The dense forests of Bavaria didn’t lend well to agriculture, so early settlers found its relative strength, glass production. Along with a strong timber industry, the surplus of wood provided the raw materials for building glass factories, and more importantly, the fuel to burn in the glass furnaces, to reach melting temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, quartz was abundant in this area, providing another key ingredient, as well as potash, a waste product of the timber industry, so glass production was nearly self sufficient. Only lime and clay (for crucibles) had to be outsourced. With production starting in the early 1400s, Poschinger glass was one of the first (1411) and still operates as the oldest family glassworks today. The fine glass produced in Zwiesel and the regions around supplied the courts of Bavaria and the French King. Even the Czar’s court in St Petersburg had drinking glasses from the Bavarian forest.
Visiting Zwiesel today, this heritage is apparent through the ongoing production that carries the economy. A glass sculpture walk wanders through the town, headlined by the Glass Pyramid outside of one of the factories and showrooms. The tallest in the world, 8.09 meters (93,665 glasses), it is a spectacle similar in appearance to I. M. Pei’s entrance to the Louvre. Built in 2007, the Louvre definitely preceded it (1989), but I believe this is mostly coincidence. The glass pyramid was built as a symbol of the glass industry in Zwiesel, and the form is fitting, building upon the foundation of the natural resources abundant in the area.
Zwiesel isn’t extraordinary per se, but in doing this one thing, glassblowing, that it is suited for, in a way, it is. Technology today allows anyone to do anything anywhere; there are infinite possibilities. In this way, there’s a particular value in those places that hold true to an innate resource and purpose.
Mirroring the question “what did you want to be when you were ten?”, I want to ask the same of a place. But when is a place “10 years old”? When is the pure moment when the essentials are there, but aren’t blurred and confused by analysis, or big shiny opportunities in the world? Zwiesel seems to have stuck to its 10-year old calling, with its first glass production starting up nearly immediately along with its first non-native settlers, and for that, it is inspiring.