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At 914 meters, Oberwiesenthal is Germany's highest city. It's not located in the Alps to the South, but instead, to the East in the state of Saxony. There, visitors will discover plenty of ski areas.
Oberwiesenthal is accessible by car or by mountain railway, with the 17-kilometer (over 10-mile) train ride from Cranzahl encompassing a 238-meter rise in altitude. During the trip, one crosses six bridges and the imposing, 110-meter-long Hüttenbach viaduct.
The Fichtel Mountain Railway was built during the 19th century, when the last of the mountains' rich ore was being mined. Mountain skiing was taking off as a sport during that time, with a Norwegian engineer employed at the railway teaching the Oberwiesenthal's young people how to ski.
From Norway to Germany
A ski club was established in 1906 and by 1911 the German Ski Championships were taking place there. Germany's very first aerial tramway was opened on the 1,214-meter Fichtel Mountain in 1924. The Skiing and Local History Museum, which depicts the history of skiing in the state of Saxony, has been open to the public since 1983.
Jens Weissflog is one of the region's most famous sons
During GDR times, Oberwiesenthal was considered a bastion of skiing talent. Winter sports athletes from the Erz Mountains won 30 gold medals and 57 world championships. Ulrich Wehling, a three-time Olympic and world champ in the Nordic combined segment, and Jens Weissflog, a three-time Olympic and two-time world champ in ski jumping, are perhaps the most famous.
A change of pace
State-run tourism in GDR times boomed. As snow was certain in the winter and the sun always shone during the summer, the resort area was booked solid for decades. Even before, the area had come to be known as "Saxony's St. Moritz."
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Oberwiesenthal took a dive in popularity, being viewed as boring and staid. It, like all of the vacation spots and regions in the former GDR states, had to establish itself on the new tourism market.
Something for everyone
Nowadays, many of the vacation getaways and resorts have been revamped and modernized, with many more B & B rooms, holiday apartments and homes on offer. The spa town now has 3,500 residents, and the same number of hotel beds. The number of overnight stays has grown to a half million each season.
Visit Oberwiesenthal if you're into winter sports
Those who love winter and ski vacations can choose between two chairlifts and five tow lifts, 10 prepared ski runs (including one with flood lights), and 100 kilometers of cross-country ski trails. Some 120 snow-making machines ensure that skiing is possible from Christmas to Easter time. Biathlon and snowboarding competitions take place here, as well as dog-sledding races and the legendary ski events over Mardi Gras weekend.
The Erz Mountain region, where Oberwiesenthal is located, is also known as Germany's "Christmas land." Visitors, however, can buy the famous angel lights, nutcrackers and pitmen carved from wood in specialty workshops and stores throughout the year. There, they can often watch the toy makers and wood-carvers at work.
Author: Gerd Schmitz / als
Editor: Kate Bowen