Seiffen — Germany’s Christmas craft capital


by John Penisten, Hilo, HI

The small village of Seiffen, nestled in the Erzgebirge Mountains near the Czech Republic border, is the Christmas craft capital of Germany. The area, part of the former East Germany, has a history as a woodcrafts center dating back to the late 1800s.

With an abundant wood supply, Seiffen soon became noted for its toys and Christmas crafts. Seiffen woodcrafters became masters of their art, producing nutcrackers, smokers, candle arches (Schwibbögen) and candle pyramids as well as numerous varied Christmas tree ornaments and specialty holiday products.

Location

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Seiffen is situated in a valley surrounded by forested hills, with most of the town located on the Hauptstrasse (the main street). Side streets and lanes meander up and down the surrounding hills, and everything is within easy walking distance (although some uphill walking is required).

A bit off the beaten track, Seiffen is 30 miles east of Chemnitz, which is an hour’s train ride south of Dresden. We took a local train from Chemnitz, getting off at Olbernhau and taking a local bus the final five miles, as Seiffen doesn’t have a train station. The entire trip took an hour and a half.

The local train was included in the German Rail Pass we had purchased in the U.S. prior to departure. For seven days of unlimited train travel, the pass cost $543 for two people traveling together in first class. (For more railpass information, visit www.raileurope.com/us.)

The Christmas craze

There was snow on the ground during our December ’05 visit, but it was easy to get around. Regardless of the season, Seiffen is a wonderful small town to explore on foot. A map of the town is all that is needed. Side streets and lanes branch off from the Hauptstrasse and it’s easy to find one’s way.

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As it was the Christmas season, we enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the open-air Christmas markets, which featured numerous booths selling local Christmas crafts, the delightful warmth of a mug of mulled wine (Glühwein), savory grilled German sausages, and roasted chestnuts and almonds — all of which lent a distinct holiday aroma to the air.

But in Seiffen, the main attractions are the Christmas toy and ornament shops. There are dozens of shops; some are small and tucked away off the main streets, while others are more prominent and feature workshops where visitors can watch crafts being made by hand.

The 4-week Advent season leading up to Christmas is perhaps Seiffen’s busiest time of the year. Numerous tour buses clog the town’s few parking lots, bringing busloads of eager Christmas craft shoppers on day trips. With Seiffen’s limited hotel accommodations, many visitors are forced to find lodging in other nearby cities and towns during this period.

Visitors fill the narrow streets and lanes, hurrying up and down to take in as many shops and sites as possible, and shoppers are laden with bags and boxes holding Christmas treasures. Among the many popular shops and factories in Seiffen are those of Richard Glasser, Wolfgang Glöckner, Christian Ulbricht, Dregeno Seiffen, Seiffener Pyramidenhaus and Spielzeugland.

Where to stay

The Seiffen Tourist Information Bureau’s website (www.seiffen.de) was helpful in providing links and contacts for hotels and more. However, the website is all in German. With a bit of guesswork and luck, we managed to get by.

Several Seiffen hotel website links proved to have a language barrier as well. Few were in English. After considering the options, I made reservations with the Seiffener Hof Hotel (31 Hauptstrasse; phone 037362 130, www.seiffener-hof.com) because theirs was one of the few websites with all the information in English. It proved to be an excellent choice.

The Seiffener Hof Hotel, just two blocks from the city center and convenient to all attractions, restaurants and Christmas shops, is a very comfortable 3-star family hotel ($95, double, per night). The small, 25-room hotel featured bright, clean and spacious rooms with nice furnishings, TV and a full bathroom. The house restaurant served a satisfying breakfast (included in the room rate) and offered a lunch and dinner menu of authentic local cuisine.

The hotel also had its own Handwerksschau (workshop). Crafts could be purchased on site, and shipping was available.

Other city sights

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Seiffen does have other sites worth seeing, including the landmark octagon-shaped Round Church built in 1779. The handsome Baroque church is located just above the center of town, next to the Rathaus (Town Hall).

Another “must see” is the Erzgebirgisches Spielzeugmuseum (73 Hauptstrasse; phone 037362 8239, www.spielzeugmuseum-seiffen.de), or toy museum, located in the center of town and open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. There, visitors can see the origins of Seiffen’s centuries-old Christmas folk arts and woodworking traditions via some 5,000 exhibit pieces and displays.

Winter in Seiffen also brings many outdoor activities, such as ice skating, snowboarding, tobogganing and cross-country and downhill skiing. The warmer seasons abound with outdoor options like a summer toboggan run, mini-golf, roller skating, hiking and biking on area mountain trails, and horse and carriage rides, or visitors can choose to take a narrated small “train” shuttle tour of Seiffen or visit the open-air Freilichtmuseum (Haupstr. 203), open seasonally, March to November, with its display of traditional woodwork.

While Seiffen in summer is no doubt a treat, in the Christmas holiday season the town takes on a magical aura and becomes a Christmas fantasyland, appealing to the child in each of us. Anyone who loves Christmas would be lucky to experience the special wonder and excitement of the season in Seiffen, Germany’s Christmas craft capital.