Käthe Kruse (Katharina Simon) was born on the 17th of September 1883 in Breslau. Her mother was poor and made her money as a seamstress. Early own she developed an interest in art, literature and theatre. She wanted to be an actress. In her 16th year she took acting classes and aged 17 she moved to Berlin, got a contract at the Berlin Lessing Theatre where she made quick progress. Her artist name was: Hedda Somin Shortly after she meets the 30 year older Max Kruse (artist and sculptor) and her world is turned upside down. She doesn’t want to get married, none the less their first child Maria Speranza (Mimerle) was born in December 1902. More children follow and they have a total of 8 children, 3 daughters and 5 sons.
- Maria Simon (Mimerle) 1902
- Sophia Simon (Fifi) 1904
- Johan Simon (still born) 1908
- Johanna kruse (Hannerle or Hanne) 1909
- Michael Kruse 1911
- Jochen Kruse (Jockerle) 1912
- Friedebald Kruse 1918
- Max kruse 1921
When she is pregnant with her second child her daughter Mimerle asks, during their move to Ascona (Swiserland), for a doll. She wants to have a baby too. Max Kruse who was not moving with them, looked for a suitable doll in Berlin but couldn’t find one. “I won’t buy these hard stiff dolls. How can a child play with something so awful? Make own yourself”. This is how in 1905 the first Käthe Kruse doll, Oskar made from a potato, towel and sand, is born. This is the start of the oldest doll factory of Germany. In 1909 käthe marries Max in München. In 1910 she moves back to Berlin. Here she experiments with a bust, statue of head and chest, of a child. This one was by sculptor Frans Duquesnoy (1597-1643). The face gives her the inspiration for the dolls she makes for her children. This is the year she was asked to join the presentation “Spielzeug aus eigener Hand” in the department store Tietz (currently known as KaDeWe) in Berlin. She made a series of dolls for this occasion, which were a hit! For the first dolls head a license was drawn up. Because of the positive reactions she started working with the factory Kämmer und Reinhardt in 1911. This does not give her the result she wanted, and the first international order from America for 150 dolls is made at home. She hires five people to help her and soon after follows an order of 500 dolls… The house is too small. In 1912 she moves to Bad Kösen. Here she has more space for the production of the play and lesson dolls. Her second son Jochen (Jockerle) is born here, Michael’s brother. Friedebald, who was born in 1918, modeled for the bust of I. von Jakimow. In 1923 the last child is born: Max. In 1928 the factory program was expanded to include mannequins. The play dolls, especially the “Lernbaby’s” are world famous by now. In 1937 Käthe Kruse wins a gold medal in the international exhibition in Paris. In 1942 her husband Max dies and shortly after two of her sons; in 1943 Jochen and in 1944 Friedebald. In 1950 the whole company was moved to Donauwörth, it’s still there. Her reason for moving there was that Bad Kösen was occupied during the war and Käthe had to flee. The factory was expropriated and continued as a state company until 1967 with the production of her dolls. The factory still exists but only makes stuffed animals now under the name Kösen. Her son Michael had already created a new work place in Donauwörth and this made the new start a lot easier. Max also helped with the rebuild in 1952/53 when Hanne Kruse, together with her husband Heinz Adler, take over the company. They are the successful leaders of the company until 1990. In 1956 Käthe Kruse retires and moves to München. For her unusual work she receives a “Bundesverdienstekruis 1st class”, a distinction not a lot of women were given. In 1957, because of financial need, a cooperation was initiated with the Schildkröt factory. They owned 70% of the shares. Because of the successful reopening these shares were soon bought back. When in 1958 Max Kruse also stopped working for the company the whole business rides on the shoulders of Hanne and her husband. July 19th 1958, Käthe dies in Murnau. She leaves a tumultuous but rich history behind. In 1989 Hanne was also given a “Bundesverdienstekruis”. A year later the company is passed down to the third generation. Andrea Kathrin Christenson, her husband Stephen Christenson and the blue blooded family Castell-Castell. Käthe Kruse’s tradition was hereby saved. Andrea born in Wenen (Austria), didn’t just walk into the company. As a child she played with the Käthe Kruse dolls and was completely enchanted by the unique dolls. She told everyone she wanted to be Käthe Kruse. Her first job was as a senior project manager in the Boston Consulting Group GmbH in München, Germany. She really enjoyed her work here and had not planned on leaving. Coincidentally she had heard that the Käthe Kruse factory was looking for a new manager in 1990. She gave herself the chance to realize the dream she had as a child: to make toys. Since the war she had not had that chance yet. It was now or never. The couple invested 250,000 German marks in her dream.
- However it was a an inconvenient moment as she was having her first son, Lucas; and still had some old clients from her previous job. When Lucas turned 12 he went to boarding school and when he called her from there she would drop everything for him just to return to it later. Like no other she understands Käthe Kruse’s philosophy and focuses on these in the new collections. The five points which the dolls had to fulfill in 1905, according to Käthe Kruse, are still the norm!
- A child for the child, safe and warm.
- My dolls are alive, they are little children which people like to love.
- The secret to the dolls are to make the child’s face realistic, so that it radiates softness, emotions and importance.
- The dolls call on people’s emotions. They ask and dare you to start a conversation with the gentle doll’s personality.
- The doll is a friend for life and can always be fixed in the factory.
The high quality, production and the traditional manufacture and the love for details make the dolls little creatures for children, doll lovers and collectors. Almost everything is done by hand. Eyes, mouth and hair are hand painted, wigs hand stitched. Because of this every doll is unique. They are still made in different models just like in the old days, filled with deer and reindeer hair. There are very few workers who still know the technique of making cloth heads. A couple of workers who have been working there for 30 years still know how to use this technique. Before it disappears for ever Andrea decides that the old technique should make a comeback. In 1992 and 1993 the first dolls with cloth faces come back in the collection. In 1992 her second son is born: Matthias. On the occasion that Hesemans existed for 125 years and the 10 years of open house in August 1995 the doll Käthe was made ( a limited edition of 10 pieces) Andrea came to Breda for this occasion and gave a slideshow about the life and work of Käthe Kruse. “Käthe” was a “Lernbaby” made for teaching in hospitals and other institutions which care for babies. The weight, bellybutton, temperature hole and “lose limbs” make it a natural baby. That year the ‘Käthe Kruse family’ club was started. This quickly grew to have around 4000 members. In 1996 her third son was born: Nicolaus. On the occasion of Hesemans 130th anniversary Hesemans together with Käthe Kruse created the doll marije in 2000 (20 pieces). In 2002 “Hesemans tours” organizes a bus trip to the factory. With roughly 40 doll lovers we are allowed to peek behind the screens. On the occasion that the Family Hesemans has owned the store for 60 years “Tamara” is created in may 2003 (25 pieces). For this too Andrea pays a visit to our store. In September 2004 she comes to Breda for a signing and the doll lovers can meet her for a third time. On this day Meidert is issued (20 pieces). Thanks to the professional leadership of the creative, humor full woman Andrea and her husband every year a couple of items are presented in the old tradition. Gifts for babies such as blankies, and the cloth “Waldorf” fantasy dolls for children but also children’s clothing. With this a whole new collection to decorate a child’s room in the Käthe Kruse textile is born. In 2005 4 new doll faces are issued, Lolle, Liebeskind, Mein Gluck and Toni. Back in the day they amount of classical dolls was 90%. Now the labor-intensive part of the assortment is only 30%. The export grew from 10 to 22 percent. In Lapland there is still a factory for textile for the cloth dolls, and children’s clothes. 850 people work here. This part is lead by Stephen Christenson. Renowned fashion houses often give a lot of work to Käthe Kruse . 110 people work in Donauwörth. These mostly work on the doll itself. It takes 16-36 hours before the doll is finished, of which 28 hours the doll is without clothing. The drying of the painted hair takes, depending on the weather, weeks to months! All of this with still the same paint materials as back then. It isn’t surprising that half (15,000) of the classic dolls end up in the hands of collectors as opposed to children. In the factory they also have a Käthe Kruse doll hospital lead by Marion Hohman. Here old and damaged dolls can be repaired. She visited us in 2006. On September 8th 2007 Andrea visits us again in Breda. This time she presents Sjoerd (20 pieces). This is a special one because the Rumpumpel baby has painted hair and is stuffed with reindeer hair. Maria Hesemans made the hat and vest from felt. Every doll or any other article from the Käthe Kruse factory is handmade and it takes a long time to get it right. Some of them even 36 hours. It passes through the hands of 8 to 10 different workers and artists. Almost 100 years have passed since the making of the first doll. And the dolls are still very loved by children and adults across the entire world. We are officialy Käthe Kruse dealers.
© Hesemans Breda 2007