The Advent and Christmas season was particularly reflective in 2020. And a good opportunity to celebrate artisan craftspeople and makeries in and around Munich. After all, you would be hard pushed to find gifts more unique than those produced in these festive workshops. Happy gifting – and making!
As the days get shorter, candle flames dance in windows and lanterns, on garlands and branches; churches are resplendent, filled with a candlelight glow. But don’t go thinking that light is just light, and that all candles are the same. The Fürst family has been ensuring flames can burn at their brightest for five generations: as the only chandler in Munich, this family-run business has been making candles since 1862 – not by pouring or pressing them, but using the traditional method of drawing.
And that’s what makes the difference, as master chandlers – and brothers – Franz and Bernhard Fürst will attest. In their workshop in Sendling, a thick wick – the “soul of the candle” – is stretched across the two rotating drums of the drawing machine, which dates from the 1950s, and then repeatedly pulled through a tank of hot, liquid wax. Candles produced in this way grow by a centimetre each hour.
For the last step, they are coated in a layer of hard wax and cut to size using a heated guillotine. Candles produced in this way can be identified by looking at the base, where the separate layers appear rather like the rings that give away the age of a Christmas tree. The light spreads out through the air pockets, making the hand-drawn candles glow from the inside out. They exude a warmer, more natural light, burn brighter and for longer, and also drip less.
The business, named Wachszieher am Dom, has produced 8,000 different models so far, and every candle produced here is an original. Franz Fürst’s wife Zdenka takes great care over decorating them, producing classic Christmas candles with bells and angels, as well as Bavarian candles adorned with images of pretzels or the Frauenkirche – which is located just around the corner from the store and is one of the 200 or so Munich churches inside which Fürst candles cast their special glow. Their fame has even travelled as far as Rome: former Pope Joseph Ratzinger, who is Bavarian by birth, has been ordering candles for his Christmas tree from Fürst for years.
Candles are living lights and rather sensitive. For example, they like to create their own spotlight at a distance from others, they don’t like draughts, and they need their wicks to be trimmed every so often. The Fürsts offer many other tips on their website, to help you care for your candle and make sure it shines for a long time to come.
Der Wachszieher am Dom
Barbara Grathwohl was an empowered and independent woman – which warrants particular respect given that she lived over a hundred years ago and was married to a prosperous Munich man. Though it fuelled plenty of gossip and raised eyebrows, as a woman in her mid-thirties Grathwohl was unwilling to simply be a trophy wife. So she took it upon herself to open a store on Maximilianstrasse in 1918 – though in a concession to decorum she used a different name for the enterprise: Elly Seidl – her daughter’s first name and her own maiden name. Grathwohl initially offered fine food and preserves, but soon began selling handmade filled chocolates to meet demand. Today, these small edible works of art are the speciality of the Elly Seidl confectionery shop.
The Rambold family has been keeping this delicious heritage alive since the 1970s, adding bars and slabs as well as drinking chocolate to the store’s product range. During Advent they pour high-quality Belgian chocolate into moulds to produce Santas, angels, bishops and elves, as well as using it to coat Elisenlebkuchen (a flourless gingerbread), florentine biscuits and cylindrical Baumkuchen.
And what do you think they fill their advent calendars with? Filled chocolates! Gleaming, delicately aromatic chocolate bites that crack between your teeth and then melt on your tongue. Varieties include “Honey Moon”, a white truffle confection with macadamia nougat and honey, and “Copa Cabana” which features rum and a pineapple and lemon paste coated in dark chocolate. A host of well-known figures such as Willy Bogner, Konstantin Wecker and Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter adore “Annette”, “Barbaretta” and “Katharinchen” – just a few more of the store’s popular filled chocolates on offer.
Customers can order online and use the chocolate assortment box creator to create their own selection of favourites from 120 different varieties. Or you could have a photo of your sweetheart printed on a batch of chocolates instead: created with food colouring on flat pieces of white chocolate, to be enjoyed in high resolution all the way to your mouth.
According to legend, Swiss chocolatier Frédéric Neuhaus developed the moulding process for the production of filled chocolates. In 1857, his father Jean was running a pharmacy in Brussels, where they sold cough lozenges as well as liquorice sticks to ease stomach aches. Frédéric had the idea of coating the medicine with chocolate, and from there he eventually decided to open a confectionery store. After all, chocolate makes us happy – and laughter is the best medicine.
Elly Seidl knows their creations are bound to give people a sugar rush. That is why they specifically advises that each piece is allowed to melt slowly in the mouth, so that the individual flavours can be savoured – rather than simply inhaling a boxful one after the other. Developing a single new type of filled chocolate still takes almost half a year. One of the varieties is named after Maximilian Rambold’s young daughter Emma. It is a white chocolate pot filled with coffee-flavoured ganache – a reference to the fact that the girl gave her parents sleepless nights even during the pregnancy!
Am Kosttor 2
“I wrote Krull [...] on the paper I mentioned before, from the Prantl stationery shop,” Thomas Mann noted in his diary. His unfinished novel “Confessions of Felix Krull” was written on the high-quality paper produced by Munich’s “Royal printing house and fancy goods manufacturer Prantl” – as were all of the other works the writer produced after moving to Munich in 1894.
Today, writing or receiving a letter or card is a special occurrence in itself. The sending of these physical artefacts really expresses appreciation to the recipient, and it feels even more special when it’s an exquisite sheet of paper being drawn from a firm, precisely folded silk-smooth envelope.
Family-run Prantl is the only business of its kind in Germany and is among the oldest worldwide. The company was established by Franz Anton Prantl in 1797, in the then capital and royal seat. In addition to private printing jobs, i.e. of exquisite custom items, Prantl initially also traded in coffee, tea, silk, silver and gold goods.
The manufacturer was also known for its paper finishing and die-stamping – an intaglio printing process that is still used to print banknotes to this day. Prantl’s engravers produced coats of arms, initials and monograms for prestigious individuals of great name and rank: Bavarian kings and princes, Habsburg and Wittelsbach nobles, even Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Many artists also favoured Prantl accessories: Wassily Kandinsky painted on canvases made by the company, Richard Strauss composed music on its paper, and Rainer Maria Rilke wrote poetry in its notebooks. Prantl also fulfilled all the stationery needs of Siemens, Spaten, Löwenbräu and BMW. Thomas Mann planned also to write about “the fall of the 1933 regime on German paper (from Prantl)”, though he did not end up doing so, being in exile at the time. And the rest is history.
Prantl has always specialised in personalisation. Today you can have your own designs, photos and drawings printed on letter stationery and cards, and have them delivered in the iconic red gift box. Alternatively, you can opt for “tailor made” personalised office supplies created by the Prantl typesetting department.
Brienner Strasse 11
(Also at Ludwig Beck stationery department, Marienplatz 11)
As far back as 1370, the city of Munich has been cheered by the spiced honey cookies offered by a “Lebzelter”, or gingerbread maker. Unlike in Nuremberg, where the cakes were decorated with almonds and candied lemon peel, the Munich bakers used cutters to cut the biscuits into shapes and decorated them with colourful icing. To this day, the gingerbread heart is key to the city’s image as the “metropolis with heart”.
You will see the tasty treats swinging from many stands at large and small Munich folk festivals and Christmas markets throughout the year. “People use our hearts to send messages,” says Michael Schifferl, who has been making lebkuchen at his bakery in Puchheim since 1979 and inscribes each one individually – with pet names, phone numbers and even a marriage proposal on one occasion! Munich mainstay chef Alfons Schuhbeck enjoys gifting the hearts to his co-workers. Schlager group The Flippers told their fans: “You are the Oscar of my heart”.
Though markets are on hold for the moment, you don’t have to forgo your lebkuchen: hearts, Christmas figures from reindeer to stars and gender-neutral gingerbread people are all available to purchase online from Schifferl – inscribed and shaped as you wish. Alternatively, you can order blank gingerbread shapes to add your own message and then hang them around your neck or on the Christmas tree. Perfect for wishing your granny “Merry Christmas and a happy New Year”, surprising colleagues, or letting your best friend know that this year’s German youth word of the year is “lost” (which means “I don’t get it”). Or even simply for saying “thank you”.
Lebkuchen hold on to their delicious flavour for at least two years. And we do mean “at least”. The Ancient Egyptians even left cakes sweetened with honey in the burial chambers of their dead, for the afterlife. We leave them under the Christmas tree for our loved ones.
Christmas is a time full of wonderful traditions – even if many children today have no idea what is actually being celebrated: Shopping? Gluttony? No, my dears. We are celebrating love, and a man who was born on December 24th and who died out of love for us more than two thousand years ago. Nativity scenes are created to depict the birth of Jesus Christ. Before Christmas trees became popular during the 19th century, the nativity scene was the focal point of the celebration. In 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi became the first person to stage the Christmas story, in Greccio, Italy, rather than drily preaching it to his parishioners.
Friends David Seifert and Thomas Babinsky work in a carpentry workshop in Herbertshausen near Munich, making serving boards from locally sourced wood. A few years ago they realised that they both enjoyed making nativity scenes in their free time. Since then, they have been working together to create richly detailed Oriental and Alpine-style nativity scenes that bring Christ’s birth in Bethlehem vividly to life in Bavaria.
People simply cannot get enough of examining the little scenes and their many details: a mini-ladder leading to a little ice-covered door to the hayloft! An outhouse, an oven for baking bread, a birdhouse! Building nativity scenes, also known as cribs, is an Advent tradition in many Bavarian communities. It grounds us, and the nativity scene also prolongs our joyful anticipation of Christmas Eve.
This year, the crib-making course that Seifert and Babinsky usually run has been cancelled, but anyone interested can go online to find a meticulous guide to making a nativity scene, which covers painting, lighting, adding plants and building. So you can soon have your own Caspar, wise man from the east, flattening a path through the wheat with a ten-centimetre flail, and a pipe-smoking grandfather chatting about accommodation shortages with the Virgin Mary beside a small glowing shepherd’s fire.
Mary kneels or stands to the right of the baby Jesus in the manger, on the Gospel side – so on the left from the observer’s point of view. Joseph stands on the Epistle side, i.e. on the right. Either in a stall or closer to the action, the donkey stands at Mary’s side and the ox at Joseph’s. Source: The Bible and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (it really does exist, we’re not making it up!)
David Seifert and Thomas Babinsky GbR
You may also like: Although the Münchner Christkindlmarkt Christmas market and Kripperlmarkt nativity market were cancelled in 2020, you can buy nativity scenes and accessories and all other typical Christmas items directly from the exhibitors.