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The Rich Heritage in This German Region Makes It a Must-Visit on Your Next Europe Holiday

Descend into ancient mine shafts, visit skilled woodcarvers, soar to the top of eastern Germany’s highest mountain, and soak up the charm of historic towns.

The entryway to the opulent grand Zwinger museum complex in Dresden, Germany

The grand Zwinger museum complex is an example of the opulence of Dresden thanks to the mining of the Ore Mountains

Courtesy of Masood Aslami/Unsplash

Germany is full of picturesque towns and historic cities, never far from the beauty of nature. The Ore Mountains region has the added distinction of its living folk-art tradition, the mountain landscapes with all the adventurous and tranquil ways to enjoy them, and a rich mining heritage. From the Middle Ages to the last century, southern Saxony’s Ore Mountains have been one of Europe’s key centers for the mining of metals—primarily silver and tin, but also rare cobalt, and later, uranium. Throughout all eras, mine workers have contributed to technological and scientific innovations in the extraction, processing, and smelting of ore, as well as inventing crucial systems for pumping water, above and below ground.

In 2019, UNESCO added the Erzgebirge/Krušnohoří Mining Region to its roster of World Heritage Sites, and rightly so. Without the valuable metals from these mines, the rulers of Saxony could never have funded a city of such baroque splendor as Dresden; Leipzig’s prominence as a center for European trade would likely have been substantially diminished; and all the thriving mountain towns born during the earliest silver boom might never have come into existence. Towards the end of the 18th century, as silver and tin deposits started to run out, miners turned to the carving of wooden toys and Christmas artifacts inspired by local traditions, bringing prosperity and commercial benefits to the Ore Mountains. A visit to the area offers many delights including the mines themselves. Most experiences are suitable for everyone, including families, seniors, and those with mobility issues.

Uncover the fascinating history of Dresden’s “white gold”

A panoramic photo of a Dresden skyline from across the Elbe river with Dresden Castle and atholische Hofkirche (Church of the Holy Trinity) in Dresden, Germany

Dresden’s skyline

©GNTB/Francesco Carovillano

Before heading up to the mountains and down into the mines, enjoy a stay in Dresden. Indisputably one of the world’s most beautiful cities, it’s a great place to shop for locally made fine porcelain and hike in incredible nature, among many other delights. Right in its heart, overlooking the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) and adjacent to the Procession of Princes, the Hilton Dresden is also within easy walking distance of other cultural monuments, including the Semperoper opera house, the Zwinger museum complex, and the New and Historic Green Vault within the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace). The property is also a great place to unwind and live well, especially at the Vis-à-Vis café set along Brühl’s Terrace—affectionately known as “the Balcony of Europe”—overlooking the Elbe River.

A photograph of the exterior of the Hilton Dresden at night in Dresden, Germany

Hilton Dresden

Courtesy of Hilton

By using kaolin clay mined from the Ore Mountains, Dresden and its neighboring town, Meissen, were able for the first time to create porcelain (“white gold”) in the West on par with China’s finest. The evidence is on display at the Royal Dresden Porcelain Collection at the Zwinger, the world’s largest treasury of Meissen and other ceramics.

Close by and stretching more than 100 yards along the wall of the Residenzschloss Stallhof, or Stable Yard, is the Procession of Princes, a mural consisting of over 24,000 Meissen porcelain tiles. The work is notable for having survived the 1945 bombing that leveled the city.

On the other side of the Elbe, Pfunds Molkerei is frequently called “the most beautiful dairy shop in the world.” This is no exaggeration since hand-painted tiles cover the floors, walls, and ceiling entirely.

For an even more immersive porcelain experience, opt for a cruise to Meissen along the Elbe River. If you’re looking to start or add to your personal collection, porcelain shops are in abundance or you can consult the expertise of the Hilton concierge.

You may want to ask your Hilton concierge about the Ore Mountains too, as Dresden is the ideal jumping-off point for visiting. Several gateway cities in North America offer connecting flights to the city through Frankfurt or Munich. If you’re flying to Dresden out of New York, you can choose a nonstop flight to Berlin and take a train directly from the airport.

Journey through historic towns and mines along the Silver Road

Glück auf! For centuries this was the traditional greeting among miners when entering and leaving the mines. It has a double meaning: a wish for luck in making a rich strike and a safe return. Today, you’ll see the words emblazoned everywhere throughout the Ore Mountains, especially in cities and villages along the Silberstrasse (Silver Road) that was once the main artery for transporting silver, tin, cobalt, and other ores from Saxony’s mines into the greater world.

The Silver Road runs 170 miles from Zwickau to Dresden. Along its path are more than 30 show mines, many adjacent to educational hiking and walking trails across the historic landscapes. Most towns along the route are as old as the mines and have retained all the charm of bygone eras. It’s here, in museums and workshops, that you can have a close encounter with the hand-carved wooden folk art for which the region is famous. Keep reading for a few favorite choices to get you started on your journey.

The Silberstadt (Silver City), Freiberg, was founded in 1168, making it the first mining town in the Ore Mountains. Today, it’s a university city with 500 listed buildings that bear witness to its medieval origins.

Terra Mineralia in the Freudenberg Castle is a dazzling showcase of 3,500 minerals and gemstones gathered from five continents. The Freiberg City and Mining Museum, currently being refurbished, is set to reopen later in 2024 at the same time as the annual Christmas market.

The distinguished organ builder and Freiberg resident, Gottfried Silbermann, was a friend and respected colleague of Johann Sebastian Bach in nearby Leipzig. Visitors to the Cathedral of St. Mary will find two of the finest examples of Silbermann’s artisanship there.

Not far from the city, Reiche Zeche (Rich Mine) is an 800-year-old silver mine and one of the region’s largest. Visitors to the mine first suit up with helmets, coveralls, and boots; then it’s lights out, while the cage elevator makes its nearly 500-foot descent into the mine to embark on an informative guided exploration of the underground tunnels. It’s still considered a working mine as a research facility for students and scientists.

A blacksmith's cottage and waterway, part of the Frohnauer Hammer Museum in Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany

Frohnauer Hammer Museum

©Tourismusverband Erzgebirge e.V./Dennis Stratmann

The town of Annaberg-Buchholz is named after St. Anne, the patron saint of miners. Start your adventure at the Frohnauer Hammer Museum, a blacksmith’s forge where you can learn about the hammer-mill technique for creating everyday tools out of metal from the mines. Nearby is the Erzgebirgsmuseum, where an important exhibit shows the technique of making bobbin lace, a lucrative source of income for the region. Additionally, there’s direct access to the Im Gössner silver mine.

At the Markus-Röhling-Stolln Visitor Mine, hop on board the mining train which will transport you a third of a mile deep inside. The guided tours provide a taste of what it’s really like to be a miner. You can also hike there from town, following the educational mining trail.

It’s hard to pick one highlight of a visit to Ehrenfriedersdorf, but a good starting point is the Zinngrube Ehrenfriedersdorf tin mine; it’s worth booking a special tour, preferably one that includes an underground train ride and a chance to see the replicated medieval wheel pump. There’s more above ground, including the Machine Park, the Mineralogical Museum, and a “mountain parade” consisting of 1,025 hand-carved and painted wooden figures in the Bergschmiede (Mountain Forge).

Get a local history lesson through folk art in Seiffen and Annaberg-Buchholz

Erzgebirge Open Air Museum

Erzgebirge Open Air Museum

©Tourismusverband Erzgebirge e. V.

Unlike mining, the carving and painting of wooden figures, toys, and Christmas decorations was something in which the whole family could participate, and thus an authentic folk-art tradition was born. Seiffen, affectionately known as the “Toy Village,” is the ideal starting point to witness how these quaint wooden artifacts evolved into full-fledged works of art.

The Toy Museum has a collection of more than 25,000 pieces, 5,000 of which are typically on display. It’s been compared to a life-size toy box.

Seiffen is also the site of the Erzgebirge Open Air Museum, a complex of historical craft workshops. Its top attraction is a demonstration of the Seiffen-specific art of ring turning, where a series of decorative figures is created simultaneously from a segment of tree trunk.

It’s no exaggeration to call Seiffen a shopper’s paradise. Along its main street, at least 50 shops burst with hand-crafted toys and Christmas collectibles, as well as working studios selling their own wares.

The Manufaktur der Träume (Dream Factory) in Annaberg-Buchholz houses an historic collection of Erzgebirge folk crafts, many related to mining and Christmas. The museum attractions cater to all the senses through realistic sounds and music, lighting and video displays, hands-on activities, and even a chocolate experience in the café. Many more participatory hand-craft experiences are also offered throughout the Ore Mountains.

Steam and soar your way through the Ore Mountains

As the highest mountain in eastern Germany, the Fichtelberg is a magnet for downhill and cross-country skiers, hikers, mountain bikers, and nature lovers. Consider traveling there the old-fashioned way aboard a train drawn by steam locomotive. The scenic route runs from Cranzahl to the spa-resort town of Oberwiesenthal at the mountain’s base.

When you’re ready to move on to the top, ride the Fichtelberg Suspension Railway (cable car), which made its maiden run exactly 100 years ago last December. Between May and October you can make an adrenaline-pumping return to the valley swaying in a seat on Fly Line, among the longest ziplines in the world. Back in Oberwiesenthal, the Fichtelbergbahn offers behind-the-scenes tours of its workshop where visitors can watch steam locomotives being maintained in real-time.

Visit Leipzig’s modern-day communities of artists and craftspeople

People looking at arts and crafts in the halls of Die Spinnerei, a planned arts community in Leipzig, Germany

Die Spinnerei

©Leipzig Tourismus und Marketing GmbH/Philipp Kirschner

Essentially a small, self-contained village, die Spinnerei is a planned arts community that sits on the site of what was once the largest cotton mill in continental Europe. About 20 years ago, members of Leipzig’s contemporary art scene realized that the former factory building and grounds, with workers’ housing still in place, would be the ideal spot to create a hub for artists, craftspeople, designers, performers, and others in related disciplines. Not far from Leipzig’s historic center, the current complex contains more than 100 studios, 14 galleries, and a few performance spaces. Members of the public are welcome to visit the galleries, where many works are on sale.

Nearby, another industrial landmark, a 100-year-old power station was recently reinvented as Kunstkraftwerk-Leipzig and is now a showplace for contemporary and digital art—especially the latter. At least one international immersive art show is always on the program, with an abundance of ambitious projects in the pipeline.

Hilton and the German National Tourist Board
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