Give me Glass, Give me Glitter, Give me an Eastern German Bauble !
Do you like festive decorations? For us Europeans, Christmas probably marks the peak of decorating and beautifying our homes. Germany is home to some very beautiful decorations, especially christmas tree baubles: you find a great variety in homeware shops, even supermarkets, you can buy some more at Christmas fairs, and of course, the internet opens up exciting new sources of decorative ornaments.
You can buy a ton of fairly nice good-looking glass baubles in IKEA. You can have new ones every year at their prices. I have some that I keep re-using and for outdoor wreaths, and they’re good. But in the last ten years or so I have really gotten into vintage and handmade baubles. It all started with an older Eastern German bauble that I picked up in a charity shop in Nottingham. They have “Made in GDR” stamped on them, so easily identifiable as Eastern German. 99 percent of Eastern German baubles came from a small town in the deep south of the state of Thuringia called Lauscha, where the tradition of handmade glass ornament and especially Christmas tree decorations is very much alive.
My baubles are Eastern German
Lauscha Glass is traditional Eastern German glassware, not as famous as Venice Glass, but the christmas tree bauble was invented here in 1848. The glassblowing industry had been established roughly 300 years earlier making drinking vessels but in the 1800’s as well known for making artificial eye prostheses as well as doll’s eyes.
So when a poor glassblowers Family were unable to afford the more fashionable nuts and apples, they blew a few baubles and hung them on a tree instead, starting a huge trend. Over time, competitors like Viennese and Bohemian glass works would join in and fulfilling the huge demand in Europe and the USA. During the 1950’s to 1980’s the production was nationalised and largely automated, creating a reliable cash cow. After the 1990’s they reverted to mostly handmade baubles again.
And almost every year, without fail, I go to the Christmas Fair at Berlin Alexanderplatz to buy my years supply of Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen and to check out the over-the-top decorations at the Lauschaer Glaskugelhaus. This is just one of numerous producers in the small town of Lauscha. This particular company has an outlet on the Christmas fairs of Berlin-Alexanderplatz, Wuerzburg and Chicago.
Buying Lauscha baubles in Berlin
So this Friday, giving Chicago and Bavaria a miss, I went to Alexanderplatz. It was just cheaper to park in the Park and Ride and take the MRT into a city crowded with unruly shopping bags. It was unseasonally warm, dark and rainy, and not that many people were about, which is generally an excellent time to visit large Christmas fairs, because you actually get to browse the stalls. I headed straight for glass bauble heaven.
So, here you have a wooden chalet filled to the brim with colourful, delicate, glittery glas ornaments. The first thing a salesperson said as I entered the chalet with my rather large camera, having looked but not found a “no photos” sign anywhere, was that it’s forbidden to take photographs. I know, copycats with glassblowing equipment in their basement or a cousin with a factory in Shenzhen are everywhere.
Perhaps the no photo was a selective door policy for rather scruffy looking intruders who had not yet filled their baskets to the brim or those with cameras larger than a cellphone.
They did not seem to mind cellphone pictures, but given the hearty welcome I was rather… discreet prior to paying 30 EUROs for my small selection of fine glass. At first I thought I might not bother but could I let a photo ban of one singular outlet stop me waxing lyrical on the art of making traditional baubles? No! The pictures look quite rubbish so you have to go some time and check out the originals.
What shapes can you get?
The most traditional are round baubles which are usually blown freestyle. A very German thing are tree toppers with two or three stacked baubles and a spike on top.
Birds are another traditional choice. Similar to mines, caged canaries are historical companions to glassblowers in their homes to detect gas leaks, and the birds were appreciated and history preserved in glass. When I was a child, silver pine cones were very much in fashion in the 1970’s and 1980’s. And now? There are no limits. You can have pretty much anything you want. I saw a gyros sandwich ornament two days ago. Yes, a gyros sandwich. I looked for a cat ornament to resemble our blue Maite whom we adopted this year.
And this is what I got in the end:
Sadly, the selection of houses did not match the selection of foodstuff and drinks, so I got the cottage instead of the much less picturesque house we now call home. The silver cat is supposed to resemble Maite – I bought the Siamese cat last year as a memento op adopting Leia in 2018, so I can only say “well the one that isn’t Siamese, that’s Maite”. And the guinea pig is for my friend.
Of course, when I came home, Leia came to appraise the shoppings and started eating the guinea pig which put a stop to putting a tree up with any kind of fragile ornament. These beauties will be hung but the cats will not have it that easy.
Where else can you buy Lauscha baubles?
Check out small Christmas fairs held in communities all over Eastern Germany in untouristed areas. They are often held just one or two days int he pre-Christmas season, and some are positively like a flea market. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a few boxes in Eastern Brandenburg last year.
Of course. there’s online auction houses. You get GDR-era machine made ones fairly cheaply – fashions change, and a lot of people threw them out to buy Western German ornaments. Put “Lauscha” or “DDR” in your search.
If you are really into glass, the town holds a bauble market on the first and second weekend of advent, and I am very tempted to visit next year. I understand that unlike with “Venetian Glass”, you won’t get anything mass-market at their stalls, but I have yet to check it out. If you’re not into glass, you can buy many traditional Eastern German Christmas decorations online.
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