Herrmannsdorf from the air; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer
I have family in Glonn, outside of Munich. A pretty little town in the rolling hills that slowly lead to the alps, which can be seen in the distance. What I did not know until this year is that Glonn is also the postal address of Herrmannsdorf, which is the most amazing all old fashioned all organic agricultural enterprises I’ve come across, especially considering it’s owners history.
I have to try hard not make this too long, I could write a book (there actually is a book) about Herrmannsdorf, so here goes:
There is a very large sausage maker called Herta in Europe. It was once the largest of them all, maybe still is. All industrial, using thousands of animals a day, turning them into lunch meats that end up all sealed in plastic in the supermarket, like so many here in the US too. Filled with who knows what, artificial taste enhancers, preservatives, colors, too much of what does not belong. You know what I mean. Produced from animals that are treated like parts in a car factory – if that well.
Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth Foto: Herrmannsdorfer
This company grew from a butcher shop founded by a Mr. Schweisfurth in northern Germany. Famous for it’s sausages in a working class town to several such stores, to a factory, to a larger factory and so forth. In the third generation is was led by Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth. He eventually visited the US, especially the gigantic slaughterhouses in Chicaco (if I recall correctly) and was impressed by the automation and conveyor belt process of slaughter to sausage to supermarket. Just as Henry Ford was impressed by the process way back when and applied it to his cars. Schweisfurth brought this knowledge with him back to Germany and turned his comparatively small operation into the largest meat producer in Europe, eventually processing 25.000 pigs and 5.000 cows per week into meat and sausage products that sold all over Europe.
Sometime around 1980 he decided to travel with his meat buyers to see where all this meat actually comes from, and was appalled by the way most of these animals were brought up. He had also gone through personal thought transitions that made him more aware of what was going on in the world. He realized that the meat quality of these tortured and imprisoned animals was nothing compared to the past, that the products could not really be called a food. In German, food is called a Lebens Mittel, deerived from the German word for food, Lebensmittle. It can be translated as life-sustainer or life-enabler and Mr. Schweisfurth seperated the two words to give each their own meaning back. The tortured souls crying from the supermarket shelves in their vacupacks did no longer fall under his definition of Lebens-Mittel . Add to this that his children were not interested in continuing his company once he retired and increasing doubt in what he had built, he decided to sell his company to Nestle for a what must have been a tremendous amount of money.
He decided to go back to the way things were in the past, humane treatment of the animals, ecological processes, striving for what a small village farm used to be way back before machines took over. He also set up the non profit Schweisfurth Stiftung to which he gave 50 million Euro. This non profit gives financial support to a wide variety of research into sustainable, healthy and humane agriculture and livestock treatment.
The gorgeous main residence
In 1986 he opened the Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten. He had acquired an old large Ranch named Herrmanndorf (Hermann’s Village) that once housed 32 families, a small self sustaining village as there were many in Germany’s past. And he returned it to what it once was, raising pigs in the most humane way possible, preparing the most delicious meat products from them, including a fantastic prosciutto style ham and a mind blowing salami from what he calls WWW (Weide-Wühlen-Würmer, meaning free range animals that are never fed anything but the plants that are planted for them, the worms and roots they find, basically living in the wild). The pigs are a cross between a Schwäbisch Hällisch sow and a Pietrain. They are slaughtered in the most humane way and a lot of the meat is processed immediately, the traditional way Mr. Schweisfurth learned as a young man.
He also has beef from his Angus beef that he raises on a similar ranch not far away and there is a bakery that uses a variety of old fashioned grains like Dinkel and Emmer. Often using the flour the day after it was milled if not earlier. A brewery – Schweinsbräu – brews in the most old fashioned way (and the beer is fantastic!), a creamery makes everything from outstanding parmesan style aged cheese(called Der Alte – the old one) over soft cheeses like bri to their version of Emmentaler, called Glonntaler of course.
There is one gorgeous main building and a whole lot of outbuildings with stables, barns, basements etc. that form a square. He managed to transform this into what is today an outstanding example of sustainable and humane ranching, where you walk past
beautiful pigs that roam around to get to a very high quality restaurant or just sit in the beer garden or go shopping in the little store that sells all their wares. I was hoping to be accidentally get locked in there over night. Of course, it is not cheap (though still laughable compared to what we pay here!) but well worth every Euro. If you are ever in Munich and have a day, I urge you to go and visit, have a taste, buy a pick nick, eat in the beer garden or make reservations in the restaurant.
Herrmannsdorf is now largely run by one of the sons that had no interest in Herta, Karl Schweisfurth.
The store at Herrmannsdorf
I could go on and on gushing about this place, it is a slice of heaven on earth. At least the kind of heaven I’d be happy to believe in. A gorgeous facility in a gorgeous landscape, the land of milk and honey, only that it’s rivers run with beer and the milk is cheese and the happy animals are cured, dried and sliced paper thin. I don’t usually get homesick for Germany, but just thinking of this place makes me want to pack my bags and start working for them or just mow the lawns or clean the stables in exchange for food.
I hope I made no mistakes in this article, it is based on my recollections of the book “Wenns um die Wurst geht” by Karl Ludwig Schweisfurt, his autobiography which I read in a day, as well as some information sheets I collected there. I gave the book to my father so I don’t have it handy as reference at the moment, please contact me if you find any mistakes. I also apologize for all the links to German websites, I could not find anything in English. I think wikipedia offers some translation service, but don’t know how good it is. I might translate some of the articles into English if I find the time one of these days.
I hope I sparked some interest in Herrmannsdorf and maybe one or the other might make the trip from Munich, outside of rush hour it takes about 45 min or so from downtown Munich by car. Very well worth the trip. You can also find their products in several stores in and around Munich and Bavaria, sadly they do not deliver.
It is an amazing story, especially with the history of Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth, whom many I’m sure considered crazy when he sold Herta and “went back to nature” in the mid eighties, when this still was a rather unusual step to take. Of courses the money he got in the sale of Herta helped establish this wonderful establishment as well as some other operations and his non-profit. He is fully aware of this and knows that not everybody can do this, but he also helped several other farms in the region to become part of his endeavor. And he has no illusion that somewhere in the future all supermarket meat will come from happy animals that danced with the butterflies, it’s simply not possible. But – and I fully agree – he believes that there is a room and a need for many more Herrmannsdörfer and that every little step counts, be it the little planter box in your backyard or an other large scale operation. Luckily we see more and more of this here in the US too. Support your local farms, ranches and fisheries, buy locally and buy organic where you can!
Mr. Schweisfurth is also a supporter of art, there is a hiking trail that leads past an interesting collection of modern art, most of which I have yet to explore. There was simply not enough time this year. But then, I will be back, no doubt! Many, many times.
Here are just a couple more photos of the many I took there:
Pigs being fed - whey I think in this case
What ever it is, it's tasty!
A happy pig greets the shopper at the Hof Markt
The fresh baked breads
A selection of the sausages, most made right there
Some of the wonderful cheeses, many of which are made on location
Butchering meat; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer
A very big thank you to Herrmannsdorfer Landwerkstätten for allowing me to use some photos off their website, credited with “Foto: Herrmannsdorfer”
Next we’ll make a quick stop in Austria, which will most likely be the last chapter of this little travel album.
Karl and Karl Ludwig Schweisfurth; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer
Caring for ripening cheese; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer
Bread with the Herrmannsdorfer clover insignia; Foto: Herrmannsdorfer