The Ore Mountains in Saxony: Mining Tradition and Watchmaking | Hannah Hummel on Tour in Germany
Glück auf! Or good luck. That's how people greet each other in this region of Saxony. And that's because life here has been shaped by mining. But I'll not only be looking around underground. I'll also discover the world of traditional watchmaking, which is what
Glashütte here is really famous for. And from industry culture we'll go into nature to check out some incredible rock formations. So let's go! My first stop is Glashütte in the Eastern Ore Mountains.
The small town around 20 kilometers from Dresden has the highest concentration of watchmaking skill in Germany. Time lives here that's the city's slogan. Well, I'd better take the opportunity to find out what that actually means! Right in the middle of Glashütte stands the German Watch Museum. It opened in 2008, and tells the story of the town's watchmaking history. Museum Director Ulf Molzahn is taking me on a little tour through time.
We aren't collecting watches for their investment value. We're showing particular developments and telling their stories. The story of mechanical watches being made in Glashütte begins in 1845. That was when the Royal Saxon government gave a loan to Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who founded the first watch company here. Others soon followed.
The standards were very high. The aim was to bring a perfect product to market; perfect in terms of beauty, and above all, perfect in terms of function. A great deal of money was invested into reaching this goal. And initially Glashütte's watchmakers had great success. But Ulf Molzahn says there
were also times of crisis, for example, the missed opportunities of the 1920s. Glashütte was in danger of missing the trend of pocket watches being replaced by wristwatches. It managed to save itself with a genius coup. Otherwise, the lights would have gone out in the town. These wristwatches date from a later chapter in Glashütte's history the time of the GDR. In 1951, privately-owned watch companies were combined into one state-owned enterprise called the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe.
Up to date and automatic with a Spezimatic watch! In business and when travelling, be exact and precise with a Spezimatic watch. Where the second matters, the precise Spezimatic. Stylish and extra flat, with or without a calendar: Spezimatic. The proof: a gold medal at the 1965's Leipzig fair. Spezimatic: a new
watch which winds itself up. In contact with time – in contact with you! The final rooms display a selection of luxury timepieces currently being produced in Glashütte. After Germany's reunification, it didn't take long for companies to build on the town's watchmaking tradition. Who's interested in mechanical watches today? I'd say it's not so much those who can afford such watches, but rather those who want them.
These days, there are nine watchmaking companies with around 1,700 employees in this little town. And Made in Glashütte may soon become trademarked. It's said that more people work in the watch industry here in Glashütte than actually live here. Well, it's about time that I met some of them. I head to the so-called Chronometrie of the NOMOS Glashütte company.
I've been invited to a very special wedding here! – Hallo. – Oh hello! Oops, dropped my eyeloupe. Can you tell me a little bit about what you are doing here? Yes, this is where we connect the clockwork mechanism, the dial and the housing. The step is called a wedding. – Why is it called wedding? – Why wedding? Good question. I don't know exactly. But maybe because what belongs together is being brought together. Sweet, that's a lovely explanation! NOMOS was founded in 1990. The design is inspired by the Bauhaus.
The company has grown to become the largest manufacturer of mechanical watches in Germany. It has several offices abroad and exports to 52 countries. – May I watch you work? – Of course! I'm about to insert the heart into the clock, and then the mechanism will start to tick.
The heart of the watch is called the balance. Here, almost the entire assembly of the around 180 individual parts is done by hand the process requires incredible precision! I'm so impressed! I could never do that! – Would you like to have a go? – Can I? The screws are still loose. Okay, let's see... Exactly, you hold it with your finger up here, so that you can automatically turn it. Done! After you've tightened around ten thousand screws, you do it without thinking. Next to the railway station, NOMOS has another building.
Or rather, it's right at the railway station. This is where I meet Judith Borowski, the chief branding officer. What prompted the decision to launch the company here? Where else, if not in Glashütte? Glashütte has been making top-level watches for over 175 years. It's been famous for its
watches since 1845 just as Parma is for ham or Champagne is for sparkling wine. And Glashütte for watches! I'd also be interested in how you manage to combine tradition with modernity? The mechanisms are still put together much as they were 175 years ago. Most of the work is done by hand. In the steps where we have substituted in technology, we've done it because they have to be correct to the micro-millimeter. The smallest parts we produce are smaller than a human hair. So there, we use modern technology. In this sense, every watch combines tradition with modernity.
Time for a trip into nature. I've got a date with an Instagrammer who wants to show me a beautiful valley nearby. This is the Schwarzwassertal, or Black Water Valley, belonging to the Black Pockau mountain stream. The nature reserve
is about 75 kilometers south west of Glashütte, and is considered to be one of the most lovely stretches of nature in this region. I'm here thanks to Mandy Rosenfeld. She comes from near Chemnitz and is a passionate landscape photographer with more than 200,000 followers on Instagram. She loves the mountains, travelling and also sharing photos of Saxony's most stunning spots, She has been active on Instagram for almost five years. Why did you choose to show me the Black Water Valley? Well, first it has to do with my roots. It's in the Ore Mountains, where I live. And then the valley is just so picturesque, with
the rocks and the water it's just like a dream. It was her grandfather who got her interested in photography when she was still a child. For Mandy, it's the perfect hobby for unwinding. – This is the spot I wanted to show you. – Up there? – Exactly, that's the Nuns Rock! The Nuns Rock is over 60 meters high. Mandy explains how
to best take a picture of something that large. Here, the motif we're interested in, the Nun's Rock, is in the background. And click! – Ok there it is. – Exactly. Now tap the screen. You can change the settings so that the clouds form a good contrast. Make sure you don't chop off the trees halfway. Yes, that's great! The wild and romantic Black Water Valley offers countless beautiful motifs. It's also great for experimenting with photography techniques.
– This is a good spot for long exposure photos. – Even with a phone? – Of course. – Ah! I had no idea! – Exactly, just tap here. – I'm learning so much from you! With a longer exposure the river looks even more romantic! Mandy didn't expect her photos to receive so much attention online. She is always on the lookout for new beautiful scenery. Camera up! Next, I drive back to the Eastern Ore Mountains.
To a town, where mining left a prominent mark. This mining region gained its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site back in 2019. And here in Altenberg is where I can learn more about its history. There are 22 areas within this World Heritage Site. Five are in the Czech Republic. All around you find former forges, head frames and pits, which point
to the area's 800 years of mining history. Mining brought wealth to the Ore Mountain region, especially silver, tin, cobalt and uranium mining. The mining of tin carved out an impressive scenery in Altenberg. These enormous sinkholes, measuring more than 400 meters across, were formed by a dangerous accident. Christoph Schröder from the Mining Museum explains how it happened.
This is the Altenberg sinkhole. An enormous volume of natural rock was mined here because there were, among other minerals, substantial tin deposits in Altenberg. The mining left the mountain full of holes. Eventually, it couldn't hold anymore, and in 1620 it collapsed. That's how this giant hole came into existance. – Is it still dangerous? – Yes, absolutely. Wer'e standing on the only safe spot. If you look around at the edges, you can see evidence of recent landslips. We are always noticing changes happening here. That's why you're
not allowed to go down into the hole. – But we are safe here? – Up here, yes. After being able to gaze far into the distance, something completely different awaits me.
I'm about to go 70 meters underground. But I reckon I need the right gear for that first. Together with Christoph Schröder, I am exploring the Visitors Mine Zinnwald. Down here the temperature is just 8 to 10 degrees Celsius, regardless of the time of year. How big is this mine? We have a circular route for visitors, which is just over two and a half kilometers. So you can spend one and a half to two hours visiting the depths of the tin mine, 70 meters below ground. You get to see many places the
miners hollowed out in backbreaking work. Many of the passages are far from spacious and there are dozens of paths branching off. What must it have been like to work underground for such long hours? Here we see actual signs of the work of the miners. This rock was broken into more than 300 years ago which is when the miners first started here. This was just one mountain, so solid rock. The miners had to tunnel their way in to search for tin. Now and again we come through large, cave-like spaces, called cavities.
And then we pass something else: the underground border to the Czech Republic. The Saxons weren't the only ones who mined in this area; the Bohemians also extracted tin here for centuries. It's a bit scary down here. On the German side, mining activities stopped in 1945.
There's a chance mining could return here as there are still lithium deposits. Those were of less interest before. But today there is a high demand to manufacture lithium batteries and also for electric vehicles.
That would be cool! Time to find our way out of this labyrinth. I'm thankful to have my guide! Daylight! Finally! – Thanks, Christoph! And Glück auf! – Glück auf! Of course, mining is just the first step. To find out what happened with the tin after, I go to the Altenberg Mining Museum.
Andreas Fromm worked as a miner for ten years. He shows me the historical machines, including a sort-of tin stomping machine, called a Zinnpochwäsche. Could you explain what a Zinnpochwäsche is? Sure, many visitors ask me that. This is the rock, which has already been broken up. This machine then breaks it down even further into sand, which is what you want.
It crushes chunks of any size, or at least any that aren't too big, and turns them into sand. The whole thing stands in water, and underneath the parts move and stomp to make particles that are small enough for the next processing step. And this was a specialty of this region, right? Yes, this process was first tried in Altenberg in the sixteenth century.
It worked very well, and the technique spread worldwide. Wow! This Zinnpochwäsche is one of a kind in Europe and one of the most valuable technological cultural artefacts in the Ore Mountains. In Altenberg, there is another head frame worth visiting, at the Arno-Lippmann-Schacht. It was built in the GDR era and was in use until 1991, when mining ceased here. Whether above or below ground, there are many interesting things to see here in this mining region. Next, I make my way to another, very different former mining town: Freiberg! It was here that silver was found in 1168.
The discovery launched mining in the whole region. Freiberg calls itself the Silver City. This is of course due to centuries of silver mining. But the town is also a real jewel here in Saxony. Freiberg's landmark is the Cathedral of St Mary. The evangelical church has an unusually ornate interior, which is over 500 years old. It's particularly well known for the tulip pulpit.
Behind the altar are burial places where 38 members of the Saxon duchy family are interred. The style is very Italian and that's unique here in Saxony! At the southern entrance to the cathedral stands the Golden Arc. Made from sandstone, it's almost 800 years old. There's a copy of this Golden Arc at Harvard University in the US! Further copies are located in art museums in Russia and in Hungary. The cathedral is also famous for its organ. It was built by Gottfried Silbermann in 1714, and is one of the most valuable baroque organs in Europe. Almost all of its parts are still the originals.
You can recognize a Silbermann organ by its sound. On the one hand, this is due to Gottfried Silbermann paying close attention to the wood used. But also on only good quality metal and tin being used. That's why these instruments are still in such good condition three hundred
years later. These are so-called registers, which have different timbres. I've pulled several out. This one here has a powerful sound. – Woah it's loud! – Yes, it has a lot of resonance. What's special about this organ are also the reed stops with small vibrating metal leaves. These are the trumpets.
Completely different. Yes, and Silbermann also created very lovely flute sounds. Like this one. There are many more timbres so you can put create lovely combinations to play your piece. Clemens Lucke has chosen to play a piece by – who else – Johann Sebastian Bach called "In dir ist Freude". In front of the cathedral, I meet Jumana Amiruddeen from Sri Lanka.
She's been studying at the Technical University of Bergakademie Freiberg, the oldest mining sciences university in the world. Since 2020, she's been doing her MBA in the Faculty of Economics. Almost 40 percent of the students here are international students. And was that what originally brought you to Germany? Had you been here before? I have been, I have visited Germany before because back in Sri Lanka I'm part of the family business, it's a one hundred and twenty year old family business in Ceylon Tea export. – Oh, very nice. – Yeah, my great grandfather, he was the first to export tea out of the British monopoly. – That's so cool! And so coming to Germany, I think where it's a place of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, where else better to study? And how did you find it when you first came over here, the city but also the studying? Yeah. My first impression I was walking down the street and I was like, 'Wow, there's so
many beautiful things to see.' The architecture. It's cute. It's cozy. It has a homely feeling for me, and I was able to make some really great friends. But your family must miss you as well if you're all the way over here? Yeah, never mind them. I miss them so much. I think this is like one of the longest periods I've gone without, without seeing them.
But your family supports you being here. Yeah, I think that's a huge plus point towards knowing that you have that support. You know, that kind of keeps you going through the rough times. I have to say a little cheesy line
though. I think Freiberg being the Silver City of Germany and so during these dark, cloudy COVID times, Freiberg has been the silver lining, for me at least. Jumana takes me to see something very special to her. I was just walking around one day and we came across this sign and I was like, Goethe, that seems super familiar. And it says:
"Goethe besuchte hier." – So he came to visit. And he came to visit here, and I was like: Wow, that's so great because I as do so many others have experience by doing studying German at the Goethe Institute and I studied at the Goethe institute in Sri Lanka. That's where I did my A1. And then the guy, the man himself! Exactly! I mean, he only visited for two days, but it holds a special part in my heart, yeah! And Jumana touched my heart! Now it's time for a special concert. The Bergmusikkorps Saxonia Freiberg are about to give a performance up above the rooftops. Usually, up to 40 amateur musicians come together to play, but today, they are just three.
Hallo! Hi. I heard you're playing a concert up there! What will you play? We're going to play Steiger. Steiger is a traditional Freiberg anthem and is the mining anthem here. – Can't wait! – It's worth it! Up they go, in to the Petri Tower. So, it's about to start. What a great ending to my time here in the Ore Mountains. Glück auf! That's Good luck! Remember?