As I am writing this, the 1965 movie ‘Born Free’ is on television here in Annaberg. Since I wrote about it in a previous blog and constantly refer to the book in conversations about cats/animals, I find it ironic to be watching it on Christmas Day here in Annaberg, albeit in German.
The scene had been set for me early in my childhood – it has been a dream for as long as I can remember to have a white Christmas just as I had read in my childhood books such as ‘Rupert Bear’ amongst others. I lived in England for nearly 7 years between 1984-1991 and only had one semi-white Christmas in that time being in the north of the country.
Now it is Christmas 2015, I am staying with German friends in Annaberg-Bucholz near the Czech Republic border, high in the mountains. I have known my friends for 40 years and they moved back to their ‘homeland’ from living near Cologne, where they managed to live after getting out of what was East Germany a few years before the wall came down.
The temperature here is currently around 10oC – still too warm for snow. It is cold, especially when the wind blows, but they normally have temperatures of 10-20oC below. I am hoping for a light dusting of snow but I did not think before I booked my flight here that, if it was excessively heavy I might not make it back to Dresden for my flight home to Sydney.
The drive from Dresden to Annaberg-Bucholz takes around 1 1/2 hours via Freiberg, where we stopped to see their Weihnachtsmarkts and have fantastic cake in a delightful place called Kaffee Hartmann, then through Chemnitz onto Annaberg.
I arrived in time for the last 2 days of the Weihnachtsmarkt which are very famous here in Annaberg. They are not as touristy as the ones in the west of Germany, so the locals tell me. The atmosphere is just as I had dreamed as a child with the lovely lights and smell of Glühwein, which I must say is lethal. One must have a sausage and roll to go with it, definitely do not drink this wonderfully warm spiced drink on an empty stomach, your head will be separated from your body in no time! The white wine version with cinnamon (zimt) is much more palatable in my opinion and very popular.
The markets are held in the city centre where it is level, I say this because the rest of the place is a Grade 3 climb!! Or at least it will feel like that after 2 or 3 Glühweins! Sell your soul to get someone to carry you back up if you happen to be staying up the hill from the shops.
This part of Germany is known as the Ore Mountains (Erzebirge) in Saxony, which forms part of a natural border between Germany and the Czech Republic. The history is in mining and when that finished, intricate lace work and wood carvings for toys took over as two of the dominant incomes for the region.
One of the smarter things I did before I left was buy beautiful soft, warm possum/merino clothing from The Wool Company in New Zealand, after all I am a Kiwi!! I really try to support something as beautifully produced as their products which are all made in NZ. Their fine merino singlet tops are just fantastic next to the skin and the fingerless mittens are perfect if, like me, you love your photography, to keep shooting without having to remove gloves all the time. Plus, they all pack down very flat in your suitcase without weighing too much. Two of the warmest fibres you can wear next to your skin apart from very soft merino wool are possum fur (possums being a major pest in NZ) and vicuńa from Peru. Since I am not about rob a bank anytime soon to pay the prohibitive cost of that fibre, possum is the way to go. I knew from years of living in England that wearing layers is always the best in cold climates, especially when you are walking around.
It is also important to wear good walking boots, I bought a pair of fur-lined Ara ones which are serving me exceedingly well.
We visited Seiffen a couple of days after arriving, it is a delightful Christmas craft town which the children love immensely. It is about a 1/2 hour drive from Annaberg and quite out of the way with no train station, in fact this region really requires a car to get around and see the villages.
This part of Germany has an extremely rich history with an equally proud population to support this. The landscape is strikingly beautiful albeit slightly austere, it is a very different beauty to the magical world of Bavaria with its rivers and idyllic castles floating high above near the clouds.