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June 2000

Discover the Hat Musuem of Lindenberg

Lindengerg hats-trendsetting fashion in straw

Just how much the economy of Allgäu depended on the whims of fashion is documented in a unique museum in Lindenberg — a small town not far from Lindau on Lake Constance — where the silent chimneys of abandoned factories bear witness to the town’s once flourishing hat industry. It is in one of these buildings that the Hat Museum has found a home. The collection illustrates the 300-year history of Lindenberg’s main industry as well as the lives of the thousands of workers who helped make the Allgäu town the center of the straw-hat industry in Europe.

First mentioned in an official document in 857, Lindenberg was one of the poorest villages in southwest Germany until enterprising locals took up horse-trading, which was well established by the early 17th century. By the time trains had replaced horse-drawn transporters, in the 19th century, Lindenberg had discovered a new source of income. The introduction of straw braiding in the region is attributed to an unknown horse-trader who fell ill while in Italy. Forced to remain there over the winter months, he observed how peasants made hats of straw and sold them at market. In spring he returned home, taking with him the art of straw braiding.

By the end of the 19th century, 34 hat-making factories were located in Lindenberg as well as 13 haberdashers, who sold every conceivable type of head gear, from simple farmers’ hats to elegant models for Paris, London and New York. By 1913, owing to the advent of electricity, the town produced a whopping eight million hats. This is documented in the museum’s photograph collection. Other exhibits include business letters and other documents, stalk sorters, splitters, irons and presses. At one time, 1,500 special sewing machines — some on display — whirred away while more than 3,000 people worked to create the fashionable sun bonnet.

The museum’s showcases are filled with wonderful examples, to each of which a story is attached. The “Florentine,” with its wide sweeping brim, is one of the finest, having been immortalized in a famous painting by local artist Maximilian Bentele (1825–1893), Girl in Florentine Hat. The “Boater” is a hat whose popularity had spread across the globe before World War I and is still worn by school children as part of their uniform in some English-speaking countries today. Also on display are hats worn by famous people, such as Humphrey Bogart and mountain climber Luis Trenker, as well as reproductions of Lady Diana’s favorite styles and those seen in the film Indiana Jones.

The World War II era saw a decline in Lindenberg hat production as workers were called away for more “important” jobs. Straw helmets were designed here for Rommel’s desert army. A white straw model on display at the museum, of which Hitler ordered 2,000 to be worn by NS soldiers in victory parades, was never put into production. Postwar purchases were encouraged by various slogans, such as “Übrigens, man geht nicht mehr ohne Hut” (By the way, nobody goes without a hat anymore), which may not have had quite the ring of the English-speaking world’s motto, “If you want to get ahead, get a hat,” but it did improve sales for the six remaining factories. Lindenberg hats were worn by a number of German Olympic teams. The typical Salvation Army bonnets, in both straw and felt, were produced in Lindenberg until 1960. But nothing could hold back the tide of hatless generations. By 1975, only two factories remained in operation; today, Mayser is the sole survivor of this town’s once thriving hat industry.

In the late 1930s, exhibits numerous enough to fill two rooms were collected but banished to an attic for the duration of World War II. The partly bombed building was subsequently used as a hospital and a soldiers’ garrison, of which little survived. When the hat factory Mercedes closed its doors, the idea of using some of its rooms to house a museum devoted to the history of Lindenberg’s hat industry was again taken up. It is thanks to the munificence of the last remaining Lindenberg hat manufacturers, Ottmar Reich and Mayser-Milz, as well as to generous private donations and the collecting instincts of Dr. Egon Huber, that the museum was finally opened in 1981.

Städtisches Hutmuseum Im Brennerwinkel 4 88161 Lindenberg im Allgäu Tel. (08381) 5138; hours: Jan.–Nov., Wed. 15–17.30 and Sun. 10–12.

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