A hat, a stick, an umbrella …
Today we start our little story for the Lübeck ZWISCHENZEILEN in the year 1792.
Well, what was it that happend in 1792? French Revolution. Jacobins. The deposition of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette (both of whom had a rather unpleasant end to their lives, as we all know from our history lessons).
And in Lübeck? Hhmmm. Nothing came to my mind. I quickly looked into the archive of the paper “Lübeckische Anzeigen von allerhand Sachen, deren Bekanntmachung dem gemeinen Wesen nöthig und nutzlich ist” . And, of course, similiar things happened in our city then as now:
A young demoiselle wishes to be engaged as a housekeeper in the inn or with children this Easter.
On Thursday, February 23, a fine little spitz escaped from the house in Marligrube. Whoever brings it back can expect a douceur.
Today, very fresh Dutch oysters arrived at Reuter’s in Wahmstraße, which along with large crabs are available for cheap price.
But I also find ads that take us back to 1792 to our subject and Martin Christian Wölffer, whose name the store for umbrellas and sticks at Fleischhauerstraße 2 bears until today:
August 18, 1792
Since someone on Saturday, Aug. 4. lost a fine umbrella, marked with I.I.B.: the finder is asked to return it to the owner for a reward.
The lost umbrella may have been purchased from M.C. Wölffer at his stall under the town hall arcades. This is where the success story of the specialty store began, which continues to this day. It was founded by Wölffer, an umbrella maker from the Harz region of Germany.
“My family must have done something right, I guess” Martin Christian’s descendant Gabriele Waldraff-Wölffer, who is the fifth generation to run the specialist store for umbrellas and sticks in Lübeck, sums up the past 231 years in retrospect during our entertaining conversation.
An umbrella is an umbrella is an umbrella
Born in Lübeck, she is an experienced and pragmatic lady who likes to call a spade a spade. She is fully aware that an umbrella is a commodity that should function reliably. Rarely does anyone give much thought to an umbrella. You notice that you forgot to take it along when it starts to rain. It’s annoying when the one you’re carrying is broken or torn. But few people realize that there is so much more to tell about umbrellas.
Gabriele Waldraff-Wölffer, on the other hand, knows all about umbrellas. “No one will lead me up the garden path,” she says with a laugh. The owner is just as knowledgeable about opening systems as she is about umbrella shapes. She tells me that an umbrella should have a solid pole if possible and a ten-piece frame at best. That poles can be made of steel, fiberglass, aluminum or carbon, the shape of which have an impact on the stability and durability, as well as the weight of an umbrella. Using innovative materials, a lightweight umbrella could weigh as little as 134g.
The traditional specialty store sells umbrellas of the most varied quality for customers that Ms. Waldraff-Wölffer knows very well. After all, we are in Lübeck, where the clientele relies on solidly crafted products in not too risky colour combinations. Models in tartan and striped ones are always in demand. Whereas Mrs. Waldraff-Wölffer would recommend a colourful cover that puts a smile on faces and brightens up a rainy day. “When it rains, it’s already gray anyway, so the umbrella doesn’t need to accentuate that.”
I am happy when it rains, because if I am not happy, it’ll still rain.Karl Valentin (1882-1948)
He who buys cheap buys twice
Prices range from €15 to €225 in her shop. Umbrellas can be a lot more expensive, of course, but “is that really necessary?” asks the umbrella specialist. She makes many of the models herself with her employee – an experienced seamstress. Gabriele says, that she owes all her skills to her mother Lotti, who was very bright and talented. At the beginning of the 1970s, Gabriele, a trained wholesale and foreign trade merchant, returned to Lübeck with her family after working for a shipping company in the US for several years.
She grew up in the family business as a child, so the move to join her mother seemed only logical and fitting. Learning by doing was the motto in the following years.
Even after all these years, Gabriele still enjoys the contact with her customers incredibly much. She is convinced that perfect service and competent and honest advice are the keys to success. Customer friendliness has always been in the focus of work of all her predecessors and in her’s as well.
Typical of her unagitated style is also that she gives her clientele the space and time to look around. Sometimes she retreats to the small workshop behind the salesroom to let the customers browse.
Upcycling A la Wölffer – since 1792
In Wölffer’s workshop, I discover another small big world that was completely unknown to me. The repair of umbrellas is an intensively demanded service at Wölffer. After all, there aren’t that many umbrella workshops left in Germany. At M.C. Wölffer, spokes, ball tips and sliders are renewed by hand and sewing work is carried out. “We re-use intact parts of defective racks,” explains Ms. Waldraff-Wölffer. There are so many models that not all spare parts can always be in stock. And more and more customers prefer to have umbrellas repaired instead of throwing them away. But we need to keep a sense of proportion here.
Not every repair makes sense, she said. There she is again, the down-to-earth, practical woman who throws in the odd ‘well’ or ‘excuse me’ as she tells her story. A reminiscence of the time spent in America.
Stroll, walk, ambulate
In addition to umbrellas, also walking sticks are on offer. An accessory that for centuries belonged to every self-respecting person. Whether with silver or ivory handle, inlaid or set with precious stones, luxurious walking sticks were chosen to match the clothes and the mood. Ms. Waldraff-Wölffer does not offer this type of walking sticks. That wouldn’t really fit the rather less playful northern German nature either. Her sticks are elegant walking aids made of various woods, customized and fitted with a handle entirely to the customer’s taste.
Committed to tradition
A few years ago, Mrs. Waldraff-Wölffer wanted to modernize the premises. “What do you want?” friends and acquaintances asked, aghast. Fortunately, this plan was put on hold so that the very unique atmosphere of the shop can still be felt to this day. The simple showcases made of walnut, the elongated counter with the more than 100-year-old cash register, the wall with the portraits of the ancestors, the brass chandelier with Lübeck’s double-headed eagle and lovingly placed details turn a visit to Wölffer into a small journey into the past. To a time when there were neither websites nor social media, nor online stores.
That is why we don’t put a link here, but rather give the unconditional recommendation to go to M.C. Wölffer and get into conversation with a life-smart woman and to buy an umbrella for life.