only an inch tall. A man at the workbench opposite was gluing tiny wings onto more miniature angels that were destined to decorate Christmas trees all over Europe — and farther.

Woodcarving is a long tradition in these mountains, and when the mines that once fueled the local economy were worked out, the miners turned to that craft as a livelihood.  Soon they were providing Christmas markets all over the country with scowling nutcrackers, windowsill candle arches, tiny figures to hang on Christmas trees and tabletop carousels that turn from the heat of a single candle.

Germany, Annaberg-Bucholz, Museum Frohnauer Hammer, Museum © Stillman Rogers

Fascinated as they were watching the artists at work, the kids were enchanted by their next stop, Manufaktur der Träume (maker of dreams), a multilevel exposition filled with stunning examples of carved and painted Christmas and other wooden decorations and toys.

Here they learned about the miners’ long tradition of woodcarving and marveled at the detailed miniature models of the mines they carved. They watched as tiny horses walked around a wheel to power lifts carrying ore to the surface. The moving parts were animated by cog wheels and pulleys powered by water or by sand pouring through a waterwheel-like apparatus. They were fascinated not only by how the mines themselves worked, but how these moving models were powered. I saw elaborate Fimo productions in our future.

In other models, processions of Wise Men and camels wind their way through wood-carved Bethlehems. More than 1,500 colorful decorations and wooden toys fill this Christmas wonderland.  When the kids had finally seen all the exhibits — miniature rooms, dollhouses, carved toys and more — and watched the videos showing how some of these elaborate pieces were carved, we rested our feet downstairs in the café, over slices of luscious and beautifully decorated cakes — another form of Saxony’s artistry.

Not all of Annaberg’s woodcarving skills were used for holiday ornaments, and we found an amazing collection of the local carvers’ art in the little Bergkirche St. Marien, a church just below the town’s main square (where they hold their own Christkindlmarkt in December).  Around the nave stood an entire village of beautifully carved figures: the baker, butcher, brewer, minister, peddler, miners, soldiers, market vendors, mountain men, each about four feet tall with every feature of face and dress carved and painted in minute and realistic detail.

We found more Christmas in the town of Seiffen, known for three centuries for its wooden toys, where every building seems to be a glittering Christmas shop. Hundreds of painted wooden figures filled the windows and shelves, from thumbnail–sized angels to giant nutcrackers five feet tall. Wooden candle arches glowed in the windows and in several shops we could watch the carvers at work.

Seiffen’s museum, Spielzeugmuseum Seiffen, is another multileveled and colorful exposition of the woodcarver’s art and whimsy. In the center stands a 20-foot-tall wooden pyramid of painted Christmas figures and, around it, galleries relate the history of Seiffen toy-making with examples by their most famous carvers and videos of their methods. The kids loved seeing the wooden toys that had amused generations of others: doll-sized shops, toy farms, circus wagons filled with carved animals, wooden puzzles, tiny matchbox rooms, pull toys and a 1,000-piece Noah’s Ark set. Little kids had a playroom of colorful wooden toys to play with and climb on.


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