Playing the Saxon blues

The Local’s series Made in Germany presents the best the country has to offer, including the world-class blues harmonicas from Seydel.

Playing the Saxon blues
Photo: Seydel

From luxury cars to precision machinery, “Made in Germany” still means quality craftsmanship around the world. But the Teutonic attention to detail goes far beyond engineering. This series will feature a diverse array of products from both well-known German brands and less famous firms. But no matter big or small, all of them are focused on being the best at what they do.

You may have known that those American blues harmonica riffs come from an instrument originally created to play traditional German folk music. But you might not know that the world’s oldest operating harmonica makers, C.A. Seydel Söhne, are still making these instruments by hand in Klingenthal, Saxony’s “musical city.”

In 1847, two brothers from a mining family, Johann Christian Seydel and Christian August Seydel, were trained as instrument makers after mining in the area stopped. They founded a harmonica company, later named C.A. Seydel Söhne. As early as the 1870’s, some of their harmonicas were shipped to the United States, and by the 1890’s, the Seydel harmonicas produced in Klingehthal were sold around the world.

The company, which has had enough ups and downs to write a blues ballad of its own, continued to grow through the early part of the 20th century – during World War I, harmonicas were the only musical instrument soldiers were allowed to carry, and their mournful tunes could be heard on both sides of the trenches. With the end of war, however, nearly all the company’s overseas trading partnerships were destroyed.

A period of slow recovery was ruined by the deep economic depression starting in 1929, followed by another upswing in 1931. During World War II, two women took charge of the business, when the family men where conscripted into the army. After the war, the company became part of a large East German cooperative, and until the end of the communism in 1989, they mass-produced relatively inexpensive instruments geared for sale in the west.

In 1991, C.A. Seydel Söhne was returned to the Seydel family, and production was restarted using communist-era tools. In spite of several innovations (including a new ergonomic body and a plastic comb), the company stood on verge of bankruptcy in 2004. At its darkest hour, the German firm Niama Media, impressed by the employees’ loyalty (they kept showing up to work, even though their salaries hadn’t been paid), stepped in and saved the company.

As part of the restructuring that occurred after that, C.A. Seydel Söhne opened a subsidiary in the United States, an important harmonica market. “Before that, US distributors were taking our products and putting their own names on them, then selling them,” said Lars Seifert, who took over as president after the restructuring. “We wanted to go straight to the customer.”

Today, they have 24 employees in Klingenthal, and three salespeople in the United States. From start to finish, the Seydel harmonicas are German made, mostly in the Klingenthal factory. Prices range from €9.95 for the least expensive mini-harp to some costing €5,000 or more. Stainless steel reeds set newer models apart from the competition.

When Seifert took over in 2005, he didn’t know how to play the harmonica. That’s changed, though Bob Dylan probably doesn’t need to worry. “I can play, now,” he said. “But I’m no artist.”


Saxony’s Covid rules get mixed reaction from the vaccine hesitant

The eastern German state of Saxony may have ordered tough restrictions on the unvaccinated to push them to get the Covid-19 jab, but shop assistant Sabine Lonnatzsch, 59, is unmoved.

People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, eastern Germany, to get a Covid vaccination without an appointment, on November 8th.
People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, eastern Germany, to get a Covid vaccination without an appointment, on November 8th. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

The new rules are “discriminatory” because they are “pushing the unvaccinated further into a corner,” she says. 

Lonnatzsch won’t change her mind about getting inoculated – she just won’t go to restaurants or events anymore.

“I’ve had corona cases in my family and in my eyes it is nothing more than a bad flu,” she says.

With Covid-19 infections rocketing in Germany, Saxony this week became the first to largely exclude unvaccinated people from indoor dining, cinemas and bars.

READ ALSO: Germany divided over Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated 

The new rules, likely to be emulated by other states in the coming weeks, are designed not only to reduce the spread of Covid-19 but also to encourage more people to get inoculated.

But Lonnatzsch is not the only one resisting the jab in the town of Radeberg in Bautzen district, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 45.7 percent.

The clothing store No 1 Mode where she works has a sign in the window that lets customers know that all are welcome – regardless of vaccination status.

‘Bad for business’

Across the town square, the co-owner of Cafe Roethig also has no plans to get the vaccine. Like many people in the region, Carola Roethig, 58, is “not convinced” by the jab because “it was developed in such a short space of time”.

The district of Bautzen has one of the highest incidence rates in the country at 645.3 cases per 100,000 people, but Roethig is not worried about catching the virus.

People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, Saxony.
People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, Saxony. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

The new rules are “definitely bad for business,” she says at the cafe’s bakery counter, which is lined with untouched fresh cakes, tarts and iced donuts.

“Many of our customers are not vaccinated, so we are losing income, because fewer people are coming in,” she says.


The rules are also bad for her personal life.

“I’m not allowed to go to a restaurant in the evening and have a nice dinner with my husband. I don’t think it is right,” says Roethig.

Outside the cafe, 40-year-old Susan feels the same.

“Nothing would convince me” to get the jab, she says, without giving her last name.

“I see no sense in it because (vaccinated people) can still get the disease and infect others.”

Vaccine push

The new rules come as new infections surge in Germany, with the national incidence rate reaching 213.7 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven
days on Tuesday – a record since the pandemic began.

The political parties looking to form a coalition government after September’s election have so far ruled out compulsory vaccinations and general
lockdowns to tackle the surge.

But with just 67 percent of the population fully jabbed, ministers say encouraging more people to get vaccinated is key to bringing the numbers down.

Outside Radeberg town hall, a modest queue of people formed for a vaccination event organised to encourage more people to get the jab.

Kitchen assistant Mirmirza Kabirzada, 36, had previously hesitated because “I heard that many people died in Norway and others got a fever, so I was a little bit afraid”.

But with the numbers rising so dramatically, “now I realised this is very important,” he says.

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has been linked to very rare and potentially fatal blood clots, but experts agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Intensive care nurse Nicole Wieberneit, 39, is waiting in line to get her booster.

She is optimistic that the new rules will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“When it becomes about the freedom to travel, to go out to eat, I think more people will come forward. Freedom is very important to people in Saxony,” she says.