Moria of Germany: Freiberg, culture and identity


By Ledio Karaj,
a researcher on History and medieval art, living in Albania
and Ahmet Özgür Çinar,
a cultural heritage conservator from Turkey living in Germany

Have you seen “The Lord of the Rings”? Oh wait, of course you have. Let us rephrase it a little bit. Do you remember the Mines of Moria in “The Lord of the Rings”? The dwarves used these mines, which also served as their homes and affected the Dwarves’ Culture. Yes, of course you remember. Here, in our short story , we are going to show you a town that always reminds us about the dwarves of LoTR and the Mines of Moria.

Surprisingly, sometimes fantasy meets reality, which is the case with the city we are going to explore. Freiberg – a small mining town in the Saxony region of Germany is a nice city with rich history and heritage related to it. The city’s historic center was placed under heritage conservation, after the whole landscape known as the “Ore Mountain Mining Region” located in Germany and partly in Czech Republic has become part of the UNESCO World Heritage. From the 12th century and up until 1969, the town has been dominated by the mining and smelting industries, which makes a period of roughly 800 years.

“Once you become a miner, you are a miner forever.” This proverb found its meaning here. Even though there are no active mines in the city, you can still see signs related to this industry and the town’s mining history everywhere. In 800 years, mining has become the main identity of Freiberg and its people. You can find these signs everywhere: on train stations, facades of houses, government buildings, around Christmas markets, at restaurants. Everywhere. This identity now manifests itself through heritage sites. People take good care of their heritage and feel proud showing it to us. Their job became their identity, their identity became heritage and their heritage is now shaping the character of the town.

Freiberg is one of the best cities in Germany serving as a real example of how heritage can shape a town’s image and, surely, its people. This is a place where visitors can learn about the daily life of locals and their unique culture. We are going to explore these heritage landscapes and sites. Our exploration through the town is like a tour around the Mines of Moria in “The Lord of the Rings” but of course, we have not found any balrogs yet (Note: Balrogs are fictional creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium.)

The old town of Freiberg appears in front of the visitors’ eyes as a true oasis of beauty for a miner-inhabited city.  The traditional Christmas market gives us a clear understanding of how closely is the city’s culture and historical identity connected with its residents. In the other side of old town, stands one of the most prominent buildings, the “Freudenstein Castle”, a great historical and architectural jewel. Besides, each year the local proudly organize many parades and festivals to demonstrate and keep their extraordinary identity alive.

When you go further into the Mining area, you easily can find the historic ore field that has existed in Freiberg for centuries. Freiberg is the center of this mining region, but the industry sites stretch far beyond the outline of the city. One can see there the reality of the underground world, the everyday habits of people who have been working here over the centuries and again be astonished at how much there is to discover. 

Moving on, towards a building that is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful examples of the Late Gothic architecture. “The Freiberg City and Mining Museum” which was built in 1485 originally as a residence for the cathedral clergy, and turned into a museum in 19th century. This is where we found a great jewel, which demonstrated the hardships and joy of the real world of mining. Exploring these symbols, paintings, working tools and even museum decorations one can discover the true history of generations of miners in this place. 

This city is the perfect example of the connection between the past and the present. In last decades, this small city is considered as an important center for geological sciences in Germany, with well-known University of Mining and Technology.

Cultural heritage is often preserved with the help of institutional arrangements, however here in Freiberg it is preserved by the people themselves through what they do in their daily lives.  The underground mining town reflects its best self in the vibrant city right above it, creating a perfect union. During our journey across the “two cities”, we have discovered and recognized the immense power of culture and identity.

Heritage identity, both tangible and intangible is a basic part of our common heritage and therefore, our mission is to transmit this identity into the future. We create heritage, influence its development just like the heritage of our past shape and defines us in the present moment. And this, was the main reason that led us to share with you, the wonderful story of a small town in Ore Mountains. 

Freiberg old city, Freudenstein Castle and Freiberg Museum. /Photo: Ledio Karaj & Ahmed Özgür Çınar