Advent Calendar: December 20

The 20th of December and our Christmas Advent calendar takes us to one of the most traditional towns in Germany, Schneeberg. With a population of 14,500 inhabitants, Schneeberg is located deep in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), 20 km south of Zwickau and 10 km west of Aue. The community is known to be somewhat quiet for 11 months of the year. Come Christmas time, however, the town is the busiest with its Christmas market, which extends from St. Wolfgang Cathedral through the market square and towards the historic city hall, featuring a wide variety of traditional foods and handcrafted goods that are typical for the region, as well as a lot of entertainment. Sadly, as can be seen in a pair of photos by sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the town is more eerily quiet than ever before with just the Christmas tree, the pyramid, decorations along the historic buildings in the market square, but no people wandering about. As mentioned by the Chronicles, “The Market Square is quite spooky with absolutely no one on the streets. It was something that is similar to Stephen King’s ‘The Langoliers,’ though one could imagine ghosts of people drinking mulled wine and miners parading down the street.” Likewise these shots were taken early in the morning before businesses opened, or at least those that sell the bare-essentials, like groceries, which cannot be found in Schneeberg, except for the fruit and vegetable market. Still this shot makes Schneeberg look like a ghost town, something that is very untypical for a town that is famous for its handcrafted wood products and its Christmas market…..

Yet what does Schneeberg’s Christmas market really look like? Well, let’s find out. Click here for a tour of the market.

While you are at it, you should have a look at the role of the orange at Christmas time. Have a look by clicking here.

And as a Throwback, here’s a guide to German expressions dealing with Christmas, which you can click here.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is currently hosting the 9th annual Bridgehunter Awards. Between now and January 23rd, voting is underway in nine categories, including Bridge Tour Guide, Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Best Bridge Photo. To participate in the voting, click here. You will find the ballot in the bottom half of the article.

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Happy Holidays!

Christmas Market Tour: Schneeberg

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Author’s note: This tour guide was drafted in 2017 but was not yet published. This is the original you are reading.

Located ten kilometers west of Aue, 50 km east of Plauen and 20 km south of Zwickau, the community of Schneeberg is located deep in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and has some unique characteristics that are noteworthy for this quiet community of 14,500 inhabitants. The community is located mostly on the hills where two thinly wedged valleys are located: the Schlema and the Zwickau Mulde. The city has very narrow and sometimes hilly streets, thus making driving with the car almost impossible but walking and biking a cakewalk. The town used to have train service but has been defunct since 1955, which makes the car as the main source of transportation. The town has many old buildings that are characterized by ornamental features, statues and shields. This goes well beyond the historic town hall on one end of the market square and St. Wolfgang’s Church on the opposite end.

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View of the Market Square and City Hall from St. Wolfgang’s Church

The church itself dates back to the 16th Century and is the highest building in Schneeberg, having been built on the hill that had once been mined. The church has a wonderful tower where tourists can have a look at the entire community and its next door neighbor, Aue. The town is solely dependent on tourism and one can find small shops selling traditional Ore Mountain goods, most made of wood and minerals from the mines. Its biggest downfall is that most businesses open from 9am until 6pm daily except for Saturdays (they are open until noon), while businesses to the north towards Keilberg and Griesbach are open until 8pm even on weekends.

Fountain and mural inside St. Wolfgang’s Church

Schneeberg has had a long tradition of academies that have dominated the city for centuries. But this had to do with the fact that mining was very common in and around the town with gold, nickel, copper and iron ore having been discovered. Miner academies, including one next to the church existed in the latter half of the 19th Century. A military complex on the hill at Alte Hohe Strasse used to house Soviet soldiers during the Cold War. The German Army Bundeswehr took over operations after 1990 and continued to operate the base until 2015, when it was handed over to the Saxony Police Force. Since 2015 the Saxony Police Academy has operated on the grounds, providing 2-3 years of police training. It is the largest of the three academies in the state (after Chemnitz and Leipzig).

But if there is a rule of thumb that is definitely typical of Schneeberg, it is this: 11 months in the year, with the exception of the Bergstreittag on July 22nd (the Saxon version of our German Reunification Day or even the American Fourth of July), the entire community is more or less still. A small quiet town with only a handful of businesses, yet has several museums and memorial sites, including the Gleesberg and the Pochwerk, that are devoted to mining. There are also a few shops that sell typical, wood-carven goods, such as the Christmas pyramid, the Christmas Arch (Schwibbogen), wooden lighted window ornaments and wooden figures, especially angels. Yet especially in the spring time, only a small number of people can get interested in Easter bunny figures that are also sold.

Yet come Christmas time, especially the day after the Day of Mourning (Toten Sonntag), it becomes a totally different picture. Residents whip out their Schwibs and every window is decorated with these unique arches, Froebel stars and window hangers, and passersby are greeted with a wide display of lights in the window, each arch depicting a different mural, be it with a winter scenery, the birth of Jesus or the signature feature of the Ore Mountain- miners and bobbin lace makers. At the same time, the other traditional Christmas fixtures pop up everywhere, making Schneeberg a traditional Christmas town in Saxony- be it the Christmas stars one can find on houses, or the Christmas pyramids- the most famous can be found in the suburb of Neustädtel in the western part of town or at the entrance to the Christmas market at the market square next to the city hall. For one and a half months, one will be greeted with everything that is as traditional and unique as one can find in Schneeberg.

And when it comes to the Christmas Market itself in Schneeberg, it is one that is worth the visit, even if it means having to put up with narrow, one-way streets and steep hills while driving. The market is deep in the heart of Schneeberg’s city center, where the entire market square is covered in lighting, the Christmas Pyramid and its age-old wooden figures found at the entrance to the city hall. The Christmas tree at the middle of the town square is the centerpiece, and all the huts surrounding it.

The market extends from the area surrounding the historic city hall, through the market square and up the hill towards St. Wolfgang’s Church. Apart from the main section at the square, there is one section at Kirchplatz near the church, which sells Medieval goods and another one in front of the Volkshaus. After visiting the Volkshaus and learning about the history of woodcarving and the making of the figures, arches, pyramids and all, one should stop here for it has a wide selection of foods and drink, where you can eat in front of the log-house style huts. For the most part, if one wants something very typical for Christmas and for the region, Schneeberg is the place, for apart from the arches and pyramids, you can find lots of handmade products made locally at the market, including clothing, incense figures, and even glass ornaments. Given its proximity to the Czech Republic, some goods from the town’s neighboring country can be found in Schneeberg as well. If one has a unique idea that can be put together using the simplest and most natural of materials, you can find them here, whether it is a incense stove to go (yet not recommended for use in the car) or a small mural set made of metal but all placed in a walnut……

Incense can to-go
Winter scene made with minerals and using a walnut as a backdrop.

Highly recommended is the traditional pyramid or Christmas arch, for one can easily invest money in such a work and have it decorated on the window sill. One can purchase it at one of five stores in Schneeberg, including the Volkshaus, the Erzgebirgisches Schnitzstübel or the Seiffener Handwerkskunst. Yet you can also make your own arch or pyramid, or even your own wooden carvings as the market offers both a “do-it-yourself” kit and classes on how to make wooden figures, some of which are sponsored by the local schools.

During the second or third Advent weekend, Schneeberg has the Lichtelfest, which takes place at the market square. Apart from performances by local and regional music groups, there is also the Bergparade, a parade of miners who present music typical of the Erzgebirge. Here’s a sample of what you can see from the parade….

Getting to the market by car can be a great challenge, especially as parking in and around the city center is limited and the town is notorious for its narrow, one-way streets. These streets are so narrow that even a small economical car could barely fit through. However if a person plans a visit to Schneeberg, hotel accommodations in the town and nearby would help. Then it’s either a short walk or a bus ride to the destination. Getting there by rail would require a stop in Aue, followed by a trip either by bus, taxi or carpooling and you are there in 20 minutes.

Still, the trip is worth it when traveling through Germany at Christmas time. When compared to the other markets in Germany, like Dresden, Nuremberg or Berlin, the Christmas market in Schneeberg, albeit small in size, is one of the more known traditional markets but one with a historical background. It’s a market that honors the miners that had onced dug for minerals in the town and its surroundings. It’s a market that has a tradition of displaying and selling handcrafted goods made of wood, which is perfect for every window or fireplace in a house or flat. But most importantly, it’s a market with a small, hometown feeling, where you meet friends and colleagues while enjoying some typical Erzgebirge music. It’s a market with a view of the entire region with its beautiful landscapes, regardless of which time of year.

So whenever you come across this landmark…..

Then you know you are at the right place. And where else would you enjoy an apple cinnamon punch while looking for a perfect pyramid or Christmas arch to give or send to your loved ones?

Website of the City of Schneeberg: https://www.bergstadt-schneeberg.de/

Experience Schneeberg: https://schneeberg-erleben.de/

Photo Tour of Schneeberg’s Christmas Market can be found by clicking here.

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