The Puppentourist - A Monthly Puppentour™ Newsletter
A Puppentour™ Quarterly Volume I · Issue 3 · Summer 2006


Copyright © 2005, 2006 by Mary B. Lytle. All rights reserved.

Josh and I first visited Waltershausen in 1996, in part to satisfy my curiosity, but largely to evaluate whether or not to include the town in our Puppentour™ itinerary. Though we did not expect to find much, we happily discovered that a half-century of neglect under the Soviet regime had left a number of old doll factories still standing for us to see. And while the young people of Waltershausen are relatively ignorant of their doll history, Herr Dr. Reineke of the Schloss Tenneberg Heimatmuseum ensures that Waltershausen's past is not altogether forgotten.

Since 1996, we have taken several Puppentour™ groups to see the historic doll factories of Waltershausen, and each time we return, we find that another factory building is gone. Many of the old doll factories are structurally unsound. Their owners, unable to afford the cost of renovation or even demolition, have not reclaimed them, so they sit abandoned and vandalized. The citizens of liberated Waltershausen are anxious to renew and rebuild their city. So while there is still something of the past left to see, we'll guide you to the remnants of a bygone era.

The best place to start our tour is at the Schloß on the Tenneberg, a 440-meter-high mountain overlooking the city center 100 meters distant. The Schloß, which is first mentioned in 1176, was used as a hunting palace by Duke Frederick in the 18th century, and has housed the Schloß Tenneberg Heimatmuseum, a local history museum, since 1929. The museum holds not only a wealth of information about the city’s boom days as a doll-manufacturing center, but also a growing new collection of Waltershausen dolls, the original collection having been stolen at the collapse of the Soviet regime. It was here that we found pages from old ledgers and catalogs, historical maps, and photographs that helped us locate quite a few of the doll factories that had once flourished in Waltershausen.

By the end of the 18th century, Waltershausen was a city of farmers, cattle breeders, potters, beer brewers, and industry, the most important of which was cotton- and linen-weaving. The chaos of the Napoleonic wars from 1799 to 1815, however, rendered trade next to impossible and weakened the textile industry. Subsequent English competition and a new customs tariff led finally to the demise of textile manufacturing. Waltershausen was economically devastated.

Johann Daniel Kestner, the son of restaurant operator, barkeeper, and master butcher, Bernhard Heinrich Kestner, sought new sources of income following the bankruptcy of his family’s business. He had already begun trading with Napoleon’s troops around 1805. Not satisfied merely to trade, however, the investment-happy Kestner acquired machinery and opened his own factory in 1816, producing papier-mâché goods, buttons, and wooden dolls. In 1822, Kestner was granted an exclusive license to produce papier-mâché from, interestingly enough, hay, thistles, straw, and bark (not paper and rag) – a license he held for 25 years. Though wood certainly played an important role, papier-mâché was to be the most important raw material in early Waltershausen doll and toy production.

From the castle on the Tenneberg, it is a short walk to the old factory complex of the father of the Waltershausen doll industry, and we pass two other old factories on the way.

We follow Tennebergstraße in the direction of Heiliges Kreuz. As we near the bottom of the hill, on our left at number 2, we find the doll and toy factory founded by Gottlieb Schafft in 1851, the second in Waltershausen after Kestner. The factory was transferred to Adolf Wislizenus in the 1870s, and was thereafter owned by Wilhelm and then Hans Heincke, who retained the Adolf Wislizenus company name.

Wislizenus brought to Waltershausen Jumeau’s ball-jointed body, upon which his firm and others improved and for which Waltershausen became famous. The heads for Wislizenus dolls were made by Bähr & Pröschild, Simon & Halbig, and Ernst Heubach. The firm went bankrupt in 1931, and was acquired by the doll factory of König & Wernicke, which failed in 1972. The buildings were later used as the State Occupational Training School.

From Wislizenus, we turn right onto Heiliges Kreuz. At the intersection with Badegasse is number 4, the old doll factory of Hugo Wiegand founded in 1911. Wiegand held patents for a speaking and walking doll, and a variety of special eye mechanisms. His trademarks included “Herzlieb”, “Edelkind”, and “Sonny Boy”. After the Second World War, the Wiegand factory was used as classrooms and dormitories for the State Occupational Training School. It is now a ruin.

We continue down Heiliges Kreuz, turn left at Neue Gasse, and soon come upon a house on the left, number 2, bearing the trademark “Krone” of the Johann Daniel Kestner firm. In 1996, a left down Mühlgasse would have taken us past the half-timbered factory buildings. Every year since, we noticed a little more of the factory had disappeared and by 2004, only the house was left.

It is not clear just when Kestner’s enterprise manufactured dolls for the first time, but the earliest authenticated offering of doll heads and doll bodies by the Kestner firm was made in December of 1815. In addition to doll heads and doll bodies, Kestner offered leather, parchment, Dutch smoking tobacco, pen nibs, papier-mâché goods, masks, and buttons. From 1824 to 1836, Kestner’s general ledgers reveal sales of an amazing variety of goods.

By 1836, Kestner was an incredibly wealthy man. His net assets were about 50,000 Talern, which for the conditions of the time, was a tremendous sum. From trade statistics of 1846, we know that Kestner employed a total of 1,264 people, of which 423 were children under the age of 14, 364 women, and 477 men. Nearly half – 576 people – were employed in the button industry.

When Kestner died in 1858, his two wives (he was a polygamist) continued the enterprise. Two years later, the firm acquired its own porcelain factory in the nearby town of Ohrdruf which, in addition to a variety of knick-knacks, manufactured bisque doll heads for the Catterfelder and the Kley & Hahn doll factories. The firm was taken over by Kestner’s grandson Adolph in 1872, his own son having predeceased him in 1848.

The history of the Waltershausen doll and toy industry, as will become clear, is the history of a rapid ascent and just as rapid a fall. As already mentioned, Gottlieb Schafft founded his doll and toy factory in 1851, followed by Heinrich Schuchardt in 1853, Titus Schindel (later Wiesenthal, Schindel & Kallenberg) in 1858, Carl Vey & Co. in 1862, Wilhelm Schneegaß in 1862, Heinrich Handwerck in 1885, Kämmer & Reinhardt in 1886, Charles M. Bergmann in 1899, and Hermann Landshut (later Isidor Eisenstädt) around 1890.

By 1900, the boom was on with the entry into the industry of Richard Beck & Co., Rudolf Eckold, Otto Gans, Max Handwerck, Carl Kraußer, Max Polack, Christian Nelke, Bruno Schmidt, and others. A multitude of patents were filed on a whole range of innovations. An article published in “Der Bazar” (August Trinius, 1894) states, “Regarding quantity, Sonneberg marches in front; but in elegance, quality, and technology, Waltershausen is now entirely ahead, particularly in the invention of ever higher perfection.” Waltershausen was THE doll city.

But in less than 25 years (1920/23), a suitcase full of money would not even buy a newspaper. German hyperinflation, caused in part by reparations imposed on the country following World War I, left the German economy too frail to weather the next blow – the American stock market crash of 1929. It had immediate repercussions in Europe. The American market for European imports dropped sharply as the entire American economy went into shock; and, to compound the problem, Congress passed a high tariff on foreign imports in 1930.

By June of 1936, the Johann Daniel Kestner enterprise, the oldest of the Waltershausen companies, announced its bankruptcy.

We continue our tour down Mühlgasse to Burggasse. On the corner to our right is the factory building of Heinrich Handwerck, in which Kämmer & Reinhardt later founded their first factory. The appearance of the building has changed little since 1885.

The histories of the Heinrich Handwerck, Kämmer & Reinhardt, and Simon & Halbig enterprises are inseparable, their fates interwoven. By the end of World War I (1914/18), they had all merged into one company.

The oldest of the three enterprises was the porcelain factory of Wilhelm Simon and Carl Halbig, founded in 1869 in Gräfenhain, which lies 16.2 km southeast of Waltershausen. In addition to the companies of Heinrich Handwerck and Kämmer & Reinhardt, they supplied the firms of Charles M. Bergmann; Adolf Hülß; Hugo Wiegand; Wiesenthal, Schindel & Kallenberg; and Adolf Wislizenus in Waltershausen; Carl Trautmann in Finsterbergen; Franz Schmidt in Georgenthal; and other southern Thuringian and French enterprises .

Heinrich Handwerck was only 10 years old when the Simon & Halbig porcelain factory was established. At 16, he became a banker’s apprentice, and was later a clerk in a sausage factory. After completing his military service, he went to work as a salesman for Wislizenus. When he was married to Minna in 1884, he gave up his position with Wislizenus to start his own firm.

The Handwercks’ production began with a little devil that jumped out of a small box. Handwerck continually re-invested his profits in his enterprise, and finally moved into this factory on Burggasse. In her diary, his wife Minna wrote, “We now made leather bodies and cloth bodies provided with a shoulderhead with a pretty wig and a simple shift. Out of liquid sulfur and a plaster model, Heinrich poured forms to make parts for the jointed doll. These individual parts were pressed in the villages of Finsterbergen (13.5 km) and Altenbergen (12.4 km). Pressers formed the parts out of good pasteboard soaked with glue, the seams of the parts were filled, everything sand-papered, and so delivered. The Pressers came from Finsterbergen to Waltershausen, mostly on foot, their barrows loaded with goods, and then took new orders home. We lived simply and economically, earnings always going for acquisitions and wages.”

August Trinius, a chronicler of 19th century Walterhausen, gives us a further impression of the doll industry of this time (in an article published in “Illustrated World” around 1888). He wrote:

"The greater part of the Thuringer forest-folk work at the production of dolls. In the south is the Meininger Oberland, whose villages gather around stately flourishing Sonneberg, at the other end of the mountain chain are the forest places of the northern slopes, whose inhabitants work for the doll city of Waltershausen. Sonneberg and Waltershausen share the glory of supplying the whole world with dolls. Of the two cities, Sonneberg certainly produces the most. But for quality, reasonableness, and external beauty, Waltershausen products are superior, and for ingenuity, Waltershausen has the competitive edge.
"Old and young, large and small, men and women, are active thereby. The dolls are mostly only assembled in the factories. The individual doll parts come flocking in from all sides. Some villages carve only legs or arms, form heads or bodies, or turn joint balls. It goes from morning to night, house after house; after completing schoolwork, even the children must go to work. There are many bodies to stuff, because a dozen earn only a few Pfennigs.
"Where a painter lives, one sees in the windows and along the garden fences, wooden rack beside wooden rack, with freshly painted doll heads. The one is master and specialist in red lips and dimples, another studied in eyes and almond-shaped, curving eyebrows. A number of other painters are not artists at all, as the individual joints are only dipped in a high-viscosity, flesh-colored mixture. Saturday morning everything is loaded onto push-carts and then goes down into the city to be accounted for and new orders taken.
More versatile still is the occupation of folk in the city itself, were everywhere, apart from the factory work, home industry thrives. Whoever slowly saunters through the alleys and looks into the rooms through low, curtainless windows, will take in a number of strange and interesting sights. Ranking among the artists are women and girls who all year, with experienced hands, give the long-flowing hair of the dolls new form. These most pretty children carry to the showroom the latest fashion their factory has chosen for this year, and one can easily recognize to which firm each doll head belongs.
"When the doll is put together, painted, varnished, combed, and the completely beguiling 'Täufling' shines like a fresh spring morning, it then goes to its equipment and packing. That again sets a number of hands in motion. The home industry steps in here also. One family makes irridescent patent-leather shoes; another sews delicate little shifts; here the cartons are glued together; there the 'Täuflings' are secured inside the cartons with blue ribbon loops wound around crosswise. Carton beside carton then goes into strong sheet-metal crates that make work for the Carpenter and Tinsmith. Then the Lorry-Driver goes to work... "

After the untimely death of Heinrich Handwerck in 1902, the enterprise, under conditions specified by Handwerck before his death, merged with the Kämmer & Reinhardt company, making Kämmer & Reinhardt the largest doll factory in Waltershausen. Kämmer & Reinhardt profited greatly not only from Handwerck’s innovations, but also from Handwerck’s close business relationship with Simon & Halbig.

We continue our tour, back-tracking down Mühlgasse, continuing on Hinter der Mauer, and turning right at August-Trinius-Straße. We are heading for the huge Kämmer & Reinhardt factory complex on August-Bebel-Straße (formerly Wilhelmstraße) by way of the Adolf Heller factory, which is on the right at number 18. One can’t miss the three colorful porcelain tiles on the façade, depicting dolls in bold relief.

Little is known about Adolf. He was a businessman who formed a brief partnership with Hugo Seyfarth in 1906, founded his own enterprise (at Burggasse number 5) in 1909, and later built the factory before which we stand. His specialty “Meine Goldperle” appears in advertisements of 1914 and 1925. Heller, as did so many others, went bankrupt around 1930. Following World War II, his factory buildings were fitted out for the manufacture of jewelry by German refugees of the Sudentenland (Czechoslovakia), who came mainly from the jewelry center of Gablonz and made their homes in Waltershausen. The jewelry concern operated in this location until 1990/91, which marked the end of the DDR and the reunification Germany. The Heller factory has been since beautifully renovated and is now occupied by a brandy market.

At Albrechtstraße we make a left and continue on to August-Bebel-Straße. As we approach, we cannot fail to see on our left the arched parapet of the still impressive red brick factory works of the Kämmer & Reinhardt firm built in 1907. A commune has taken up residence in this historic landmark.

As stated earlier, the merger of Heinrich Handwerck and Kämmer & Reinhardt resulted in the largest doll factory in Waltershausen. A number of subsequent developments and innovations catapulted Kämmer & Reinhardt to unprecedented success, including the introduction of the character doll in 1909, a brief co-operation with Käthe Kruse in 1911, the acquisition of the Simon & Halbig porcelain factory in 1920, and independence from Schildkröt with the establishment of their own celluloid factory in 1928. The firm was so successful, in fact, that it survived the crises of hyperinflation, World Depression, and the Nazi times. It was one of the first industrial companies to resume operations following World War II, and it was still the largest Waltershausen enterprise in the 1950s, when it employed only 80 people. The state took control of Kämmer & Reinhardt in 1958, and thereafter continued operations as VEB’s “biggi”, which collapsed along with the Soviet regime in 1989/90. Waltershäuser Puppenmanufaktur occupied the factory buildings for a brief period before moving to its present address, which we see on our left at number 1 as we proceed right on Bahnhofstraße.

At Puschkin Straße we take a left, then right on Heinrich-Schwerdt-Straße, and finally left on Papiermühlenstraße. We can’t possibly miss the doll factory of Adolf Hülß because his name is still emblazoned over the main entrance, which is today the “Adolf Hülß Building and Bulk Goods Transport Company.”

Adolf Hülß came from the model-making family of Louis Hülß that had taken up residence in Waltershausen at the turn of the 20th century. Adolf continued in the footsteps of his father, studied model-making in the Sonneberg School of Industry – which is now the Deutsches Spielzeugmuseum, and thereafter became a model-maker for a doll factory.

In 1922/23, he started his own business in Waltershuasen. A 25th anniversary brochure states, “At first the production was taken up in the simplest way. Because the products enjoyed ever growing popularity, the available space very soon became too small, and in 1924, a new building was begun and was completed on 1 April 1925. The year of surprises was 1932, when the founder, who was the pacesetter for other factories, brought out the epoch-making novelty “Klein Nesthäckchen”, with the soft-stuffed body.”

In fact, the demand for Hülß’ novelty was huge, and having failed to obtain patent protection for it, many other Waltershausen factories immediately took up the production of soft-bodied dolls. (The head for Hülß’ “Klein Nesthäckchen”, by the way, was made by the porcelain factory of Alt, Beck & Gottschalck, serial number 1361.)

Like several other companies, Hülß operated in partnership with the state until 1972.

From Hülß, we backtrack as far as the Eiseinacher Landstraße where we make a right, and then turn left at Zimmerstraße. Here, under number 1, stands the old doll factory building of König & Wernicke. One can just barely make out the faded monogram.

The König & Wernicke enterprise was founded in 1912 and was one of the larger factories in Waltershausen. Rudolf Wernicke had worked some time for Bruno Schmidt. In addition to beautiful dolls with porcelain heads from Simon & Halbig and Hertel, Schwab & Co., König & Wernicke made dolls of hard rubber and shatterproof “NICAPUT.” The company operated in partnership with the state until 1972. Thereafter, Rudolph Wernicke’s son established the Puppenwerkstatt Wernicke in the town of Dornstetten, where he made replicas of the old König & Wernicke production until he retired in 1992/93 and closed the business.

Continuing further on Zimmerstraße, we turn right on Tiergartenstraße to house number 15 where we find the offices and workshops of the old Bruno Schmidt doll factory.

The company Bruno Schmidt, formerly H. Geisler & Co., is first mentioned in 1898. In 1907, the company relocated to this site from Fichtestraße number 1, where the celluloid factory was situated. Bruno Schmidt made the first celluloid dolls of Thuringia and they remained his specialty, even though he also produced dolls with bisque heads. Schmidt’s trademark was a heart, to which he later added the contraction “BSW” to avoid confusion with other manufacturers that likewise used a heart trademark.

The bisque heads for Bruno Schmidt were supplied by the porcelain factory Bähr & Pröschild in Ohrdruf; and as other successful Waltershausen firms had done, Bruno Schmidt acquired his supplier after World War I. Bähr & Pröschild, founded in 1871/72, was still listed in the Ohrdruf directory of 1936, but did not resume operations after World War II.

Bruno Schmidt, however, did continue operations after the war, though a large part of the Tiergartenstraße factory burned down in 1948. “Mein Goldherz,” which was introduced before World War I, was successfully marketed until 1959, when, conditions being unfavorable to private enterprise, the factory finally closed. Today the buildings are occupied by the North Thuringian Water Utility.

Turning back down Tiergartenstraße, we make a right at Daniel-Kestner-Straße. This corner was the site of the huge Heinrich Handwerck factory, as well as the magnificent villa in which Handwerck and his family lived. The entire building complex had been an unsightly and dangerous ruin in the middle of the city, and was finally torn down in 1996 just days before our first visit to Waltershausen. All that is left is old photographs and catalog renderings.

Continuing on Daniel-Kestner-Straße, we come to house number 15. Looking thoroughly abandoned and surely slated for demolition, it is the old factory of Gustav Thiele, who supplied doll wigs to all the doll factories of Thuringia.

At the end of Daniel-Kestner-Straße, we cross the Market Square to pick up our tour again on Brühl, along which we find three more old doll factories.

House number 3 was the residence and business offices of Otto Gans. The factory itself lies behind the house, between Albrecht-Straße and Gutzkow-Straße. Otto Gans was an eye-setter. He started his own eye-setting concern around 1901, and moved into Brühl number 3 in 1908, when he formed a brief partnership with Hugo Seyfarth.

Gans was always searching for improvements in the eyes and eye mechanisms for dolls. The most enduring of all innovations by Gans was a complicated mechanism that made possible both a lateral movement and a closing of the eyes. Later, Gans introduced the first flirting eye mechanism, whose patent Kämmer & Reinhardt took over and used in their dolls. In the 1920s, Gans even supplied a plush toy factory with battery-operated, light-up eyes!

The factory of Otto Gans was confiscated in 1946, and in 1948 it was put under state control, becoming the first VEB (stated-owned enterprise) of the Waltershausen doll industry. Before the factory was renovated into an apartment building in 1993, it was still possible to see the factory’s shipping ramps. Today one can just make out the bold letters that identify the building as Otto Gans Puppenfabrik.

When Gans & Seyfarth dissolved their partnership in 1922, Seyfarth immediately formed a new partnership with Hugo Reinhardt and moved into the house at Brühl number 12. The heads made by Seyfarth & Reinhardt were usually marked with the contraction “SUR” in the rays of a setting sun. “SUR” was also used as an abbreviation for “SURALIN,” an inflammable plastic modeling compound invented by Seyfarth & Reinhardt, which was manufactured well into the 1980s. The Seyfarth & Reinhardt enterprise was put under state control in 1972.

We continue straight on, past Lessing Straße, where Brühl turns into Goethe Straße. Here one can still see the streetcar tracks of the old Thuringian Forest Train. Straight ahead, at house number 15 on the left, is the residence and business offices of Max Handwerck. The house has been beautifully renovated, but the old factory buildings that once lay behind it have been torn down.

Max Handwerck was co-owner of a crate factory with Heinrichs Wartmann Sr. and Jr. In 1898, the production was expanded to include the manufacture of dolls. After Wartmann’s death, Max Handwerck continued his own doll-making enterprise on the Goethe Straße, called the “Handwerckshof.” Soon after, Max died and the business was continued by his wife Anna.

From the outset, the Max Handwerck company had an extensive inventory, including the “Bébé Elite”, fine ball-jointed dolls, wigs, shoes and stockings, and an extensive assortment of spare parts. The company later produced some wonderful characters, including a series of soldier-doll heads. When hyperinflation ended the doll industry boom, the company went into bankruptcy, and was reorganized as a furniture manufacturing concern.

We continue on Goethestraße to house number 20 on the right, the old doll shoe factory of Gustav Geffert. The residence and business offices were in the house in front. The factory building in back is now an antiques shop called “Seek and Find.”

Further on, we make a left onto Ohrdrufer Straße and follow it to house number 18 on the left, the old doll-stockings-and-shoes enterprise of Rudolf Eckhold. In addition to doll stockings and shoes, the company also advertised doll bodies of leather and cloth, doll accessories, and polichinelles.

A little farther on Ohrdrufer Straße, at number 14, we find what was the large factory complex of Charles M. Bergmann. Bergmann founded his company in 1888, soon after he returned from America, where he had worked as a miner and a cowboy. Bergmann's doll heads were purchased from the porcelain factories of Alt, Beck & Gottschalk, Armand Marseille, and Simon & Halbig. He sold his dolls in a “Bergmann dozen,” which like a baker’s dozen, was 13 dolls. He enjoyed such excellent business relationships with US firms, most importantly Louis Wolf & Co. in New York, that Bergmann's dolls are relatively rare in Germany.

At the end of our walking tour, we settle in at the Waldhaus, a cozy inn at the foot of the Tenneberg, where we can enjoy a hearty meal of Thuringian sausages with a cold class of beer.

Auf Wiedersehen in Waltershausen on the Puppentour™!