Each year, Alexander Hergenhan from the Rhoen fashions around 150 traditional wooden sledges from domestic ash using ancient techniques. However, they are also available in Pink or Racing Black
Sledge builder Alexander Hergenhan
Six o’clock in the morning on a spring day, 40 degrees and almost 100 percent humidity – Alexander Hergenhan stands in his small workshop on the edge of Leubach next to a big, old sausage pan full of boiling water. Several pieces of wood are stacked upright in the pan, half covered with water. “These will be the runners for our hand-crafted wooden sledges,” explains the sledge builder. “They stay in the water for about half an hour until they are soft.”
Family sledge-building tradition: A love of wood
Alexander Hergenhan fetched the wood a couple of weeks earlier from a sawmill in neighbouring Sondheim: “For our sledges we only use local ash.” He examines the logs carefully before buying them. He only works with very straight, knot-free wood to ensure that the sledges are robust and will last – up to 50 years.
After 30 minutes, the sledge builder carefully lifts two runners from the pan and bends them round a form. To hold them in place he nails a piece of iron on either side of the wood. Alexander Hergenhan is particularly proud of the hand-bent runners: “Most sledge builders press the runners in a machine.
With us, every pair of runners is hand-made and therefore unique.” The runners stay in the form for six months and are left to dry in the attic before being worked again in winter. When all the runners are lined up in the attic, he prepares the remaining pieces for his wooden sledges. These include the slatted seats, struts and stainless steel rails.
Hand-crafted sledges: each one unique
"Pink is the bestseller among my standard colours“
“The struts join the runners to the slatted seats. They are particularly hard to make,” explains the sledge builder. “I cut the wood with great precision and in several stages so that I can eventually fit the struts into the mortise joints.” This is done in winter once the runners have dried out. Finally he glues the individual parts togetherand varnishes the sledges – either with clear or coloured varnish.
“Pink is the bestseller among my standard colours,” reports the master joiner. “I also do individual designs on request – such as the colours of Bayern Munich or personalised engravings.” Alexander Hergenhan produces 150 sledges each year. Most of his customers are from Berlin and order the traditional, hand-crafted sledges over the internet.
Every now and then customers from all over Germany call past and collect their sledges in person. “Last year someone came specially from Hanover,” relates the master joiner with glee. “When I see how happy people are, that’s the part I really enjoy. And it gives me the impetus for the following year.”
Sledge building as a balance to his office job
Born in Franconia, Alexander Hergenhan took over the small workshop from his uncle in 2012 and runs it alongside his full-time office job. The love of wood runs in the family: “My uncle and my grandfather were cabinet makers and my great-grandfather was a wainwright. He made wagon wheels and large transport sledges.” As demand decreased they switched to making toboggans. Hergenhan is proud to be treading in the footsteps of his forefathers:
“I took over the workshop because I like woodwork and I didn’t want to see the tradition being lost.” Not much has changed in the workshop, which is like the one portrayed in the German children’s programme ‘Master Eder and his Pumuckl’. “There may be more cobwebs and dust than there were in my grandfather’s time,” laughs Hergenhan. But the smell of wood, which he loves, and the quality of the traditional sledges have remained the same.
Wherever you go in Franconia there is a toboggan run. As children we often went to the “Thueringer Hütte”. It’s a slightly bigger run, it has a restaurant and it used to have a ski lift.
thueringer-huette.com (only in German)
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Rhoen:
I like to go walking in the Rhoen Mountains, low volcanic range with unique natural treasures. One lovely feature is the Basalt Lake, up on the mountain, or Kreuzberg Monastery. Also there is the “House of the Long Rhoen”, where you can learn about the impressive flora and fauna of our region.
biosphaerenreservat-rhoen.de (only in German)
Carnival is a really big thing for us. On 11 November, for example, we run through the streets wearing masks and dressed as straw men. Visitors are welcome to come and watch. Every two years we also have a masked Mardi Gras. Each local village has its own traditional masks and the costumes also vary from place to place.