Nothing says summer, sun, sand, sea and holidays more than der Strandkorb. The iconic beach chair is visible everywhere along the coast in Germany.
The word Strandkorb literally means beach basket. It is contructed of wicker, wood, cushions and fabric. The seating area is just big enough for two people and can recline by pulling two handles on the sides. Since it can get quite windy or rainy along the coast, the Strandkorb makes for an excellent shelter from the elements due to its hooded top. It also has a sun awning for shade, airport-style side folding tables to hold food and drinks and extendable footrests to just chill.
From spring to autumn, they can be rented all along the coast from Strandkorbwärter or beach-chair wardens. Last time we were in Germany, we paid 10 Euros to rent the Strandkorb for the day. Anyone staying for more than a day at the seashore usually books the beach chair for their entire holiday. All the Strandkörbe are labeled with a number and have a key, so they can be unlocked.
For over a century the Strandkorb has been part of Germany’s culture; it has made it through wars, revolutions and even the wall.
The first Strandkorb was invented in 1882 for an elderly aristocrat, Elfriede von Maltzahn, who had rheumatism and loved to visit the Baltic Sea. While doctors told her the sea air would be good for her health, they also told her not to sit directly in the sand. So, von Maltzahn hired Wilhelm Bartelmann, a chief basket maker to the imperial court of Emperor Wilhelm I. He designed for her the first Strandkorb, which was made out of wicker and had a seating area large enough for one person and fabric sides to provide shelter from the rain, wind, sand and sun.
The wicker ‘beach basket’ was so admired that Wilhelm Bartelmann soon after began commercial production on the Strandkorb, while at the same time his wife Elisabeth started the Strandkörbevermietung or rental service.
The idea soon spread all along the German coast. In the beginning it was mostly the one-seater which was rented, but by the beginning of the 20th century two-seaters were already available. Some even had padding for comfort, an adjustable roof and small tables.
Nowadays German beaches are filled with over 70,000 of wicker beach baskets. But it is not only the beach where you can see them. Many people even place them in their backyards or gardens to have that beach feeling all year around.
A couple of years ago, I walked into our local Home Goods store and spotted right away the blue and white striped Strandkorb. To this day I still remember the woman who was standing next to me who said ‘what in the world is that’ and ‘where would you put it.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her it’s Germany’s most iconic beach chair – in a sense it is like a very protective beach cabana – because honestly I didn’t want her to buy it.
But after checking the price tag which read $2,000, I knew I wouldn’t buy it either. So, for the next few weeks, I kept coming back and sure enough over time the Strandkorb was moved from the front of the store to the back and with it, the price tag kept dropping, too.
First only a couple hundred dollars, then $1,000 and by the end of the summer, the price had dropped to about $500. That’s when I couldn’t say no anymore. After having done some research online, I knew how much it would cost to buy one and get it shipped to California. So, the Strandkorb came home with us. The employee, who helped us load it into the truck, even said ‘I’ve been wondering for months now if someone would buy this, because no one knows what it is.’
I knew exactly what it was and I am so glad we bought it because not only is it a conversation piece with friends and the whole neighborhood, but it brings back so many memories. Memories of my Oma and me riding on a train to the seaside or Ostseeküste. Us eating hard-boiled eggs with little tiny salt shakers on the train and just my family being together and having fun. I think that’s where my love for the ocean, beach and sun first started.
So, next time you come across one of those wicker beach baskets in a store or even on your next visit to Germany, you know exactly what it is and how iconic it is.