The Doll Factories of Waltershausen|
"Für Kinder ist das Beste Gut Genug"
By Mary B. Lytle
Copyright © 1997-2014 by Mary B. Lytle. All rights reserved.
Waltershausen may not have the glitz, glamour or charm of the vast multitude
of potential tourist destinations in Germany, but it is nonetheless a jewel.
It is encrusted with the neglect of a half-century of communist government,
but, ironically, that very neglect is a boon for the German-doll enthusiast
who cares to make a pilgrimage to this little village on the northernmost
edge of the Thüringer Wald. Still to be found are the last vestiges
of a once-booming doll industry, barely visible and rapidly disappearing.
Like many American "doll tourists", I've always entertained
that romantic notion of poking around in the forgotten corners of Germany
and finding something that is very old, very special, and very wonderful.
After several years of knocking around the German countryside, that romantic notion finally
became reality for me off the beaten tourist track in Waltershausen. Here
we located 17 old doll factories, all within a half-square-mile area.
We had known about Waltershausen's Schloß Tenneberg, a 12th century
castle fortress which houses a little Heimatmuseum. Among
its other precious regional relics, the Heimatmuseum proudly exhibits a
fairly sizeable collection of Waltershausen Kugelgelenkpuppen, for which Waltershausen is famous. But we had not expected to find
so much evidence of the old doll factories. It was an indescribable delight!
The inhabitants of Waltershausen - there are 13,000 of them - are quite
familiar with their old doll factories. As my husband and I walked through
the town, street map in hand, trying to locate specific addresses within
the labyrinth of poorly marked streets and alleys, our cameras occasionally
clicking and whirring, we were asked by the locals we encountered just
what we were doing or what we were looking for. They could always point
to the Puppenfabrik we sought, and we were often invited to step through
their private gardens to peer through broken factory windows. We received
a personally guided tour of the old Hugo Wiegand Puppenfabrik from the
man who lives next door to it. He told us the factory had become a trade
school "nach dem Krieg". Our German language skills
were essential for these man-on-the-street interactions, by the way. Unlike
their fellows in Western Germany, few adult Waltershausers speak English.
They were, as schoolchildren, required by the former Soviet government
to study Russian and German.
Waltershausen created the finest quality and most enduringly beautiful dolls of Germany. August Trinius, a citizen and chronicler of Waltershausen at the turn of the 20th century, offers us a vivid impression of this doll city in Northern Thuringia:
"The doll is the coat of arms, the distinctive mark of Waltershausen, a city that one may rightly call a giant doll room. I will not estimate how many millions of dolls are born here annually. I know only that the entire little mountain city is marked by dolls and that one can wander nowhere without coming across traces of this activity which serves only one object and has so many ramifications. Even the air is filled with dolls, for when one rambles through the side streets along the confusion of factory buildings, one is surrounded by a sour-sharp odor which streams from the lacquer and paints with which charm and life come into the marble-pale faces of dolls. But Waltershausen is not alone in the production of its dolls. A multitude of poor forest villages - whose miserable soil and weather conditions allow only the cultivation of potatoes and summer rye - are also occupied on behalf of the doll factories of Waltershausen. The reasonable price of the dolls is achieved not only through low wages and the occupation of the entire family - to the smallest child - in doll production, but also through the division of labor whereby one human hand performs the same activity, year-in and year-out. Thus there are villages that carve only legs, arms, or joints. Here cases are made. There the cases are filled with sawdust-filled bodies. One hand, with drowsy melancholy, dips great white heads formed from a paper-like mass into a bowl full of flesh-colored 'sauce', day after day. The other hand sets head next to head in low, broad wooden boxes which find a place, one on top of another, in tall racks. Wherever this activity is carried on as a home industry, window sills, door steps, garden fences, and house fronts are decorated with rows of flesh-colored doll heads and body parts Then the artists get their chance. One paints eyebrows with spirit and verve; another one roguish dimples in chin and cheeks; another conjures up roses on well-nourished, chubby faces, and yet another makes two rows of glittering teeth appear between cherry lips."
Since the reunification of Germany, the Waltershausers, like all East
Germans, are quickly spending their share of the special 8% reunification
income tax being paid by West Germans to renew their little town and
bring it up to West German standards. The demolition rubble we found at
the corner of Daniel-Kestner-Straße and Tiergartenstraße, once
the Heinrich Handwerck Puppenfabrik, was testament to the rebuilding effort
taking place all over East Germany. The traces of black lettering identifying
the red brick building between Gutzkow Straße and Albrechtstraße
as the Otto Gans Puppenfabrik has by now been obliterated under an icing
of renovating stucco. If you want to see the traces of 19th and early 20th
century doll industry in Waltershausen, you must do it soon.
To visit Waltershausen by car, take the east/west A4 autobahn and follow
the directional signs to Waltershausen. If you wish to linger in this quaint
little forest town, we can recommend a lovely Pension owned and operated
by the Family Bufe called the Waldhaus (Zeughasgasse 5, FAX 011 49 3622 90 2249). Their ten rooms have all been recently renovated without
sacrificing character, and their cozy restaurant serves up a delicious
array of Thuringian food specialities.
If you would like to see Waltershausen, but the thought of making a
trip to Germany on your own is a little intimidating, you might like to
join us on the Puppentour, our annual group tour of the doll and toy
museums of Europe. Our May 2003 itinerary includes a tour of
the old doll factory buildings of Waltershausen. You can call toll-free, 1-800-692-1148, for more information.
J. D. Kestner Spielwarenfabrik (1805-1930+). The Kestner
factory was the oldest and largest factory in Waltershausen. Kestner's
highly successful career began in trade with the troops during the Napoleonic
Wars. The half-timbered and brick factory consists of several large interconnected
buildings running the better length of Mühlgasse. It is being used
today as an apartment house.
(Update: Since 1997, a rather large section of the building has been demolished.)
Around the corner, at Neue Gasse 2, is the
building which was Kestner's home and business offices. The Kestner trademark
Krone is incised in the stucco on the front of the house. If one
looks closely at the crown, traces of the gilding can still be seen. The
house is currently occupied.)
Adolf Wislizenus Puppen- und Spielwarenfabrik
(1851-1930+), Tennebergstraße 2. Today, the old factory buildings are in good repair,protected as a monument, and currently occupied by a trade school. It was Adolf Wislizenus who introduced
Jumeau's ball-jointed doll body to the Waltershausen doll industry. Wislizenus
and the other factory owners of Waltershausen improved on the French prototype
and became the world's producers of ball-jointed doll bodies.
Kämmer & Reinhardt Puppenfabrik (1885-1930+).
Their first small factory, which had served previously as the first location of the Heinrich Handwerck factory, is located at the corner of Mühlgasse and
Burggasse. It looks the same today as it did 100 years ago and serves as a small apartment house. Kämmer & Reinhardt's second,
larger factory complex is of red brick construction and runs almost the
full length of August-Bebel-Straße (2-4). The building is clearly
marked "1907, K*R" on its south, arched parapet, which can be
seen from the street. Another arched parapet is inscribed with the motto
"Für Kinder ist das Beste gut genug" (For children only
the best is good enough.) Much of the building stands gutted and in disrepair. There is
a small metal sign on the front of the building reading "VEB Puppenfabrik
Waltershausen", a GDR cooperative for doll production which operated
in the building following the War. After reunification, it was the location of WPM, Waltershäuser Puppenmanufaktur GmbH, which has since moved to Bahnhofstraße 1.
(Update: When we visited in 1998, the building was boarded up. It is our understanding that it is protected as a monument. We hope to find it under renovation in the years to come.)
Hugo Wiegand Puppenfabrik (1911- 30+), Heiliges Kreuz
4. One must go to the alley behind the building (Mühlgasse) to see
the faint traces of black lettering on red brick reading "Hugo Wiegand
Puppenfabrik". Following the War, the Wiegand factory became a trade
school, housing classrooms and dormitories for men learning to make wood
Adolf Heller Puppenfabrik (1909-25+), August-Trinius-Straße
18. The facade of this building sports three quite large, full-color ceramic
tiles, each depicting a different doll in bold relief.
Otto Gans Puppenfabrik
(Doll Factory), Gutzkow Straße and Albrechtstraße. The red
brick building, which is now apartments, was under renovation during our
visit. The traces of lettering which identified the building as the Otto
Gans Puppenfabrik are probably already covered over with stucco. Another
building that served as both home and business offices of the Otto Gans
company is located around the corner from the factory building, at Brühl
Seyfarth & Reinhardt Puppenfabrik (1922-30+), Brühl
12. This building is currently occupied. There is a beautiful fresco border
on the face of the building, just under the eaves, which explains why it
has not been weathered away. The border has a classical theme.
Max Handwerck Puppenfabrik (1899- 1928+), Goethestraße
15. Recently renovated, this attractive building displayed a sign that
offered offices for rent. It had served as the business offices of the firm. The factory buildings, which had been situated in back, have been demolished.
Gustav Gessart Puppenfabrik, Goethestraße 20. These
factory buildings are currently a residence and a large store called "Such
und Find" (Seek & Find) which buys and sells antiques.
Rudolf Eckold, Waltershäuser Puppenschuh- und Strumpffabrik (1903-12+), Ohrdrufer Straße 18.
The house is occupied as a residence and the factory is an apartment house.
C. M. Bergmann Puppenfabrik (1888- 1930+), Ohrdrufer
Straße 14. These buildings house a variety of modern-day businesses.
Adolf Hülß, Fabrik von Puppen und Babies (1913-1930+), Papiermühlenstraße 13. The bold "Adolf
Hülß" over the entryway to this modern-day apartment building
is well-maintained, suggesting the building is still called by this name
Koenig & Wernicke GmbH Puppenfabrik (1912-30+), Zimmerstraße
1. This substantial stuccoed building serves as business offices and is
under renovation. One can just make out the faint sign of "Koenig
& Wernicke Puppenfabrik" in black lettering on the north end of
Bruno Schmidt Puppenfabrik (1898- 1930+), Tiergartenstraße
15. The beautiful front section of this stucco building with its exposed
brick details looks much the same as it did in a photograph taken in 1910,
which appears in Cieslik's Encyclopedia of German Dolls.
Gustav Thiele, Fabrik von Puppenperücken (1885-1930+), Daniel-Kestner-Straße 15. This factory supplied all
the doll factories in Thuringia. The building looks abandoned and may be
slated for demolition like its next-door neighbor, the Heinrich Handwerck
Heinrich Handwerck Puppenfabrik (1855-1930+), corner
of Daniel-Kestner-Straße and Tiergartenstraße. To my very great
disappointment, the wrecking ball had turned the villa and factory of Heinrich
Handwerck, the manufacturer of my most cherished antique German dolls, into a
pile of rubble. One can see a photograph of the house and factory in Cieslik's
Encyclopedia of German Dolls, which will have to serve posterity now that
the original buildings are gone.