Hohenhameln & Marienberg, Germany
To children of all ages, Christmas is the time of year for the giving and receiving of toys; and no toy is as evocative of this magic season as the Nutcracker doll. Created by innovative woodcarvers in the rich forestlands of Central Germany, Nutcracker dolls have been around at least as far back as the 16th century, possibly even earlier. Designed to look like fanciful soldiers, kings, public figures and so forth, Nutcracker dolls became extremely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and soon became a regular favorite at Christmas markets.
By the 1800s, the city of Sonneberg was the definitive center for the manufacturing of Nutcracker dolls. Its proximity to Lauscha, where the first Christmas ornaments were made, as well as the city of Nuremberg, helped to make that city’s Christkindelsmarkt one of the largest and most popular Christmas markets in Germany. In 1816, E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote his children’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which popularized Nutcracker dolls even further and permanently immortalized them as a fixture of the Christmas season.
The business of making Nutcracker dolls is closely tied to the Steinbachs, an ancient family of artists and craftsman who had relocated to Germany from Austria during the turbulent 1600s. Around the turn of the 18th century, the Steinbachs began making the wooden dolls that eventually became the industry standard. In the late 1800s, they created the first limited edition Nutcracker doll based on Bavaria’s King Ludwig II. The Steinbach’s would later help popularize Nutcracker dolls in the United States after World War II. After nearly three centuries, the Steinbach’s are still in business, and gladly welcome visitors to their workshops.
The Steinbachs maintain two Nutcracker factories in Germany. The larger one is in Hohenhameln, a small village 20 miles southeast of Hannover and 150 miles west of Berlin. The smaller one can be found in the village of Gebirge outside of Marienberg, in the traditional Nutcracker-making region of the Ore Mountains, about 100 miles south of Berlin. Both locations are open to visitors, presumably during normal working hours. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.magicofnutcrackers.com (official website of the Steinbach company)