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4 Questions On German Räuchermännchen Posted by on Dec 24, 2020 in Culture, Holidays, Language, Traditions

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. German Christmas! The Kamin (fireplace) is crackling joyfully and the warm and sweet Glühwein (mulled wine) relaxes the soul and the Räuchermännchen disperse their wonderful Christmas scent. Perhaps I lost you on that last one. What are Räuchermännchen? Little smoke men? Actually, kind of!

1. What is a Räuchermännchen?

Räuchermännchen German Christmas

Different Räuchermännchen – this is my parents’ collection! And yes, the second one in black is Martin Luther (Image by author)

Invented in the  early 19th century by a toy company, the Räuchermann is a little incense smoker. It originates in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), the same area that came up with the Schwibbogen, another piece of traditional German Christmas decoration. Räuchermännchen sometimes even feature on some Schwibbögen!

The Räuchermännchen is now unmissable from Weihnachten in the Erzgebirge. They have also gained popularity in other parts of Germany and elsewhere in the world. It makes sense – they’re super cute, right?

Räuchermännchen are customarily made in the Erzgebirge by hand. That’s why they can be pretty expensive and certain designs might be hard to find due to limited quantities. There are knock-offs on the market, but if you want one, try to ensure you find a real one!

2. What’s the story behind the Räuchermännchen?

German Christmas Erzgebirge

The Stürmer, one of the highest mountains in the Erzgebirge (Image by Überraschungsbilder at under license CC BY SA 3.0)

So how did they come up with this Räuchermännchen? As you can imagine, the Erzgebirge got its name from all the Erz (ore) that could be mined there. However, at the beginning of the 18th century, the Bergbau (mining) began declining. This pushed people to pursue other interest, and one that caught on was the production of Holzspielzeug (wood toys) and other wooden objects. About a hundred years later, this had grown out into a flourishing industry. It was already around this time that the first figures were modeled that could hold incense and burn it.

3. How does it work?

German Christmas Räuchermännchen

A Durchschnitt (intersection) of a Räuchermännchen. Notice how it is hollow on the inside, with the conical Räucherkerze placed on the base (Image by Markscheider at under license CC BY 3.0)

The Räuchermann is a clever and simple design. The figurine is hollow to fit a Räucherkerze (“incense candle”) It consists of two parts: the base (the lower body) and the top (the upper body). You can simply pull off the top to reveal the holder for the Räucherkerze. These are small cones that have a wonderful, often piny smell. Then place the cone in the base and now light it. When you hold a lighter to the tip of the cone, it will begin to glow and start smoking! Now simply put the top back on – and now your Räuchermännchen will disperse its wonderful smell through its mouth!

4. Do they all look the same?

Not at all! There are countless different designs, with many representing a certain Beruf (job), particularly jobs from the Erzgebirge. Of course, the first that comes to mind is the Bergmann (miner). A common feature of the Räuchermännchen is that they have a pipe; this makes sense, because why else would a person be giving off smoke? With more and more designs, however, you can also find plenty these days that don’t feature a pipe, and simply have the special ability to generate smoke from their stomachs that leaves their bodies through their open mouths.

Of course, there are not only Räuchermännchen – there is also the Räucherfrau! There are also designs that go away from the traditional ones that relate to current events, such as in the video above, a Virologe (virologist)! This one has a different way of emitting the Rauch – due to the mask, the mouth is not an option. So the head is smoking from all the efforts to find a way to beat the coronavirus!

Do you have a Räuchermännchen or would you like to have one? Is there a similar tradition in your country? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.