History and Tradition

In the summer of 1990 I established the toymaker’s workshop Steffen Kaiser in the small town of Bischofswerda, known as the “gateway to Upper Lusatia,” in which today in addition to Christmas pyramids with pewter fences other small figures are made which reflect custom and tradition of old handcraft guilds of past centuries. Upper Lusatia, with its ranges of gentle mountains and the picturesque towns and villages embedded in them one of the most beautiful sections of our land, lies in the southeastern part of Germany. With the “Peace of Prague,” which was a partial settlement after the Thirty Years’ War for the eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Upper Lusatia became a gift from the emperor to the electors of Saxony in the year 1635, after 250 years of Bohemian rule, as a reward for participation in the war.
The cities of Upper Lusatia were united in the League of Six Cities for nearly 470 years until the Congress of Vienna met in 1815. In spite of changing royal houses, such as Bohemia, Brandenburg und Saxony, the cities were politically and economically independent of the currently ruling house. They had their own courts, had large amounts of city property, hand-driven fire company weapons and protection and countless trade rights which were the basis of their riches. Already in the first 200 years when they still belonged to the Kingdom of Bavaria, they succeeded in reaching recognition and prosperity by the increase of trade and handwork.
Upper Lusatia was influenced over many centuries by many handwork guilds and their trade connections reached far beyond neighboring lands.
Trade and handwork could develop in a major way under the protection of the League of Six Cities.
Above all, however, Upper Lusatia became known after the 18th century for its pottery, blue dying, and linen and ribbon weaving. Flax was planted as the basis of the production of Upper Lusatian linen and damask which were already exported as far as England and America in the last centuries.
The riches of wood in the forests of Upper Lusatia and medieval wood construction methods brought a building style unique in Germany to Upper Lusatian villages. The Upper Lusatian "Umgebinde" house with richly decorated wood construction can still be marvelled at in many places in southeastern Upper Lusatia. Most impressive "Umgebinde" houses were erected in the baroque era. One of the most notable of this time is Faktorenhof No. 214 in Eibau.
But utilization of wood for farmers’ tools in household and property witness to the great handwork talent of many generations.
Thus, one can see wonderfully decorated spinning wheels, artistically carved baking and butter molds or furniture painted with scenes from the daily life of peasants in various museum exhibitions. Churchly and Christmas turned and carved pieces belonged to the everyday world of Upper Lusatians. In the community of the Cunewald Valley a wonderful Christmas custom has been preserved to our day. Since 1817 the confirmands carry a Lusatian chandelier-pyramid to church each year on Christmas Eve and about 500 candles illuminate the mighty church there, which is the largest village church in Germany.
Much more could be cited, including the Moravian star widely known beyond our borders, or the Schirgiswälder creche exhibition in which creches of over 150 years of age in family possession are shown, drawing hundreds of visitors each year.
Old handcrafts determined daily life for the ancestors of my family too. My grandfather who came from the Riesengebirge mountains made all kinds of puppets into the 1940s, artistic and ecclesiastical objects and as late as at the beginning of the twentieth century my great grandfather made all kinds of rural art on his pedal lathe and his carving bench which are still in family possession today.
Connecting on to this tradition we were determined at the establishment of our workshop to design small figures which would acquaint fanciers and collectors with old Upper Lusatian traditions, as well as Christmas products. As a result in the last years an assortment of figures has arisen of old folk costume and handwork of historical Upper Lusatia.

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