High across the far land. High up north, in the Lower Austrian Waldviertel district, we find a feeling of perfect freedom. At a time where former political borders start losing their importance, the sheer endless horizons of the Waldviertel forest district as well as their gently rolling landscapes are more present than ever. Together with my dear friend Gudrun, I have embarked on a road trip of a kind: Gudrun, who as a fellow travel writer at “Reisebloggerin.at” has become just as interested in exploring the local craft scene in our home country Austria. Surprising, therefore, what we were able to come up with during the so-called “Waldviertler Handwerkswochen” local crafts’ weeks, enabling us both to look at our home culture with fresh eyes.
The Mother-of-Pearl manufactory run by Rainer Mattejka in its fifth generation looks back on a history of processing local river shells all the way to supplying world textile companies such as Escada or Lacoste – hand-made in Waldviertel, Lower Austria, that is!
“My grandfather still knew exactly where to find the best quality river shells right here by the local Thaya river“, Rainer Mattejka tells us with pride in his eyes. “Only recently, we learned that those shells actually developed in the gills of a fish! Today, our shiny treasures come to us from all over the world, mostly from Indonesia and Australia. Over the years, we have developed our know-how – the production of quality produce buttons made from top natural products – to a point where we are supplying millions of single pieces according to very specific, individual requirements all over the world.”
Precisely. Incredibly. Right in front of their door, you step out into a world of peace and quiet, betraying the fact that the little town Felling near Hardegg is actually home to a world-class family enterprise from Austria. “Development is happening so fast: We are constantly being challenged to think about past, present and future. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the love we have for our visitors: During the local crafts’ weeks for instance, we enjoy organizing creative workshops for visitors, teaching you how to make your own jewellery with mother-of-pearl and other precious stones.” I like that!
Celebrating even more local crafts from the Waldviertel district, we stop for a visit of the so-called hammer forge near the town of Zwettl, a building well over 500 years old. Step aside, gentlemen: It’s ladies’ time today!
“Quite often, and surprisingly enough, women come here to take part in my forging lessons“, Friedrich Fürst, local owner and creative teacher tells us during a visit here in Zwettl, the largest town of the Waldviertel district. Another participant calls over at Gudrun and me: “Could you please pose next to the fire and hold up your artwork, yes, that’s it! Perhaps with this photograph, I can still convince my wife to join me next time.”
Well. I do have to admit: Being a bit stronger will certainly do you no harm when trying your hands at forging! Or is it rather in training the right technique? “You have to strike the iron while it’s hot!” Friedrich smiles and puts it rather bluntly. He is absolutely right, of course. What sounds more of precocious phrase can actually be taken literally here: The fish we are trying to forge are only shaping up to become fish when we forge the iron at around 1.000 °C (!). “Man forges his own destiny”, is just one other proverb derived from the context of this ancient crafts tradition that was once quite widespread here in Lower Austria. After two hours, Gudrun and I are a little exhausted – but ever so proud of the cute little fish that we have wrought from the glowing iron!
The art of glassblowing … “This might very well be the most extraordinary creative workshop I have ever taken”, I exhale, all flustered after repeatedly blowing into my hot glass, bell-shaped fish decorated with sizzling fins. What an experience !!
Two strong men in T-shirts & short trousers are working in front of the hissing furnace in a perfectly calm unison: Despite their apparent physical strength, including the tremendous firing heat at their backs, they are all calm & concentrated, producing one cute little glass frog after the other as if it were the most natural thing on Earth. And to them, it certainly is, right here at the Waldglashütte glassblowing studio of Kurt Zalto in Neu-Nagelberg close to Austria’s oldest beer brewing town Weitra. Fascinating. I simply cannot take my eyes off the glowing glass: The perfect embrace of art on a high level paired with real technical & chemical know-how is just fascinating. To me, watching these artist craftsmen is an experience unknown.
Glassblowing artists have my full respect. Their craft process makes them sweat, while they have to stay cool in order to master their art. I am fascinated – even more so as I get to participate in it myself!
We are so lucky: During the local crafts week here in the Waldviertel, Kurt Zalto and his colleague take it on them to welcome us personally to their glass manufactory, teaching us to blow our own little glass fish which are then cooled and sent home to us after a few days!
What an experience: Childlike excitement runs through our veins here !!
Last but not least, and besides mentioning all these creative travel tips around the local crafts week in Waldviertel, I would still like to highlight one more gourmet travel tip including the local Brauhotel (brewing hotel) Weitra. Check out all their beer offers here, with Austria’s oldest brewing town always worthy of your visit.
Disclaimer: We have been invited by Waldviertel Tourismus in order to travel exploring the local crafts’ week of the Waldviertel district. All opinions are my own.