A toast to the pointy hats

Garden gnomes and beer

They are both perfect for outdoors: the garden gnome loves the front garden, beer tastes best at a festival outdoors. The German summer would not be half as pleasant without them. Flying visits to two of Thuringia’s small breweries and to the garden gnomes from Gräfenroda. The gnomes are in the Thuringia State Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage – the beer in the Nationwide Inventory.

Gnomes everywhere: fishing, gardening, lazing around. And looking surprisingly not very kitsch. It is a delight to look over the shoulders of the people in the “Zwergstatt Philipp Griebel Gräfenroda”. The paint is peeling in places on some of the older gnomes, whilst others have gathered dust. On the other hand, the ones that are not yet finished wait in open boxes. Welcome to the world’s last traditional ceramic garden gnome factory in Gräfenroda – a kind of multi-generational gnome house with a museum, shop and cafĂ©. The “garden gnomes from Gräfenroda” have been in the Thuringia State Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2022. For almost 150 years, they have been made by hand in the Thuringian Forest. Why there of all places? The clay was right on the doorstep. From the mid-19th century, a certain Heinrich Dornheim made animal figures in Gräfenroda. Other factories settled there. And company founder Philipp Griebel began to form animals and gnomes in 1874, after his apprenticeship. 

Lucky charms with a cult status

Gnomes have accompanied people in stories and legends since time immemorial. They have special powers and are regarded as cunning and helpful. They are also supposed to bring luck. In Gräfenroda, they like to believe in the good and try to preserve the tradition. This requires people with passion: such as restorer Helma Ortmann, who recently took over the factory and saved it at the last second. Or Sven Berrar, who has always been fascinated by garden gnomes and has now moved here with more than 3,500 collector pieces from the Saarland in order to restore ageing privately owned gnomes in Gräfenroda. The Zwergstatt already has cult status: “Enthusiasts from throughout the world come to us,” reports Helma Ortmann. Together with her husband and the small team, she strikes the perfect balance between the production of collectors’ items with attention to detail and colourful pointy hat souvenirs. Card-playing gnomes and gnomes holding a tankard are popular, for example.

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Beer connects people

So let’s drink a toast to the gnomes, ideally with a fresh Maibock from “Michels” Eichsfelder Braumanufaktur e.k. Or an India Pale Ale (IPA) from Heimathafen Erfurt. Beer and gnomes – they go well together. You need a lot of creativity and craftsmanship to produce drinkable beer and unconventional gnomes, and must strike a balance between a love of tradition and delight in innovation. Manual beer brewing has been in the Nationionwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2020 – not least because it also connects people at festivals and gatherings because of its local roots.

Craft beers with rough edges

Michael Burkhardt from Michels Bier from Eichsfeld likes creating new beers. And sometimes the trained master brewer even interprets the purity law with wink, for example in his Coffee Stout. At the same time, he loves using the four original ingredients – hops, malt, yeast, water – to produce local specialities that are full of character and, as in the past, are neither filtered nor pasteurised. Burkhardt sets up cultural events at his brewery yard in Hüpstedt near Dingelstädt, travels to regional beer festivals and maintains his network of bon vivants who would like to get something done in Thuringia.

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He has just paid a visit to Jan Schlennstedt from Heimathafen. The two men have known one another since their training; now they are connected by a passion for beers with “rough edges”, as the Erfurt brewer expresses it. Schlennstedt has gradually introduced his customer base in Erfurt to the craft beer taste by altering his recipes over the years. Creative minds like these two brewers ask themselves what it would be like if the abundance of craft beers were just as valued as has long been the case with wines? Then there would be a separate beer menu in the inn around the corner and it would be normal for primarily specialities from the region to be served there with Thuringian food. That is still just a dream. But here and there, the future has already begun.

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