Better have your passport in hand to enjoy this exciting Steiff travelogue! Steiffgal just recently had the wonderful experience of accompanying 38 Steiff super fans on a nine day tour of Switzerland and Germany. Our destinations? All things Steiff, and Steiff related! Here is a not so brief diary of some of our many trip highlights.
And we're off! After a long day and night of travel, the super fans all gathered in Basel, Switzerland. Our first activity was a fun group dinner, where we all finally met in person and talked about our collections and interests. The next day, we were off in the pouring rain for a full morning at the Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel, which used to be called the Puppenhaus, or Dollhouse Museum. This amazing Steiff mecca has perhaps the best and most comprehensive Steiff collection on the planet! Above is just one photo of an amazing grouping of tiny Steiff Teds - it would be impossible to capture the scope of this museum in even 1,000 photos. This is a MUST SEE destination for all Steiff fans who find themselves in this part of the world. While in Basel, Steiffgal had the awesome pleasure of spending time with a long-time friend she met online - but never in person. A delightful reunion all around - and made far sweeter by the fact that she provided everyone in the tour group with a giant Swiss chocolate bar as a welcoming gesture to her country!
After our museum adventure, we boarded our coach for a long journey towards Bonn, our second destination. This leg took us through Switzerland, Germany, France, and then again Germany - all within a few hours. Very cool from a geography perspective! Our driver basically followed the Rhine River as it wove around the countryside. Our hotel in Bonn was lovely and historical, and right on the Rhine. Many famous, and some infamous, people had visited our hotel, and you could just tell the walls had many stories to tell. Most super fans truly enjoyed the hotel's authentic after hours biergarten. Here above on the left you can see a shot of the view from our hotel window, showing the Rhine River and the biergarten with its retractable all seasons roof! Interestingly, the sun did not set until about 10:30 or 11pm in the evening, so we could enjoy eachother's company over beers in the daylight even though it was clearly evening!
Our first night in Bonn included a preview of the upcoming Steiff Sommer 2012 auction, hosted by Teddy Dorado. Everyone loved seeing and holding the precious and rare auction items firsthand, and Carsten Esser, Teddy Dorodo's owner and auctioneer, was there to present the goodies and answer questions. A few lucky super fans also had their photos taken with Othello, the historically important Steiff Titantic Mourning bear who was one of the highlights of the auction.
As there is no rest for the weary, our next day truly was off to the races. Our coach took us to Steiff Shulte, the fabric company that has been making Steiff's outstanding and high quality fabrics since the turn of last century. It was remarkable to see how simple materials, like cotton and wool, are transformed into glorious textured and colored mohair. After our tour, we headed towards Koln, known for its famous cathedral which is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the largest facade of any church in the world. In Koln, many super fans enjoyed an hour long boat cruise on the Rhine, a self-tour through the Lindt chocolate museum (yes, samples were included!), a visit through the awesome cathedral, and a stroll through the city center. One of the trip highlights for Steiffgal and Steiffguy was enjoying a few rounds of ice cold pils beer with new and old friends in an urban biergarten right in the shadows of the city's most famous landmark.
Our next day was primarily dedicated to travel, where we headed off from Bonn to Heidenheim. The five hour journey was bisected with a stop at Rothenburg, an ancient walled city that really had the look and feel of times past - way past. This wonderful destination featured cobble stoned streets, century-old buildings, majestic gardens, and spectacular views of the surrounding areas. Here on the left you can see a "typical" Rothenburg house with its interesting, aged, and historical facade. When the super fans finally arrived in Heidenheim at our final hotel destination, the group had the pleasure of enjoying dinner with Inge Zinnecker, who runs the Steiff club, and Ralf Fahrig, who is in charge of events for Steiff.
The next two days of the adventure were truly dedicated to Steiff fun 24/7. The group arrived early Friday morning in Giengen and was given first access to the Steiff sales tent area at the 2012 Steiff Sommer Festival. It goes without saying that the super fans had a wonderful - and successful - time scooping up bargains and favorites by the armful. Other festival highlights included a dealer's area which featured new and vintage treasures from around the world; a "flea market", which sold Steiff accessories, parts, and pieces; a community area which highlighted local craftspeople and their high quality wares; a food pavilion; and a stage area for singing and dancing performances. (The photo above on the left shows one vintage dealer's incredible collection of Steiff treasures for sale!) The group was also given private guided tours of the Steiff Museum and Margarete Steiff's birth house. Some super fans participated in a Teddy bear making workshop while others took side trips to the city of Ulm and the fairy tale village of Braighausen, a remarkably detailed miniature medieval village created by one of Steiff's legendary designers.
The second evening of the Steiff Festival featured the 2012 Steiff Sommer Auction produced by Teddy Dorado. This standing room only event was held in a town-hall style building just a few hundred yards from the Steiff campus in Giengen. For many of the super fans, it was their very first live Steiff auction, and you could feel the energy and excitement in the room. The auction featured almost 90 museum quality new and vintage items, including Othello, the 1912 black Steiff Titanic Mourning bear. Steiffgal had the once in a lifetime experience of presenting many items for sale, including Othello, to the audience from the stage. Other interesting items included a very large, mechanical Steiff rabbit from the 1920's; a sweet 1920's large eyed, tipped mohair bear; a lovely white Dicky bear in wonderful condition, and a velvet Steiff Peter Rabbit from around 1909. You can see the online catalog for this July, 2012 auction event here by clicking here. 100% of the item sold at or significantly above the opening price - a wonderful sign in terms of the state of the marketplace for lovely Steiff collectibles. And yes, Steiffgal did win an auction treasure... a set of 1960's-era "Jumbo" elephants in 35 and 15 cm... a delightful souvenir from one of the best days of her life!
Our last day abroad found the super fans on the road again, this time to Stuttgart. There we all toured the remarkable and contemporary Mercedes Benz museum, which tells the story of the creation of the modern automobile as we know it today, as well as features pristine examples of cars from the turn of last century onward. The museum itself is located on the Mercedes Benz headquarters campus. It is eight stories high; its interior is constructed somewhat like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Visitors take an elevator to the top floor and simply follow a gently sloping downward walkway to each lower floor. Displays feature hands on exhibits, videos, newsreels, and accessories, and follow a timeline tied to well known global historical events. It was so exciting to see Princess Diana's maroon Mercedes, the "Pope Mobile," and other famous Mercedes cars that were featured in well known TV shows and movies.
Our final evening was spent enjoying a tour and dinner at Castle Katzenstein, a castle whose history dates back 900 years. The super fans enjoyed an authentic medieval style meal, complete with tunics, a singing and storytelling mistrial, snuff, and honey mead. Here on the left, you see the mistrial "demonstrating" a wooden period disciplinary device, which Steiffgal was forced to wear as well after declining some after-dinner snuff. Luckily, Steiffguy was there to rescue her! After this late night, we all boarded the coach back to our hotel in preparation for a 6am departure to the Stuttgart airport for our voyage home the next day.
Overall, the trip was a magical, once in a lifetime experience. The super fans came together as strangers and left as friends. Many of us also met other colleagues and "Facebook friends" - sometimes for the first time - at the Festival as well, adding to the fun and universality of the event. Everyone contributed towards the success of the trip in their own way, and all efforts were sincerely appreciated. And given that each person on the trip "adopted" at least 10 new or vintage Steiff treasures over the course of the 9 day journey, Steiffgal guesstimates that the adventure netted close to 400 new Steiff items "crossing the pond" and entering America on July 9, 2012 - the day we all returned home from our fairytale adventure.
Steiffgal hopes this Steiff travelogue has been just the ticket you needed to consider seeing these remarkable sights and attending next year's 2013 Steiff Sommer Festival in person!
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