Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Care To Take A Tour Of Margarete Steiff's Historic Birth House?

Welcome home! There are no warmer words in any language for sure.  And Steiffgal just had the most wonderful homecoming, of sorts, when she had the absolute pleasure of touring the birth house of Margarete Steiff, the founder of Margarete Steiff GmbH - or the Steiff Company as we better know it.  This important historical building is pictured above. The house is located just a stone's throw from the factory in Giengen, Germany and is open to the public.  It can be explored with a docent or via a self guided tour - or in this case - online!  Come along as we check out the highlights of this most interesting period residence.

The house itself is located on a side street about a five minute's walk from the central factory campus.  The street has houses, apartments, and a few small shops.  On the birth house is the plaque pictured above.  When you walk into the building, there is a small reception area with lockers to store your bags, coats, or parcels.  There you can request the printed self guided tour from the guard; it is available in English and German.  The cover of brochure reads in part...

"Dear visitor, a warm welcome to the house where Margarete Steiff, the founder of the world famous company Margarete Steiff GmbH, was born.  Margarete was born on 24 July 1847 in this house, which was built back in the middle of the 17th century, and lived here until 1889. 

In 2003 the house was lovingly restored and furnished in places with items from the Biedermeier period. It now reflects the character of the 1880 period.  In that year, Margarete laid the foundations of a worldwide company with the first stuffed toy, an elephant made from felt."

The first major stop on the tour is Margarete's workroom, which is located up a narrow flight of stairs from the reception area.  It is a large, open, sunny space.  According to the self guided tour in part...

"This work room was created specifically for his daughter by Margarete Steiff's father, and master builder, in 1874."

(You can see many early white felt elephants in this picture, along with lots of colorful, thick felt material.  The scissors on the right are huge and heavy, it is hard to imagine the hand strength it would take to use them!)

"In the foreground, you will see one of Margarete's wheelchairs. The picture above it shows a photograph of Margarete on a walk with her nephew Paul Steiff, one of her brother's sons."

(It is very interesting to note that the wheels on this wheelchair almost look like "snow tires" with their extremely raised and bumpy surfaces.  Perhaps for better traction on cobbled streets and in bad weather?)

"The sewing machine on the left in front of the window was owned by Margarete Steiff. Looking out of this window, for which her father had to ask special permission from the city of Giengen, Margarete often gazed out over the hustle and bustle of the Lederstrasse." 

("Lederstrasse" means "Leather Street," the address of the house. Seeing this sewing machine was quite meaningful as a Steiff collector and enthusiast.  The Steiff's were the first family in Giengen to own a sewing machine.) 

The next room on the tour is Margarete's tiny bedroom which is literally nuzzled into a small space in the house.  When you look out of her bedroom window, all you can see is the wall to the house next door, which is practically touching her house.  According to the self guided brochure...

"Here in the bedroom, you can see quite clearly how close together the houses were built. The two dresses are the property if Eva Koepff, Margarete Steiff's favorite niece. Right next-door you will find the bathroom."

(This room is literally the size of the bed, plus just enough floor footprint to move around a bit and get in and out of bed.)

Adjacent to Margarete's bedroom is her washroom, which is also quite tiny and basic.  According to the self guided brochure...

"This room looks nothing like the bathrooms were used to today.  In simple households, there was no bathtub. Instead, they used washbowls."  

(On the other wall is a hanging rack with some towels.  But is is not clear if this room had, or ever had, a toilet as we think of bathrooms having them today.)

Next up on the tour is the family's living room.  This room is quite elegant compared to the others in the house, and a bit more formal as well.  According to the self guided brochure...

"In the living room, you'll find an absolutely wonderful table with chairs, and in front of an oven made of cast iron is the matching cushioned bench."

(You can see the tall thin black oven in the upper left hand corner of the photo, it is almost like a chimney.  The table is absolutely gorgeous and made from wood that looks textured, but feels smooth.)

"Cupboards and a desk round off the ensemble." 

(The desk is solid, heavy, and important looking.  The cupboard holds special occasion looking china and glasses.  There are several pieces of art on the walls, including a painting of a man, and an illustration of a bible verse.)

The next room on the tour, and on the same floor as the rooms just discussed, is the kitchen.  This room is quite small and dark, and full of period cooking and baking accessories.  According in part to the self guided tour...

"This stove is the type that Margarete's mother, Maria Steiff, used to prepare the family meals."

(On the top of the black stove, right next to the round pot, is a "built in" waffle maker made from iron.  The recipe for the waffles is cast onto the top.)

"Ceramic molds, milk churn, pans, bowls, etc. complete the picture of a kitchen from the middle of the 19th century."  

(The home originally had these beige and black floor tiles in the kitchen and in the hall corridor; in some places they are still original and in others they have been replicated and laid by craftsmen during renovations.)

Just around the corner from the kitchen is a porch which has access to a garden with flowers and vegetables. On the tour, you can pause and take a rest on a bench which is just outside the door of the porch. You must go down a few stairs to get to this garden. Here you can see a partial view of the garden from the porch.  Unfortunately, the day we were visiting it was raining quite hard so we chose not to go outside to see this garden up close and personal.

Now the tour takes us up a narrow flight of stairs to the attic or top floor of the house.  Here there are a few small rooms, but the most important living space is Margarete's parent's bedroom.  According to the self guided tour...

"On the right you'll see the room in which Margarete Steiff was born - her parents bedroom."

(Like Margarete's bedroom, this living space is also quite compact.  The black item on the night table is probably a hatbox from a regional haberdashery or department store.)

"An extremely beautiful rustic dresser dating from 1849, two beds, and night tables complete the bedroom picture."  

(This is a lovely, hand painted dresser that really is the focal point of the room and measures floor to ceiling.)

The last home space in this house museum was the attic area, which was extensive and quite high.  It appears to run the length of the house, but only a small portion is open to the public for exploration.  According to the self guided brochure...

"Going right, through the door, you will now come to the historic and listed-status roof-truss."

(This appears like it would be a great place for storage but probably quite cold in the winter as no insulation is evident.)

"Here, inside, you can still see the beautiful old half timbered construction."  

(Check out the underside of the tiles that make up the home's great tiled roof.  According to their marks, they were made in nearby Stuttgart, Germany.)

After visitors tour the open living spaces of the house, they are invited to view a small collection of very vintage Steiff items and important Steiff related paperwork and ephemera.  These precious items are located on the first floor of the house.  According to the self guided tour...  

"This exhibition of early start animals, made from felt and velvet, is intended to enrich your impression of the life of our company founder even further."   

Here are some outstanding highlights from this display!

Here we have three documents relating to the company's founding and intellectual property, including their status in the United States.

Also featured are numerous wildlife drawings and sketches by Richard Steiff, Margarete's creative nephew who invented the jointed Teddy bear in 1902.

This is a lovely, early, and delicate felt swan pram toy, which hangs from an elastic cord and is detailed with a bell and pink woolen pom poms. This item was produced in this size only from 1897 through 1918.

This charming turn of last century striped velvet cat glides along on four metal wheels.  This pattern was produced overall in 14, 17, and 22 cm from 1901 through 1927.

And finally, the birth house exhibit featured many wonderful and interesting early felt Steiff dolls.  This early "throw style" baby girl was Steifgal's favorite! This simplified doll toy designed for play was produced in various colors of felt, as well as mohair, in 30 cm from 1908 through 1921 overall. 

Steiffgal hopes this virtual tour of Margarete Steiff's birth house truly confirms, "There's no place like home!"

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more. 


  1. Very nice, thanks!

  2. Awesome photos and tour. Would very much like to visit and see her home myself. What an amazing peek inside. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful trip!
    Your story and pictures allowed to travel in time and space!
    It's perfect!
    Congratulations on such a fun tour!


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