Our next Christmas market tour takes us up the mountain- literally. Through “knee-to-waist-deep snow”, the heavily populated forest and lots of twists and turns along the road that is sometimes too narrow for cars to meet. However when up there, the town, its market and the views of the mountains will take your breath away.
Oberwiesenthal may be a very typical town in the Ore Mountains, that is also one of the most traditional when it comes to Christmas. However, do not be fooled with the fact that with a population of 2,600 inhabitants, it’s just a simple, quiet village, for the town is very popular for many reasons. At the height of 2,999 feet (941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest town in Germany, located at the foot of the Fichtelberg, the highest mountain point in the state of Saxony. It is only three kilometers east of the Czech border and only 22 kilometers from the nearest city of Karlsbad (Karoly Vary). And like the Czech town, Oberwiesenthal is not only a resort town, laden with hotels and resorts within a ten-kilometer radius, it is also a ski resort town- home to ski resorts, and all kinds of ski facilities available, from slalom to downhill, cross-country to alpine! It hosts several ski championships on the national and international levels annually, attracting over a million visitors, pending on how cold the weather is. And it is also anchored by traditional but nationally known ski-teams.
When it comes to Christmas and winter time in Oberwiesenthal, they go together like bread and butter. When looking at the Christmas arches alone, one will see that right away. The town has one of the highest number of these traditional decorations in Germany- every window in every house and building is occupied with these arches. Dozens of them can be found along the town’s streets, whether it is at the railroad viaduct on the east end, at the resorts,
…..or even at the Christmas market in the city center!
After fighting through snow drifts, snow piles and snow-packed streets, I found my way to the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal. It is located smack-dab in the market square in the center of town, surrounded by the city hall, several traditional shops and a historic mile-marker. The square is cut in half by a street going diagonally in the northwesterly direction, going up the hill. And with that, especially on weekdays where there is not much going on, cars can go through the market square, albeit at a snail’s pace.
The market itself consists of a traditional Christmas pyramid, a stage flanked by a Christmas arch and some other exhibits on the right-hand side, and eateries that flank the historic marker on the left. The eateries provide the most traditional dishes in the mountain regions, from its bratwursts to the goulash and its mushroom hotdishes. Beverages include hot drinks, like spiced wine (Glühwein) and Heisse Met (honey punch), but also children’s punch, hot chocolate and the basics in coffee. It’s not much but the market is the central meeting point for tourists who not only want to go skiing, but do some shopping while in town. Oberwiesenthal is connected with the Fichtelberg Ski Lift, which takes the people to the top of the mountain, seven kilometers away. It cuts down the travel time needed by the car by up to half of the 15 minutes needed.
There are no stores directly at the market due to space, yet there are traditional stores that sell virtually everything made of wood and from the mountain region within only a 2-3 minute walk, mostly along Markt and Bergstrasse where one can find most of the cafés and restaurants going up the hill. At least five or six stores have a wide array of products that are made out of this bountiful material. Even one store sells wicker products, including chairs and even lamp shades! 🙂 But the bulk of the wood products have to do with Christmas, and in particular, Christmas in the mountains, which makes Saxony special to begin with. And unlike some Christmas markets in the mountain regions, the sculpture work done on the figures is very detailed, enough to look at the figures in real like on a 1:25 or 1:40 scale. Apart from the arches and the holders (the latter of which is as well-decorated as the arches themselves, the stores sell incense men of all shapes and sizes (Räuchermänner), Christmas pyramids and the most popular of the products: a concert of figurines!
These consist of figurines that have a typical theme, such as angels performing a music concert, the traditional manger set of Jesus Joseph and Mary with angels and animal figures, the parade of miners and angels, skiiers and angels….. 😉 I think the reader can follow the pattern from there, right? Because of the town’s location in the Ore Mountains and the traditions of “Angels we have heard up high,” Oberwiesenthal is popular for their angels and angelic figures one will find everywhere. Even guardian angels are really popular in the stores, based on my observations. 🙂 It is unknown why, especially as the town has only one church in the Martin Luther Church, next to the market square. But the impression with the angels is that Oberwiesenthal is rather religious- predominantly Lutheran, which makes the community a traditional one of sorts.
Yet as far as fixed eateries are concerned, they are rather multi-cultural as restaurants offer not only traditional foods from the region, but also Italian, and even Anglo-Saxon culinary products. For the latter, one should check out the Kiwi Coffee-Bar-Lounge, located on Schulstrasse across from the Sparkasse Bank. Originating from New Zealand, this restaurant offers one of the widest varieties of coffee, burgers and other pastries in the region. They are usually open during the evening hours yet during my visit, there were only a handful there. On the weekends, they are sometimes filled to the brim, especially when the skiiers are around or if there are winter sport enthusiasts in the area.
When we think of Oberwiesenthal, we think of winter time and the feeling of Christmas time. It goes beyond the market, its city center and its popularity for winter sports. It has the sense of hominess to it. Even when passing through the villages enroute, they are laden with Christmas decorations for every house and apartment alike, with small villages having their own manger set with pyramids and arches set up at small parks along the way to encourage tourists to make a stop, especially in the evening when they are lit. And this was my overall impression of the Christmas market in Oberwiesenthal- it is a very popular place for winter sports, but has a feeling of home for the holidays. And one can feel this while passing through. It is worth the couple hours of stopping and enjoying the snow.
The roads leading up to the market in Oberwiesenthal are narrow and sometimes treacherous, especially as the area receives the majority of the snowfall in Saxony. Therefore, one needs to plan ahead, pack accordingly and take the time getting up there to avoid an accident or going into the ditch. In Germany, it is required to have a warning vest, warning triangle and a first aid kit in your car just in case. However, highly recommended is a winter-survival kit. There you need a blanket, jumper cables, tire-repair kit and air compressor for the tires, flashlight, warm winter clothing, something to write, cigarette charger cable, emergency contact information, a fully-charged and functioning mobile phone and some dried food- all in addition to the above-mentioned items. It is not required by law in Germany but is mandatory in the US; this has to do with the population density of the former for in case you are stuck, your are more likely to get help quickly than in areas of the US, where the population and the towns are sparse. Still, in case of bad weather and no help arrives even while in the forest, it is handy to have it with.
- The German word Fichtel is one of the most misunderstood words when it comes to region. We would use the word Fichtelberg to describe the highest point in Saxony, at 1,215 meters. Oberwiesenthal is located at the foot of this summit, which can be called Mount Fichtel. However, the Fichtelgebirge (translated literally as Fichtel Mountains) is located in northeastern Bavaria and western Czech Republic, where the cities of Bayreuth, Kulmbach, Weiden and Eger (Cheb), Czech Republic are located. Like in the Ore Mountains, the mountain region is known for its winter sports and is the starting point for some of the rivers and streams in Germany and the Czech Republic.
- While the Fichtelberg is the highest point in Saxony, it is not the highest point in the Ore Mountains. That belongs to the Keilberg (Klínovec) in the Czech Republic, which is 12,44 meters above sea level.
- Although founded in 1529, only a couple tiny relicts of Oberwiesenthal can be seen today. Among them is the historical Mile Post Marker, which can be found in the market square in front of the city hall Neues Haus. It was built in 1723 and was part of the mile marker system that connected Saxony with its neighboring states.
- The Fichtelberg Ski Lift (a.k.a. Cable Railway) is the oldest ski lift in Germany. Built in 1929, it was renovated in 1956 and again in 1984. It connects Oberwiesenthal with the Fichtelberg.
- Oberwiesenthal is connected by the historic railroad that connects the community with Cranzahl to the north. The 17-kilometer narrow gauge railway was founded in 1897 and is privately owned.