How nice it must be not to have to reinvent yourself all the time. To be sure where your own place is in life. Josef Geisler, the blacksmith from the Schliersee Valley, has long arrived at his place and seems to be a happy person.
Those who enter the Josefstaler Hachl-Forge, near Lake Schliersee, rub their eyes in wonder. Upon entering the forge, a journey back in time begins. It’s dark, the walls are black with soot. Huge forging hammers stand along the long wall, behind them stretch, up to the ceiling, the drive belts. Workbenches covered with thick wooden panels, on which are shavings and rusty tin cans, draped as if for a still life. The anvil stands on a coarse, oversized block of wood and is centrally located in front of the chimney, where the fire is already blazing and the hard coal is glowing red-golden. Above the chimney hang several dozen forging tongs. Everything is covered with a brown-black patina, even the cobwebs are black. The tools and equipment seem to have been in use for centuries.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Hephaistos, the Roman god of fire and blacksmithing, swung the hammer here with bare torso and loincloth. In mythology, he is described as ugly and limping, but thanks to his powerful stature, Hephaistos was a skilled blacksmith and craftsman. He fashioned out of glowing iron everything his Olympic gods friends needed to live and enjoy. The armor of the Ares, the arrows of the Eros or the scepter and the thunderbolts of Zeus. Unlike Hephaestus, Josef Geisler, the real blacksmith, is not ugly and limping, nor does he have a naked, well-trained torso, but instead he wears blue man, a blue and white striped linen shirt and a wool sweater against the autumnal cold.
“Some have been using my tools for ages”
But as with his patron saint, many of his manufactured tools are made for eternity. “The woodworkers prefer to shop with me, they do not like the tools from the factory so much,” says Josef Geisler proudly. Iron shops, construction shops, forestry offices, woodworkers and private individuals are among his customers. For them, he makes axes, hatchet, bark peelers, sapies and wrought iron pans. “Some have my tools for ages,” he says, and as soon as the ax handle is loose or the hatchet is dull, people appreciate that you can always stop by the Schliersee blacksmith for repair.
At the foot of Jägerkamp and Brecherspitze lies the historic Hachl forge. As early as 1720, glowing iron with powerful hammer blows was formed into tools. The inferred water masses of neighboring Hachlbach have been driving the three-ton forging hammers for centuries with the help of a water wheel measuring nearly five feet in diameter. At present, the water wheel stands still, it needs to be repaired. For such emergencies and for the cold season, where the creek leads to too little water, Josef Geisler then switches the electric motor for the forging hammers.
Under deafening blows, the hammer whistles up and down, squeezing the glowing piece of iron together into an axe leaf. Josef Geisler moves the workpiece virtuously under the powerful hammer blows back and forth. Sometimes he stands to the left of the hammer, then again to the right. The speed of the consecutive strokes cannot be adjusted, only on and off, the hammer can be set by means of a foot pedal. The blacksmith has no trouble following the set beat of the mighty machine, despite his 80 years, his movements seem concentrated and powerful – in line with the machine, he shapes the tool according to his ideas.
“I am free, I am my own master”
Josef Geisler was born in 1937. He grew up, with his three siblings, on a farm in Götting, between Bruckmühl and Bad Aibling. After his apprenticeship as a locksmith and mechanical engineer he began working in 1956 in the Hachlschmiede. In 1972 he took over the smithy. “I have paid the pension of the previous owners for 35 years,” says Josef Geisler. Since 2007, he has owned the listed blacksmith’s shop. Next door, he built a house for his family in 1989.
“I am free, I am my own master”, replies Josef Geisler when asked if he would have done anything else in his life. He never questioned his work. There was always enough work. At seven o’clock in the morning work started in the workshop, at half to twelve his wife called for lunch and from one to five o’clock work was continued. On Saturday he did not have to work as a journeyman, at most to clean up the workshop. “I never had to drive to work by car,” says the blacksmith. After his boss and his brother retired, he always worked alone – because he wanted it that way. “No one has never paid his bill with me, I’ve never needed a lawyer.”
He is not a man of many words, but when a hiker follows the “Klong, Klong, Klong” of the hammer blows and stands curiously in the door of the blacksmiths, Josef Geisler willingly gives information about the techniques of forging. At the beginning, he is often asked, “Why is it so dark here, you don’t see anything.” Josef Geisler then explains once again: “You have to be able to judge the glow colours and this works best in the dark.”
“Why is it so dark here, you don’t see anything.”
When the metal glows bright red, it has a temperature of 850 degrees, at yellow already a temperature of 1100 degrees. Mit Hilfe einer Zange wird das glühende Material zum Hammer oder zum Amboss getragen und dort in Form gehämmert. If the temperature of the workpiece drops below 800 degrees when hammering, you have to heat the workpiece again, otherwise it becomes brittle and tears. In order for the metal to harden, it is deterred after heating up. This happens by immersing yourself in water or oil. From grey to white-yellow, the colour of the workpiece can change as it cools down. Which colour is the right one and how long and how often you have to immerse the workpiece to cool down, you only learn through a lot of experience. Josef Geisler has enough of that, now it’s 61 years plus the years of apprenticeship. But Josef Geisler does not want to think about quitting at all, he still has enough commissioned work to do. But in fine weather it can happen that he is only in the morning in the workshop, then his wife Therese urged him to go with her on the mountain.
Josef Geisler’s works are on display in the small sales room, next to the workshop. Here, axe wedges, ice scratches, sapie and wrought iron pans pile up in all sorts of sizes and shapes. “There’s no better for roast potatoes,” says Josef Geisler.
„There is nothing better for fried potatoes“
But burning is important for a wrought-iron frying pan. Slice a raw potato, heat the pan and fry the potato slices vigorously with a little oil and 1 tbsp salt. Then discard the roasted potato slices and rub out the cooled pan with kitchen paper. The pan is now ready for use. As a tip: Never use detergent, under no circumstances scrub the pan, in the case of encrustations, soak the pan with hot, clear water and then rinse. Maybe after rinsing, rub in the inside of the pan with some salad oil.
As a recipe, we recommend: Gröstl with bacon dumplings and sauerkraut.