Can We Save Artisan Europe?

Recently I was visiting with the last man in Rothenburg, Germany, to make etchings in the style of Albrecht Dürer. He’s in failing health and in about a year, his 3,000 lovingly etched copper plates will be retired and parked in some obscure museum’s basement. Friends in little towns on the Rhine are lamenting how the younger generation is not following in the footsteps of their family businesses and, as they flee to the energy of the big cities, their parents’ businesses just fade away. The artists who craft handmade guitars in Madrid, the family winemakers of Burgundy, the fisherman who sells his shrimp on the Oslo harborfront–these have all been fixtures of Europe for me in a lifetime of travels. What will become of all these rich facets of local culture when the younger generation opts out? Of course, I can’t blame the children of the artisans for jumping into the modern rat race any more than I’m guilty for not being an old-school piano technician like my dad. But it is worth considering how the future will look when economic scale and efficiency trumps artisan values.

My friend, Steven Brenner (who runs Cross-Pollinate, with some of my favorite budget beds in Rome and beyond) produced a little video that eloquently says what I’ve been thinking lately about artisans in Europe. Check out this short video featuring a young cobbler in Orvieto, Italy, who, in the simple words of a traditional, small-town artisan, captures perfectly an art form we are all losing.

What are your favorite experiences that celebrate the artisan way of life in Europe?