Gossip! The small lump of clay makes a big noise when Sigerd Böhmer throws it up on the potter’s wheel. With great sensitivity, the 59-year-old quickly forms an onion-shaped vessel out of the inconspicuous lump. “Pepper and salt shakers are on the menu today,” the potter tells visitors to his pottery workshop.
In the 1990s, he and his wife Charlotte set up the ceramics studio in Höhr-Grenzhausen in an empty workshop. The town is located in the Westerwald district. The region has been known for its ceramic tradition since the 16th century.
Earthenware jars for the cider
Visitors from all over the world come there. And to Böhmer’s. For its intricate painted pottery and for the industrial monument next door. Because in the studio’s workshop there is one of the largest surviving Kann furnaces in the region, built in 1870.
“The huge oven was slowly heated with briquettes, then further fired with beech wood at over 1200 degrees Celsius. The fire lasted for 50 hours. 300 kilos of table salt were added to obtain the typical grey-blue, salt-glazed household vessels,” explains Töpfer Böhmer.
Plates and cups, pots, bottles, jugs, bread baskets and beer vats are made from the high-quality clay mined only a few kilometers away. The onion-shaped “Ebbelwoibembel”, clay jugs for Frankfurt cider, are also distilled in this way.
At the end of the 18th century, the region of the Westerwald around Höhr-Grenzhausen, Hillscheid, Ransbach-Baumbach and Siershahn was given the significant name Kannenbäckerland.
The Girmscheid pottery, founded in 1884, still has onion jars with handles in its range. The traditional company is said to have the largest product range of salt-glazed ceramics. The pottery also manufactures individually inscribed plates, jugs, nativity figures, umbrella stands and urns to order.
Artistic objects replace old traditions
Things are less traditional in the former Merkelbach stoneware factory in Höhr-Grenzhausen. Twelve designers and potters have set up their studios and showrooms there.
Most people in Merkelbachhof do not know much about the name Kannenbäckerland. “We create artistic objects from clay, mugs with handles are not our thing,” says ceramicist Andreas Hinder (58). His specialty is animal sculptures made of clay.
Almost all the designers and potters had previously attended the ceramics college in Höhr-Grenzhausen and ended up staying in the quiet little town. “Here is the center of ceramics in Germany with schools, universities, institutes and research facilities,” says Susanne Altzweig (62) from the ceramics group Höhr-Grenzhausen.
Clear forms and lines – visitors are welcome
Dick Lion (66) from the Netherlands came to Merkelbachhof after his years of apprenticeship and travel. LED lampshades with a clear design language are created in his studio, designed on the computer and shaped on a milling machine.
The tableware from Barbara Kaas and Emil Heger’s studio also shows clear lines. The highlight of their collection: Many individual pieces can be combined in their size. Her style is very puristic and stands in sharp contrast to the traditional pot culture.
Guests are welcome in the studios and some potters offer pottery workshops. However, visitors should check opening hours in advance. Because on some weekends the potters travel to markets.
Westerwald’s white gold
Westerwald clay is mined around the towns of Boden, Mogendorf, Meudt, Moschheim and Ruppach-Goldhausen. Visitors to the Clay Mining Museum in Siershahn can find out. The focus of the museum is the “Gute Hoffnung” pit, where clay was mined until 1979. It is the last evidence of underground clay mining.
“Today, the clay comes exclusively from open mines, about four million tonnes per year,” says Peter Noll (67). The retired ceramics engineer works with the volunteer museum about the white gold in the Westerwald, which they proudly call the high-quality light clay here.
Anyone traveling in the Kannenbäckerland will realize that not all clay is the same. There can be more than 250 different variants in a clay pit – with white, red and black colour. High-tech mixing plants at the pits produce the clay mixture for the various applications.
The potters and the ceramics industry in Westerwald process only a part of the production volume themselves. Westerwald clay is also found in Italian tiles, bricks and bathroom ceramics.
Ceramics on the space shuttle and in Formula 1
“Our fired clay, the ceramics, is unbreakable and fireproof, acid-resistant and also withstands great heat,” says Annette Zeischka-Kenzler (54) from the Westerwald Keramikmuseum in Höhr-Grenzhausen.
Examples of this are the heat shields in space shuttles made of ceramic tiles. The powerful brakes in Formula 1 racing cars also have ceramic components, as do the insulators on high-voltage power lines.
- Holiday destination: The region of the Westerwald – between the Rhine valley near Vallendar in the southwest and the town of Wirges in the northeast – has been known for its ceramics since the 16th century. There are numerous pottery workshops in the main towns of Höhr-Grenzhausen and Ransbach-Baumbach. The Westerwald Ceramic Museum is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
- On the way: By train to Montabaur or Koblenz, continue by bus.
- Accommodation: In the region there are hotels, guest houses, holiday apartments, camping and mobile home pitches. Accommodations in a hotel double room are between 90 and 250 euros per person. night.
- Information: Kannenbäckerland Tourist Service, Lindenstraße 13, 56203 Höhr-Grenzhausen (in the ceramics museum; Tel.: 026241/9433, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: www.kannenbaeckerland.de)