DIE VERTRAUTE WELT / / / Trusted World ︎ ZONA D Program for Gegenwarten / Presences CHEMNITZ ︎ AUG ︎ SEP 2020 ︎
◇ TRADITION, By Beatrice Schuett Moumdjian
Since 2014 I have travelled to the Ore Mountains several times per year and photographed
material evidence of the historic mining industry in in the landscape, for instance the adits,
and the local cul-tural traditions like the christmas window decorations.
My photographs and texts, based on my long term research of the traditions, mining culture
and politics in the Ore Mountains, is planned among others to culminate in a poster
intervention in the public space. My research since 2014, both artistic and scientific, that
incorporates the regional publications, builds the foundation for that project. I to reflect back
the simpler and the more complicated truths around the communal knowledge about
traditions in the region and get cultural folklore, in German a term called Volkskunde, made
complicated by the Nazi Germany implications of the word "Volk", back among the
Volk/folk from the outside.
Due to the nationally noticeable revitalisation of right wing movements that largely has
originated in the East part of Germany, the gap between the self-representation of the Ore
Mountains and its perception in the rest of Germany has widened. When researching the
connections between mining industry and christmas traditions it turned out that the seeds for
this political development were sown during Nazi Germany and, later, in the so-cialist GDR,
that also put their mark on the variety of local traditions. This fact remains largely
unmentioned in most of the regional publications, the local "Heimat"museums and the
celebration of the rites, or is even regarded as a positive aspect.
Traditions in the Ore Mountains
The Ore Mountains are a narrow strip of wooded moutains that close Saxony in the farthest
part of Eastern Germany and share a border with the Czech Republic. A strike of silver in the
13th Century rang in an era of extraordinary prosperity. When profits in the mining business
began to dry up, entire families took up woodworking crafts. The combination of mining and
woodcraft has produced a unique “ensemble” (Manuel Schramm) of christmas decorations
and traditions that center around darkness and light. The christmas pyramid is a characteristic
shape as is the Schwibbogen, an illuminated arch symbolizing the dark adit opening into the
mine. Another is an orientalist figure called 'Turk'. The relationship between shadows and
light plays an important role in the self-portrayal of the region.
After the “Erstes Berggeschrey”, the first strike of silver in Freiberg in the Ore Mountains, a
culture completely built around the mining industry emerged when settlers rushed in from
various directions, notably protestant Thuringia and German speaking regions in the West.
This economy sustained itself, and fed on protestant christian traditions influenced by the
neighbor-ing czech catholics. Especially Christmas fast developed a collective anchor and
point of exhale from the difficult and dangerous work below ground with no light, especially
in the long winter months.
When the supply of silver ore slowly dried out over the centuries and eventually came to a
halt, the 19th century saw a turn in the region towards the manufacturing industries. Wood
manufacturing in all its shapes lent itself to become the new main new sustenance for
workers in the Ore Mountains seeing that the literal standing pillars of the mining industry
are wood construction of hydraulic architectures. The Ore Mountains christmas pyramid is a
good example of how mining culture, architecture and woodcraft came together in the
creation of a christmas decoration.
Ideology in the Ore Mountains
Historically, German nationalism is partly rooted in the republican movement propelled by
the Grimm Brothers' interest in the early 19th Century in researching, collecting and
circulating German folklore, which culminated in a magazine called 'Altdeutsche Waelder'.
Folklore clubs sprang up like mushrooms all around Germany, and the oldest one still in
existence is the Erzgebirgsverein, the Ore Mountains club. During the NSDAP regime, all
independen folklore clubs in the region were enforced to commit to NS ideology and were
put under one roof, the Heimatwerk Sachsen. Many conformed willingly. The think tanks
Ahnenerbe and Amt Rosenberg took up the task of systematically reinterpreting German
festive traditions in line with the Nazi ideology. Saxony and the Ore Mountain christmas
traditions received special attention.
Friedrich Emil Krauss from Schwarzenberg, an industrial entrepreneur who is revered locally
to this day, was one of the most ardent supporters of the local craftsmen and in 1937 initiated
a mega exhibition with 300.000 visitors, the Feierohmdschau. On the occasion of this
exhibition the Schwibbogen, originally a handforged candle holder, was developed into a
mass product. The original christian and „oriental“ imagery was intentionally replaced with
depictions of miners. The last mine shaft in the Ore Mountains had closed by the turn of the
century, but the mining foklore continued to stay culturally relevant. After WW2, the regional
woodworking crafts production got re-established and integrated into the socialist planned
economy, and by the sixties had been fully co-opted ideologically, again, this time as an
expression of pure socialism.
In 2014, news began making the rounds of a revitalization of the political right in the East
part of Germany, especially Saxony, after the 2013 'Lichtellauf' in Schneeberg/Ore
Mountains, an anti-immigrant rally organized by the extremist NPD. Other displays of
extremist right-wing politics followed each other in quick succession, from which eventually
the right wing movement PEGIDA and eventually the new rapidly growing extremist
political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), was grown. The AfD is currently an
established party in all federal German states with the most voters located in Saxony.
In the early 90s, shortly after I had arrived with my mother from Bulgaria in Berlin, reports of
racist attacks in the newly reunited Germany started to populate the evening news. Especially
In the former East Germany, Neo Nazis began to be perceived as a common threat.
In 2011, André Eminger, one of the helping hands of the right-wing terror group National-
Socialist Underground (NSU), was arrested. He had grown up in the Ore Mountains town
Johanngeorgenstadt, where he also had politically conspired. He and his associates met in the
late 90s and early 2000s in a red painted garage and called themselves „Brigade Ost“.
The rise of right-wing movements can be traced back to the efforts of politicians and
entrepreneurs in the former East. Many of them hailing from West Germany, they filled a
void that the former residents had left after they migrated to Berlin and other metropolitan
Western German areas.
Consequently, in the years since the gap between the self-representation of the Ore
Mountains and its perception in the rest of Germany has widened. Maintained traditions like
the woodworking crafts, the festive illumination in every window in every town from
November till February, or the cozy christmas markets are favored tourist attractions for
visitors around the world. Yet local museums still use racially connotated descriptions, and
the regional literature is peppered with allusions to the positive influence of the Hitler regime
on the fokllore and the wood working industry. The Ore Mountains folklore is kept alive due
to an efficient use of self-mythology, marketing and wilful political ignorance. The tension
between politics and tradition is visible in the landscape and makes the region fasciniating.