As some of you may remember from your history books, after the end of the Second World War, the Allies partitioned Germany into four zones and occupied the country. After a few years, the Western Allies (USA, Britain and France) allowed their zones to establish the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) while the Russian zone became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). While West Germany underwent the so-called “Economic Miracle”, East Germany’s state-run Communist economy could not keep pace. Private ownership of business, while not actually forbidden, was not much encouraged and privately owned businesses often had trouble competing with state-run enterprises. The private businesses developed some innovative ways to remain profitable. As money was never abundant, the use of bartering became in some places a very fine art.
Heinz Pfretzschner owned the Berggasthof “Heiterer Blick, in Markneukirchen, just up the hill from the world-famous Zither makers at Horst Wünsche. During my recent stay at the Heiterer Blick, (really very delightful, by the way) Herr Pfretzschner explained how he decided to decorate the walls of the restaurant with parts of various instruments made in Markneukirchen.
Markneukirchen, in the Vogtland in the German state of Saxony had enjoyed a worldwide reputation as the home of some of the world’s greatest musical instrument manufacturers.1 With the devastated economy following the war, and the difficulties experienced under the Communist government run economy, the instrument makers in Markneukirchen were not able to afford any advertising. Herr Pfretzschner invited each of the instrument “Meister” in the town to provide him with some parts of their various instruments. He placed these on the walls of his restaurant with a sign that announced the name and address of the “Meister”. There was no charge for this “advertising”. The stipulation was that when customers bought instruments because of this “advertising” in the Heiterer Blick, then the “Meister” had to eat a meal at the restaurant.
I did not think to ask Herr Pfretzschner how many meals were eaten because of his creative advertising idea, but from the pride evidenced in his voice while he was telling me his story, one can only imagine that the answer was probably “Many!”
After another wonderful meal in the restaurant, (my wife and I have eaten at the restaurant many times and have always found the food extraordinary!) I told the waitress that I was going upstairs to get my zither and that if anyone complained, I would simply stop and put the zither away. Three hours later, I was still playing. People were absolutely thrilled to have live zither music accompanying their meals. Many people came up to me and said they were amazed to hear such a wide variety of music. One woman from Berlin said she had never heard Andrea Berg “Du hast mich tausendmal belogen” played on the zither before. She then added “It’s beautiful, very beautiful!”
When we came down to dinner the next night, Herr Pfretzschner asked where my zither was and when I told him it was in the room, he told me in a friendly manner but in a tone that suggested he was not really asking, that I had to play again after dinner. Given the response from the previous evening, I was more than willing to spend a few hours playing. At one point, and with some encouragement, Herr Pfretzschner got out his “Teufels-Geige” (Devil’s Fiddle) and we performed a couple of duets, much to the delight of the patrons.