The history of Heimatwerk in Europe

The Heimatwerks in the Austrian counties and also in neighbouring Switzerland are known to many people as a quality brand of commercial companies and cultural institutions. Depending on the focus, they are connected in different ways with folk and regional cultural expressions. Creative handicraft, local costumes, folk music and customs have been closely related with these institutions for many decades. How did these Heimatwerks in Central Europe come about? Why are they called so? Is there something like "Heimatwerks" in other countries?

The name "Heimatwerk"

"Heimatwerk" is a value creation, which the curate Christian Frank (1867-1942) claimed for himself as the author. In the "German Gaue" magazine issued by him in 1907 and 1908 throughout the entire German language area, there was a section called "The Heimat Werk". In 1909, it was renamed "Our Heimatwerk". In 1912, the "Heimatwerk” by curate Frank was carefully studied as a "central point for local history and folklore" by members of homeland clubs representatives especially from Württemberg and Austria.

In this context, a "Greater German" Christmas edition titled "Homeland Work in Austria" written by Viktor von Geramb (1884-1958) in 1921 is interesting. Geramb, just like curate Frank, syndicated a home-protective interest with greater German cultural ideas. A part of Geramb’s 'Homeland Work' in 1934 was the founding of the first Austrian Heimatwerk as the "Heimatwerk of the Styrian Folklore Museum" in Graz. This museum, which was an advisory and sales centre for folk art, costumes and local crafts, encompassed the efforts of the curate Christian Frank with the objectives of the Swiss Heimatwerk "Marketing Cooperative for Folklore".

The term Heimatwerk was also used for series of publications such as "Heimatwerk Sudetenland" (1925), Coburg Eisfelder Heimatwerk (1951), Transylvanian German Heimatwerk (1957), and also for religious associations like the Catholic Heimatwerk (1933), or for the Heimatwerk Hanover eG Housing Association. In summary, the name Heimatwerk was always used when the spiritual or physical homeland appeared threatened.

The Scandinavian model

In connection with the establishment of the Central European Heimatwerks, it is always related to the model of Scandinavian institutions, mainly from Sweden. The “Scandinavian Home Diligence” movement" developed in around 1870. The Austrian art historian Jacob von Falke was, according to Kai Detlev Sievers (1825-1987), the impetus for this. Sweden was at that time already an international pioneer in the training of handicraft teachers and the establishment of "handicraft schools”.

In 1899, a "social work to rescue the Swedish home industry'' was founded by Lilly Zickermann, which according to Franz Lipp worked very closely and in parallel with the Werkbund. In Norway (from 1867) and in Denmark (from 1879), “Husfliden” organisations were setup nationwide for the manufacture and sale of artisan and handicraft products. In 1913, a central association was also founded in Finland. Similar efforts in the German regions adjacent to Denmark remained only piecemeal and found no public interest. This perception changed only after 1909.

Parallel to the “Home Diligence” movement, open-air museums should also be considered. In 1891, the first open-air museum was founded in Sweden by Arthur Hazelius. He wanted to offer educational work in his museum with folklore events and by promoting creative handicraft.

In 1924, there were the initial ideas and concepts for an open-air museum in Salzburg by SMCA Director Julius Leisching, and at roughly the same time in Saxony by Oskar Seiffert. Viktor von Geramb, who knew about these efforts through the homeland protection network, was oriented by the organisations in Holstein, Switzerland and Scandinavia. He wanted to create a Styrian National Park in Graz, according to the Swedish model, which was to serve as the complete Folk Museum and the Heimatwerk for the lively Styrian folk culture. This romantic idea did not however materialise. The Austrian open-air museum in Stübing was founded in 1962. The Salzburg open-air museum which opened in 1984 managed a "revival" of these museums, in addition to the classical arrangement, with activities based on the Swedish model. Meanwhile, all open air museums in Austria are setup with increased experiences and educationally prepared activities according to the Swedish model.

The Swiss Heimatwerk

Due to the economic plight of the mountain people in Switzerland, there were already in 1925 efforts to open up market opportunities for rural folk art. For example, there was a sales point in St. Gallen for "sale of folk art and national handicraft" setup by Laura Weigmann, which soon changed its name to “Heimatwek". Amongst others there was also a "Home working factory” in Winterthur by Lucie Wolfer-Sulzer, a "Swiss Exhibition for “Women's Work" in Bern, an "Association for Home work in the Bern Oberland", and a sales cooperative by the Swiss Heritage Society, which was closed in 1929.

In 1930, a state-sponsored "common Swiss company" under the title of Swiss Heimatwerk, as a department of the Farmers Association, with Ernst Laur-Schaffner (1871-1964) as Secretary and Director was setup along Scandinavian lines. It had the task of producing a "mountain people" learnable handicraft and home culture and then marketing the homemade goods which were manufactured during the winter. The company had three columns, a Central Office for farm work and rural welfare, a teaching and prototype workshop for hand weaving etc. in Brugg and the Swiss Heimatwerk shop "Heimethuus" in Zurich from the beginning of May 1930, which was run by Ernst Laur (1896-1983) and his wife Agnes Laur-Bösch (1899-1990).

They took the name "Heimatwerk" with the permission of Laura Weigmann from her same named shop in St. Gallen. The name Heimatwerk was considered, in a round of kindred spirits like an igniting spark, a Swiss-German translation of the Swedish "Hemslöjd" which was originally a term for a "home-run handicraft activity".

Thus, also the naming convention was taken from the Scandinavian model. The "Swiss Heimatwerk" (SHW) exhibition held in 1931, which was to promote "mountain-rural winter work" and the sales thereof in six existing stores, attracted international attention especially in Germany and Austria, as shown in subsequent developments. On the basis of the discharged statutes of 9.4.1934, the SHW detached itself organisationally from the Farmers Union and became an independent cooperative. The Farmers Association remained however as the most important cooperative member for a long time. With the consent of the Swiss Heimatwerk, further organisations were soon setup with the name “Heimatwerk” under their own responsibility and accountability. Today we would call them a "Franchisee".

In 1944, the Swiss Heimatwerk participated in the founding of the Swiss Mountain Aid. The sales facility at Zurich Kloten Airport was opened in 1952/53. In 1989, there was the merger of the regional Heimatwerks into an interest group, which has been called the Association of the Heimatwerks in Switzerland since 1996. Martin Stüssi was a long-time Director of the cooperative and the dedicated engine of the Association of European Heimatwerk. The Swiss Heimatwerk cooperative is today not federally subsidised, but operated seven sales outlets with selected Swiss gift ideas and souvenirs "Made in Switzerland". The Chairman of the Executive Board today is Erika Mathis-Brassel. The Swiss Heimatwerk is currently not a member of the Board of Trustees of European Heimatwerk.

The German Heimatwerk (1933-1958)

In 1933, the “German Heimatwerk” GmbH was founded. However, even several decades before there were efforts to spread folk art in Germany. In Bavaria from 1901 for example, markets and exhibitions offered 'folk art' products. These included various Christmas markets, the Magdalenenfest in Nymphenburg, the Oktoberfest in Munich and more.

In 1905, a committee "to revive old trade and home industries" was established. Successful sales exhibitions followed and in 1910, a store called "Native Art" opened in Munich by the Bavarian Association for folk art and folklore, which was then closed already in 1912.

In Saxony, the association for Saxon folk customs held an event called "Exhibition of Saxon arts and crafts" in the summer of 1896 in Dresden. The Museum Director Oskar Seyffert (1862-1940) is closely related to this. He was long considered in Austria as the founder of the "oldest Heimatwerk" although he never had a business or ran a cooperative under this name! It seems correct to me that in the sense of the Heimatwerk idea, he founded the local ore mountain industry in 1924. Two exhibitions can be seen as precursors to the establishing of the German Heimatwerk GmbH - the 1932 "Folk Art Homeland Dilligence and Handicraft" in both Berlin and Breslau.

In 1932, there were first attempts at establishing a "Silesian Heimatwerk". The task went in three directions: 1. Study of existing workshops and enterprises in the field of folk art, homeland diligence and handicraft. 2. Promotion through advice and summarising of the production and promotion, and 3. Inclusion in the efforts for a productive border “Germanness” and homeland care.

In 1933, a "German Heimatwerk exhibition for folk art and traditional handicraft" was held in Berlin as a sales exhibition of the "Association of folk art and handicraft". The initiators were Hans Kaiser and Erich Ziegert, supported by Nazi associations. The purpose of the exhibition was to find buyers and political support for the Heimatwerk. The Heimatwerk would help to realise the "from folklore and homeland to the German peoples’ community".

From the rise to power (30.1.1933) of the Nazis, there were already efforts for establishing a national Nazi Heimatwerk for traditional handicraft and folk art. On the 4.12.1934, the German Heimatwerk was approved as a non-profit limited company with its seat in Berlin and registered on the 22.1.1935 in the notary's register. Hans Kaiser and Erich Ziegert acted as Managing Directors. In the long term, the Reichs Nutritional Office (from 1936 as the sole shareholder) planned to set up a country branch of the DHW in every farming community in order to establish "products from rural folk art".

Hans Kaiser and the convinced Nazi Erich Ziegert were the Managing Directors. Relations with Heimatwerks in other countries fizzled out. The main business was established in Berlin with branches in Munich (1937), Breslau and Düsseldorf (1936). Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Nazi "Heimatwerk East Prussia" was founded. The objectives were similar to the Tiroler Heimatwerk or the Scandinavian Homeland Diligence facilities. A Heimatwerk was also founded in the Sudetenland in 1939. In the long term, this should have been added to the Nazi Heimatwerk in Saxony.

Further branches were established in Salzburg (1940), Strasbourg and Weimar (1941). Plans for a Vienna, Frankfurt and Warsaw Branch were not realised. In addition to the German Heimatwerk, further "Heimatwerks" and "Heimat Houses" existed in the Nazi era. Heimat Houses served the idealistic culture cultivation while the Heimatwerks served to implement this economically. Gau Heimatwerks were under the Gauleiters’ management and developed programs to promote a party-compliant "homeland culture". Such a Gau Heimatwerk was the Salzburg Heimatwerk established in 1942, along with the Saxony Heimatwerk Salzburg (1935) and the Southern Hanover-Braunschweig (1941) and more.

Probably the only one to continue after the war was the Munich Heimatwerk under the new name of "Workshops of the German Heimatwerk GmbH". Counted among its customers was the Salzburg Heimatwerk. According to the will of Hans Kaiser, this sales location was to be the first link in a new chain of Heimatwerks in West Germany. In 1950, the control of the "Society of Friends of Heimatwerk and Folk Art” has handed over to Tino Schmitt and Gotthold Schneider when Hans Kaiser left through ill health. In 1952, the company was liquidated after bankruptcy. A "Board of Trustees of German Heimatwerk Association”, established in 1950, worked as a "merchandising office for German Heimatwerk" for their continuation. In 1958, the “German Heimatwerk” project finally failed.

As the name Heimatwerk is not a protected brand in Germany, unlike in Austria, private-sector oriented Heimatwerks can be setup, such as the Munich Heimatwerk on the corner of City Hall or the Bavarian Heimatwerk in Rosenheim, the Chiemgau Heimatwerk, the Tölzer Heimatwerk, the Amerang Heimatwerk or the Eggmannsried Heimatwerk. Some of these are still being successfully run today.

Author: Hans Köhl

Source notes: Monika Luise Ständecke - the German Heimatwerk - idea, ideology and commercialisation Bavarian writings on folklore Vol. 8, 2004. Archive of the Board of Trustees of Austrian Heimatwerk



History of the Heimatwerks in the county states

The Heimatwerks in Austria were built according to Scandinavian, German and Swiss models. The first was founded in 1934 by Viktor von Geramb in Graz, who had longstanding contacts with colleagues in Germany, Scandinavia and Switzerland. The idea of Heimatwerks was taken up by the Nazis with Heimatwerks being founded throughout the Reich for their objectives. A new era began after 1945 when the Heimatwerks in Austria were given new tasks and objectives. Below you will find brief summaries on the developments of the Heimatwerks in the various county states.

The Tyrolean Heimatwerk

The Tyrolean businessman and writer Kunibert Zimmeter reported in 1924 in the Tyrolean trade journal on German schools, "in which craftsmen with artistically valuable and elegant models, as well as with the old artisan traditions are being familiarised". According to this suggestion, the Imst Agricultural School (founded in 1920) established weaving courses, knitting courses in the Paznaun Valley and courses at other locations. The “Tyrolean Home Industry” cooperative was founded on 28th April, 1934 to promote agricultural produce. The members of the cooperative worked in conjunction with Victor v. Geramb, among others. For the marketing of its products, the "Tyrolean Home Industry" cooperative was successfully represented at trade fairs and exhibitions in Munich, Bolzano, Vienna, Innsbruck, and Zurich and at the Paris world exhibition in 1937.

The cooperative received the name "Tiroler Heimatwerk" in 1939 and at the same time, the field of activity of the Association was expanded. From 1939 onwards, the focus on the social crisis of the mountain farmers and the sale of their produce became secondary. In September 1939 in Innsbruck, the "centre of German traditional costume" at the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum was established with the aim of systematically renewing traditional costumes from all the regions of the German Reich on the basis of scientific documentation. After the war, the Heimatwerk in Innsbruck’s Meraner Street became the major platform for Tyrolean folk art and costume. Following the founding philosophy, the Tiroler Heimatwerk is still today active as an economic, supporting cooperative for knitters in the Tyrolean highlands. These knitters lovingly hand-make mittens, socks, tights, gloves, hats and waistcoats from Tyrolean sheep’s wool or mixed wool.

The Styrian Heimatwerk

The Styrian Heimatwerk was founded on the 7.7.1934 by Victor von Gerambs under the name "Heimatwerk of the Styrian Folklore Museum". Beforehand, there were long-time efforts to establish sales locations as with other Heimatwerks. Thus, in 1915 the Association for Homeland Protection in Graz decided to set up a "homeland protection sales hall" in the "folklore department", which was then established in 1917. This first step lead to the establishment of the Heimatwerk in 1934. 

Geramb gave decisive impulses to the Styrian cultural life with the "German school association Südmark", the "Association for Homeland Protection" and the "Styrian Heimatwerk". He is considered the first Professor of Folklore in Austria (1949). The Commercial Director was Gustav Klein, who worked voluntarily. In contrast to Laur in Switzerland, Geramb and the following Austrian Heimatwerks focussed primarily not on contemporary arts & crafts but rather on historical models of characterised "folk art".

As a Board Member of the "Austrian Association for Home Care" he participated significantly in the elaboration of "guidelines for the traditional cultivation in Austria", which appeared in 1937. The Heimatwerk acquired the right to use a legally protected trademark as a mark of quality, a label with a "Gothic Styrian Panther", a white/green sealed thread and the inscription "Recommended by the Heimatwerk of the Styrian Folklore Museum". The Styrian Heimatwerk continued during the Nazi era as a registered association. The story of the Styrian Heimatwerk from 1938-1945 is described in detail by Bernhard Schweighofer in his thesis (2000, Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology) and in Viktor von Geramb - His Life and Work, by Michael Greger and Johann Verhovsek (2007, published by Association for Folklore).

The Upper Austrian Heimatwerk

At the Upper Austrian Landes Museum in Linz, the Gau Office for Folklore organised on 17th June, 1939 an exhibition called "Rural Handicraft - Vibrant Folk Art" which led to the establishment of the "Upper Danube Heimatwerk". The driving force behind this was the Geramb student and head of the Folklore Department Dr. Franz C. Lipp. He also worked, like Geramb, with a value brand. In 1941, a Christmas sale was conducted on the Landstraße 29 in Linz, and subsequently a sales and exhibition space was set up in the old town No.30 behind the country house.

In June 1945, there were private investors for these business premises which resulted in the loss of this sales location. From the remnants of the Nazi Upper Danube Heimatwerk, the "Upper Austrian Werkbund" was created. Its seat was in the Folklore Department of the Upper Austrian National Museum and formed the basis for the 1952 founded cooperative Upper Austrian Heimatwerk. The existing Upper Austrian Heimatwerk association changed its name to Upper Austrian Werkbund and continued its activities, according to an excerpt from reports on the "Heimatwerk - founding thereof". In the course of the reorganisation, an individual “Upper Austrian Heimatwerk” was created by the Upper Austrian State Government according to the recommendation of the State Education Officer Dr. Hans Commenda, in their meetings from the 23.9. and 26.10.1946. The goal of this Heimatwerk was to summarise all aspirations of the practical care of folklore and to administer this work within committees. From these two institutions, the Upper Austrian Heimatwerk of the state government and the Upper Austrian Werkbund, the Upper Austrian Heimatwerk Association was formed in 1952.  

On the 16.2.1952, the Upper Austrian Heimatwerk reg. Gen. m.b.H was founded under the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Franz C. Lipp. The form of the cooperative and the statutes were sponsored by the Salzburger Heimatwerk as a cooperative of rural craftsmen.

The first General Manager was Dr. Helmuth Huemer. The first shop was set up in the Mozartstraße 22 in Linz with the help of the Upper Austrian State Government, the Agriculture and Country Chamber and the Chamber of Trade and Industry.

In 1962, exhibition and sales rooms were rented in the Ursuline Convent on the main road. In 1966, another sales store was rented in the Bürgerstrasse 1 for the Housing Department and the site on Mozartstraße was disbanded. In 1968, a traditional tailors was established.

In 2007, the Upper Austrian Heimatwerk cooperative was acquired by the Upper Austrian Raiffeisen country organisation and has been managed under its umbrella organisation since 2008 as the Upper Austrian Heimatwerk Costume, Tradition & Customs GmbH.

The Salzburger Heimatwerk

Today's Salzburger Heimatwerk cooperative was founded on 26.11.1946 temporarily as an institution of the Federal State of Salzburg and was modelled on the 1934 founded Styrian Heimatwerk. The Managing Director was Tobi Reiser the Elder (1907-1974). In 1946, the former State Governor Albert Hochleitner handed Reiser an empty, pretty desolate room in the new building of the Salzburg Residence of the city of Salzburg, which had occasionally served as a storage room for ironware and in the 19th Century had been a military guardpost. After several attempts, the Salzburger Heimatwerk was registered as a cooperative of rural artisans in the cooperative register on the 8th April, 1948.

The primary aim of the Heimatwerk was the preservation of tangible assets of the regional indigenous folk culture, especially folk art and traditional costume and to bring closer together the wider circles of the population. The guideline was not a strict preservation but more a lively adaptation and therefore constant reshaping. From difficult beginnings with a starting capital of ATS 3,500 (about 250 Euros) and a small storage area which no one wanted, the Salzburger Heimatwerk evolved into a major business and cultural institution with the Salzburger Advent Singing. 

The Salzburger Heimatwerk today is a major Salzburg institution as a cultural, commercial and trading company. For its achievements, it has been awarded by the province of Salzburg and is entitled to bear the County Coat of Arms. It was formed in 1988 into a formally registered cooperative society with limited liability and since 2009 has been an EU compliant registered cooperative society (e.G.) The members of the association receive no dividend as all profits are fed exclusively back into business purposes and the promotion of economic and cultural everyday life projects.

The Salzburger Heimatwerk 1942 - 1945

From the 1938 Anschluss of Austria into the German Reich, the German Heimatwerk sought contact with Austrian workshops and in return sought a presentation of German products in the Ostmark. In Vienna it had little success, unlike in Salzburg where early in October 1940 a German Heimatwerk sales location was established in Bismarckstrasse 4. Using distortion of facts, the Salzburg Volksblatt newspaper tried to equate the German Heimatwerk with the Styrian Heimatwerk. For some Salzburg Nazi officials, primarily the farmers union, this German Heimatwerk was a thorn in the side even though it was known that in Salzburg since 1938, at the latest, there were plans for the creation of a Heimatwerk according to the Graz model. Against the express instructions of the Reichs Agriculture Leader, the Salzburger Farmers Union planned to found a competitor to the German Heimatwerk in Salzburg, which was then founded on the 16.12.1942 by the Gauleiter and Reich Governor Adolf Scheel as "Heimatwerk Salzburg". It was a prime example of how the term of "Home" had been misused in the Nazi era for ideological purposes and how a "people's movement" should rise above all organisations.

The Gauleiter was at the forefront and under him was the so-called Gau Cultural Council, which was composed of 15 officials and party members. In addition, there were special commissions for individual work areas such as Tobi Reiser for the area of Folk Music. The relevant organisation was to be built right down to the village level, "in order that the work of the Salzburg Heimatwerk reaches down to individual people and even the smallest cell in our Reich’s Gau." (a Salzburg newspaper, 17.12.1942). It was seen as a community for folk and traditions care, which should be a grass-roots movement of all organisations. Helmut Amanshauser was entrusted with the "professional training of the officers and employees" and he strove for the "breeding of artistic, down-to-earth handicraft" and the continuation of "Germanic tradition". The Heimatwerk awarded a stamp, as in Graz, Linz and Vienna, which resembled the "Coat of Arms of the Reichsgau of Salzburg" and was crowned with an "Odal Rune". There was however no point of sale of the "Salzburg Heimatwerk". Such an operation as the German Heimatwerk, which in the wake of local disputes over competencies and the direction of upholding culture became increasingly caught in the crossfire, existed however until 1945.

The Vorarlberger Heimatwerk

The Heimatwerk got impetus from the Tourism Association

"While most of the Austrian Heimatwerks and those in neighbouring countries had their origins in farming life and industry, in Vorarlberg it was the Regional Tourism Association which mainly helped create the Vorarlberg Heimatwerk. The efforts date back to the years of 1937/38 and lie partly in the proverbial frugality of the Alemanni. The Tourism Association was namely relying on advertising with minimal means and yet even in such circumstances trying to earn something. One tended to think then about "good souvenirs".

Reflecting on values

The former Managing Director of the Tourism Association, Dr. Herbert Sohm, chose the path of searching for suitable products or at least production sites within the country. It started with leather bags from the Bregenzer Forest with motifs from the traditional embroidery. It was followed by ceramics and other consumer goods and souvenirs. The war brought these good beginnings to an end. After the war, it was again the Regional Tourism Association which specifically dealt with the thoughts about a Vorarlberg Heimatwerk, whereby the motives which led to this remained the same - reflection on the values of home, its traditional culture and beauty.

Founding 1958

With these tasks in mind, on 27th June, 1958 the Vorarlberg Heimat association was founded. The association's purpose was the promotion, care and continuation of the folk culture of Vorarlberg. These idealistic goals and aspirations followed the materials and through the dissemination and communication of products of local crafts and House Diligence in Vorarlberg. The “Vorarlberg Heimatwerk” brand has been placed at the heart of the sales ideology in the wide range of Arts and crafts.

Over the years, the Vorarlberg Heimatwerk has increasingly developed into an important traditional costume advice centre within the country, thanks to its own traditional costume department with a wide-range of fabrics, which still occupies a very important place in the building.

Closing of the store on 31.7.2019

After more than 60 years, the Vorarlberg Heimatwerk had to close its store in Bregenz's Montfortstraße on 31.7.2019 for business reasons.

Association should continue to preserve cultural assets.

The association Vorarlberger Heimatwerk will continue to exist. In addition to supplying the members with traditional fabrics and accessories - a solution is being worked on in the future - in the future it will primarily be responsible for conceptual and advisory tasks.

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