Visiting Fein and Festool Power Tools in Germany
Welcome to Day 2 of my report from southwestern Germany. As I said in yesterday's report, Festool graciously invited me to the Stuttgart area to not only get an inside look at their company and how it builds and markets high-quality woodworking tools, but also to get a feel for its home region and the people who live in this area&emdash;and many of them use Festool tools regularly. We began our Sunday excursion in the town of Esslingen, just southeast of Stuttgart. On a guided walking tour of the downtown area, we learned that this city is more than 1,200 years old and boasts a heritage that rivals the best in Germany.
Nestled in a valley along the Nekar River, Esslingen originally was surrounded by a massive stone wall, very much like China's Great Wall. Portions of the originally corner gatehouses still stand, as do many of the buildings from that time, including a beautiful cathedral that features the oldest stained glass windows in Germany
We walked up the steep hillside and climbed up on the original fortifications from which past warriors no doubt fired arrows and poured boiling oil on rivals.
We also got to enjoy the outdoor Christmas market, a combination of holiday activities and for-sale items along with a medieval festival. It was like Braveheart meets Kris Kringle, with thousands of locals and tourists packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the cobblestone streets. Very cool.
During that tour of Esslingen, we learned a great deal about the construction of the buildings that have survived for so long. The oldest surviving buildings are made of stone, but there are a few hundred from the 12th and 13th centuries that were made of massive oak trees, joined with so many pinned mortise-and-tenons it would make an Amish barnbuilder feel lazy. Despite the exposed faces of these timbers, they have withstood the elements thanks to coatings of grapevine ashes and a mixture of ox blood and urine. Just another example that the Germans knew how to build a quality product.
Later in the day we went to the Mühlstraße home workshop of Vitus Rommel, who works in product development at Festool's nearby facilities. It was Rommel who came up with the idea for the Domino, Festool's newest tool that is planned for a spring 2007 release in the United States and Canada. The Domino is similar to a biscuit joiner, but cuts mortises for floating tenons made of solid beech. I'll get to use one of the Domino tools tomorrow, so I'll have more details and photos after that. That's Vitus on the left with Festool USA President Christian Oltzscher.
But Vitus proved to be quite an interesting guy and entrepaneur. From his home shop he not only excels as a master cabinetmaker—a title earned in Germany only after seven certified years of learning and apprenticeship—but he also distills and markets his own schnapps. Vitus demonstrated the process as he brewed a barrel of fermented cherries in a high-tech double boiler that will get you arrested for moonshining in the states. After the two-and-a-half hour cook time, he had a batch of cherry schnapps ready for tasting. No wonder Festool succeeds in making such great tools: They hire go-getters with intelligence, pride, and imagination. As you'll see in the photos, we also got to hear the requisite accordion music. Once again, very cool.
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