Jugs for the kings

Professional potters and imaginative artists are very much at home in the Kannenbäckerland. The three jugs on the coat of arms of the town of Höhr-Grenzhausen are a clue that pottery has played an important role in this area. Over the centuries, the Kannenbäckerland has developed its own ceramic culture, from the craft to the artistic scene to high-tech ceramics.

It all began in Höhr-Grenzhausen in 1600, with salt-glazed stoneware, which still forms the backbone of this little Westerwald town’s global reputation as a centre for ceramics. Back then, potters from the Rhineland region and Lothringen settled in the Westerwald to get to know the source of the material better: The clay from the Westerwald has properties that are excellent for the production of stoneware.

Today, not only are there lots of little potteries in and around Höhr-Grenzhausen, there is also a ceramic training and research centre and the largest ceramics museum in Europe. Here, you can find out lots about the long history of the bluey-grey stoneware, traces of which can be found almost everywhere in the world. Even in Africa.

Arnette Zeischka-Kenzler, an archaeologist who also works at the ceramics museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, explains the travels of Pastor Leonhard Meurer who visited many West African countries in the late sixties and onwards, and kept coming across Westerwald stoneware. He asked the owners in remote villages on the Ivory Coast, in Ghana and Burkina Faso and found out that only tribal elders, kings and those in privileged positions were allowed to drink from these vessels. They were gifts from European traders or given in exchange for gold, spices or ivory.

The jugs have been passed down from generation to generation and can never be sold, as they believe this would bring bad luck on the family. Their ancestors would be more likely to forgive them for exchanging them, for medication, for example.

Forming ceramics at ceramics museum Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

Forming ceramics at ceramics museum Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

When William of Orange was crowned king of Great Britain, it became the custom to decorate the jugs with the initials of the ruler. They can be seen in the display cabinets in the ceramic museum exhibition. As well as the initials ‘WR’ for William Rex and ‘AR; for his successor Queen Anne, as of 1714 there are lots of jugs bearing the monogram ‘GR’, George Rex for George of Hanover, who was crowned George I of Great Britain that year.

With the introduction of fine white porcelain, the stoneware disappeared from noble tables, but it was still indispensable in grand kitchens. The containers are perfect for the pantry: they keep bread fresh and stop onions and garlic going off too quickly. The salt-glazed stoneware is fired at a temperature of 1220 degrees in cooking salt. Thousands of salt crystals are arranged around the stoneware to create the indestructible glaze. The result is a sintered ceramic that does not absorb smells and is resistant to acids.

View of the exhibition pieces in the ceramics museum, Westerwald

View of the exhibition pieces in the ceramics museum, Westerwald

Exhibition in the ceramics museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

Exhibition in the ceramics museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

Once just the supplier of these famous cans and jugs, the Kannenbäckerland has now developed into a centre for ceramic crafts and training. For example, ceramics are indispensable in the modern automotive industry and in medical technology. The Ceramics Training and Research Centre (BFZK) and Europe’s largest ceramics museum can be found in Höhr-Grenzhausen. With its ceramics and salt-glazed stoneware, the Kannenbäckerland around Höhr-Grenzhausen is a real artists’ landscape in which potters are not only constantly producing new ideas from the famous Westerwald clay but also presenting their handiwork to visitors.

Experienced master craftsmen, young students and artists are happy to provide interesting information and share their love of ceramics. There are good opportunities to do this at the various ceramics-related events. Every year, the season kicks off with the popular ‘Höhr-Grenzhausen ceramic firing’ event in early April. This is followed in June by the European ceramics market in Höhr-Grenzhausen and the European pottery market in Ransbach-Baumbach in autumn, where exhibitors from all over Europe show off their range of ceramic wares.

The ceramics museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

The ceramics museum in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Westerwald

More leisure tips for culture lovers in the Westerwald:

More information about holidays in the Westerwald

Find out everything you need to know on events, attractions and other destinations in the Westerwald at Westerwald Touristik-Service.

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