Recently I travelled to the Ore Mountains in far eastern Germany on the border of the Czech Republic. The region is a lesser known area of Germany and from what I learned it is steeped in a rich and fascinating history.
The Ore Mountains are aptly named as this geographic region consists of a low lying mountain range filled with natural resources which once extracted, have built empires.
The area has formed a natural border between Saxony and Bohemia for centuries and still to this day divides the official land border between Germany and the Czech Republic. The highest peaks are the Keilberg which rises to 1,244 meters and the Fichtelberg at 1,215 meters above sea level. I travelled to the region in winter and with these peaks sitting just above one thousand meters there was plenty of snow and the Ore Mountains turned into a winter wonderland.
History: Let’s step back however to the 12th century.
Almost 1000 years ago the Ore Mountains were slowly becoming settled, and with the erratic discoveries of tin and silver deposits, the settlements grew and the industry of mining developed. In the 16th century the Ore Mining deposits of tin, and especially silver used for coins and minting money, began to peak and the settlements grew rapidly. This expansion saw many industries develop such as forestry, glass making, salt trading, and the continued extraction of many different types of raw minerals from the Ore Mountain hills.
All of this industry helped build the Saxon Empire with its capital in Dresden and also the Bohemian Empire with its capital in Prague. The riches mined in the Ore Mountains we’re used for centuries by the royals on both the Bohemian and Saxon side to help generate trade and economic stability, the build castles and fortresses and to fund wars and conflicts. All of this activity created a network of mining sites throughout the region steeped in hard work and industrial prowess.
Mining has shaped the culture and traditions of the Ore Mountain region and still to this day the industry has a strong hold on the communities’ identities spread throughout the hills.
An old saying developed here states that "everything comes from the mine” and it refers to the fact that this industry has shaped the region entirely. From its landscape, to its handicrafts, the living traditions and folk art. The visitor may recognize this immediately upon arrival in the Ore Mountains as from the normal everyday greeting, Glück Auf! This is an ancient term used by minors to express luck to each other for finding a new strain of valuable minerals in the rock.
The Ore Mountains are known especially in Germany and throughout Europe for their variety of customs during the Advent and Christmas season. This is epitomized by traditional Ore Mountain folk art in the form of Christmas pyramids, candle arches, nutcrackers, miners' and angels' toy figures, all of which are used as throughout the region as Christmas decorations.
One of the most notable winter time traditions is seen with almost all houses decorating their windows with light candle arches in such a way that each village is transformed into a sea of light. It is truly spectacular site. The Ore Mountains have developed Christmas traditions in a way that creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that one would come to expect in a winter wonderland of endless rolling hills.
Things to do in the Ore Mountains
My trip to the Ore Mountains was also a great eye opener into how many activities are possible in the winter season. From a professional bobsled and Luge track to family run ski resorts and boutique lodges, to international wood carving exhibitions and falcon raptor shows, to skiing on the highest peaks of the region and relaxing in a spa to finish the day.
There is so much to see and do in “Erzgebirge” especially in the winter around the Christmas season.
Lights Off Festival
To wrap up my trip I travelled to the small town of Zwönitz to experience the annual ‘Lights Off Festival’. This spectacular event is held on February 2nd in various towns throughout the Ore Mountain region but the “Zwönitzer Lichtmess” is the symbolic highlight which officially ends the Christmas season.
The festival here has been celebrated for decades and how it works is that in the evening of February 2nd there is a host of traditional music and food and drink stands which entertain the thrawls of visitors who patiently wait (sipping their hot Glühwein and eating grilled Bratwurst) in front of the main stage. Eventually the sounds of the performances by local choirs and brass bands fill the air and the main square gains a buzz of excitement leading towards the iconic “Light’s Off”.
Then, just before 6pm, the mayor of the town comes on stage and presents the event, the history, the tradition, and the epic countdown. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. then at exactly 6 pm sharp, the mayor of Zwönitz orders “LIGHTS OFF” and every single home and public light in town will extinguish.
It’s a truly an incredible and impressive sight, and was the perfect way to end my time exploring the Ore Mountains region.
For more on the Ore Mountains and our Travel Dudes, Top 10 Reasons to Visit the Ore Mountains in Winter, follow these two links and enjoy!!
Travel tip shared by Greg Snell for Travel Dudes.
Big thanks to Erzgebirge Tousimus for supporting this assignment and helping make this trip possible. Be sure to learn more about the region here.