For Björn Köhler, the start of production at his factory this week could not have been better after a short summer break. For the third time after 2012 and 2014, Eppendorfer won the “Free Press” public prize in the “Tradition and form” competition, which the newspaper has been offering as a special prize since 2009. In other words: from 1772 readers …

For Björn Köhler, the start of production at his factory this week could not have been better after a short summer break. For the third time after 2012 and 2014, Eppendorfer wins the “Free Press” public prize in the “Tradition and Shape” competition, which the newspaper has been offering as a special prize since 2009. In other words: 323 of the 1,772 readers were from opinion that the Köhler group “Ore Mountains Allstar Band” was the most successful of the ten nominations for the competition. A total of 18 companies submitted 19 works for the industry competition, which is being held for the 27th time. Nine were eliminated at the end of the first round of evaluation by the jury. Ten were still in the running for the grand prizes and the three-week reader survey.

This year it was extremely tight in the top spots. “Madame et Monsieur” from the Füchtner company in Seiffen obtained only 13 votes less than Köhler’s group. Woodcarver Jesko Lange from Zschorlau received twelve votes less for his carved minor.

At first, Björn Köhler finds it hard to believe that his white-bearded musicians won the race. “This year there were really great works submitted and nominated by the jury. I didn’t think my group would win with this diversity, especially since they are aimed at younger target groups.” , admits the master turner. “But it also shows me how deeply rooted our craftsmanship is with people, especially here in the region. I see the readers’ vote as an appreciation of our work.”

When Björn Köhler looks back on his beginnings as a freelance master turner on 1 January 1989 in a sole proprietorship, he himself sometimes feels nauseous. “I had nothing! My first workshop was the garage of my parents, who did not work in this branch themselves. Four days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, conscientious objector Koehler was drafted into the construction service for six months. He again signed the mint and started again exactly on the day of monetary union, July 1, 1990, “with constant doubts as to whether it was the right step at that time,” he admits. today. “I didn’t earn anything for the first three years. Fortunately, my parents helped me and my future wife as a nurse had at least a regular income.” In 1994, Köhler went to the first trade fair in Frankfurt am Main. He visited markets and merchants across the republic and handed out his business cards. “Since I didn’t even have my own phone, there was my parents’ number, under which I could be contacted for an hour a day. I still remember the three-digit number 592 today.” It was not until 1995 that the company had its own telephone connection. “Today, I sometimes aspire to this inaccessibility”, says the master.

With six employees and the first apprentice from 1995, the production capacity of the parents’ garage was completely exhausted. The first new building was financed by a loan of 420,000 marks, followed by a new investment in the site of a former chess factory in the mid-2000s.

Björn Köhler conquered the hearts of customers and, above all, of a younger clientele in 1995 with a modern nursery, unprecedented at the time, which is still a hit – despite the increasingly strong competition from his seemingly inexhaustible series of de new Santa Claus, which has long been the hallmark of the manufacture. Around 350 different pieces come out of the workshop each year. With an annual turnover of 2.5 million euros and 46 employees, it is today one of the big names in the industry. Wife Peggy has also worked here for several years, as have Björn Köhler’s parents, who are retirees (79 and 82) who help them out when they need a man.

This was always the case in the days of Corona. Sometimes half the workforce was in quarantine. “But we continued to produce non-stop, all in stock – without a short-term workday and no large advance orders from dealers. It paid off in November and December.” The company achieved 75 percent of annual sales during those two months. “And that with stores closed. The rapid increase in online commerce was almost unmanageable. I hired three people for it because we weren’t prepared for it and we never wanted to do it,” explains the master who is inspired by customers, retailers and visitors to the show miss the call. It was also not entirely clear if and how much his black-clad musicians would hit.

Two years ago he was inspired by the recognition of the Ore Mountains as a World Heritage Site. “I wanted to let it be known and I thought a few musicians should proclaim it to the world.” So that they did not come as a band from the provinces, he gave them a name which is based on the English term for the Ore Mountains. “The numbers are my reference to the Erzgebirge,” says the Erzgebirge. And why are they all old gentlemen with white beards? “After all, I’m a bit old already,” said the 56-year-old, stroking his five-day-old gray beard.

By the way, all musicians have real role models. The guitarist represents a friend of Freiberg who makes music with the “Miners”. “The one with the white guitar is Helmut Joe Sachse. And the singer of the band, the red-haired ‘Frollein’, really does exist: in a band in the area. She doesn’t know yet that I’m using him as a role model but to a moment I will tell him. “

Like many other manufacturers, Köhler relies on the passion of many people for collecting. This also applies to his group Erzgebirge, which he constantly wants to expand and which will probably evolve into a big band. An accordionist and a trombonist already exist on paper.

Because production, which is now spread over four locations, has long called for expansion, Köhler has decided to make one last major investment – although none of his children who have emigrated to Lower Saxony want to succeed him. It is currently investing 2.5 million in a new production site and has also acquired a toy factory in Eppendorf which has been closed for nine years. Half of the amount has already been spent. The renovation is in progress. At the start of 2022, Köhler wants to concentrate the entire company there with all the production areas. “The objects that become available are sold, one thing remains my ideas and design workshop,” reveals the entrepreneur, who is still his own designer to this day, although he never studied at a university.

Since 1995, he has already won five major prizes in the “Tradition et Forme” competition for his particular work. Only this year, three professional colleagues were able to score even more with the jury.

All the winners of the “Tradition and Shape 2021” competition will be presented to the public for the first time at the “Gifts” fair in Leipzig from September 4 to 6.

Other special prices

The prize for the excellent maintenance of the tradition goes to woodturner Dietmar Wolf in Eppendorf, owner Tobias Wolf, for the Ruprecht smokehouse (natural) by designer Heinz Wolf. The first generation from 1961 is still in production today. Heinz Wolf’s son Dietmar continued the series and began to introduce smokers to new professions.

The Erzgebirgssparkasse prize goes to the company Walter Werner Kunsthandwerk in Seiffen, owner Siegfried Werner, for the figure series “Erzkumpel” and “Wismutkumpel” by designer Siegfried Werner. The first five miners for spring 2020 represent miners from the 1950s and 1960s. In 2021, the lineup was expanded to include five more miners.

The Young Talent Award from the Association of Craftsmen and Toy Manufacturers of Erzgebirge is awarded to Halle student Emma Brix for her balancing game “BluffBlocks”. Weights have been built into the wood, which means that the center of gravity of the building blocks can be shifted. This allows them to be stacked and moved in an amazing way. They seem to be linked by magic.

The Kathrinchen Zimtstern association in Olbernhau around the president Kerstin Drechsel receives the prize of the district administrator of the Erzgebirgskreis. He is strongly involved in the promotion of children and young people. Together, the members initiate projects that make children strong, courageous and imaginative – just like model turned Kathrinchen Zimtstern.

The special prize for a lifetime’s work (posthumously) goes to Max Schanz (* 1895 in Dresden, † 1953 in Seiffen). Schanz shaped the professional profile of the manufacturer of wooden toys like no other: from 1920 as a teacher, designer and director of the toy schools in Seiffen and Grünhainichen. His 125th birthday was the occasion for his grandchildren to publish a book called “Max Schanz, Toy Figures in the Ore Mountains”.

These readers have won

The main prize, a modern pair of angels and miners from the Erzclique series by Emil A. Schalling in Seiffen, goes to Karin Haas at 08112 Wilkau-Haßlau.

Four other prizes in the form of beehives processed for smoking by Dregeno Seiffen were won: Sonja Feiler in 09599 Freiberg, Christine Büchner in 09573 Augustusburg, Werner Geyer in 08233 Treuen and Angelika Wittig in 08066 Zwickau. The prices will be delivered in the next few days.