Thursday, July 9, 2015

Live From The 2015 Steiff Sommer Festival - A Firsthand Report!

You know how travel and airplane magazines feature articles on "the perfect day in..." or "how to spend a few hours at..."?  And it always seems that the recommended plans and itineraries sound too good to be true!  Well, in this case, Steiffgal did indeed spend an "ideal" day at the Steiff Sommer Festival in Giengen, Germany - the birthplace of Steiff and the Teddy bear - on July 4th, 2015.  Check out this travel diary entry and hopefully it might tempt you too to join in the fun next year!

A cosy, clean, and convenient place to stay in Giengen is the Lobinger Hotel in Giengen, which is just about a 20 minute walk or a 3 minute car ride from the Steiff campus.  Here is the "first thing in the morning view" from the fourth floor, where Steiffgal's room was located.  This was taken out of an interesting skylight style window with a mechanical shade.  Steiffgal found both a little confusing to open and close, but got the hang of it after a few minutes of trial and error.

Of course, the perfect day must start with a perfect meal, and the Lobinger's expansive breakfast buffet offered something for everyone.  There were many universal selections, like eggs, toast, juice, and fruit, but also some more distinctly European ones too, like savory cheeses, vegetable salads, and sausages.  Steiffgal particularly got a kick out of the yogurt selections, including some multi-flavored ones that were spotted like cows - these are pictured here on the left.

After breakfast, Steiffgal and pals headed "down the hill" to Steiff to start enjoying all that the festival had to offer.  The entire town seemed to welcomed visitors with "teddy hugs!" There was no charge to enter or enjoy the festival, and it was clear that despite the temperatures (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) that collectors and enthusiasts from around the world took advantage of this once a year opportunity to gather and "Live the Steiff Life" in Giengen.  There were many interesting event related attractions set up on the outer skirts of the campus.  Among others, these included: 

1.  Vendor pavilions which were made from white tents.  These sold all sorts of locally produced foods (like honey and jams) and decorative items (like clothing, carved wood accessories, marvelously designed felt items, and jewelry.)  These really added to the authenticity of the event, giving it a delightful community feeling. 

2.  An animal petting zoo, which featured families of rabbits, guinea pigs, and a variety of different birds - including this extremely precious family of little yellow ducks! These sweet friends were well cared for, and well watered, but seemed to feel the heat like everyone that day.  This area, which is set up each year at festival, is always one of Steiffgal's favorite destinations. 

3.  A BMW/Steiff racing team area.  Steiff sponsors several exciting things in Japan, one of them being the BMW racing team.  As such, the Steiff logo is prominently displayed on the driver's uniforms and cars.  This year, Steiff and BMW brought a real racing car to Giengen, and set up a driving simulator that all the attendees could try.  Several members of the Japanese driving team and their supporters made appearances and gave presentations throughout the day.  As part of this delightful "cultural exchange," there was a special tent set up with rare Steiff Japanese exclusives available for purchase.  Steiffgal loved finally seeing the long awaited Godzilla limited edition in person!

Of course, its critical to keep your energy levels high at a special event such as this one.  As such, there were lots of ways to keep your belly full and happy!  This year's festival featured:  

1.  Food, glorious food!  From dawn till dusk, several tents worth of local caterers prepared local delicacies for festival attendees.  Selections included a variety of sausages; salads, flat white pizzas; and of course, several varieties of French fries.  One stand made a very interesting pasta dish... hot buttered noodles that were finished by stirring them around in a bowled out area of a large wheel of Gruyere cheese.  This all but guaranteed that every strand was covered in pure deliciousness. 

2.  Beverages of all sorts.  It is essential to keep hydrated at such a celebration, and beer is the best way to do so by far.  To keep up with demand, this festival featured several outdoor beer vendors and a central "biergarten" area.  When you purchased a beer, you were given a little paper receipt for the glass.  Once you finished the drink, you would drop off the glass at a return center, hand the attendant the paper, and then get your beverage glass deposit back.  Here on the left you can see a photo of Steiffgal's Steiffpal and long time traveling companion Carolyn enjoying a cold one in the best way possible in the Steiff Sommer biergarten.

If you were in search of the perfect souvenir, there were basically three options for both new and vintage enthusiasts.   

1.  For the collectors of all things new, Steiff's festival tent was a great place to be.  Here visitors were treated to countless new Steiff goodies, many at extremely good prices.  Some were seconds, others samples, and others overproduced items.  But all featured their buttons, and of course, Steiff's legendary quality.  The tent itself was huge, fully covered, and featured rolling carts and stations loaded with merchandise.  These areas were replenished throughout the day, so many people literally "camped out" in the tent waiting for the newest items to be presented.  You can see one of these sale carts here on the left. The sales tent also had areas featuring studio animals for sale, as well as very sweet baby items.   Steiffgal purchased several things in the tent, including a few alpaca cats, some key rings, a mohair rabbit, and a mohair ox. 

2.  Adjacent to the sales tent was another smaller tent that sold accessories, clothing, collars, and other materials that could be used for Teddy bear and animal manufacturing and decoration.  These items were for the most part overstocks or excess inventory, and were relatively inexpensive.  There were always alot of people in line to shop here.  These tended to be folks who made their own bears who purchased supplies like embroidery floss, or those who liked to dress their Steiff items who tended buy things like tiny sweaters, boots, or neckerchiefs.  Steiffgal got a number of tiny denim dresses and brown studded leather collars which were made for past Steiff editions at this booth. Here on the left you can see a photo of Steiffgal's fully jointed Dutch Rabbit named Sarah who is wearing one of these Steiff "overstock" frocks.

3.  This festival usually attracts some of the world's finest vintage dealers, and this year was no different.  Dealers were set up in a large dedicated sales tent.  This was a first, as dealers traditionally have been located in areas within Steiff's buildings for past events.  This particular sales tent seemed to be the location where many happy Steiff reunions happened, as old friends - and new - bumped into each other in their quest to find their perfect vintage treasures. 

There were so many breathtaking rarities to see in the 2015 vintage sales area.  A large cinnamon colored Steiff Treff bloodhound, a dressed rabbit doll, and several early Teddy baby bears really caught Steiffgal's eye - but were all far beyond her budget.  Steiffgal purchased several "wish list" items in the vintage area for friends and family, as well as a 1930's era Sealyham on wheels and a 1920's era "swing duck" rattle toy for her own collection.  Above on the left is a photo of Steiffgal in the vintage sales tent holding an absolutely remarkable and extremely unusual Steiff ram in pristine condition that now belongs to a dear colleague of hers. 

A trip through the Steiff Museum is cornerstone to any visit to Giengen - festival related or not.  This wonderful destination was recently remodeled and updated.  There are things for families as well as serious collectors to enjoy.  There is also an enormous snake shaped mohair slide that goes from one floor to another featured in the center of the complex.  Despite her claustrophobia, Steiffgal could not pass up the chance to give the slide a try.  Happily, she survived the 10 second ride!  One highlight of the museum is an enormous glassed in wall display that shows representative products and designs per decade, starting in the late 1800's through today.  It is awe inspiring to see treasures such as the first Steiff doll, a Dolly bear, felt pincushions, and one of a kind samples from the turn of last century. Pictured above on the left is a wonderful presentation of many of our favorite vintage friends from this museum display, including Molliette, Molly, Bully, and Fluffiette.

The "crown jewel" of Steiff's annual Sommer Festival just might be the annual auction, hosted each year with great skill by our friends at the Teddy Dorado auction house.  This auction is traditionally held the Saturday evening of the festival.  This year, bidders could review all the lots on offer and place pre-bids in a special room right next door to the Steiff museum; this preview is pictured here on the left. This room also housed a remarkable Steiff moving display.  It was great fun to see these spectacular auction lot treasures in person.  Did you know that only about 1% of all items presented to Teddy Dorado actually made it into this auction?  And, based on the quality and rarity of the items, it is clear why!

The Teddy Dorado auction started at 6pm at a local community center in Giengen.  The room quickly filled up with bidders from all over the world - and three television cameras to film the event end to end.  Steiffgal was responsible for reading the lot descriptions to the audience in English - a responsibility she takes quite seriously!  Before coming to Germany, she wrote and prepared a script for these announcements, a task that took over 5 hours to do!  But it was time very well spent, as the bidding for many items, including an early and original Mickey Mouse, a pair of felt egg cosies, an uncatalogued baby penguin, and a silk plush Teddy Baby was fierce and competitive!  About three hours later the auction finally came to a close - with only one lot passing!  This is an amazing accomplishment, given that industry auction pass rate close to 20%, at least in America. Steiffgal bid on two lots, losing one by 50 euros and one by 300 euros.  Oh well... the experience was priceless!

Right after the auction, Steiffgal met up with her friends at a local Greek restaurant in Giengen and enjoyed a post event feast of lamb chops, salad, and vegetables. And of course, a cold beer! Mercifully, the temperature had dropped to a "more moderate" 85 degrees by almost sundown.  Here she is pictured to the left with her dear friend Jena Pang, who came to Giengen from London to view the auction and catch up with Teddy friends!  

After refueling, Steiffgal and three other collectors decided to walk back to the Lobinger Hotel to stretch their legs and burn a few calories.  The journey was about 20 minutes, all uphill, and quite refreshing.  Steiff celebrates its annual Sommer event each year by presenting a grand display of fireworks.  It seems the entire town - Steiff lovers and others - gather in the town square to view this marvelous late evening spectacle.  Steiffgal and her exercise companions had the once in a lifetime experience of seeing this show from their walking venue.  This sight and sound extravaganza was one that Steiffgal will never forget.

Steiffgal hopes this little travel diary has convinced you that Steiff's annual Sommer Festival is truly the best day of the year for collectors and enthusiasts for all things "button-in-ear."

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