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BellaOnline's German Culture Editor


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 is a cult object these days, but the first Strandkorb was invented in 1882 for an elderly aristocrat Elfriede von Maltzahn, who had rheumatism but loved to visit Warnemuende; a northeast German resort on the Baltic Sea.

In today's Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and 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, its weather has not changed since the 19th century.

Along with the sun, seagulls and sand dunes it "enjoys" strong and chill winds.

Doctors agreed sea air was good for Frau von Maltzahn's health while insisting she should not sit on the sand, so she asked Wilhelm Bartelmann, 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 compared to an "upright wash basket", but provided shelter from the wind, rain, sand and sun as well as hiding its occupant from view. Other beach users might be heard but the chair itself was "private" space.

Elfriede von Maltzahn's wicker beach basket was first used on June 15, 1882, and was such a success Wilhelm Bartelmann began production at once. The following year he designed a two seater, and his wife Elisabeth opened a "Strandkorb Rental Service".

The Strandkorb idea spread along the German coast.

At first mainly single seaters, but by the beginning of the 20th century there was increased demand for: two seats, beach chairs with padding to make the experience more comfortable, adjustable roofs and small tables for a vacuum flask.

German beaches are dotted with more than 70,000 covered wicker beach baskets, and one of the most requested models has drawers at the base that are sand free storage space and foot rests.

Some have armrests with foldaway wooden airport style trays; roofs that tilt back; can adjust for sunbathing; have seat heating and/or rainproof covers making it 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 can also choose from several designs.

Anyone staying for more than a day at the beach usually books a beach chair for their holiday. Often building low sand walls around "their" Strandkorb, decorating this with stones and shells, adding a gate to put in place whenever they are not there, and turning it into 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 that fits perfectly to the wild and stormy North Sea, but is adjustable making it possible to lie flat and sunbathe, and a 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 beachbar decks on top of shopping malls, in Berlin for example, and as furniture for inside the home.

This "gemuetlich" (cosy) chair, 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 taking 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.

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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