Saturday, November 8, 2014

Maschen (Mesh) Museum@Tailfingen[1]
Resource Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The MaschenMuseum (i.e. Mesh Museum) covers the history of the knitting industry from 1750 to the present within the local council of “Albstadt” (a series of alpine villages that were merged into a single council in 1975 in the Baden-Württemberg province of South West Germany). It traces the history of the region from a rural subsistence textile economy (cottage industry) to early industrial forms of textile production to modern textile production. It is housed in a former building of Mayer & Cie in Tailfingen and contains a range of textile machines and collectables, thereby giving the premise an authentic atmosphere of past working conditions.

The entrance to the MaschenMuseum in Tailfingen.

Some exhibits include an old “Handculierstuhl”, implements of the stocking weavers as well as winding machines, circular knitting frames, rope making machines, cutting machines, and a ready-made table from 1920 (i.e. machines from virtually all areas of production in order to explain the production process from raw material to finished product). It also exhibits a historic steam engine. The members of the museum’s working group painstakingly restored most of these machines into operating order. The Museum and its volunteers, encourages visitors to observe the machines in action and moreover, volunteer guides explain to visitors their purpose and the manner in which they were originally operated.

Mechanization with central power stations - Historic Steam Machine.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

The Museum also houses a rich inventory of textiles, especially in the field of knitted and crocheted underwear, which allows an almost complete representation of the historical development of fashion knitwear from 1870 to 1970. The Museum displays from time-to-time textiles and wearable art and moreover hosts seminars on topics that are pertinent to the direction of the Museum.

A close up of a textile piece displayed in the exhibition – "Indigo, Cinnabar And Other Nice Colors" – 6th of April to 11th October, 2014.

The Museum has a shop in which books, textiles and other items may be purchased. Generally the museum is open on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, and on most holidays, between 14-17 pm. However, before we can talk about the history of the Museum we need to give a glimpse of the history of the village that houses it – Tailfingen.

Volunteer Museum Guides - Ilse (left) and friend (right) - together with my husband, Emeritus Professor Dr. Ellak I. von Nagy-Felsobuki (center), who was born in Tailfingen and migrated to Australia with his parents when he was one year-old.

A Short Overview of Tailfingen
Tailfingen is the second largest village belonging to the council region known as “Albstadt” (loosely translated as alp cities). It lies partly in a narrow valley called “Talgang” and on slopes and plateaus of the Swabian alps. Tailfingen is framed by three big mountains: the highest is called Burg (976 meter) and it stands to the North of Tailfingen; to the East is Schlossberg (castle mountain), on which stood a castle in the Middle Ages; finally to the West lies Hardenberg. Between Burg and Schlossberg, there are the relatively flat mountains of Nank and Lammer.

Picturesque view of the village of Tailfingen nestling in Talang Valley.

The Alemannic tribe chieftain “Tagolf” founded Tailfingen sometime after 260 AD, probably in the 5th or 6th century. In 793 AD Tailfingen was for the first time mentioned by name in a St. Gallen certificate as “Dagolfinga”. In 1113 AD at the monastery of St. Blaise it was first named as Tailfingen ("Tagolfingen"). In 1403 it was placed under the rule of the Duchy of Württemberg. Later it was assigned to the District or Upper District of Balingen, where it remained until 1934 when the National Socialists combined it with the neighboring village of Truchtelfingen.

Coat of Arms of Tailfingen (Germany).

In 1853 textile production commenced in the region when Ebinger and Hechinger (two local companies) commissioned the first circular knitting machines. In 1870 Tailfingen’s textile industry grew independently of the region and so its population rapidly increased (e.g. in 1871 there were 2193 inhabitants by 1910 there were 5412 inhabitants). In 1901 train services began in Tailfingen, which assisted the local textile industry to grow significantly. In 1956, the steam locomotives were replaced by a railcar. Gradually, Tailfingen began to lose its homely village-like appearance and in 1930 it was elevated to the status of a city, with its own local council. In 1934, under pressure from the National Socialists, the neighboring village community of Truchtelfingen was incorporated into its local council. As a result of the economic recovery in the 1950s, Tailfingen’s population grew larger (1972 - 17,278 inhabitants including Truchtelfingen). On the 1st January 1975 Tailfingen’s local city council was annexed into the newly formed Albstadt council, which unites a number of neighboring villages into a single local council.

The villages that make up the local council of Albstadt.

In recent years, the local textile companies in Tailfingen have struggled due to increased competition from China, India and its European Union neighbours, resulting in a structural crisis within the textile industry in Albstadt in general, but in Tailfingen in particular.

A chimney stack from one the few surviving textile mills in Tailfingen.

In 1998 all rail services to Tailfingen ceased, delivering another blow to the local industry. In 2008 the Global Financial Crisis further disrupted its economic development.

A steam engine arrives at the Tailfingen station in 1930.

Tailfingen today is trying to re-invent itself as “THE VILLAGE” of culture within the Albstadt Council and judging by the enthusiasm of its local residents it is surely on its way to becoming an important destination for most tourists who wish to visit the South West region of Germany.

The picturesque village of Taifingen (Germany).

”Maschen” is translated into English as “mesh”. Mesh is the general weave that underpins the knitted apparel that was produced in Tailfingen and in other village centers such as Ebingen in Albstadt, Germany.

The idea of establishing a textile museum initially grew out of the working group in the Alb village of Ebingen. The group was responsible for preparing and implementing the 1987 Baden-Württemberg birthday celebration. It was decided that a united theme for the celebration would be for each district - within the province - to showcase its character and historical development, thereby yielding diversity within the unity of the young local council district of Albstadt. A group of enthusiastic citizens from Tailfingen, together with representatives from the various community organizations, thought that the theme - "100 Years Tailfinger jersey in the world" - would serve as an effective theme in order to reflect Tailfingen’s historical and sociological development.

Female and male employees of the company J. Conzelmann, Tailfingen (1903).
1995 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).

The exhibition "People, Mesh and Machines" opened in a housed pavilion on September 1987 in an area that was approximately 250 square metres in size. Six students and a company of volunteers had organized on behalf of the Albstadt district – “its 250 years of regional history”; that is, the history of the knitting industry in the Albstadt district providing exhibits as authentic as possible, including texts, images and a slideshow with a variety of objects and machines. The exhibition encompassed the economic, technical and social history of the region.

Modern (foreground) and historical loom (background).
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

In the center of the exhibition was a man surrounded by his living and working conditions, thereby yielding a glimpse of life from the past.

Handicrafts for life - revolving stage of women's work.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

A computer-controlled circular knitting machine knitted the Tailfinger coat of arms as a bonus for the myriad of enthusiastic visitors. Thousands of spectators were impressed - and even the locals were amazed - at the variety and quality of the knitting industry of Talgangs (a name given for the valley that contains Tailfingen). The exhibition had to be extended due to large crowds of visitors (8,000 visitors within four weeks).

With full steam to success - pioneers of the knitting industry.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Walter Schick.

The exhibition "People, Mesh and Machines" was stored on the 7th March 1988 in the former factory building of Mayer & Cie in Tailfingen - to be eventually reopened as the MaschenMuseum in a slightly reduced form. The Lord Mayor of Alb Stadt - Hans Pfarr - commissioned the formation of a working party in order to create and establish funding for the MaschenMuseum. The working party was set up on the 24th February 1988. It had no budget as such but had the goodwill and volunteer support of some 40 committed Tailfinger women and men. Wilhelm Conzelmann was selected as the chairman of the working party.

The workers – from left: Wilhelm Conzelmann, Kurt Krebs, Hans Kästle, Emil Bitzer and Karl Nestle.
Photograph courtesy of reference[1].

Furthermore, two members of the original group’s exhibition, Susanne Goebel and Manfred Maullig were commissioned by the Albstadt city council to create an artistic and scientific concept to underpin the textile museum. The 32 page report was presented to the council on the 1st December 1988, giving a conceptual impetus to the realization and artistic direction of the MaschenMuseum.

The thinkers – from left: Professor W. Greulich, Susanne Goebel (Museum Director) and Professor Franz Kuhn.
Photograph courtesy of reference[1].

A recurring theme of the first few meetings of the working group was where to house the collectables and exhibits that would eventually become part of the Museum. Eventually it was decided that the building of Mayer & Cie in 10 Wasen Street (Tailfingen) was the most appropriate site. The working party also spent considerable time selecting collectables such as old machinery and equipment, products and documents as well as obtaining statements and testimonies of elderly citizens who could recount past working and social histories. The rooms at 10 Wasen Street were then converted in order to house the collectables.

The beginnings of stump weaving – hand “culier” chairs.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

A workshop was set up at the site and the experts among the committee members set about the restoration of the oldest machines. With the help of several companies and their knowledgeable staff, the heaviest machinery was transported to various depots. By this time the working group had amassed over 6000 hours of voluntary work, not to mention the gifted investment of contractors. Whilst difficulties arose by February 1994 about whether the MaschenMuseum was financially feasible, Mayor Hans Martin Haller and other councillors of the Albstadt city council were very supportive for the Museum to come into fruition.

Fibers to yarn – in the act of spinning.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

A new impetus for the Museum was revived via the creativity of Architects Schneider and Staiger, who inspired by their interior designs, artisans and the activities of the men of the working group to paint walls and ceilings, to fix windows of the building in Wasen Street and to restore equipment and machinery into workable condition. Everyone pitched in according to their talents: home electricians, industrial sales, knitting or spinning masters, mechanic or textile finishers, mechanical engineer etc.

The ingenious rotation – historical circular knitting frames.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

The chairman of the working group Wilhelm Conzelmann represented the group to the outside community. He used his contacts within the museum management, the authorities, the press, the Friends of the MaschenMuseum and its sponsors, to further the realization of the Museum. In addition, he also coordinated other activities: for example, he got needles for knitted and crocheted machinery; nails, screws, paint brushes, colors and much more for the ongoing renovation and restoration work. To keep the group in good spirits, they were provided with lunch etc. on their working days. Unfortunately two of the group members - Emil Bitzer and Eugen Maier – died before the museum was opened.

The needle in honor - overlooking a historic assembly table.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Markus Conzelmann.

By now the working party of volunteers had amassed some 14,000 working hours. Moreover, the relationship between the working party, Museum Director Ms. Goebel, the architects and building authority and artisans fused into a formidable team of like-minded and inspired people. As all were pulling in the same direction, the realization of the MaschenMuseum was inevitable.

Computerized productivity increase - Modern Knitting Machine.
1998 Calendar – Men, Mesh and Machinery – (Courtesy of the MaschenMuseum, Tailfingen).
Photograph courtesy of Frank Luger.

To keep the concept of a textile museum alive, a number of exhibitions were mounted in the intervening years: for example, in late 1989 the “Skirt and Apron” exhibition viewed knitted apparel produced in the region and in 1990 an industrial architecture conversation on the local radio initiated discussions on the interior design of the textile museum. In the period between 1988 - 1992 the exhibition, "People, Mesh and Machine", was transported and set up in four different cities: in Bonn; in the country's pavilion in Stuttgart; in the local museum in Tuttlingen; and finally, in the State Museum for the History of Technology and Labour (Berlin).

The opening of the MaschenMuseum coincided approximately with the 1200th anniversary of the district of Tailfingen and so it opened its doors in 1996. A must visit if your are in the region!

[1] Wilhelm Conzelmann and Susanne Goebel, “Menschen, Maschen und Maschinen”, MaschenMuseum Albstadt (1996).

1 comment:

ann odyne said...

amazed again by my internet education, I searched "Ellak I. von Nagy-Felsobuki" after being impressed by his letter published today in The Saturday Paper, never expecting to find a beautiful blog. and he looks a nice man too.
I spotted Serge Lutens art in the background of that group photo.