On an altar in the Mining Museum the Infant Jesus reaches out to the presents of the three Magi from the Orient. Besides gold and myrrh they also brought him frankincense.
Trees of the genus Boswellia produce the golden yellow grains of resin. The trees grow around the Horn of Africa, in Oman, Yemen and in India. Harvesting frankincense has been an activity of nomads for thousands of years. The stem and branches are scored several times. The white, sticky juice that leaks from the bark hardens in the sun and turns into solid resin. It is removed with a scraper shaped like a scoop.
Frankincense was used for many purposes already in the times of Ancient Egypt: not only in cultic practices but also for mumification and as an aromatic, disinfectant and anti-inflammatory daily incense. In antiquity the resin was a much desired commodity, it was worth its weight in gold and was traded along the so-called “Frankincense Road” to the entire known world. The sources of the resin were kept secret, all trade routes were continuously monitored.

Merry Christmas!



Striking the Right Balance

Pressed through pores and holes within the rock molten silver turns into spiral curls, due to amalgamation sometimes upto a centimeter thick. Such silver curls can be admired in mineral collections.
The precious metal was used not only for jewelry and for minting coins. In his cosmography the polymath Qazwini wrote in the 13th century: “It also helps against bad breath and is useful to cure scabies, mange and the blockage of urine. Furthermore it is an ingredient of the remedy against palpitations of the heart and is of extraordinary usefullness. In an ointment together with quicksilver it helps against haemorrhoids.”
Swallowed without restrictions silver can cause the loss of sense of taste and smell or cerebral spasms, not to mention irreversible slate grey discolourations of skin and mucosa. Yet the medical efficacy od silver can not be denied; its antibacterial properties are used today in salves and bandages. The therapeutial taking of colloidal silver that some internet pages promote probably belongs into the realm of urban myths.



Swan’s palace

“The undersigned sincerely requests the permission of the honourable magistrate to name the pavilion in the Cross Pond (Kreuzteich) ‘Swan’s Palace’ and asks for a prompt decision because the dishes shall be inscribed accordingly.” Fragments of this very first tableware do still exist and are on display in a glass show case in the dining area on ground floor.
I was intended as an exotic, Indian-style eyecatcher, but that did not work out. Instead, after a second attempt, in 1898 a permission was issued to set up a small pavilion as “Gondola and Ice-skating Station in the Cross Pond”; in addition it offered “hot drinks, beer in bottles as well as cognac and liqueurs”.
After a long period of decay after the war, the popular restaurant was closed in 1970 and subsequently demolished. In modern materials it has been rebuilt – true to its original appearance in almost every detail and as popular today as it was 100 years ago.



In me there are two souls, alas, …

What attracted him with all might was a high light blue flower that […] touched him with its wide, glossy petals.
Another famous personality of its times, Novalis, became student of the admired Professor Werner in 1797. Novalis’ unfinished novel “Heinrich von Ofterdingen” is a memorial for his professor. One of the essential symbols of Romanticism, the blue flower that represents the human yearning for something unattainable, eternal, has been first used in this novel.
Novalis, also known as Friedrich von Hardenberg, pursues geological explorations with the same vigour as his poetic endeavours. The discrepancies between exact scientific observation and poetic romanticisation are stunning. As saline assessor he describes in few mater-of-fact words the work process of shaping coal, the measurements of the worpiece, how hard this work is, how long the shifts are and how much wage is paid. The mining scientist in him is committed to technical improvement while the soul of the poet suffers from this objectivity and the constant need to progress.



State Visit

When Tsar Peter visited Freiberg in 1711 he was honoured with a miners parade of 2000 pitmen. They wore their festive costume, white stockings and breeches with black leather patches and miners tunics decorated with velvet, trimmings, tassels and silver buttons. On their heade they wore the traditional cylindrical miners hat in black and green. The “Barte”, a stylised axe they shouldered, is reminiscent of the times when tools were used as weapons to defend the mines against robbers and enimies. In addition the pitmen carried their pit lights and some of them also brought bugles, trumpets and kettledrums. The miners presented the Tsar with wooden troughs full of silver, minerals and precious rocks, “which the adorable nature has buried in Saxony’s blessed lap in abundance”.



Let there be light

The “Schwibbogen” that shows the two miners with hammer and pincers, the emblems of those toolmakers working for the mines, is exhibited in the Mining Museum besides the Cathedral. The toolmaker Teller gave it to the mine captain Friedrich as a Christmas present. Its name is derived from the Schwebebogen (lit. floating arch), a wide, flat, freestanding arch between two walls. The oldest example of this Christmas decoration dates back to 1740 and can be found in Johanngeorgenstadt. Its arched shape probably also reflects the impression created when the miners put their pit lights around the adit entrance on important holidays.




The famous scholar of mining, Georg Agricola, in his 1549 work on “Creatures Underground” (De animantibus subterraneis) took a zoological approach to “daemones”. He classifies them as either “unfriendly” or as “peaceful subterranean spirits”. Those of the first category provide a “wild and terrifying sight and are hostile toards miners”. In the mine at Annaberg one of these spirits is said to have killed 12 miners with his exhalation welling out of his throat. He was described as having a long neck and fierce eyes. “Spirits of this sort” are “harmful and wicked by nature”.
In the nave of a church there is no space for any spirit (except the Holy Ghost); therefore a door handle in the shape of a tiny dragon is attached to the outside of the golden portal of the cathedral. The dainty beast shall drive off spirits and demons and protect the cathedral from evil powers.



Stuffed and crispy brown

Whoever comes to Café Hartmann should try the Bauernhasen (lit. farmer’s rabbit). This famous speciality was traditionally eaten during lent but is served here year-round.
A legend from 13th century mentions cook named Bauer who during lent served a rabbit to margrave Frederick “with the bitten cheek” and to the chaplain of St. Mary – a sin and an violation of ll rules for lent. It turned out, however, that he did not offer a real rabbit, but a piece of pastry shaped like a rabbit – the Bauerhase that until today bears the cook’s name.
The Freiberger Eierschecke is unusual, too and certainly not what you would imagine. When one of its major ingredients, curd cheese, was needed to repair the city walls, this was reflected by the contents of the cake – it had lot of sweet raisins in it as replacement. This particular Eierschecke is actually only found in Freiberg. Enjoy it!



A Brief Introduction to Heraldry

Above the entrance of the main building of the Mining Academy in Akademiestrasse 6 the coat of arms of the Elector of Saxony has been chiseled into the sandstone. You will have to use your imagination to add the colours. The coat of arms shows horizontal black and golden bars – there have to be nine – and the arching crancelin of the undifferenced coat of arms of the House of Ascania. Two red electorial swords in the other half are usually depicted on a black-and-white background; they are the swords that mark the famous Meissen porcelain. The Saxon elector held the office of Archimarescallus, an important honour within the electorial college that had the privilege to elect the German king, who traditionally claimed the right to be crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the pope.
The elector’s hat – similar in shape to the traditional ducal hat – is a sign of this privilege. It is lined with purple velvet and has a trimming of precious ermine fur and can be depicted as the coronet above or as a charge on the shield of a coat of arms.



Weaving and plaiting

Its place of origin is the western part of the Erzgebirge (ore mountains). In Freiberg it is taught by the adult education centre – bobbin lace-making.
Bobbin laces were developed as a means to create a solid but decorative edging for garment hems. By varying and combining simple pleating techniquesthe loose fringe was turned into an ornamentation of rich people’s clothes. The idea to produce this plaitwork independantly and sew it on afterwards probably simplified production processes and the first bobbin lace was created – the so-called plaited lace. From Italy the technique was transmitted to Spain or the Spanish Netherlands and afterwards to France. But the earliest bobbin laces from the Erzgebirge can also be dated back to the 16th century. Barbara Uthmann, the widow of an entrepreneur from Annaberg dealing in iron and coal, is said to have played a major part in the promotion of bobbin lace making in a putting-out system. She reportedly solicited orders for up to 900 lace makers.



Like fire and water

The honourable Abraham Gottlob Werner believed that water produced all types of minerals and rocks and was tha main factor in shaping the surface of the earth; he was the first neptunist. His student, Alexander von Humboldt suspects that an enormous fiery force within the earth has shaped its surface with the high mountain ranges and was a follower of the plutonists. It is the dispute with the neptunists that even makes it into Goethe’s Faust Part two.
Humboldt climbes Mount Chimborazo – in his times believed to be the highest mountain on earth – on 23rd June 1802. Although the ill-equipped explorers who in addition suffered from altitude sickness had to give up shortly before reaching the summit, Humboldt had discovered evidence for his fire theory.
Humboldt lived in 2, Weingasse; on 14th June 1791 he is registered as student no. 357 at the mining academy.



Petrology – the philosopher’s stone

The smallest mine in the world is located close to Meissen. Every day two miners hoist the kaoline for the famous White Gold. Its discovery is ascribed to Böttger – a byproduct of his alchemical activities. He was searching for the philosopher’s stone, or, rather more pragmatic, gold for Augustus the Strong who was notoriously short of money. How large Böttger’s share in the invention of porcelain actually was, can be disputed as he had help from the polymath Walter von Tschirnhaus and the mining specialists of Freiberg. It was probably for this reason that the Baroque master sculptor Kaendler designed the model for a group of miners from Freiberg to be cast in the fine white porcelain. Today this group is on display in the Mining Museum (Bergbaumuseum) in the lower market (Untermarkt). And in the upper market (Obermarkt) the porcelain bells of the carillon are heard….”Glück auf, der Steiger kommt”.



“Honour” killing

On 4th December, the day of Saint Barbara, miners kindle lights in the pit. The intercession of the saint shall protect them from bad luck and death in the mine shafts. In special ceremonies the miner commemorate their comrades who were killed in accidents.
Her own father hat locked Barbara up in a tower to prevent her from following the Christian faith. But Barbara was secretly baptised and her father decided to kill her. On her flight Barbara came to a steep slope. Utterly exhausted she prayed to the Lord for help and actually found a deep crevice that provided shelter until a herdsmen finally betrayed her.
Her refuge deep in the montain destined her to become the patron saint of all miners. In images the tower that served as prison is always besides her.



Curls and steps

In 1880, at the age of 26, the hairdresser Franz Ströher from Oberwiesenthal founded his company. Its products were soon found in every hairdresser’s shop. An invention from 1900, a waterproof hair tulle – a kind of whig – was the first moneymaker for the emerging brand Wella. Erika, the founder’ granddaughter, was less enthusiastic about hair – she became a passionat collector of minerals and gathered more than 90 000 crystal samples. She gave her collection amassed over six decades to the city of Freiberg on permanent loan; it is on display at Freundenstein Castle.
Erika Pohl-Ströter, who died in 2016, was among the most important patrons in contemporary Germany.



Waiting for Paradise

The tall windows shed light on the sculptures of the prudent virgins. They prepared with lamp oil for the time they spent waiting for Christ. Their fatuous sisters hat to bear the darkness.
The rise of light is perfectly staged in the Cathedral of St Mary. Above it curves an entire heavenly meadow. The Gothic ribbed vault is a heavenly garden, the paradise. The star-shaped cap stones sparkle and the central circular oculus, embedded into a blue cloud, opened towards heaven. Sculptures of Christ or of Mary were pulled up though this hole in the centre of the vault – a liturgically staged ascension.



A bright spirit

Only a name, nothing more is mentioned in Goethe’s diary. Lampadius. Today a memorial plaque and a lamp commemorate the man and his invention.
Be it fertiliser, the processing of cocoa beans, paints for buildings, bituminous roofing felt, sugar from beet or his “Letters on chemistry for ladies of learning and domesticity” … The research of this polymath who was appointed as professor to the mining academy in 1794 when he was only 22 years old was never without an immediate practical usage.
In 1811 Lampadius installed a small distillation unit to produce coal gas from hard coal that he feed into a thermolamp. At the window of his house in Fischergasse (Fisherman’s lane) he lighted the very first gas lantern on the European continent.



Exoticism at the Upper Market

Bear and deer were probably not deemed suitable as an eyecatcher so the “Privilegierte Apotheke” (privileged pharmacy” at the Upper Market had the image of something more outlandish painted above the entrance and was since called “Black Elephant” (Zum schwarzen Elefanten).
Many of the goods that were trade in pharmacies like this came from distant shores: Pepper, ginger, nutmeg, safron and cloves, cinnamon and brazilwood gum arabic, wax, gypsum, soap almonds, figs and grapes [s.u.]. The first pharmacies as we know them today in Germany were probably founded around the late 13th centuryin larger cities that were on the rise. They normally were located near the city hall; from there the magistrate kept them under close scrutiny.




Hans Christian Andersen and Jules Verne, the Russian Czar, Ludwig II King of Bavaria, they all visited the Paris world exhibition in 1867. A major attraction was an ingot of the recently discovered heavy metal Indium weighing 500 grams. What nobody knew, this ingot dyed indigoblue was a fake made from lead. The real indium was carried around by its discoverer Hieronimus Theodor Richter, a professor specialising in the analysis of minerals using a blowpipe at the Mining Academy in Freiberg, tucked into the leg of his boot. He only showed it to his specialist colleagues in private.

A flash of inspiration in his sleep (probably preceeded by a god amount of consideration) is said to have helped the Russian scientist Mendelejew in 1869 to create his periodic table of the elements. Indium, the element with the exotic name, fitted into this system perfectly, while another of the gaps in the system was filled when in 1886 the professor of analytical chemistry in Freiberg, Clemens Winkler, discovered the element germanium. It matched exactly the predictions of Mendelejew about the properties of the missing substance.
A bronze plaque in Castle Square shows the atomic structure of these two elements discovered in Freiberg.



A concert of pipes

His name that refers to a precious metal is well known in the Erzgebirge. Gottfried Silbermann was 27 years old when he built his first organ in Freiberg. The material that ensured its unique sound was provided by the local mines – high-quality tin. In the course of the Protestant Reformation singing together during the church service became more and more important and the need for pipe organs grew accordingly. Silbermann who was born in Kleinbobritsch near Frauenstein built 45 of them, including two organs for the cathedral in Freiberg.
The exhibition in the workshop of the organ builder, the Silbermannhaus, contains a model by Kristian Wegscheider that provides deep insights into the functionality and building principles of the Silbermann organs; the visitor can even try his hand at playing it.



Beastly adversity

If they were completely out of luck miners had to pull the tram, the heavy cart loaded with ore or mine waste. Only those whose work was insufficient were forced to drag and push these carts – called “Hunte” or “Hunde” – on wooden rails through the narrow galleries. Yet this was a considerable improvement compared to the baskets, troughs and handcarts used until the 16th century. Maybe the “Hunte” even was a precursor of the railroads.Why these carts were named “Hunt” or “Hund” (dog) is not clear. The great Renaissance scholar Georg Agricola writes that these vehicles make a sound like barking dogs when pushed along the rails by the miners – particularly in curves. The term “Hunte” may even be referred to by the German saying “vor die Hunde gehen” (“to go to the dogs”).




Well, he only became a true master much later, but Carl Maria von Weber composed his first opera “The silent forest maiden” (Das stumme Waldmädchen) in Freiberg at the tender age of 14. The work even made it to the stage in the local theatre.
Until 1790 the theatre was situated in the city store. Before this building had to be closed due to fire hazards it saw many shows and recitals. Even one of the earliest theatre companies, that of actress Friederike Caroline Neuber, performed here.
The “real” theatre was build due to the enthusiasm of master cutler Engler. With the earnings from his powder mill he paid for the conversion of the house at the Buttermarkt and sold the new theatre facilities one year later to the city. So the oldest city theatre in the world since 1790 is located in Freiberg.



Father of stones

“He presented his teachings with such skill that his audience was steeped in enthusiasm.” (D‘Aubuisson)
In the Freiberg municipal park four dwarf-like miners carry the bust of a true “heavy weight” of science on their shoulders – the portrait of Abraham Gottlob Werner. When the dead body of this “pioneer of modern mineralogy” was brought back to Freiberg from Dresden in 1817 and the funeral procession reached the “Grube Himmelfahrt” (Ascension mine), all the church bells rang and a choral sounded from the tower of the Petrikirche.
Geology, mineralogy, petrology: Werner organised this branch of natural sciences into independent specialist disciplines. The signatures he developed for Saxon rocks were adopted by geologists in all countries and are essentially used until today.



A headless knight

A head with a golden helmet and a bodkin beard peeps down from the tower to a black spot on the upper market. The figure is said to represent Konrad von Kauffungen, a Saxon knight, and the black spot is where his head fell after his decapitation. With some accomplices he abducted two Saxon princes, but was captured and punished. The two princes, Ernst and Albrecht, grew up and ruled together over Saxony until they divided their territory; the areas assigned to Albrecht included the region around Meissen.
One of Albrechts descendants is Frederick Augustus I, better known as Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. His corpse was buried in several parts, too – besides the traditional burial place of his family dynasty, the House of Wettin, in Freiberg, also in Krakow, Warsaw and Dresden.