Sunday, February 21, 2010

Visit to meet two master craftsmen in Germany.

In 2009 my partner and I decided to travel to Seiffen in the Erzgebirge region, south east Germany. The area is well known for its wooden toy making history. I particularly wanted to visit two mastercraftsman; Karl-Heinz Bilz and Jan Stephani. Both have a long family history of producing beautiful little wooden pushups (Wackelfiguren), and I was very keen to meet them. I hoped to see their workshops!
It took us several train trips, links with country buses and lots of folk saying "Seiffen..wo ist das". No-one seemed to have heard of it... a full day of travel and we arrived at the little town of Sieffen: a toy making heaven!
Our first adventure was to find Jan Stephani; a third generation craftsman, whose grandfather Kurt founded the company in 1935.

I must admit I was quite excited to arrive at Jan's shop (photo left)! I had a few of his push ups, one dating back to his grandfather. I was hoping that he didn't think I was completely mad, travelling all the way from Australia to this tiny little toy making town in the middle of the Erzgebirge mountains, especially to meet him! (photo below right)

Actually I do think he thought I was a bit barmy; he spoke very little English, and I spoke even less German, but I managed to explain why I was there by showing him photos of my collection...he smiled!  He and his wife were very welcoming and I bought all the pushups he had in his workshop!

He then surprised me with a gift. He had (that very day) just finished producing a NEW push up for his catalogue, a penguin (photo left), and very kindly gave me one of his prototypes!
I managed to embarrass myself by tearing up a little. (I know fellow collectors will understand how exciting this little gift was!)

 Photo Above: Bird on the left is by Jan Stephani 2009, bird on the right is by his father (note the marking on the base GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC)

(photo left) A selection of my Stephani puppets.

Our second adventure was to find Karl -Heinz Bilz, also a third generation craftsman, his grandfather founding the business in 1923!
We set out around Seiffen with a street address and found the little work-shop.(photos below) Karl-Heinz was very welcoming. He also had little English but certainly understood why I was there! 

We were taken into his little workshop where there were 100's of half made little puppets and a couple of ladies hard at work painting and threading! Karl-Heinz also showed us how he turned the wood, and then gave us a couple of puppets!  We felt pretty honoured to be allowed to watch the process.  

A selection of my Karl-Heinz Bilz Push Ups!

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