The History of Flower-Making

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Artificial flowers have been around for at least 3000 years. They were mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Kings, when the Queen of Sheba tests Solomon with various riddles to see if he is wise and worthy. In one test, she asks him to distinguish which of twelve lilies are real and which are artificial. Solomon observes that bees would only settle on the real flowers, ignoring the artificial ones.

During the Middle Ages, nuns started to make artificial flowers from silk to decorate church statues with flowers during the winter, while relying on fresh flowers during the summer. It became a regulation by the church that silk or metal flowers were only to be used for decorating altars. Northern Italy in particular developed a whole industry for making flowers.

In the 19th Century, flowers were used more often in fashion: to decorate clothing, for hat trimmings and in artful hairstyles. The industry spread throughout the world. France, being the leading country for fashion, hosted the most important flower factories and flower artists (Monsieur Seguin, Monsieur Beaulard, T.J. Wenzel – the royal flower maker for queen Marie Antoinette).

Around 1780, the Huguenots took the art of flower making to Berlin where an important confection industry was being developed. To be able to sell to a broader audience the industry copied the trends from Paris for which of course fitting accessories like fashion flowers where needed.

Flowers came to Sachsen via Vienna and Böhmen, which in those days belonged to Austria/Hungary. Earlier, popular flowers were traditionally made from paper, wood shavings and lightweight linen. They were used as decorations in festivals, on traditional costumes and in churches. These products where imported to Sachsen until Sachsen joined the German Customs Union in 1834. Due to the high customs tax charged for products from Böhmen, the flowers became increasingly expensive. Soon after, manufacturers transported their products to Sebniz located near the Böhmen – Sachsen border and to the neighbouring town of Neustadt.

During these times many residential manual-weaving factories had to close down due to the increasing use of mechanical looms. The weavers then took over the products of the “Böhmen” and the female weavers quickly adapted by learning to make flowers. This new trade was well suited for working from home and up till today the gluing and binding of the flowers is done from home.

As more markets became accessible via trade fairs and contacts with foreign wholesalers these products became increasingly more important and so the first factories were erected in Sebnitz.

The launch onto the world market succeeded in 1870/71 when the French firms could not deliver their products due to the siege of Paris and had to send their clients to other sellers including those from the region of Sebnitz. Some firms copied the French samples while other firms achieved better quality and higher production through division of the different phases of production, improvement of the tools, and specialisation in particular types of flowers. Front man of this development was flower manufacturer Louis Meiche who had worked since 1869 in Sebnitz.

Until the world science crisis in the early 1920s, the flower branch in Europe experienced continuous growth. In these times Paris counted over 2000 firms with around 19.000 predominantly female workers while in the rest of France another 9.000 people worked in the industry. Another 3.000 employees worked in Berlin. Sebnitz and Neustad had 130 firms (with over 10 employees) and around 10.000 workers.

There were two main reasons for the strong scientific decline after this successful period: firstly, fashion had changed. Hats became smaller and simpler and relied more on trimmings. Also clothing became less exclusive. Secondly, as of 1933, during the era of National Socialism, all trade relations with Jewish firms – which were most of the wholesalers, owners of shopping centres, and business representatives - had to be abandoned.

After the Second World War the Sachsen centre of the German flower industry recovered. Until 1952 some manufacturers left the Russia occupied territory and started anew in several West German towns. In 1953 more than 100 firms became part of the VEB Kunstblume (VEB = people owned enterprise). In 1972 the remaining private companies were integrated. Until 1990 this enterprise with 3.000 employees, was Europe’s biggest exporter of artificial flowers, but due to national legislation could not obtain material of better quality and could not adapt to the changes in fashion.

Because of the shortness of convertible currency in the former DDR the VEB Kunstblume was in the position they had to offer their flowers to countries in the West for 25% of the lowest price. These buyers bought their products after the turn in 1990 only in the Far East as prices had to be adjusted to meet the market.

The successive firms were not in the position to manufacture flowers of high quality. This lead to the demise via the Treuhandanstalt - a now defunct organization set up in 1990 to take over the nationally-owned companies of the former DDR, to break them down into smaller units and to privatise them. Many companies were closed down by the Treuhandanstalt because of their outdated equipment and inability to compete with the western firms. This resulted in a rise in unemployment.

Other European manufacturers started to experience more competition from the Far East.
Since the 1970s, availability of favourably priced artificial flowers from Asia – made in Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, China and Thailand – increased. Importers were able to have collections made suited for the likes of Westerners, as wages in Asia were only a fraction of those in Europe. Flowers made in Asia were mostly used for interior decorations.

However, Heide and Gerald Steyer created a niche market in the area of fashionable corsages. On the 1st of June 1970 they took on the flower production of the flower and feather factory ‘Curt Morgenstern’ in Berlin. This company started in 1925 in Sebnitz and moved in 1952 to West Berlin where they were initially located in the Puttkammer Str. in Kreutzberg. Soon after however, the space became too small and in 1974 they moved to the Babelsberger Str. in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. In 1976 the firm was renamed “Berliner Blumenfabrikation” (Berlin Flower Fabrication) to emphasise its location in an important fashion city and that production also took place there.

With the turn of 1990 came the desire to open production facilities outside of Berlin. The first road lead to Sebnitz were for many years attempts were already made to overtake a small part of VEB Kunstblume. However, negotiations with the Treuhandanstalt lead to no results. In 1995 they acquired a Vierseithof in Wallroda (German estate where farmhouse and stables are arranged in a square, offering a picturesque courtyard in the middle. The term "Vierseithof" refers to the four sides of the estate, which surround and protect the inner farmyard). After renovation and extension production started on the 1st of January 1998 with 8 employees who had learned the trade of flower making in Sebnitz. Today the firm employs 12 workers who create the flowers that are exported from Sachsen throughout the world.

The niche, which allows the firm to maintain strong despite the competition from the Far East, is a very exclusive and fashionable collection made with high quality standards and which is adjustable to the wishes of the customer.

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