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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, and evidence of extreme north German obstinacy when faced with the elements.
A cult object these days, the first Strandkorb was invented in 1882 for an elderly aristocrat with rheumatism. Elfriede von Maltzahn, who loved to visit Warnemünde, a northeast German resort on the Baltic Sea.
In today's Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Warnemünde is a beautiful mixture of sandy beaches, pine forests, lakes and history that after Germany's reunification has become a part of the new German Riviera, but its weather has not changed since the 19th century.
Along with the sun, seagulls and sand dunes it "enjoys" strong chill winds, and is rarely really warm.
Doctors agreed sea air was good for Frau von Maltzahn's health but insisted she should not sit on the sand, so she asked Wilhelm Bartelmann, the chief basket maker to the imperial court of Emperor Wilhelm I, if he had a solution.
Bartelmann designed the Strandkorb, literally a "Beach Basket", as the answer. It was often compared to an "upright wash basket", but provided shelter from the wind, rain, sand and sun as well as hiding its occupant from view, so other beach users might be heard but the chair itself was "private" space.
Elfriede von Maltzahn's wicker beach basket was used for the first time on June 15, 1882, and was such a success Wilhelm Bartelmann began production at once. In 1883 he designed a two seater, while his wife Elisabeth opened a "Strandkorb Rental Service".
The Strandkorb idea spread along the German coast.
Mainly single seaters at first, by the beginning of the 20th century there was increased demand for those with two seats; padded to make the experience more comfortable; adjustable roofs and small tables for a vacuum flask.
German beaches are dotted with over 70,000 covered wicker beach baskets, and one of the most requested models has drawers at the base that serve as foot rests as well as sand free storage space.
Some have armrests with foldaway wooden airport style trays; roofs that tilt back; can adjust for sunbathing; have seat heating and/or rainproof covers so it is possible to sit through the worst storms.
The list of modifications is virtually endless.
Of course there are special models for children, while pet dogs enjoying some time by the sea also have several designs to choose from.
Anyone staying for more than a day at the beach usually books a beach chair for their entire holiday. Low sand walls are built around "their" Strandkorb, they are decorated with stones and shells, a gate added and put in place whenever they are not there. The Strandkorb becomes a holiday "Home from Home".
The basic shape hasn't changed much since it was first invented, but there are two distinct variations. A straight angular North Sea beach chair, fitting perfectly to the wild and stormy North Sea, but adjustable making it possible to lie flat and sunbathe, and the round rolling Baltic Sea design.
Baltic Sea chairs are the most popular, despite the fact that they only retract 45 degrees so are only seats. Popular on the beach, in gardens where they appear from March until late Autumn, on beach bar decks on top of shopping malls (in Berlin for example), and as furniture for inside the home.
This "Gemütlich" (cosy) chair, which is also known as a "Minilaube" (Little Arbor), is the background to many romantic holiday memories.
Wicker beach chairs are a successful export for German craftsmen, and their construction is a joint project; each one takes a carpenter, basket maker, seamstress and upholsterer two days to produce.
Even those with "wear and tear" from being used by thousands of tourists have an expected twenty year life span, and this combination, together with the chairs being "in trend" and having colorful awning, is seen as a merging of old traditions with a modern image.
For generations Germany's idiosyncratic "Strandkorb" has been an integral part of the country's culture, along with sun, sand, sea, wind and even snow, and 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
Content copyright © 2015 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
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