Photos courtesy of Hermann-Spielwaren Gmbh — Coburg
DNA kits are all the rage. For my sister’s birthday, I purchased her a home kit and we eagerly awaited the results. After weeks of her nervously checking her mailbox and computer in-box, the heritage company finally released their findings. Some of the genetic background was surprising, but much of it was exactly as we had assumed. I just received a similar cheek-swabbing kit as one of my Christmas gifts, so I will be taking the big Q-tip plunge in a few days.
Wanting to know where we came from is not exactly a groundbreaking feeling, but it has become much wore widespread with the ability to do a DNA analysis in the comfort of one’s home. Pining for the past, eagerly dreaming up big, sprawling generational sagas — think “The Thorn Birds” meets “Downton Abbey” — we all have our fingers crossed that there will be some unexpected revelation that will launch us from pauper to princely status in a split second.
Throughout literature, brave and pious orphans have gone on journeys that have stretched for miles, and spanned decades, to discover their parentage and lineage. Nowadays, we can spit into a tube or harvest our cheeks and have the scientific analysis delivered in under a month. It is a brave new world, indeed!
Only knowing a bit about my own familial background, I am always fascinated when I meet and converse with folks who have adventurous tales to tell about their ancestors. One such person is Martin Hermann, who is an heir to the Hermann –Spielwaren GmbH factory. He and his sister, Ursula, are the current directors of the enterprise, and Ursula is responsible for the majority of the creative outpourings. I’ve spoken to Martin over the years, and one of our conversations really sticks out in my mind.
“There is no question in my mind,” he told me, “our bears are our small children. My sister and I bring a lot of our personality to the design as we make each bear unique and special. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of our Hermann-Coburg success. We have always had a boy AND a girl review and give opinions on each and every one of our designs.”
Martin Hermann explained that his relationship to the bear business is “more of a technical view”; whereas Ursula’s has always been more “playful and emotional.” According to Martin, “Very few boys grow up without having a teddy bear, so we all start our lives loving these toys. I am fortunate because I have been able to stay with teddy bears for my whole life!”
More than a century ago, 105 years, to be exact, Hermann-Spielwaren GmbH — Coburg was founded. In those days, however, it was called the Johann Hermann Spielwarenfabrik company. Named in honor of their father, the three Hermann siblings (Arthur, Adelheid, and Max) created bears and other stuffed-animal toys that quickly became synonymous with excellent craftsmanship and anticipated heirloom status.
When Johann, the father and patriarch of the firm, passed away in 1919, the children decided to go their separate ways. Son Max started his own self-named company and set up shop in Neufang, Germany. He was a mere 20 years old, but he sensed that the time was right for him to strike out on his own. After World War I, the world had become a different place. Young men and women became more daring, more cognizant that the future was not guaranteed to anyone, and reversals of fortune can come at any time. (This was an important lesson to learn for the world at large, and for Max Hermann, in particular.)
During these early days, Max developed a stellar reputation, and his fame expanded beyond his nation’s borders. Max Hermann was becoming a star in the teddy bear universe. Committed to building a better bear, he moved his company to Sonneberg, Germany, which was known as the “toy capital of the world.” In 1933, Max dreamed up his company’s distinctive green-and-white triangle tag, with the bear and the running dog. Hermann Teddy Bears are instantly identifiable with this marker (much like Steiff and its button in the ear).
The 1930s and the 1940s were turbulent ones for the company and for the country. A worldwide depression swept around the globe, and an ambitious and inflammatory politician named Adolf Hitler gained popularity and rose through the German governmental ranks. The global economy, the ascension of despots and dictators in major seats of power, the persecution and murder of citizens — all of these horrors impacted the world and its inhabitants. Max Hermann and his business were not immune. The evils of the earth tossed a very surprising and very terrifying future to the Hermann clan.
After World War II, Germany was divided into two sectors: West and East, one was a democratic free republic; the other under Communist control. Despite its capitalistic creativity and connection to unbridled consumerism (let’s face it, toys are not a staple for life), Sonneberg was zoned as part of East Germany. The toy capital of the world was now locked behind the so-called Iron Curtain. It had become a Communist enclave.
In true cinematic fashion, Max and his family were eventually able to flee the East and migrated to Coburg in Bavaria. The Hermanns are toymakers, and that is the life they know and love. It is in their blood. They were determined to keep their livelihood alive, and toiled to rebuild a new factory and workshop in this western city. In 1955, the determined Max passed away, and his son Rolf assumed the mohair mantle. He was the new leader and visionary CEO for the firm, until his death 40 years later, in 1995. Rolf’s children, Ursula and Martin, have carried their family’s banner with enormous pride and forward-looking achievements.
Under Martin and Ursula’s guidance, the company has become a force to be reckoned with at soft-art shows, international fairs, on the Internet, and in prestigious museums. They have honored the legacy of their forefathers, and have expanded their company’s clout and position as a worldwide collectibles giant.
Yes, teddy bear artistry is in the Hermann DNA. They don’t need a drugstore kit to confirm that.