The Schubertiade is back in Hohenems, Austria during mid-July, offering an array of selections by prominent European composers, many of whom were contemporaries of Schubert. Within the Schubertiade Quarter of the small city are several museums. Some highlight the area’s music history and others focus on the local history which includes a shoemaker and his workshop. This is the Schuhmacher Museum.
Karl Nachbauer, the local shoemaker, was born in the late 19th century and worked in his trade during the 20th century. Automation and large factories were already well established but Hohenems’ resident shoemaker crafted each pair of shoes by hand, making sure everything was as it should be.
The museum is small, only two rooms, but contains Nachbauer’s tools ranging from the old-fashioned sewing machines, handheld tools and hardware, wooden strips, and other materials used to make shoes. The shelves are lined with shoes of various sizes, illustrating the shoemaker’s skill. Also on display are documents and memorabilia acquired by his family that provide a historical backdrop of changes, some steady and some fast-moving, that took place during his lifetime.
While looking at the tools and materials on display, it is easy to imagine the popular children’s story by the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, or the Brothers Grimm, about a shoemaker. “The Elves and the Shoemaker” was published in 1812 as part of a collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. This collection, in English, is known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
In the story, the shoemaker is a hard-working, honest man who works steadily making shoes. He has just enough material left to make one more pair. The next morning, he goes to his workshop and sees that the shoes are already made. A customer marvels at the quality, the perfect stitching, the comfortable fit, and buys the shoes. Word gets around and more customers visit the shoemaker and place their orders. Each morning when he gets to his workshop, he sees the shoes have already been made.
This pattern continues but the shoemaker and his wife still don’t know who has been doing all of this work every night. They plan to sit up all night, hiding in the workshop, with hopes of seeing who comes to their aid. Precisely at midnight, two elves come in and get right to work. They finish all the shoes before dawn and leave. In appreciation for their help, the shoemaker’s wife makes each of them a new outfit, and the shoemaker makes a pair of shoes for each elf. The next night, the elves put on their new outfits and dance. They never return to the shoemaker’s workshop. For the rest of their days, the shoemaker and his wife live a good and prosperous life.
The Schuhmacher Museum has a direct connection to the Schubertiade. The music festival’s managing director is Gerd Nachbauer, grandson of the shoemaker, Karl Nachbauer. The materials shown in the museum were kept in storage for years before going on display in the shoemaker’s workshop. The museum schedule is posted on the Schubertiade website.
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