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
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
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
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.