… the rescued soul to heaven springs
How convenient this would be – six ducats for profligate marital life, eight for murder, and despite all depravities the soul still rises to heaven’s gate. Today the Tetzelhaus commemorates Johannes Tetzel, the son of a carter, clever Dominican monk and adversary of Martin Luther. He caused Luther to pen the 95 theses he posted on the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg because Tetzel with his promises of indulgence drew the members of Luther’s parish from Wittenberg to Jüterbog.
The reformer stands today at the portal of the Church of our Lady in Pirna. The paintings in the vaults are said to be based on illustrations of the passional that was first translated by Luther. Wall paintings dating back to the time the church was built reportedly ridiculed Tetzel and his trade in indulgence; they were removed in the course of renovation work in 1708 and have not been documented. A splendid culmination of late Gothic vaulted ceilings are the reticulated, stellar and fish bladder vaults, ornamental ribs and loops. On the pulpit dated to 1520 Mary cradles the infant Jesus.
„A painter shall not only paint what he sees in front of him but also what he sees inside of him”
This sentence by Caspar David Friedrich went down in art history. Surprisingly the romantic artists found their ideal landscapes in reality during their rambles across Saxon Switzerland; the bizarre shapes of the rock formations fulfilled all their needs. Their drawings and paintings are filled with allegories: ruins as symbols for the return to antiquity, the river as the stream of life, rocky gates as points of transition into another existence, precipices ….
In 1813 Caspar David Friedrich, in his disgust and despair about the misery caused by the war of liberation, took refuge in Krippen for months. Nearby, opposite the Zirkelstein, the first sketches for one of his most famous works, “Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer” (Wanderer above the Sea of Fog) were created.
A rustling at night
Even though these tiny animals at night take their share of the chocolates, cheese and other food the mountaineers carry with them when they spend the night at one of the “Boofen” (biwak spots) – hikers and mountaineers have taken the “Bilche” (dormouse; Gliridae) to their hearts; they also are the mascots of the national park.
The shy, nocturnal rodents hibernate during the winter half year and are only active during the warmer season, that is why they are called “dormouse” though they are not related to mice. In summer they build up their fat reserves and develop an almost spherical body shape. The spread of dormice in Saxon Switzerland is a zoological peculiarity since there are fat dormice, garden dormice and hazel dormice living side by side. Especially for the garden dormouse, a typical rock- and cave-dweller, the national parc with its sheltered rocks and forests offers an ideal habitat.
Every year at winter solstice the mountaineers choir “Kurt Schlosser” sings at the fairground in Kleinhennersdorf. And yes, the choir – founded in 1927, renamed in 1949 and probably well known to those who grew up in the GDR – still exists today.
Besides working as a carpenter Kurt Schlosser was head of the singing department of the United Mountaineering Department that later became the Saxon Mountaineers Choir. During the Nazi rule he was part of the illegal resistance; in order to distract his pursuers he became a member of the German-Austrian Alpine Association in 1937 and built a mountain shelter above the Zahnsgrund in Saxon Switzerland that until 1995 was named after him. In 1944 he was sentenced to death for high treason and was killed in Dresden. A “Stolperstein” (stumbling block) in front of his carpenter’s workshop in Leipziger Strasse 72 commemorates the courageous singer.
Waiting for spring
The valley of the river Polenz is more than just a picturesque river valley; on more than 130000 m2 it has one of the largest occurrences of wild spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum). First noted in 1821 the natural spectacle had become a tourist attraction around 1900. Between 1990 and 1993 the Landesverein Sächischer Heimatschutz (Saxon Society for Homeland Preservation) bought up almost all snowflake meadows and takes care of their preservation and maintainance. Once a year after the seeds have ripened the meadows are mowed using a traditional, not too heavy machine. Snowflakes need moist soil, therefore efforts are made to reinstall the traditional moats used by earlier farmers.
If you do not want to miss the blooming period check the online snowflower diary run by the city council of Stolpen.
Buy it, buy it!!
„All genuine … only twelve Euro!” this is how the vendor offers an “original branded watch”. The mostly Vietnamese vendors at the Czech border crossing Hrensko offer whatever the – German – clients want, including garden gnomes and plaster figures. Since more than 25 years the markets along the border have an almost magical appeal for their German customers. If the Adidas shirt loses its colour after a short time, who cares! Recent controls in November 2019 of the markets at Petrovice and Hrensko discovered fake branded products worth almost 100 000 Euro.
From the Elbe valley the small yellow pleasure palace of Augustus the Strong can be seen at the outer walls of the Fortress Königstein – here the king joined the ladies to enjoy not only the view. A huge attraction inside the pavilion known as Friedrichsburg is a mechanical table Augustus caused to be built, motivated by the spirit of Baroque. By command of the king the empty table disappeared in the floor and soon after reappeared – for all the world to see – abundantly set. The table was actually layed in the kitchen on ground floor and a hoisting apparatus raised it to the banquet room on the first floor. 24 persons can sit around the table.
Praise the Lord
Until today the “Huschen”, iron sliding carriages used to transport the sandstone blocks down to the barges on the river Elbe, and the terraced working areas bear witness to past activities in the numerous quarries. For centuries sandstone from the banks of the river Elbe was an important building material for churches and public buildings in the entire region. The heyday of quarrying was during the Baroque era. The location of Dresden made it possible to build the Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) using stone from the immediate vicinity of the city; the material used to rebuild it also came from quarries near Pirna. In total 28 000 m3 of sandstone were used in the restauration work; this includes more than 4000 blocks from the original building before its destruction in 1945 that were reused.
The smallest climbing rock in the world
The first ascent of the sandstone boulder that crashed onto the Kirnitzschtalstraße in 2014 was a spectacular event. For one day the 50 tons of stone added another peak to the mountainscape before they were smashed with heavy machines. Due to its short existance the rock was called “Eintagsfliege” (Ephemera). the 32,7 metre high rock was conquered by the members of the mountaineering club Buschmühleover night; the took the most difficult, challenging route which they named “HO-Pico-Kante” and was crowned with a summit log that each of the summiteers signed. The cartographer Böhm, one of the most prolific producer of maps of Saxon Switzerland, eternalised their climbing routes during the same night in a map.
A strange surveying mistake
The German count of river kilometers officially starts at the border between Saxony and Bohemia at Gelobtbachbrücke near Schöna on the left bank of the river Elbe. The German kilometer 0 is identical with the Czech kilometer 105,81. Czech and German kilometers run parallel for 3,43 kilometers since the border runs in the middle of the river; the Czech river kilometers continue to the border crossing at Schmilka/Hřensko. After 121 of the German river kilometers a strange surveying error occured in 1880 because the kingdoms of Prussia and Saxony had measured the river each on its own and at the border of these two territories it suddenly became obvious that there was a redundant kilometer. The pragmatic solution was to introduce a kilometer 121a that follows the regular kilometer 121. The unconventional addition exists to this very day.
In 1813 the area between Lilienstein and Hohnstein became the focus of world history. Some traces of the events – such as the strategically important connection established by Napoleon between Stolpen and the Elbe valley near Hohnstein, the so-called Napoleon or emperor’s road – are still clearly visible in the landscape. The poplar alley at the foot of the Lilienstein mountain leads from Hohnstein along the “Ziegenrücken” (goat’s back) through Waltersdorf to Ebenheit; from here it runs down to the crossing of the river Elbe between Halbestadt and Königstein.
After the defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Kulm in Bohemian Switzerland military activities soon shifted to the region around Leipzig where they culminated in the Battle of the Nations.
Once a Native American – always a Native American
In 1966 the first DEFA movie featuring a story about Native Americans, “Die Söhne der großen Bärin” (The sons of the big she-bear) came to movie theatres in the GDR. “The village of the American Indians is no camping site” complained Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich, the author of the book that provide the plot for the movie, about a scene filmed in the Polenz valley. The bland Missouri did not please her, as well, not to speak of the blue eyes of the medicine man. But Gojko Mitic who played the role of chief Tokahito became an iconic figure for the many fans of American Indians in the GDR – just like his West German counterpart Pierre Brice. Mitic who was a former Sports student did most of his stunts himself: be it daredevil acrobatics on horseback, archery with burning arrows or intensive fighting scenes.
“The bastion is most beautiful but you have to get up there first!” (Adrian Zingg)
Saxon Switzerland is one of the hiking areas provided with the best signposts; it is therefore almost impossible to lose the way. When people became interested in the beauties of nature in the second half of the 18th century and the first ramblers started to wander around they still had to rely on their own ability to find their way – unless they hired a tour guide. These guides were afraid to lose their income when in 1830 the first stone signposts were erected along the so-called “Fremdenweg” (foreigners’ path). Those visitors who wanted to enjoy nature without exhausting themselves hired sedan chair carriers or mounts.
A source of inspiration
The composer Richard Wagner drew inspiration from it, Carl Maria von Weber used the Teufelsschlucht (devil’s gorge) as scenery of his opera „Der Freischütz“. And even earlier, in the 18th century, Carl Gottlieb Hering who was born in Schandau in 1766 composed popular tunes for children. The teacher, organist and composer provided the melodies for popular childrens’ rhymes like „Hopp, hopp, hopp, Pferdchen lauf’ Galopp“ (Hop, hop, hop; gallopp little horse) and „Morgen Kinder wird’s ‘was geben“ (Tomorrow, children, something will be given) as well as the famous Coffee Canon „C-A-F-F-E-E trink’ nicht zuviel Kaffee“ (C-O-F-F-E-E don’t drink too much coffee). A plaque on the house in Poststrasse 3 in Bad Schandau commemorates the musician.
Todays rocking horse can be found in the local museum in Hinterhemsdorf. Near the museum stands the village church. The angels inside the church provided its name – Engelskirche (church of the angels)- and adorn the right side of the calendar.
Some people belived it to be a dragon. A farmer reportedly burst out „My lord, you people, prostrate yourself. Our heavenly father is coming!“ But what had appeared in the sky was not an extraterrestial apparition but the aeronautical pioneer Wilhelmine Reichard. She had often traveled in a hot air balloon but in 1812 she lost her way, the balloon rose to 7800 m and ripped. Its car with the unconscious woman crashed into a spruce at the Wachberg in Saxon Switzerland.
Wilhelmine Reichard survived the crash landing without major injuries. Ten years later she again floated in the air – as one of the attractions at the tenth Oktoberfest in Munich.
With two engraves swords and the symbol of Augustus the Strong an obelisque on the Lilienstein commemorates the ascent by the king in 1708.
A visit to the geologist
It makes a difference whether you are just hiking or actually climbing the mountains on a rope, not only with regard to the effort it takes but also in terms of the geological terrain you are covering. The rocks rise steeply in the landscape and determine character and name of this small range. Roughly 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous, the sediments forming the sandstone sank down to the ground of the sea. The mountains with their rounded tops do not consist of that sandstone but, on the contrary, of basalt originating from the Tertiary about 60 – 20 million years ago. As a consequence of the folding of the Alps the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) rose while at the same time south of the range the Eger valley graben developed. The intensive vulcanic activities in the area is also noticeable in the weak zones of nearby Elbsandsteingebirge (Saxon Sandstone Mountains).
Crossing the Wolfsschlucht (wolve’s gorge) one reaches the impressive outlook on the Hockstein. During the middle ages a castle was situated on this outcrop. Its garrison must have been terribly bored since they whiled away time playing nine men’s morris. They marked out the board on the rock, its lines are still visible today.
The ages of nine men’s morris is unknown; the oldest plan for this game was discovered on a roof tile from the ancient Egyptian temple at Kurna and dates to around 1400 BCE. Later the Romans traced the plan into the stone pavement of public places. It even can be found in Aix-en-chapelle; in the palatinate chapel it is engraved into the marble slabs of the throne which were brought from Jerusalem.
Tri tra trallala
in the small Museum of Puppet Theatre in Hohnstein an interval sign hangs from the neck of the devil. Since 1928 Kasper (Punch), Grandma and many other characters have every evening drawn viewers to the theatres, Kasper always at the head – not dispensing thrashings with the frying pan but solving problems with sublime wit. For this the Hohnsteiner puppeteers received a gold medal at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. Give it up for Kasper!
Cheating in the wings
The page boy in the Oscar-winning movie guides his guests to the entrance of Grand Hotel Budapest in a freestanding elevator. In reality the 50 meter high electric device transports visitors to the Ostritzer Scheibe (Ostritz disc) with its spectacular panorama. The arrival would have been even more exceptional if the investor and sponsor Rudolf Sendig had not only set up his „lovely cottages“ – prefabricated houses built by the company Witt in Osterwieck/Harz – but had succeded in building the planned „world sports ground“ with attached airship port. The project failed due to the devastations of World War I. The art nouveau railing of the elevator is particularly beautiful.
Across the Kirnitzsch valley
„The journey from Schandau to the waterfall should have taken 32 minutes; it was, however, prolonged by several derailments which were born in good humour.“
Thus reports the newsletter of the mountaineers society in 1898 about the opening of the railway from Bad Schandau to Lichtenhain waterfall across the Kirnitzsch valley. The plan to extend the rails to the border between Saxony and Bohemia was frustrated by the lack of funding. The railway was a success anyway – in the year of its opening it already transported 80 000 passengers across the romantic valley.
Oh sunny Wehlen, pearl of Switzerland …
The inhabitants of Wehlen made their living practicing several crafts and working in the quarries – and from inland water transport on the river Elbe. The coat of arms still commemorates these sources of income. In its centre it shows a yard-rigged sailing vessel ploughing the waves. The arched gateway of the former town hall cellar shows this coat of arms with a quatrain praising the city. Once you have passed the gateway the probably oldest house of the city stands immediately to your left.
It could have ended badly for the apothecaries assistant Böttger; with his shenanigans he was able to trick dukes and courtiers but the expected gold he was not able to make. To prevent Böttger’s flight Augustus the Strong incarcerated him in his fortress Königstein several times. In this difficult situation help came from Walther von Tschirnhaus – he diverted the desire of the notoriously cash-strapped king from gold to porcelain. The polymath at the court of Augustus had already spent years with experiments on how to produce the „white gold“ from China in Saxony. In order to achieve the high firing temperatures needed he used concave mirrors and consulted miners from the Freiberg school of mines. Today Böttger is known as the inventor of European porcelain but Walther von Tschirnhaus also had his – large – share in the development of the recipe for porcelain.
Red deer and wild boars can be found in the forests of Saxon Switzerland until today. Other large ungulates like wisent, aurochs and elk were wiped out already during the middle ages.
For red deer and roe the foresters distribute salt in the woods until today. The indispensable mineral is most often offered as a salt lick put up on a pole. Historical salt dispenseries can still be found dating back to the days when the hunting parties of the Elector roamed the woods; they are worked stones with indentations to hold a mixture of salt and clay. These historicla stones sometimes show dates or engraves electorial swords.