Finding Christmas Magic in Seiffen, Germany
Those looking for the magic of Germany's Christmas tradition, need look no further than the small village of Seiffen in eastern Germany. Nestled in the Erzgebirge Mountains near the border with the Czech Republic, Seiffen is the Christmas craft capital of Germany. The area has a history as a wood working and wood carving center dating back to the late 1800's.
Seiffen is situated in a valley surrounded by forested hills with most of the town located along the Hauptstrasse (main street) with side streets and lanes meandering up and down the surrounding hills. Everything is within easy walking distance within the small town.
Seiffen is about 30-miles east of the city of Chemnitz, which is an hour's train ride south of Dresden. Seiffen is easily reached in an hour by local train from Chemnitz, getting off at Olbernhau and taking a local bus the final five miles. Seiffen doesn't have a train station but busses provide an easy connection.
The area was once a mining center but residents turned to wood carving when the tin ore ran out. Seiffen soon became noted for its toys and Christmas crafts. Through the generations, Seiffen wood crafters became masters of their art producing a line of nutcrackers, smokers, candle arches (schwibbogen), and candle pyramids, as well as numerous varied Christmas tree ornaments and specialty holiday products.
While it's off the beaten track, visiting Seiffen is no problem and independent arrangements are easily made via the internet. The Seiffen Tourist Information Bureau website was helpful in providing links and contacts for hotels and more. However, the website is all in the German language which can be a problem. But with some effort it is manageable with a bit of guesswork and luck.
Several Seiffen hotel website links proved to have a language barrier as well. Few were in English. After considering the options, reservations were made for this visit with the Seiffener Hof Hotel because theirs was one of few websites with all information in English and the communications received were in English as well. It proved to be an excellent choice.
English is not widely spoken in the former East German areas. However, it is changing gradually as the younger people learn English and use it in the visitor industry. Enough folks speak some passable English to get by. Learning a few phrases/words of German are a big help as well!
The Seiffener Hof Hotel is a very comfortable 3-star family hotel. The small 25-room hotel features bright, clean and spacious rooms with nice furnishings, TV, and full bathroom. The house restaurant serves a satisfying breakfast (included in room rate) and offers a lunch and dinner menu of authentic local Erzgebirge cuisine.
At the back of the Seiffener Hof is the hotel's own "Handwerksschau" factory where one can watch Christmas crafts such as nutcrackers, smokers, and other handcrafts being handmade. Crafts can be purchased and shipping is available. The hotel is just two blocks from the center of Seiffen and convenient to all other attractions, restaurants, Christmas shops and factories.
On this trip, it was early December in Seiffen and there was snow on the ground 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 main street and it's easy to find one's way.
As it was the Christmas season, the festive atmosphere of the open-air German Christmas markets was very enjoyable. The markets feature numerous booths along the streets selling all manner of local Christmas crafts, the delightful warmth of a mug of mulled wine (gluhwein), savory grilled German sausages, and roasted chestnuts and almonds, all of which lend a distinct aromatic scent to the holiday air. There are booths selling the hearty holiday stollen, or fruit bread (like fruit cake), and always popular holiday treat, genuine German lebkuchen, or gingerbread.
But in Seiffen, the main attractions are the Christmas toy and ornament shops and factories. There are literally dozens of shops, some small and tucked away back off the main streets. Others are more prominent and feature a workshop, or factory, as part of the facility which visitors can visit. The workshops allow visitors to view work in progress on handmade Christmas ornaments, toys, nutcrackers, and more. It all adds to the color and excitement of being in Germany's Christmas toy capital.
During the four-week Advent season leading up to Christmas, Seiffen is a beehive of activity. This is perhaps the busiest time of the year for the small town. Numerous tour busses pull into the town's few parking lots daily, bringing busloads of eager Christmas craft shoppers from all over. With its limited hotel accommodations, many visitors are forced to make day trips only to Seiffen, finding lodging in other nearby cities and towns. Seiffen's hotel lodgings are at a premium during this season.
Visitors clog the narrow streets and lanes, hurrying up and down, taking in as many shops and sites as possible in the time allotted for their stop. Many are laden with shopping bags and boxes holding Christmas treasures such as nutcrackers, candle arches (schwibbogen), candle pyramids and more. Among the many popular shops and factories in Seiffen are those of Richard Glasser, Wolfgang Glockner, Christian Ulbricht, Dregeno Seiffen, Seiffener Pyramidenhaus, and Spielzeugland. Most shops are open daily during the Advent/Christmas season, from morning until evening hours.
But there are other sites in Seiffen worth seeing as well. Among the important landmarks, are the octagon-shaped baroque-styled Round Church built in 1779. The handsome church is located just above the center of town, next door to the town hall Rathaus. Another must-see is the Erzgebirgische Spielzeupmuseum, or toy in the center of town. Here visitors can see the origins of Seiffen's centuries-old folk arts and wood work customs. There are over 5000 exhibit pieces and displays providing background on Seiffen and the Erzgebirge's Christmas art traditions.
Winter in Seiffen also provides outdoor activities such as ice skating, snow-boarding, tobogganing, cross-country ski trails, a ski lift and downhill slopes for ski enthusiasts. The warmer seasons abound with things like a summer toboggan run, mini-golf, roller skating, hiking and biking on area mountain trails, horse and carriage rides, plus a narrated small "train" shuttle tour of Seiffen, and the open-air Freilichtmuseum and its wood carving and manufacturing shops displaying the traditional work of the toy maker, woodcrafter and other artisans.
While Seiffen in summer is no doubt a treat, at the Christmas holiday season, the town takes on a magical aura and becomes a child's Christmas fantasyland. It truly brings out the child in us all. Everyone who loves Christmas should be so lucky to experience the special wonder, excitement, and magic of the season in Seiffen, Germany's Christmas craft capital.
Seiffen Tourist Information Bureau
Seiffener Hof Hotel