“It’s really amazing”: the “Musical Instrument Making Experience” in Saxony’s Vogtland district.
Thick felt slippers stand in front of the old coal stove as if the master craftsman has just taken them off. Nearby is a timeworn workbench covered with dents, a sticky glue pan and a collection of special tools for violin making. The demonstration workshop in the “Musical Instrument Making Experience” in Markneukirchen has been put together with great care and attention to detail. Here, music enthusiasts are able to see at first hand how instruments are crafted in the traditional way. The workshop is the heart of the “Musical Instrument Making Experience”, which is run by Simone von der Ohe and Frank Bilz and their two members of staff. They began in 1999 by setting up the Musicon Valley Association, an organisation committed to reinvigorating the Vogtland’s rich tradition of musical instrument making. “The makers in the region began to ask how we could raise the profile of the Vogtland district and its instrument making heritage,” says Frank Bilz, marketing director of Musicon Valley and a born organiser.
Traditional craftsmanship meets tourism
“So five years ago, we developed a strategy to bring the instrument industry and tourism together,” says director Simone von der Ohe. It was an idea that hadn’t been tried anywhere else. Von der Ohe, a warm-hearted native of the Vogtland, has the kind of determined, down-to-earth approach that is typical of people in the region. The result is a unique programme of sights, tours and excursions that gives visitors the opportunity to visit small workshops and major companies, see how musical instruments are produced, make music together and sample the traditional Vogtland cuisine. Some 5,000 amateur and professional musicians visited Markneukirchen in 2013 to experience its 350-year tradition of craftsmanship, admire the idyllic landscape and enjoy genuine Saxon hospitality.
Overwhelmed and highly impressed: students of Stanford University
Among the visitors were 90 young musicians from the Stanford Symphony Orchestra in California. As part of their European tour in June, the student musicians visited the Vogtland along with Prague, Bonn, Leipzig and Vienna. They were amazed and highly impressed. The students visited different makers, depending on which instrument they played, including violin maker Reinhard Bönsch, Björn Stoll’s cello and bass workshop, and Rohema, the oldest drumstick and baton factory in the world. “We heard them saying ‘Wow!’ and ‘It’s absolutely amazing!’ a lot,” say von der Ohe and Bilz, smiling and with a hint of pride.
Winning formula: a gap in the market, determination and unique hospitality
“We’re the direct opposite of a cheap all-inclusive travel package,” says Bilz. “We are constantly on hand to assist our guests and we’ll even make them a cup of herbal tea if they want.” Positive feedback from the local tourist office, the instrument makers and, of course, the visitors proves they’re on the right track and motivates them to carry on.