History of the Erzgebirge
The Erzgebirge region is located in the eastern portion of Germany that borders the Czech Republic. The area is known also as the Ore Mountains. The region grew from its mining industry but today is widely known for producing wooden German Folk Art. Nutcrackers, Smokers, Christmas Pyramids, Blumenkinder and Schwibboegen are produced in the areas workshops in the town of Seiffen and it's surrounding villages.
History of Seiffen
1324 - First documented mentioning of the town “cynsifen”
1500 (late) - Beginning of tin mining in the Erzgebirge region
1551 - Seiffen records 146 residents
1570 - Building of a mountain chapel
1600 - Establishment of a mining office in Seiffen
1635 (after) - Intensified movement from protestant refuges from Bohemia to the region
1650 - Earliest documented mentioning of a woodworking in the area
1699 – Johannes Friedrich Hiemann brings wooden products (Drechslerware) to Leipzig for the first time
1750 (around) – Beginning of the toy production using water-powered mills (wasserkraft drehwerk)
1765 – 28 spin workshops in 8 spinning works
1776 - The old Mountain chapel is built
1776/79 – Building of the old Mountain church
1784 – Beginning of the oversea trade of Seiffen’s products
1810 – First documented mentioning of the ring spinning (reifendreherei)
1834 – Seiffen records 1000 residents
1849 – The Erzgebirge regional Mountain Mining office is closed bringing an end to mining
1853 – The Founding of the state Toy Production School
1869 – The first steam power operated spinning mill is employed
1871 – Seiffen records 1453 residents
1841 – The establishment of a steady toy exhibition at the toy production school
1900 – Seiffen records. 1500 residents
1905 – Seiffen has an unusual winter receiving over 23 feet of snow
1910 – Seiffen records 1427 residents
1914 – King August visits the toy exhibition
1919 – Seiffen records 1764 residents
1936 – Toy manufacturer becomes an acknowledged profession
1951 – All of the in 1946 workshops into one state owned company
1957 – Seiffen has10 privately-owned and one state-owned toy production workshops 1991 – First Christmas Market in Seiffen
1996 – On the weekends before Christmas, 200.000 people visited Seiffen’s Christmas Market Erzgebirge History
The Erzgebirge is the source of some of the most beautiful wooden articles in the world. A combination of historical, geographic and economic factors joined together to make this possible.
The Erzgebirge is a low mountain range in the Province of Saxony. The area lies in the east of Germany just north of the Czech border, extending a total of 90 miles. It rises from the Elbe River to the highest altitude of about 4000 feet. The word “Erz” literally means “ore”. And the word “Berg” means “mountains”. So the word “Erzgebirge” can be translated as “ore mountains”. The name was only marked in the 16th century, before that the area was known as part of the bohemian forests.
The Erzgebirge has an abundant supply of wood, 60% of the area is covered with forests. There was a real economic factor involved in motivating the people of the area toward the creation and production of wooden articles. There was abundant hydropower and there was rich historical tradition, related to the centuries-old occupation of the area - the mining of metals.
In a sense, it seems that the area was created for mining. Rich forests provided the huge timbers for shoring up the ceilings of the mines. The streams of water from the mountain slopes made possible the harnessing of power to be used, not only as pumps in the mines, but for chemical devices to remove the ore. For several centuries, it seemed there was an endless supply of varying kinds of metals – but gradually, one by one, the metals were depleted. Therefore, slowly, over a period of centuries, the people who were by tradition and heritage miners gradually moved to other areas of vocation. Thus, the prime factor in a change of livelihood for the people of the area was an economic factor.
Because wood was abundant, it was a very natural thing that the first products to come out of this area were wooden products. (From the very beginning, the people – essentially a mining people – left the imprint of their way of life and their tradition on their products.) The continuing water power made it possible to transmit the force of the water into the turning of the lathe or of a saw and the earliest products were simple wooden spindles, plates, wooden staffs and common household articles made on the lathe or by the saw. About the 17th century, simple toys began to appear – little tops, jumping jacks, and other handmade articles. Most of the early wooden articles were made in the homes and only in later years did some of the production move to factories. It is known that as early as 1750, toys from this area were sold at the Christmas fairs in some of the big cities in Germany. It is also known that there were toy salesman who went from village to village offering their toys, and because they couldn’t carry samples with them, they carried a book called a “Toy Sample Book” (or Toy Model Book) similar to a catalog.
Some of the illustrations from the early sample books are still in existence and are a rich source of information about the early toys from this area.
At any rate, the earliest wooden products were simple ones, easily made. But as time passed, the pieces became more sophisticated. They reflected the lives of the people of the area, the hard life of the miners, and the dangerous conditions of the dark, damp mines. The articles also reflect the longing of the people for warmth, light, safety and hope.
Today in the Erzgebirge Mountains, the tradition of creating beautiful wooden folk art lives on. In villages like Seiffen, Olbernau, Schneeberg and Gruenhainichen, hundreds of dedicated and skilled people continue to create. In some cases, modern technology and modern machines have been applied to production. But basically, much is unchanged from 100 years ago. New styles and new models are devised each year, however the tradition of the Erzgebirge has been preserved in each product and for decades to come.
It is very interesting to visit this area today, and perhaps the most characteristic village is Seiffen where there’s a museum, which attracts thousands of visitors annually. Situated in the center of the village, the museum shows much of the history and the traditions of this area.