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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.

Kestner Krone 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.

Wislizenus FactoryLike 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!

K [star] RThe 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:

Heller"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."

HuelssSince 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.

SchmidtIf 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.

The Factories

Kestner Krone 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.)

Wislizenus Factory 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.

K [star] R 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 furniture.

Heller 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 3.

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.

Huelss 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 today.

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 the building.

Schmidt 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 Puppenfabrik.

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.