Seiffen: Germany’s year-round ‘Toy Village’
Stripes Travel reader
Most Americans are stationed in Germany for just a few years, and acquiring some wooden German Christmas decorations is a must. After all, no other country does Christmas quite as well as Germany does.
The most famous German Christmas decorations come from the Erzgebirge region, a small area in the Ore Mountains along the Czech border, about an hour southwest of Dresden. Anyone wanting to buy authentic German Christmas decorations should look for the logo that says Echt Erzgebirge Handwerk.
The logo ensures that the item was made in Germany and isn’t a Chinese knockoff, but the price will also be a clue. Handmade wooden German decorations aren’t cheap.
The hub of the Erzgebirge region is the town of Seiffen, which advertises itself as the “Toy Village.” Most Americans have been to stores where Christmas decorations are sold year- round; in Seiffen, the entire town sells Christmas decorations year-round. The village consists of shops filled with the incomparable wooden decorations.
An Internet search of Seiffen yields many Web sites relating how the village’s industry turned from mining to toy-making when the tin ore ran out in the 1800s. Once the history of the town is known, the symbols used in its decorations take on new meaning, and explain the former miners’ fascination with light. Most of their decorations have candles, and many feature miners wearing a uniform unique to the region.
In addition, the town’s one-of- a-kind octagon-shaped church is found on pyramids (tiered carousels usually featuring the nativity story and having a propeller on top powered by candles), Schwibbogens (lighted arches), music boxes, ornaments and other wooden decorations. The German trademark nutcracker also hails from this region.
A good place to see a visual history of the development of the Erzgebirge toy industry is the Spielzeug Museum in Seiffen. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and has a Web site with information in English at www.spielzeugmuseum-seiffen.de.
The information booklet found in the box of a pyramid from the Erzgebirge region boasts that it has almost 500 individual pieces, made of beech, maple, linden, birch and mahogany. In Seiffen it’s possible (for a small admission fee) to visit a workshop year-round and see the workers creating, assembling and painting these wooden pieces by hand. One effective display laid out all the individual pieces that were used to create just the main nativity characters. It’s no mystery why these items are expensive.
The other must-see in Seiffen is its church. It’s easy to find since the village is small and hilly, and the church stands out. The church isn’t very large or old (it was completed in 1779), but I guarantee that once you’re aware of it you’ll notice its distinctive shape popping up on many German decorations. It gave me a thrill to walk inside the church that has been reproduced in wood on my Christmas decorations for many years, and I couldn’t stop photographing it from all angles.
I’d been to Seiffen in the spring, but seeing it at Christmastime with snow, decorations and lights really put me in the mood for the season. I went Dec. 1, the first day of its Christmas market, which runs through Sunday and is spread throughout the main streets of the town. The village was mobbed with German tourists, most carrying huge bags full of wooden treasures, taking a bit of Seiffen’s Christmas magic home with them.
Elaine Carson is married to a Department of the Army civilian and lives in Kaiserslautern, Germany.