Where: Czech Republic/German border
What’s in store: Cut price mini men for all seasons
Bag a bargain: Czech counterfeiters for cheapness, check out East Germany for true quality and a ‘certificate of authenticity’
Justine Shapiro fondles a laughing gnome
Since the collapse of communism in 1989, bargain hunters from all over Europe have been attracted to the Czech Republic by the cheap authentic local crafts on sale throughout the country. Beautiful Bohemian crystal can be snapped up for a song, and locally mined gem stones such as garnets, rubies and amber make relatively inexpensive gifts for the folks back home. These elegant wares are not to everyone’s taste, and over the last decade a new product has swamped the Czech souvenir market: the good old garden gnome.
Gnomes, elves and fairy-kind have an undisputed place in European folklore, but garden figurines aren’t native to the Czech Republic. Their popularity in neighbouring southern Germany encouraged local entrepreneurs to go into competition with the Bavarian gnome moguls. The cost of labour is cheaper than in Germany, which means that the ‘little people’ can be produced, and therefore sold, at vastly reduced rates – much to the delight to German and Austrian kitsch lovers. An estimated four million gnomes currently reside in the sub-urban gardens of southern Germany, many of which are of Czech descent.
German gnome-makers have been in business since the 1870s, catering to a clientele that just can’t seem to get enough of the cheeky ceramic fellows. At the Griebel gnome-factory in Graefenroda, Eastern Germany, more than 300 different gnome characters are hand-crafted with care. From gnome fishermen to musicians, sportsmen and farmers, each gnome comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Like a Rolling Gnome
When their Czech counterparts began to be produced in 1992, German manufacturers were furious at the copyright infringement. Border officials would stop and search any lorries they suspected of harbouring contraband gnomes. Gnome immigration restrictions have now been relaxed however (by the Gnome Office) which is good news for the gnome lover on a budget but could spell disaster for the German market. The Germans proclaim that their gnomes are far superior in quality, but lets face it if you’re really bothered about whether your souvenir is the genuine article you’d be better off with the crystal and gem-stones after all.
Where to Bag a Bargain
Whether you’re looking to indulge a life-long passion for kitsch on the cheap or are seeking the perfect gift for a relative with a taste by-pass and aren’t bothered about your gnome’s nationality, head for the Czech/German border (Gnome Man’s Land). Roadside stalls stock a bizarre mix of merchandise: cheap cigarettes, alcohol and gnomes at vastly reduced prices.
By Jess Halliday