PuppentourTM 2001 A Doll Odyssey|
By Mary B. Lytle
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Mary B. Lytle. All rights reserved.
On September 21, 2001, only ten days after the devastating terrorist attack on our country, ten brave souls joined me for the ninth annual Puppentour of the doll and toy museums of France, Switzerland, and Germany, a reprise of our booked-to-capacity May tour. One member of our group expressed the sentiments of all when she said, "What more patriotic thing can a woman do right now than to get on with her trip to Europe?!" And so it was, amidst long lines, heightened airport security, and a deep sense that life would never again be the same, that we boarded our overnight flight to Paris and embarked on a remarkable sixteen-day odyssey of dolls, dolls' houses, teddy bears, toys, miniature rooms, Christmas nostalgia, textiles, millinery, and fashions of the 18th century to the present.
Paris, with its grand sights and atmospheric cafés, would be a splendid city in which to spend the first four days of any tour. Our hotel, once a palace, is in the heart of Paris, two blocks from the Gare de Lyon (Métro station). The sights of Paris are best seen on foot and the Métro system offers the most efficient way to cover the expanses of city between them. The Gare de Lyon afforded us easy access to the entire city and suburbs, an asset to our busy itinerary. We heartily recommend all the wonderful restaurants in the vicinity, especially Le Bleu Train in the station itself, where both the food and the 19th-century-train-station ambience are extraordinary.
Tucked away in the Impasse Berthaud near the colorful Centre Pompidou are five hundred stunning French dolls, dating from 1850 to the present, cleverly displayed with their furniture, accessories, and toys. They are the permanent exhibition of the little Musée de la Poupée "Au Petit Monde Ancien". The museum draws from the private collection of Guido and Samy Odin, who personally guided our tour. The newly renovated museum shop offers antiques, postcards, dolls, posters, and an extensive selection of doll books for sale. It was here that the first antique doll of the tour a Jumeau was purchased.
The Paris Flea Markets are an absolute "must-do" for any collector of any thing. There are several markets located around the city, but the best one by far for doll and toy collectors is the Marché Vernaison, the most atmospheric of the St-Ouen markets and where we spent an entire Sunday. Bordered by the rue des Rosiers, the rue Voltaire, and the avenue Michelet, it is a veritable labyrinth of alleyways brimming with dolls, toys, books, sewing notions, lace, linens, postcards, jewelry, clocks, kitchenware, militaria, and more. Dealers are selling antique dolls in virtually every allée, but only the most tenacious shopper will find an all-original François Gaultier fashion doll in perfect condition, as did one of our ladies!
No tour of Paris is complete without seeing her great monuments, and there are so many to see the Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, the Pont Neuf, Sainte-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Élysée, the Tour Eiffel, the Moulin Rouge, and the Palais-Royal to name just a few! We saw them all on a morning's drive through the city with our tour guide, Christián, stopping at the Cathédral de Notre-Dame, the most enduring symbol of Paris, for a close-up look. The hunchback Quasimodo rang the bell in the south tower and Napoléon crowned himself emperor here. Its exterior of flying buttresses, gargoyles, and "stone lace" is as breathtakingly exquisite as the rose window viewed from the interior.
The doll costumers in our group were especially awed by the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in the Palais du Louvre. Its collection of roughly 30,000 costumes from the 18th century to the present rivals the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The clothing gallery changes its exhibit twice a year. With such an extensive collection, the specimens seen today will not be seen again for decades to come. Ingrid, a textile-and-fashion-expert, was our superb guide. Her knowledge and enthusiasm infused us with a singular appreciation for each remarkable garment in the exhibit its fabric, its texture, its color, and the intent of its designer. Not one of us will look at cloth or fashion the same way again.
An hour's Métro ride to Poissy, a suburb of Paris, brought us to the 14th century abbey housing the charming Musée du Jouet. The museum's curator, Jeanne, and her assistant, Pascal, personally guided us through the exhibits of French (and a few German) dolls and toys dating from 1850 to 1930. Laid out like grandma's attic, every nook and cranny holds a precious surprise!
After our three-course "Paris Farewell" dinner with wine, we boarded a Bateaux Mouches for our night cruise on the Seine east to the Ile St-Louis, and then back past the Tour Eiffel as far as the Allée des Cygnes and its miniature of the Statue of Liberty. A scenic drive through illuminated Paris, again with our guide Christián, was a glorious conclusion to our visit of the "City of Lights."
Our touring coach and chauffeur met us bright and early to carry us from Paris to Pérouges, and would remain at our disposal for the remainder of the tour. On our way to Pérouges, we stopped in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, for lunch. One of Beaune's most magnificent antique buildings within the town's medieval ramparts is the Hôtel-Dieu. Formerly a hospital, it is now a museum displaying an eclectic collection of Flemish-Burgundian art and artifacts, including a wonderful collection of French papier-mâché dolls dressed as nuns, two in the distinctive, winged veil of the region.
Pérouges, a perfect home base for day trips to Chazelles, Marcy l'Etoile, and Lyon, is a stone-built village that hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages. Period movies such as "The Three Musketeers" and "Monsieur Vincent" were filmed here. The village, compact and unbelievably picturesque, offers delightful evening walks through medieval, cobbled streets. Our hotel is the Ostellerie, a lavishly restored group of 13th-century timbered buildings furnished in the French country style with museum-caliber antiques. Waitresses in traditional costume serve up superb regional cuisine in the Ostellerie's restaurant. Their dessert of galette pérougienne served with clotted cream and raspberries is not to be missed!
Residing in the old Jules Blanchard hat manufactory in Chazelles is the incredible Musée du Chapeau. This hat museum not only exhibits an exceptional collection of hats from the 18th century to the present, but also documents, with a video program and a demonstration performed by our handsome young guide, the process of transforming rabbit fur into luxury felt hats. Workroom and shop exhibits provide a clear impression of the late 19th-century milliner's craft and trade. The museum boutique offers books, gift items, and hats in all shapes, colors, and sizes including doll sizes!
Located in the lovely Lacroix-Laval Park of Marcy l'Etoile, the 18th-century Chateau de la Poupée shelters a stunning collection of more than 1,000 French (and some German) dolls, dramatically displayed as objets d'art in vignettes representing 19th-century life. Placards in perfect English illuminate the "play-imitates-life" theme while extolling the richness of French habits and traditions, allowing a self-guided study of some rare and lovely doll specimens.
Lyon is world famous for its know-how in the field of textiles. Except for an excellent morning's shopping at the Cité des Antiquaires, we immersed ourselves in the subject of Lyon textiles, particularly silk.
The Musée des Tissus focuses particular attention on the history of silk manufacturing from the Renaissance to the present. It also illustrates the most important stages in textile history with an ancient Egyptian dress of pleated linen, vivid Coptic tapestries, dazzling Persian coats, and silks from Spain, Sicily, Italy, the Middle East, and the Far East, which we explored with our knowledgeable guide. The costume section, a favorite among our doll costumers, reflects period French fashion and such French specialties as embroidery and lace making.
The Maison des Canuts is found on a narrow street in the Croix-Rousse, a Lyon quarter of tall buildings that were constructed to accommodate the 3.9-meter-high Jacquard looms of the 19th century. The House of the Weaver is filled with the spirit of the Croix-Rousse and perpetuates its traditions, weaving perfect replicas of silk piecework for historic restorations. Exhibits detail the production of silk from worm to thread, as well as the technological evolution of weaving. An 18th-century draw loom, a 19th-century Jacquard loom, and a 20th-century mechanical loom, are each demonstrated by a skilled weaver, after which each observer is gifted a cocoon of silk.
A savoir-faire of Lyon is silk printing, the final stage of silk production. L'Atelier de Soierie demonstrates the "pochoir" technique of silk printing on rolls of white silk spread on a broad worktable. The printer puts bright-colored ink in a figured silk framework overlying the white silk material and spreads it over the surface with a scraper. When the color comes through the fine silkscreen voilà! a colorful vision appears before our very eyes. Hand painting techniques on both silk and figured velvet are also demonstrated. The boutique offers silk couturier fabrics by the meter at the most reasonable prices; and silk ties, handkerchiefs, and scarves, hand printed or hand painted in the studio.
Half way through our tour, we are on the move again, our destination Colmar. The Old Town of Colmar is the best preserved in all of the Alsace, and it is my favorite in all of France. It is also the most colorful, from the rainbow-tiled roof of its Koifhaus to its helter-skelter streets and alleyways lined with multi-hued, half-timbered houses. Colmar had its heyday in the 16th century when wine merchants shipped their wine along its waterways in the canal quarter known as "Little Venice." Antiques abound in Colmar, and there is a whole afternoon to explore the multitude of shops along the rue des Marchands. Colmar is our three-day home base for a day trip to Basel and Riehen in Switzerland, a tour of a restored, 12th-century castle high in the Vosges, and sightseeing along the Route du Vin.
The world's central bank clearinghouse resides in Basel, yet the number of museums it has more than 30 of them reflects the city's priorities. The Puppenhausmuseum is the most spectacular for collectors of dolls, dolls' houses, and teddy bears. Literally thousands of dolls and bears are arranged in fanciful, humorous, and charming scenes, vivid in detail and reminiscent of magnificent department store window displays. Computerized reference stations allow the visitor to look up catalogued information available in four languages, including English on any item in the exhibit by simply touching a screen. If you ever wondered just how many Mein Lieblings in one collection are enough, you will find the answer here! A special bonus was an exceptional temporary exhibition of antique chocolate molds with the finished chocolate forms rendered in white, milk, and dark chocolate, representing every major holiday of the year.
The Spielzeugmuseum in nearby Riehen resides in the former manor house of the lord mayor Johann Wettstein, who negotiated Switzerland's groundbreaking, and lasting, neutrality at the end of the Thirty Years' War. The museum possesses one of the most important collections of European wooden toys in the world. The German papier-maché dolls, toy cook stoves, and miniature kitchens are some of the finest to be seen in Europe.
Returning to Colmar, we paused at the Dreiländereck for a panoramic view of the Rhine at the point where the borders of three countries Switzerland, France, and Germany meet.
Looming above the lovely village of St-Hippolyte, high in the Vosges, is the pink sandstone Château du Haut Knigsbourg, the 12th-century Teutonic castle restored by Kaiser Wilhelm to validate his rule over the Alsace (which now belongs to France). Our guide led us over the drawbridge and through the fierce keep, rings of fortifications, gloomy Gothic chambers, and airy Renaissance rooms, relating fascinating details of life in a feudal castle. From one side of the battlements, stretches a glorious Rhineland panorama bordered by the Black Forest and the Alps; and from the other, sweeping views of the wine villages and vineyards below. It is a spectacular vantage point from which to view the world!
The picturesque Route du Vin, running along the Vosges foothills, is a veritable open-air museum of cobbled streets, medieval timber-framed houses, and Renaissance fountains. Fifty thousand acres of slopes are covered with vineyards, and they run right up to the ramparts of Riquewhir, the prettiest village on the Wine Road. The winemakers of Riquewhir plant roses at the end of each row of vines, not for their pretty affect, but as an early detector of parasites! Riquewhir's steep main street, ramparts, and winding back alleys have scarcely changed since the 16th century. We stopped here to settle into one of its romantically appointed winstubs for a traditional meal of choucroute (Alsatian sauerkraut) accompanied by one of Riquewhir's famous wines.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
There is so much to see in Germany. With only six days left in our tour, it's time to bid France "adieu" and move on. Rothenburg ob der Tauber was our home away from home for the next three nights. Along the way, we stopped in Giengen an der Brenz, the home of the Steiff Factory.
The Steiff Museum, within the Steiff factory complex, exhibits a fine collection of rare felt dolls; felt and plush animals, old and new; and Steiff family memorabilia, including the first felt elephant made by Margarete Steiff, and Richard Steiff's legendary teddy. The Steiff factory outlet shop nearby offers both first and second quality items from their current production for sale, while the retail shop across the street offers a broader range of toys by Steiff and other manufacturers. It was here that I found a Steiff Uncle Sam doll and of course it was my patriotic duty to bring him home with me!
Rothenburg is just too charming to be true. There is no place quite like it half-timbered architecture galore, and a wealth of fountains and flowers against a backdrop of fortress towers and turrets. It unabashedly flaunts its Meistertrunk, an event that occurred in the Thirty Years' War. The conquering General Tilly volunteered to spare the town further raping and pillaging if any of the city councilors could drain a 6-pint tankard of wine in one go. The mayor, Georg Nusch, accepted the challenge, succeeded, and the town was spared. A mechanical General Tilly and Georg Nusch reenact the Meistertrunk every hour from the clock on the main square. The night watchman offers a moonlit tour of the town from here.
Rothenburg is the consummate shopper's paradise. Kunstwerke Friese on Grüner Markt specializes in cuckoo clocks, Hummel figurines, music boxes, and dolls. It's Christmas every day at Käthe Wohlfahrt's Weihnachtsdorf in the market square. If you collect teddy bears, you'll love Teddyland at Harrngasse 10. They stock more than 5,000 of them!
Dolls produced by French and German makers over a span of 200 years are exhibited in the 15th century house just off the market square that is the Puppen- und Spielzeugmuseum, owned by Katharina Engels. Dolls' houses, doll kitchens, and doll shops are furnished with all the precious things that a complete dolly household requires. Thousands of charming accessories from the past are displayed. Katharina improvised a small flea market with dolls and toys from the museum's attic, just for us. Her museum shop, jammed full of little treasures, is a miniaturist's Mecca.
Our day trip to Nürnberg took us within its medieval fortifications, where most of its attractions lie. Crowning the northern periphery is the Kaiserburg, where we met Ute, our tour guide. The Romanesque imperial double chapel is the only part of the castle that was left undamaged in the bombing that took place the last days of World War II. It is ironic that not one of Hitler's constructions outside the medieval ramparts was damaged, while the historic, medieval city itself was virtually destroyed. The medieval St. John's Cemetery, just outside the city walls, is as engaging a place as anyone could imagine ancient, recumbent gravestones are adorned with brilliantly colored flowers in the German tradition, and ancient bronze markers quietly tell the stories of Nürnberg's medieval families.
No visit to Nürnberg would be complete without paying homage to Albrecht Dürer. His grave is in St. John's Cemetary and his home is a short downhill walk from the Kaiserburg. It is typical of the half-timbered burghers' houses of the 15th century. The structure is the only completely preserved Gothic house in Nürnberg. We saw how the artist and his wife lived while he created his famous paintings and prints.
Ute left us in the Hauptmarkt by the exquisite Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain) to make a wish on the gold ring in the fountain's gate and listen to the Glockenspiel. Close by, our favorite Nürnberger sausages are served up in multiples of three. Legend has it that these finger-size sausages were the brainchild of a legalistic, medieval publican seeking a way around the closing hours mandated by law he made his sausages small enough to sell through the keyhole of his locked door! The grilled sausages are absolutely habit-forming, best eaten with horseradish and a cold beer.
Besides shopping, shopping, and shopping, our main Nürnberg attraction is the Spielzeugmuseum, holding the largest and most varied toy collection in the world. Ever-changing exhibits feature doll antiquities, wax dolls, wood dolls, china dolls, bisque dolls, celluloid dolls, costume dolls, doll kitchens, doll stores, tin toys, lead soldiers, and all kinds of boy-toys, including an exact 1:64 replica of the main railway junction in Omaha, Nebraska! A German man who never in his life visited the place built it from photographs. All the buildings, the magnificent station, 27 locomotives, 89 wagons, and over 300 figures, were created by hand in painstaking detail. Through the magic of video, you can ride the rails and walk through the entire model.
Donauwörth is a day trip from Rothenburg. It is the second home (after Bad Kösen) of the Käthe Kruse company, the oldest doll manufacturer in Germany that continues to make dolls in its traditional way by hand. Our factory tour revealed how each and every doll, piece of doll clothing, and accessory, is made by hand. An entire reindeer-hair-stuffed body is hand-stuffed by one worker to achieve perfect symmetry of the limbs. The human hair wigs are individually hand-knotted and styled. Each doll's face is painted entirely by hand. In the design department, we saw how the dolls' costumes are developed and materials selected for production. One-of-a-kind models that never made it to production were offered to us for purchase. The restoration department does magnificent work. Here we had an unusual opportunity to see some very rare models of early Käthe Kruse dolls, lovingly restored.
With a new appreciation for how meticulously these dolls are created, we moved on to the factory showroom where the most recent production was displayed for our purchasing pleasure. Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Following lunch in the Käthe Kruse Room at the Gasthof, we ended our Käthe Kruse tour at the little Käthe Kruse Puppenmuseum. 130 dolls, life-like shop window mannequins, dolls' houses, and old doll factory exhibits left us with an enduring impression of the Käthe Kruse legacy.
Time flies when you're having fun the days remaining of our tour were so few and there was so much left to see! In Thüringen alone, we had appointments to keep in Rausenstein, Steinach, Sonneberg, Coburg, Neustadt, and Meilschnitz. Fortunately, all are within a stone's throw of each other. Sonneberg, the City of Toys, was home for the next two nights.
In Sonneberg, it is impossible to spit without hitting an old doll or toy factory. In fact, virtually every human endeavor in old Sonneberg was dedicated in one way or another to financing, supplying, producing, marketing, and distributing dolls and toys. A visit to the Friedhof (cemetery) turns up a veritable who's-who of Sonneberg's early 20th century doll families.
We made two stops on our way to Sonneberg, the first in Rauenstein to visit the Schildkröt-Puppen factory. We were heartily greeted by factory employees costumed as plush animals! The owner, Hannelore Biemann, personally guided us through the workings of this modern doll factory in operation for over 100 years under the mark of the turtle (Schildkröt means turtle). In addition to their "celluloid" doll production, their modern lines include vinyl artist dolls, plush animals, and children's clothing, all of which are available for purchase in the factory showroom. Their limited edition Waldbär with traditional Bärbel in a red, flannel coat was just too darling to pass up!
Schildkröt's 100-year tradition is reason enough to open its own little doll museum. It contains wonderful, old, and rare models of its own design, in addition to those produced for such firms as Kämmer & Reinhardt, J.D. Kestner, Jr., and Koenig & Wernicke of Waltershausen. A lovely, rare celluloid fashion doll in the collection is the model for an historic replica in Schildkröt's 2002 production. You can order one direct from the factory by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next stop was the Marolin Papier-Mâché Factory in Steinach, another Thuringian firm with a long tradition. The great granddaughter of Richard Mahr, the founder, guided us through the small factory where crèche and other holiday figures are pressed in sulfur molds or poured in plaster molds, just as they have been for the last 100 years. After each figure is hand-painted in fine detail, a patina is applied, adding depth and sheen to the finish. Of course we couldn't leave without first shopping in the factory showroom! Besides a gorgeous selection of crèche figures, there are dolls, jacks-in-the-box, Easter figures, Christmas figures, farm animals, and more.
Finally, we arrived in Sonneberg, the world's largest doll and toy distribution center for more than 200 years. The Deutsches Spielzeugmuseum, pride of Sonneberg, was once the School of Industry, where students studied sculpting, painting, model making, mechanics, and most important, the doll and toy products of foreign competitors. The school's collection of illustrative toys, and samples donated by the Sonneberg factory owners, formed the basis of this oldest toy museum in Germany. Whether you start in the basement with the dazzling Sonneberg 1910 Brussels World's Fair exhibit, or the upper floors, stuffed with original Sonneberg dolls and toys, including some stunning salesmen's sample boards, you won't want to miss a single object in this astonishing collection.
Coburg is most famous for the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, a remarkable family that provided an inexhaustible supply of blue-blooded marriage partners to ruling houses the length and breadth of Europe. The most famous was Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. There is a statue of the high-minded consort in the main square. Just down the street and around the corner is the Coburger Puppenmuseum, where there are no less than 32 rooms full of dolls, including Lilli, Barbie's predecessor; a Gebrüder Knock bonnet baby, made in Coburg; a very rare Mothereau; a Sonneberg wax-over-papier-mâché from 1810 that looks exactly like an English slit-head wax doll; and the most superb collection of half dolls we've ever seen. Arranged in chronological order, the collection provides a sense of the development of both form and materials in doll making.
Have you ever wondered just how composition doll bodies, eyes, wigs, and other dolly things were made? These and many other questions about 19th and 20th century doll, teddy bear, and toy manufacture are answered in the detailed exhibits and workshop displays in the Museum of the German Toy Industry in Neustadt. Also on display are more than 800 costume dolls representing the peoples of more than 100 nations in the world.
A few blocks from the Museum is The Old Christmas Factory, a brand new exposition and shopping complex built by Klaus Müller-Blech, President of the Inge-Glas Christmas ornament factory. A permanent exhibition of more than 20,000 German Christmas objects spanning two centuries offers a nostalgic journey through Christmases past. In a bright, noisy, festival atmosphere, antiques, Inge-Glas Christmas ornaments, candles, historic replica toys, and a large variety of gift items, are purveyed among such demonstrations as glassblowing, candle carving, porcelain lace draping, and doll repair by the Puppendoktor. Outdoor food stands sell pretzels, sausages on a bun, and beer, while the indoor café offers more refined fare.
The Puppendoktor, Peter Packert, in his own inimitable way, promoted his most unusual, limited edition "Peter Bär" "replica," hand-made from the original, early 20th century parts found in an old Gebrüder Süssenguth warehouse. "Peter Bär" is fully jointed, has blown glass flirty-eyes, a wobble tongue, and a growler.
In Meilschnitz a town that is little more than a few houses by the side of the road we stopped to shop at the Ino Schaller Factory. Schaller makes a diverse assortment of holiday candy containers using the same molds and methods of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Easter bunnies and lambs, Santas of every description, Thanksgiving turkeys, pumpkins, and snowmen, dressed in bright colors, glitter, and fur, enticed us to buy even though there couldn't be any more room in our suitcases, could there?
Rüdesheim and the Rhein
We got an early start for Rüdesheim by way of Wilhelmsbad, a once fashionable spa where only the very wealthy took the waters that bubble up from the mineral springs. The beautiful Wilhemsbad park, with its carousel, gazebo, pyramid, and castle ruin, is worth a visit all by itself, but we were there to see our last doll museum of the tour, the Hessisches Puppenmuseum.
Every doll and toy in the museum has a story, many of which are related in German-language placards among the exhibits. Our lovely guide, Hanne Baumecker, translates a few for us, such as the one pertaining to a pair of French fashion dolls displayed in only their underwear. A tailor and his wife purchased the dolls to give as presents to twin daughters. Their hope, of course, was that the dolls would stimulate the girls' interest in finding a few scraps of material in the tailor's shop for the purpose of sewing some dresses for their dolls, and thus they would learn to sew. The fact that the dolls still stand in only their underwear is mute testimony of the parents' dashed hopes!
The Museum possesses one of the most extensive and important collections of Roman, Greek, and Coptic toys in the world, beautifully displayed for 360° viewing in the Blue Room. An opulent 19th century department store in miniature set our dolls' house collectors to drooling. And the special exhibit of over 100 antique toy stoves was to die for!
Rüdesheim, the scene of an autumn wine fest, invited us into the old taverns of the narrow Drosselgasse to satisfy our hunger and thirst. We joined the happy revelers, "schunkeling"* with the best of them. It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but we had a boat to catch. Our Köln-Dusseldorfer cruise liner was to float us past no less than twelve ancient castles and the mythical Lorelei a Kodak moment a minute!
We spent our last evening dining together, toasting our happy days and the making of good friends. In the German tradition, we did not say "goodbye," but "auf Wiedersehen" until we meet again.
* To "schunkel" is to link arms with your neighbors on either side of you, and sway from side to side in time with the music.