Tales of Glass Eyes…

The gentle up and down of the road to Lauscha has a soothing effect on our minds after the overload of delights in Berlin. Its quite fresh outside and the green landscape is a welcome change from the hard lines of the cities. We pass lots of small villages scattered amongst these hills and valleys of the Thuringia region. Each has some sort of hulking great dinosaur of a factory or chimney looming over it – apparently a common set up in the former East Germany where heavy industry was integrated within existing rural settlements after the war. There’s probably some sound logic in there somewhere but its quite harsh on the eye!

I had tagged this tiny village nestled in the steep valley just below the Rennsteig Ridge as a must see when I was researching for our route – there’s a man there who makes really beautiful glass flytraps ( Fliegenfalle). It has been a centre for excellence in glasswork since the sixteenth century and in the early ninteteenth century a local glass blower Ludwig Muller-Uri invented the artificial glass eye ( they still do fittings to this day!) Independent lampwork, glass blowing studios and now the industrial glass making plant we saw on the way in provide the main source of income for local families. It is also the birthplace of the quintessential Christmas bauble!

The road into the village opens out to an unexpected vista…..yes…. there….on the hill… is indeed… a monumental ski jump! This is presumably for the locals training for the next winter olympics?? Or maybe this is the release you need after making Christmas baubles all day – nothing less will do. Lauscha has some lovely little houses characteristic of the area. Roof and walls are decorated as one with large scalloped slates. They look great especially when you see a whole collection of houses side by side in varying designs. We only have one night here which will be spent at an Aire ( the carpark of a local hotel -at least we get a nice meal and can use their facilities!- as there’s no campsite nearby) but given that you can walk round the entire village in about twenty minutes that should be plenty. We head to the main attraction of the village – Glas Zentrum where there is a glass museum, hot glass workshop and a two storey shop which sells the products made here and in the workshops around the town.

The museum has a really interesting exhibition which reveals the history of the glass industry and showcases old as well as new contemporary glass art and of course how the Christmas bauble evolved. The vintage baubles have thicker glass and faded but rich metallic colours with detail and elaborate forms that you just don’t see any more. I especially like the ‘chains’ of old-gold baubles in different shapes and sizes on the same chain- they would look really luxurious on a lovely bushy Nordman fir! Downstairs in the shop, the modern decorations in contrast are a bit too ornate for my tastes. The vintage kitsch charm has been replaced with somewhat garish colours and over the top designs more reminiscent of the eighties. I get the impression that the industry here is very capable but some new design input is overdue.
After watching an impressive glass blowing demo at the neighbouring workshop, I talk to Stephan the manager of the centre who kindly gives me a sneak preview of two new lines of functional glassware they are developing. They are mouth blown carafes and glasses in beautiful watery hues of pink, orange, green and blue – really pared down designs that retain the slight wobble of handworked glass. Its definitely heading in the right direction. He also gives me the names of a couple of makers of bespoke decorations that work in the village.

Magdolna Hahnlein’s ( one of the bespoke makers) shop is the only one on the street with an old fashioned handpainted sign. Inside is a treasure box of handmade decorations – not handmade in a folksy ‘wool and twigs’ way you might picture but instead tiny moulds are created from sculpted clay and then glass is blown into these before being handpainted with metal oxides that are burned onto the surface. It seems incomprehensible that so much effort is put into these old style decorations. The designs, many from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, are quite eccentric ranging from winged creatures and mermaids to whimsical seacraft and even Zepplins! ( my favourite). Magdolna proudly tells me that she and her husband are the only makers of these authentic vintage baubles in the whole of Germany. I leave with a good old fashioned brochure – she doesn’t do internet selling and doesn’t even have an email address. I’ll be phoning in with my order!

In the afternoon we squeeze in a visit to a local artists studio. Andre Gutgesell has a playful but very accomplished sculpture currently on display in the museum . It caught my eye with its large barrel like forms with what looked like men at work inside. Ambitious in scale – a combination of mouth blown and lamp work (where the glass is held in a desktop clamp and heated with a blowtorch being manipluated by hand tools as it softens)- I like it for its purity, just clear glass. I have a problem with coloured glass, not if its one colour all over but I have a real aversion to multi-coloured swirls and overworked forms that seem to persist within the contemporary art glass scene. For me its guilding the lily, spray painting a rose…I could go on! Andre and his wife share a studio making award winning decorative works but when he gets the chance he dreams up these intriguing sculptures.

Before the day is gone I manage to track down a Fliegenfalle but the man who makes the beautiful clear glass ones has gone on holiday and the centre only has, horror of horrors, the swirly coloured glass ones! I leave empty-handed. The wasps that reign over our garden will remain unchallenged this summer.
We have a tasty meal at the hotel bar that evening and receive a warm welcome from the locals who come and knock on your table when they arrive. Its such a friendly gesture but one that describes very well the sense of community in this quietly famous little town with its own ski jump.

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