With idyllic outdoors, historical towns and Oktoberfest, Bavaria is a traveller’s paradise. Its capital, Munich, is steeped in history and home to some of the finest artworks in the world. Not very far from Munich, the smaller towns boast of other significant elements of their culture—traditional crafts—that often make an appearance in souvenir shops or standalone museums.
Bavaria’s second largest city, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), displays the 600-year tradition of toy-making. In 1971, Nuremberg’s Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) was opened to public. Visitors here are introduced to elaborate dollhouses, freestanding figurines made of tin, plastic and composites, puppets and gorgeous Schildkrot dolls, and 3D toys. In the early 1900s, many toys were made of tins, owing to its properties of being malleable and affordable.
A walk through the medieval Handwerkerhof (Craftsmen’s Courtyard) unravels other such traditional crafts. For example, Georg Stanisavljevic, in his 80s, has been engraving on pewter (often called the poor man’s silver) since 1972. His small shop is filled with ash-coloured souvenirs. From large steins and pitchers with intricate lids, miniature whisky shot glasses and dinnerware to Nuremberg bridal cups, his engraved details on pewter tell a story of German history.
Until June this year, Helga Feurer—the only woman in Bavaria associated with traditional glasmalerei (stained glass)—was Stanisavljevic’s neighbour. A short walk to Lorenzkirche (St Lawrence Church) and the dominance of this craft is well illustrated: the spectacular Rose Window has a diagonal diameter of 5.92 metre, with Christ painted in the centre and angels, evangelists and coat of arms surrounding him.
In the same courtyard is Töpferei Beckert (Pottery Beckert), where Sabine Beckert has had her shop since 1983. “The clay comes from Westerwald,” Beckert says with a smile. Töpferei Beckert showcases contemporary earthen souvenirs. From garden decorations, to wall craft, to creative crockery—her shop has it all.
In Rothenburg ob der Tauber (over River Tauber), approximately 85 km from Nuremberg, ceramics take the shape of lighthouses. Leyk Lichthäuser ceramics began with Ursula Leyk’s idea of staying occupied while raising her children, 35 years ago. She begun shaping clay and forming the charming houses of Rothenburg and selling them at the Christmas Market. In course of time, her husband, Bernd Schulz-Leyk, travelled around town to photograph quintessential Rothenburg fachwerkhaus (half-timbered houses), which they mould as lighthouses.
Today Leyk Lichthäuser dominates many Christmas Markets with their creations. Their manufacturing unit constitutes primarily of women—15 in all—and most of them have been working here for decades. “The designs change annually,” adds Hanne Shoja, who works at the unit. Characters from the Brothers Grimm stories can be spotted among the glazed colourful lighthouses.
Only a few metres away from Leyk Lichthäuser, Schmiedgasse has a craft created on a completely different raw material. Loretta Mandosi is a pyrography artist since 1994. “I wanted to do something creative so I learnt laufschrift (cursive writing).” With her impeccable calligraphy skills, she burns wood to personalise souvenirs for her visitors. The walls of her shop are filled with Rothenburg’s Marktplatz, Marcus Tower and the neighbouring Neuschwanstein Castle painted on a variety of wood.
Along the same street is Striffler Bäckerei. The Striffler family has been handcrafting traditional Rothenburg Schneeballen (snowballs) since 1924. The location of the existing bakery dates back to 1944 and Florian Striffler is the fourth generation to learn this comestible craft from his father. The strip-like dough is rolled into individual balls which are deep-fried.
The crisp, shortcrust pastry is then generously dusted with sugar and ready to be consumed. “We make 600-700 snowballs every day,” shares Striffler. Snowballs from this bakery follow the original recipe, though they have begun to add chocolate or cinnamon powder on the outer layer on popular demand. Whether a bite of crumbly snowballs for dessert or a plaque of pewter on the wall, Bavaria revives a tradition with each handmade craft.