Road Tripping the Erzgebirge Christmas Markets
All I want for Christmas is . . . more travel? But seriously though.
December has been a fully-booked travel month. I'm still learning how to blog on-the-go; as much as I love writing in the comfort of home, I've realized that sometimes that just isn't practical for trying to keep to somewhat of a blogging schedule.
This month, I've had a very short turnaround between trips. Right now I'm in Garmisch, Germany with friends celebrating Christmas abroad. Before that, I was in the US for a week to visit my family in Colorado, back-to-back with a week-long road trip with my husband and the in-laws to explore some sights around southern Germany. And before all of that, I kicked off the month with a weekend road trip to the Christmas wonderland of the Erzgebirge.
Why the Erzgebirge? It's a little off the beaten tourist path in Germany. My friend Aretta and I knew we had to make a trip for the Christmas markets when we learned the history of the area from a vendor selling woodwork from the town of Seiffen at an autumn market near Kaiserslautern.
Erzgebirge is a small area of the Saxony province close to the Czech border in eastern Germany. The Erzgebirge region is also known as the Ore Mountains, and has a rich history of mining. Today's decorative wooden nutcracker originated in this region after the rise in popularity of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet in the late 19th century. This region is best known for producing high quality wood crafts, specifically the smoking figurines, nutcrackers, spinning pyramids, and candle arches seen at Christmas markets across Germany.
In our weekend road trip, Aretta and I managed to fit in seven Christmas markets. In two and a half days. SEVEN. It was serious Weihnachtsmarkt overload!
It took us about 4.5 hours to get from the Kaiserslautern area to the Erzgebirge, which is on the opposite side of Germany. Once we were there, it was easy to jump around to visit the small cities, towns, and villages in the region.
Here's the breakdown of the Christmas markets we visited on our trip:
Wartburg Castle. This was a spontaneous stop on the way from Kaiserslautern. It's in more central Germany than eastern and it's not a part of the Erzgebirge, but it was the perfect way to break up the drive.
This was an incredible medieval market held in the castle. Wartburg Castle was where Martin Luther took refuge after his excommunication from the Catholic Church, and where he worked to translate the New Testament into German. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site and definitely worth visiting if you're into early Protestant church history or really cool medieval castles.
Zwickau. We based out of Zwickau for our short trip and it was first on our list to visit in the Erzgebirge.
The Christmas market here was very fun, and bigger than I expected. I wished we had spent more time here than we allotted!
Chemnitz. Similar to the Zwickau market, it was also very large. Half of the market was traditional style and the other was medieval themed. This was one of my favorites of the trip!
Seiffen. This was the most touristy location of the trip; Seiffen is one of the best known locations for woodworking from the Erzgebirge region. Also, their Christmas market wasn't so much of a "market"--it was actually just a few stalls spread around the center of the village.
While Seiffen's Christmas market wasn't quite to my taste, it was very cool to see so many woodworking shops in one location, and the drive from Chemnitz was incredibly beautiful!
Marienberg. We stopped here since it was on the way back from Zwickau. It was a very different feel from the other markets; this one was small and very local, to the point that we felt a little intrusive as outsiders. However, I had the best traditional glühwein of the trip here and picked up a very cute Christmas lantern.
Annaberg. This was a spontaneous stop, since we had a little time left before the market closed. It was also a smaller market, but very comfortable, and we didn't feel like intruders on the local vibe. Here I tried a Schwarze Johannisbeere (black currant) glühwein, which is now my new favorite hot Christmas market beverage.
As we drove back to Kaiserslautern, we decided to squeeze in one last Christmas market in the Thuringia state of central Germany: Erfurt.
Aretta was so excited to stop here, since this was where Martin Luther spent some time as a university student. It's also, as it turns out, the capital of the German state of Thuringia and a MASSIVE metropolitan city with loads of German history (I had no idea!).
We were on a time crunch to get back to Kaiserslautern so we didn't get to spend much time here, although we could have easily spent the entire day wandering around. What we thought was a disappointingly small market turned out to be just one tiny portion of the greater Weihnachtsmarkt, which (once we found it) was overwhelming in size.
Germany's Christmas markets are one of the most festive ways to celebrate the season. Maybe this post will inspire you to visit the Erzgebirge--I know I would love to go back next year!