My Grandfather Made Me a German Nutcracker

My Grandfather Made Me a German Nutcracker

When I was a child, my grandfather gave me my very own German nutcracker that he made with his own two hands and I have treasured it ever since. However, at the time I did not understand the significance or the complex processes that go into making each and every German nutcracker. Now that my grandfather is gone and I am an adult, I realize how truly special my German nutcracker is and I feel very special knowing that my grandfather made it especially for me.

My grandfather was German and grew up in a mountain village in northeastern Germany. As a teenager, before World War II, my grandfather learned the traditional methods of making German nutcrackers by his father. These traditional methods had been handed down to him through the generations and he was being groomed to carry on the family tradition of German nutcracker making. The process of making German nutcrackers is a complex one and many steps are necessary to create the many different German nutcracker designs that have made northeastern Germany so famous around the world today.

German NutcrackersMy grandfather used to say that, God provides us nuts, but we need to crack them open. I did not really understand this when I was a child, but today I realize what he meant when he said this. What my grandfather was trying to teach me was that in life things can be difficult, but there are endless possibilities that God provides to us that we can take advantage of to make our lives successful. However, we need to figure out on our own how to turn those possibilities in realities. God gives us plenty of opportunities to succeed and with a little effort and a lot of hard work, we will be able to and the rewards will be well worth it. This, apparently, was a popular saying in Germany when he was a boy and the German nutcracker represented this metaphor of cracking the nuts God provides us.

When my grandfather began working in the family workshop, he had quite a few nuts to crack on his own as he trained under master craftsmen who were skilled artisans in the methods of German nutcracker making. As a young man in the early part of the 1900s, it was considered an honor to be able to carry on the family traditions of that time. Life was difficult at times, but my grandfather never met a nut he could not crack! My grandfather would often tell me of how hard it was working in the family business and trying to figure out each piece of the puzzle that goes into making each and every German nutcracker. It was a very time consuming and complex process which involved nearly four years and over 100 different procedures to complete.

German NutcrackersEach German nutcracker started its life with a single piece of wood harvested from the local area. Because German nutcrackers are carved out of living wood, it could take up to four years for the wood to be cured and dry enough to be used in the creation of a single German nutcracker. Each piece of wood would then be cut into individual pieces based on what size and shape the German nutcracker would ultimately become. Each piece was then placed on a machine operated milling cutter and the larger features of the German nutcracker were formed. The traditional methods of hand-turning would then be used to create a smooth, clean cut by hand. This process took a skilled artisan to create the proper shape of the German nutcracker. Machine operated lathes were then used on individual wood parts to produce perfectly formed German nutcrackers. The wood was then polished and holes drilled in preparation for the final assembly of each German nutcracker. Again, this process took a trained polisher to make sure the pieces were of the highest quality. Finally, the wood parts would be primed and sprayed with lacquer which consisted of repeatedly dipping, spraying, and drying each piece by experienced craftsmen.

With the major parts of the German nutcracker body assembled, my grandfather would then carve out the little details and nuances of each piece, giving each individual German nutcracker produced its unique personality and charm. These details were always done by hand with a woodcarving knife and it took years to perfect. My grandfather learned from his father how to carve each German nutcracker into the various different styles that their family business was known for. The last and final process in making a German nutcracker then involved the final painting of the piece. My grandfather also learned the art of painting each face and uniform to exacting specifications. Finally, the German nutcracker would be finished and each piece packaged and shipped to far off places for children and adults alike to enjoy for a lifetime.

It was during this time that my grandfather made some special German nutcrackers that he eventually passed on to me. While working as an apprentice, he learned many German nutcracker making skills, but he also made a lot of mistakes along the way. While the process of making just one German nutcracker can take years and involves multiple stages in production, mistakes could be made. As a result, many of his early works were not up to par with the high quality standards his father had in place. My grandfather chose to keep these pieces for himself, saying it was a way for him to learn how to improve and become a better German nutcracker maker by seeing his past mistakes. My grandfather passed on these German nutcrackers to me when I was a child and I have treasured them ever since. I have looked for the subtle flaws that may not have passed inspection, but to me these flaws just add to their charm by reminding me of what my grandfather must have been like as a young man in Germany. After the war, my grandfather ended up moving to the United States and opening up his own German crafts and nutcracker shop, but he never forgot the lessons he learned as a young apprentice. I too will never forget the lessons he taught me and have tried my best to crack as many nuts as God presents me.