Crafts in Austria

Dirndl Grundlsee © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Peter Burgstaller
Dirndl Grundlsee © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Peter Burgstaller

Crafts in Austria have a very long tradition. Some of the workshops have become global players and others still operate as they did 300 hundred years ago. We have visited a few of the better known ones.


Wine tasting without Riedel-stemware? Today it is unthinkable not only in Austria, but in France, Italy or the United States. The story of success began in Bohemia, now a part of the Czech Republic, where Johann Christoph Riedel was born in 1673. No one at the time could have known that this was the hour when one of the largest glass works in the world was born. Eleven Riedel generations have led this family enterprise successfully into today’s world. The exclusive mouth-blown glasses are made in the Tirolean Kufstein. The countless forms and variations demonstrate the approach to innovation, to producing the quality of glasses that are the perfect companion to fine wines, and to tradition. The eminent wine authority, Robert M. Parker, expressed it well in Time magazine: “The Riedel family has never stamped its name on a single bottle of wine. But over the past 50 years, this Austrian clan of master glass-makers has done more to enhance the wine gourmets’ pleasure than almost any wine-making dynasty.”


The ancient tradition of porcelain production is also closely related to the culture of eating and drinking. One of the largest porcelain producers in central Europe is located at lake Traunsee in the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut: the famous Gmundner Keramik company. On a guided visit to the workshops you can look over the shoulders of potters and porcelain craftsmen at work and experience first-hand how a unique hand-made piece of original Gmundner Keramik emerges from an unassuming piece of clay. Each of the 500 different exemplars has to be worked upon at least 60 times by hand on the way to becoming a completed specimen. In this way the Gmundner Porcelain Works produces piece for piece, with loving care, just as it did 300 years ago.

Not far from Gmunden, at the turquoise blue Attersee, the Gollhammer company represents the true connoisseur’s concept of Salzkammergut porcelain. The creations of Gollhammer are many and varied: “The language of design,” according to the company chief Hans Mitterbauer, “derives from a philosophical foundation: It is our challenge to keep up with the times and its demands while respecting the grand porcelain tradition of the Salzkammergut. We need to be modern and appealing.” This endeavour can be seen best at the company headquarters, the 300 year-old Aichergut in Seewalchen that Mitterbauer saved from demolition and then restored. On a tour through the spacious showrooms and the painters’ studios, one can see first-hand that in fact each individual piece is made and decorated by hand. There are no stencils, no prototypes. Every single stag incorporated into the Hubertus emblem is unique; each rack of antlers just a bit different, each cup, each plate one of a kind.

“Fired fortune” of a different kind is produced in the old trading center of the city of Steyr: There the Keramik-Manufaktur Sommerhuber has been responsible for creating cosy warmth for your home – since 1491. Rudolf Christian Sommerhuber, a leader in the production of tiles and ceramic surfaces knows exactly why the porcelain tiled stove is more than just a source of heat than “The heat radiated by ceramic tiles is long-wave infrared radiation, and is very similar to the heat produced by the sun. The tiled stove is the grandfather of all infrared sources of heat. Ceramic tiles have the capacity to store heat and release it slowly and ity to store heat and release it slowly and ity to store heat and release it slowly and ity to store heat and release it slowly and ity to store heat and release it slowly and evenly,” says Sommerhuber whose workshop has generated relaxing summer warmth during the Alpine winter – for over five hundred years!


Even older than stove building is the art of blue-dyeing. Today is blue Monday in the blue printing house Wagner in Bad Leonfelden: On this particular Monday the Wagner couple is happily at work. The tradition of dying tissue blue is far older than blue jeans; it has existed for over one thousand years. And why, of all colours, the colour blue? “Blue-dyeing,” says Karl Wagner, “is the only technique that dyes using cold wash, which we call “Küpe.” The dark colour renders clothing soil resistant. Besides, the local dyer’s woad and later the Indian indigo were also relatively inexpensive dyes. However, simply dyeing something blue is not responsible for all of the linguistic metaphors for the colour blue. It is probably more the art of “blue printing,” a somewhat misleading distinction, since it is not a question dyeing blue but quite the opposite. What is printed is that which has been separated from the dyeing process. The patterns used by the Wagner family derive from tradition and have been handed down for centuries. “Every pattern has a specific symbolic meaning or was designed to identify a profession.”

The wood models and patterns of the second Austrian blue printer are also hundreds of years’ old: In central Burgenland, in the town of Steinberg-Dörfl near the Hungarian border there is the dyer works Färberei Koó, a small family owned business. Josef Koó is is the last dyer master in Burgenland who prints with hand presses and rollers and dyes fabrics with vegetable indigo: “Our speciality is the double prints with separate patterns on either side. These are produced with an old hand operated pressurised roller machine,” says Koó. Wagner and Koó meet every year at the dyers’ market in Guttau. Do they see each other as competitors? Wagner laughs: “Our competitor is the wood worm.” That’s because the wood models are up to 200 years old and sooner or later will be infected with wood worms.


Truly without competition is the “Goiserer” shoe: They already adorned the feet of Emperor Franz Joseph and are worn today by kings. They have even weathered the competition of the wildest concerts of the outrageous Hubert von Goisern band. True to tradition the shoes are hand-made in Bad Goisern. A stool facing the wooden work table, stirrups, the shoemaker’s hammer, nails and countless bands – the workshop differs little from the one that existed at the turn of the century.

“Craftmanship remains craftsmanship,” says Rudolf Steflitsch-Hackl, who took over the family enterprise as “Rudolf III.” He is still a royal supplier. He delivers shoes to the royal houses of Greece, Sweden, and Denmark. It is widely known that prominent politicians, businessmen and royalty hunt and hike in his tailor-made footwear. He names no clients, however. “My clients deserve discretion.” Therefore, the “golden,” – green, actually – books in the workshop with the foot moulds remain securely guarded. Only the sketches of the half shoes of the pop star Hubert von Goisern, size 45, are made available for viewing by the master. “Goiserer shoes simply belong to Hubert. And besides, his grandfather was shoemaker in our shoemaker shop.

Somewhat less elitist but just as respected is the GEA-Schuhmanufaktur in Schrems in the Waldviertel region. The design is classic and timeless. The manual production process demands the highest attention to detail. In the elaborate method of producing the shoes with flexible stitching the upper leather is attached to the leather middle sole with a seam. Company chief Heini Staudinger pays special attention to quality at a fair price. “One thing must be clear – a shoemaker in Austria can succeed only by producing a quality product.” This quality also has a human ly by producing a quality product.” This quality also has a human ly by producing a quality product.” This quality also has a human ly by producing a quality product.” This quality also has a human ly by producing a quality product.” This quality also has a human element. All employers are on a first name basis and the highest salary is only twice as high as the lowest. Manager Staudinger, who is also personally engaged in aid to Africa, reports in his own words that his salary is in the middle range.


Apart from these and other enterprises there are a number of small, even very small, workshops redefining the balance between tradition and innovation. Some of them are organized in “master malls,” a grouping of old workshops producing products reaching from Austrian folk attire, to hat and lederhosen makers and even to an optician who designs ultramodern eye glasses – made of antler ivory. A pair of eyeglasses not from the rack, but of the rack. Every rack of antlers is different,” says Manfred Pamminger. “For that reason alone each pair of eyeglasses is different.”

Unique specimens of another kind are produced by Walter Grübl and Herbert Klieber in Eben in the province of Salzburg. Both of these men are the last quill embroiders, who adorn swatches, belts, knife sheaths, barrettes, coin purses, mens’ braces, and leather bound albums with their artistic embroidery. The raw material of the quill embroiderers is the tail feathers of the peacock that are dropped once per year. These quills are especially long and are split into millimeter wide segments. “The belts and bags that are made as we do it are a fundamental part of traditional Alpine fashion,” says Walter Grübl. He is especially proud of the wide, ornately embroidered belts that are worn over lederhosen. At one time these belts were worth the value of up to two cows, at a time when cows represented a huge investment. “Adorning oneself with borrowed plumes,” that is, with those of the peacock was a status symbol. That is still true today. Photographs in the workshop display the proud ski stars Michael Walchhofer and Hermann Maier with their lederhosen belts made in the Salzburg quill embroiderer workshop. These symbolic images reflect a stunning contradiction: these champions of the fastest times in the world are wearing works of craftsmanship that were produced in a painstakingly slow process. Timeless.


Riedel Tiroler Glashütte GmbH Weissachstraße 28 A-6330 Kufstein/AUSTRIA Tel.: +43 (0) 5372 – 64 896 Fax: +43 (0) 5372 – 63 225

Gmundner Keramik Keramikstraße 24, A-4810 Gmunden Tel.: +43 (0) 7612 786-0 Fax.: +43 (0) 7612 786-99

Gollhammer im Aichergut Kapellenweg 7 A-4863 Seewalchen am Attersee Tel.:+43-7662-22466-0

Keramik Sommerhuber Resthofstr. 69 A-4400 Steyr Telefon: +43/7252-893-0 Telefax: +43/7252-893-210

Blaudruckerei Wagner Kurhausstraße 11 4190 Bad Leonfelden

Original burgenländischer Indigo-Handblaudruck Blaudruckerei Koó Neugasse 14 7453 Steinberg Burgenland, Österreich Tel.: +43 (0) 2612 8471

Rudolf Steflitsch-Hackl Konzessionierter orthopädischer Fachbetrieb (authorised orthopaedic company) Spezialerzeugung von Berg-, Sport- und Jagdschuhen A-4822 Bad Goisern 47 Tel.: +436135/8227 • Fax: +436135/8227

Waldviertler Schuhwerkstatt (shoe maker) Niederschremserstr. 4a 3943 Schrems

Salzburger Federkiel-Stickerei (quill embroiderer) Walter Grübl und Herbert Klieber Edtsiedlung 207 5531 Eben im Pongau Telefon: +43 (0) 6458/8300

Ersten Kommentar schreiben


Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht.