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Exploring Christmas Crafts of the Thuringian Forest, Germany

Lauscha, Germany, is the birthplace of the Christmas ball ornament and home to generations of glassblowers and craftspeople making world-famous, collectible Christmas decorations. I traveled into the Thuringian Forest of Germany to meet the glassblowers of Lauscha, practicing the 150-year-old craft recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, in the Krebs Glass Lauscha showroom open to the public.

In November 2021, I traveled to Lauscha, Germany, to meet with Christmas artisans, including the region’s famous glassblowers recognized by the nationwide register of intangible UNESCO cultural heritage.

Lauscha is the cradle of the Christmas tree ball, mouth-blown glass ornaments that have come to symbolize the perseverance and passion of the region’s craftspeople.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, in the village of Lauscha, Germany.

After the Second World War, the region became part of East Germany with the country’s division.  As part of the German Democratic Republic or the GDR, under Soviet rule, many families lost their businesses to the communist state. Local craft workshops and companies ceased production until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During that time, state-owned companies produced machine-blown Christmas tree decorations and local craftspeople fought to keep their skills alive, teaching new generations and preserving time-honored techniques. 

The art of glassblowing survived and thrives again in Laushca, where local craftspeople invite visitors to experience creativity at the source.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, learning the art of glassblowing with glassblower Veit Hartleb in his workshop.

I visited the workshop of third-generation glassblower Veit Hartleb, who learned the craft from his grandfather and father. The self-employed glassblower makes Christmas tree decorations, blowing into molten glass tubes to create freeform shapes. Veit is a trained art glassblower, who intuitively works with the glass over an open flame reaching temperatures of 800 degrees.

Glassblower Veit Hartleb in his Lauscha workshop.

His skill combines art and science to create holiday characters, icons, and objects. His wife hand-paints each ornament in the neighboring room of the workshop.

Veit’s wife handpaints his glass, mouthblown Christmas ornaments in their workshop.

At the Krebs Glass Lauscha workshop, I meet another glassblower heating glass tubes over an open flame.

He then blows the viscous glass into a Santa Claus mold by mouth. After the mouth-blown glass ornaments harden, the glassblower fills them with a silver nitrate solution to coat the Lasucha glass ornament. 

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, with Roger Müller, owner of Krebs Glass Lauscha, learning about the silvering of glass ornaments.

Next, I go shopping at Krebs Glas Lauscha showroom, open to the public with more than 5,000 different styles of glass Christmas ornaments on display.

Glassmaking in Lauscha thrived because of its abundant raw materials from the Thuringian forest, including sand, wood ash, and lime. Thuringian glass is known for its green tint due to the rich iron content of local sand and tiny embedded bubbles.

The village of Lauscha, known for its glassmakers.

Glass production dates back to the middle of the 18th century and gained momentum with  Ludwig Müller-Uri from Lauscha in the 1830s, who invented the artificial human eye out of glass. Meanwhile, craftspeople in Lauscha and the surrounding area produced hollow glass beads over flames fired by oil lamps, a custom that evolved into creating glass Christmas tree ornaments. 

Lauscha glass ornaments

Lauscha glass Christmas ornaments gained worldwide fame after making their way into Woolworth stores in the 1880s, discovered by Mr. F.W. Woolworth during a visit to Germany. 

Lauscha glass ornaments

 In 1867, the first glass factory, Lauschaer Glasanstalt, introduced a silver-plating process to glass ornaments. To learn more about the history of Lauscha’s glassmaking legacy, I suggest visiting the Lauscha Museum of Glass Art. 

In the neighboring village Steinach,  I visited the Marolin factory and museum, known for its handcrafted and collectible paper mache figurines.  Richard Mar founded Marolin in 1900, naming the company after a secret paper mache recipe he invented and used to create nativity figurines with a  porcelain-like finish.

The Marolin Factory opened in 1900, founded by Richard Mahr in Lauscha, Germany. Photo credit: Marolin

Marolin remains in the family and operates as a factory, museum, and shop on the site of Mahr’s original family home.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, and Richard Mahr’s great-great grandson, Christian Forkel, who now runs Marolin.

The company employs local artisans who cast, assemble, and paint each figurine by hand using century-old techniques.

Marolin originally produced nativity and religious figurines, evolving its collection to include more than 2000 figurines such as fairytale characters, animals, and other holiday icons. 

Marolin artist handpainting the paper mache figurines.
Marolin nativity figurines

The front of the factory is open to the public to shop at the figurine store and tour the museum, which chronicles the perseverance of this paper mache maker.

The museum at the Marolin factory

After losing the family business to the communist regime of East Germany in 1972, the family regained ownership of Marolin in 1990 and restarted the production of paper mache figurines.  

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, holding a limited edition Santa figurine sold at HomeGoods Stores in the United States.

Today, Marolin’s figurines are sold worldwide, including exclusive special edition Santas available at select HomeGoods stores throughout the United States.  

Hotel Schieferhof in Neuhaus am Rennweg in Rennsteig. Photo Credit: Hotel Schieferhof

I stayed at the Hotel Schieferhof in Neuhaus am Rennweg in Rennsteig, Germany, during my trip. The hotel gets its name from the stone Schiefer, which is local to the region. The half-timbered slate house was built in 1908 as housing for industrial workers and changed ownership throughout its history.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, enjoying a drink in Thuringian glassware with Lutz Horn, owner of Hotel Schieferhof.

In 1994, Lutz and Rita Horn purchased the property and turned it into a boutique hotel that connects guests with local artisans.

Hotel Schieferhof lobby

The hotel is centrally located to explore the neighboring villages and workshops. Every space is a dance of bright, whimsical colors on the walls, furnishings, and lighting, creating a playful, happy vibe.

Hotel Schieferhof themed room.

Each hotel room’s decor tells a story tied to a theme. 

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, in the lobby of Hotel Schieferhof.

I believe what makes something priceless is the capacity to bring joy. Christmas ornaments and crafts from the Thuringian Forest spark joy for countless people around the world. Thuringia, once closed to western tourists during its years as part of communists East Germany, embraces everyone with a warm welcome.

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, at the Krebs Glass Lauscha showroom.

I say goodbye with deep admiration and appreciation for the talents and skills of Thuringian craftspeople and their dedication to keeping traditional handicrafts alive.

Krebs Glass Lauscha artist handpainting glass ornaments for the company.

For more on my travels throughout the Thuringian forest, watch The Design Tourist travel series streaming on major networks and on YouTube. 


What to know if you go:

The region has launched a tourism initiative,  Christmas Country on the Rennsteig®, aimed at promoting and preserving the traditional crafts of the Thuringian Forest. To plan your trip to the region, I suggest the website https://www.lauscha-glaskunst.com/

Shopping for local design finds is a great way to connect with local artisans and culture. For Christmas ornaments, I suggest a visit to Krebs Glas Lauscha with a showroom, store and workshop where you can watch glassblowing demonstrations.Check it out at  https://www.krebslauscha.de/

For a large selection of locally made items, stop by the Thuringian Forest Shop located in the town of Rennsteig, in the middle of the Thuringian Forest. The store sells regional specialties and craftsmanship from Thuringia. Here is the store website www.thueringer-wald.shop

For Thuringian glass, visit The Glass Center Lauscha, which manufactures free-form forest glass in that signature green tint, including bottles, vases, jugs, bowls, cups and ashtrays. Here is the link to learn more, https://www.glaszentrum-lauscha.de/

 

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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