Fabric Shops

Really, don’t you all sew here? A German and Austrian trip report.

Entschuldigen Sie (excuse me), wo ist das Stoff-Lager? (where can I find the fabric store? stoffe shoppe?)

I asked this question a few times while I was on a vacation trip to Germany and Austria earlier this month. I was curious to see how our German and Austrian counterparts went about purchasing their fabrics, sewing machines and supplies. I had questions I wanted answered. My biggest question was “is Burda really as big in Germany as my imagination thinks it is?” In other words, since Burda is published in Munich wouldn’t I have reason to believe that I could find some hints as to the popularity in this thriving city or in the smaller villages in and around Bavaria?

Of course my trip was filled with many other adventures besides trying to locate the nearest fabric store so I didn’t really have a lot of time to spend on my quest. I did manage to enlist my dear hosts to help me, although after much conversation and blank stares I’d get an answer
“we don’t do much manufacturing of fabrics anymore”
…no that’s not what I meant

…and re-phrasing my question “where would you go to purchase fabric to make a dress?”
Then answered “do you want some fabric? we have some in the basement we purchased to make a dirndl, do you want it?” (and actually going down to the basement and bringing back a large bolt of fabric offering it to me).

“No, no, I don’t think you understand, where did you purchase this fabric and can we go there?” Answered..”oh yes, we have a place in town that they’ll make you a dirndl…you really want a dirndl?”.

Eventually I did manage to have translated what I was after and during the remainder of the trip I was delighted to have helpers point me in the right direction. They still were a little unsure as to why I would want to go to a store that sold fabric…”what interests you in this?”…”what do you like of this?”.

All four shops were closed by the time I had located them and managed to have my hosts take me to them unfortunately. Store hours are strictly enforced. A hazard to the American tourist. Nevertheless I enjoyed the window shopping and snapping a few photos.

The first pulse of life was in Traunstein. We toured the streets at night. First I was shown the Dirndl Shop.

You could choose your fabrics and the shop would make up a dirndl in your choices.

And then around another corner we see the sewing machine dealer’s shop. Looks like Pfaff. Pfaff was originally a German brand so this was something expected that I would see Pfaff, Pfaff, Pfaff everywhere. Kind of like we see Singer, Singer, Singer in the US. Today the brand is managed by a US and Swiss based company that ownes the Singer, Viking and Pfaff brands.

At the front of the shop I found interesting a large display of several rolling steam press machines. Initially that was strange but then it dawned on me that of course! Every meal I’ve had, every bed I’ve slept in has had some type of linen table cloth or duvet cover perfectly pressed. Even in the smaller villages the Germans and Austrians have a sense of proper etiquette that Americans just wouldn’t understand. We would only expect such things at a fancy hotel or fine restaurant, not in our everyday life, at least not today.

What fine, upstanding, respectable housewife wouldn’t want one of these machines in her home to make her life easier?

On to Salzberg. Salzberg, Austria to Americans is famous for really only one thing. Can you guess? I’ll sing it for you…”the hills are alive with the Sound of Music…ahh…ahhah..ahhh“. Walking around the old city I can pick out the Americans very easily. They are the ones humming the tunes from the Musical (Movie). I ask our German hosts if they know of The Sound of Music and once again I’m surprised by my answers. First there was the first “no”.

Julie Andrews? “No”.

The movie “The Sound of Music”? “Nein”.

I sing a few bars…”high on a hill is a lonely goat herd…yo da lay, yo da lay, yo da lay hee hoo”
“Hmm, never heard of it.”

C’mon, you’re joking right? I go over to a post card vendor and pick up a post card with famous locations from the movie and point to the movie still frame with Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp Family singers and the Castle in the background. “Nein”.

The Von Trapp Family? “oh, yes, I think I know a little about this.”

While Americans are completely infatuated with World War II history and pretty much can recite every outcome of every battle and name hundreds of movies and documentaries about the war the Germans have most likely spent many decades trying to forget. Or better yet, not allowing any mention of it to enter their present conscious. They know of the horrible outcome but they don’t visit those memories. Probably like many things this movie was something that put Germany in a bad context. If then that was the case, and not otherwise realizing the love story within the film, it was most likely never seen.

“Well of course the Americans visit Salzberg to see the castle, the baroque cathedral and the gardens” I say to switch the conversation and adjust to be more sensitive. Perspective. I look at my husband and we move on.

“Catee, here is da stoffe shop” my gracious host has pulled me over to the corner to look inside the fabric shop in Salzberg. “I am sorry it iz closed today”.

I want to go in but can only look from the window. I stay for a little while and then our party moves on to see more of the sights.

A couture house displays their skill and invites you to come inside.

We visit a biological and mineral museum and on the last floor I find something incredibly intriguing. Two hats made from mushrooms (fungi). You can see the large fungi on the right. Don’t see that on Project Runway.

And then near the end of our trip we visit the town of Füssen. This is a medium size village near the infamous castle Schloss Neuschwanstein. Plenty of Americans trekking up the hill to look at the castle, a complete tourist trap. The castle is really beautiful and all but is unfinished. I overhear a British couple remark “we’d never build anything like this, how do you get all these stones up here…of course he was mad!”. True, the King was mad. Had I known this wasn’t really a REAL castle I probably would have been happy not to have paid to see it. In short, he knocks down the ruins of an authentic middle ages castle to build an ‘authentic middle ages castle’ only to die before it’s completion but what is completed is a series of rooms dedicated to his eccentricities. The castle in a ‘medieval style’ although built in the later 1800’s, rooms with hundreds of swans, a grotto, a music room with paintings based on the themes from a favorite composer, Wagner (Vagner).

Anyway, after the castle visit we walk through Füssen. Too bad once again we come across a fabric shop but we arrive too late. The store is closed. I take pictures from the window and admire the boiled wool jacket.

So the short answer to my question is ‘yes’, the Germans and Austrians do sew. I was pleased to see that. The fabrics are quite beautiful and I’m sure if I had more time I’d be able to locate more resources, maybe next time. Now where can we get a good Hellis?