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Germany's Cult Beach Chair, the Strandkorb

For over a century the Strandkorb has been a part of Germany's culture, a symbol for holidays, sun, sand and sea.

It might be a cult object these days, but the first Strandkoerb was invented in 1882 for an elderly aristocrat Elfriede von Maltzahn, who had rheumatism but no lack of energy and loved to visit Warnemuende, a northeast German sea resort. On the Baltic Sea it is in today's Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

A beautiful mixture of sandy beaches, pine forests, lakes and history, which following the region's restoration after Germany's reunification is now part of the new 'German Riviera', its weather has not changed since the 19th century so along with the sun, seagulls and sand dunes it often 'enjoys' strong and chill winds.

Doctors had agreed that sea air was good for Frau von Maltzahn's health while at the same time insisted she should not sit on the sand, so she approached Wilhelm Bartelmann, chief basket maker to the imperial court of Emperor Wilhelm I, for a solution.

He designed the Strandkoerb, literally a 'beach basket', as the answer to her problem. It looked like a large armchair, was compared to an "upright wash basket", and not only offered shelter from the wind, rain, sand and sun its occupant was also hidden from view, so although the noise from other beach users could be heard it was nevertheless a 'private' space.

Elfriede von Maltzahn's wicker beach basket was first used on June 15, 1882, and met with such enthusiasm that Wilhelm Bartelmann began production at once, and the next year designed a two seater. While at the same time his wife Elisabeth opened a "Strandkoerbe Rental Service".

The Strandkorb idea spread along the German coast, at first mainly with single seats but by the beginning of the 20th century there was increasing demand for two seats, as well as for beach chairs with padding to make the experience more comfortable, adjustable roofs and small tables for a vacuum flask.

German beaches are now dotted with more than 70,000 of the covered wicker beach baskets, and among many other options one of the most requested has drawers at the base to serve as sand free storage away as well as foot rests.

Some have armrests with foldaway wooden airport style trays, roofs that tilt backwards, there are models adjustable for sunbathing, others with seat heating and/or rainproof covers making it possible to sit through the worst storms with no chance of becoming even slightly damp.

The list of modifications is virtually endless.

Of course there are special models for children, while pet dogs enjoying some time by the sea can also choose from several designs.

Anyone staying for more than a day at the seashore usually books the beach chair for their whole holiday, often building low sand walls around 'their' Strandkorb and decorating it with stones and shells. Complete with a gate put in place whenever they are not there it becomes their holiday 'home from home'.

The basic shape hasn't changed much since it was first invented, but two distinct variations have evolved, the straight angular North Sea beach chair which fits perfectly to the wild and stormy North Sea, but can be adjusted so it is possible to lie flat and sunbathe, and a round rolling Baltic Sea one.

The latter is the most popular basket chair on the beach, and also in gardens where they appear from March until late Autumn, despite the fact that as it only retracts 45 degrees it is just a seat.

Nevertheless it is this more "gemuetlich", cosy, Baltic Sea chair, also known as a 'Minilaube', Little Arbor, which is the background to many romantic holiday memories.

Wicker beach chairs have become a successful export for German craftsmen, and the construction of each is a joint project that takes the skills of a carpenter, basket maker, seamstress and upholsterer two days to produce.

Even those with 'wear and tear' from being used on a German beach have an expected twenty year life span, and this combination, together with the chairs being 'in trend' and having colorful awing, is seen as a merging of old traditions with a modern image. Something typically German.

A 'Super Strandkorb', seven feet high and twenty feet long, was specially made to represent 'Germany' for the 2007 G8 Summit held in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The usually stiff and formal official "Family Photo" of eight world leaders, in this case including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Presidents Bush and Putin, instead shows them sitting in a blue and white upholstered beach basket in Heiligendamm on the Baltic Coast.

Almost a symbol of sheltering from The Winds of Change

A Brazilian beach has golden sand, azure seas and a 'Wow' factor, an American one might conjure up slow motion images of red swim suited life guards running to the rescue, and perhaps hot dog stands, while for Australia it could be 'throwing something on the barbie', surfers and sharks, but for Germany's North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts it is the thousands of covered wicker beach chairs.

Germany's idiosyncratic 'Strandkorb' has for generations been an integral part of the country's culture, along with sun, sand, sea, wind and even snow, and it shows no sign of going away anytime soon.

Illustrations: Strandkorbe in Heringsdorf, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania via haus-garten-ratgeber.de - The North Sea and Baltic Sea Beach Chairs via Bartelmann.com - A Strandkorb in the snow, photographer foto-mueller, via maroundpartner.com

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