European Spotlight: Martin Fleig, master cabinet maker
Your business card says you’re a master craftsman. What is that?
In Germany, here we have rules. When you learn a profession, you learn three years. After five years working, you can be a master.
You went to cabinetmaker school. What was the final exam like?
They say, “OK, now build a masterpiece.” You have two weeks.
What was your masterpiece?
My masterpiece was a sideboard. Walnut and maple. It’s in my parents’ home. For my rooms, it’s too big.
You were apprenticed to your father for three years. How did that go?
It was a hard time for me. You had a 12-hour job, then in the evening we went out to Patrick Henry Village or Mark Twain Village and I was the translator.
When did you take over the business?
In 2000. I was very successful, and my father had for the first time respect. And he now is working for me.
What’s your favorite thing to work on?
To restore antiques. Each antique has a story. You look in books (to find the right parts) and you see how those guys used to build the furniture 200 years ago. Those guys made mistakes. Now, you can make it better. That makes me happy.
But you repair a lot of nonantique furniture, too?
Yes. The kick is the same. You bring it back to the customer. You see the bright eyes. … There are a lot of feelings in this stuff. People are in a foreign country, their stuff is destroyed. I want to be the one to help them, so they feel better here. You have to trust me with this stuff you love. For me, it’s not just business.
Are soldiers and their families upset about their damaged furniture when you see them?
“It’s done. It’s OK,’” they say. “The Army moved us and now they should pay.” The small ranks say that. The generals and the colonels — they say nothing.
What have you noticed about Americans’ furniture and what it says about how Americans live?
The American technique is very good. It’s a totally different system (than in Germany). The American furniture is built in 20 percent of the time. We build like our grandfathers. The Americans have no grandfathers. They’re a modern people. And they’re a practical people. So, quick, quick, quick. A lot of drawers, entertainment centers. Nobody has an entertainment center in Germany.
Interview by Nancy Montgomery.
Title: Heidelberg master cabinetmaker
Fleig, 38, was an apprentice for his father, who decades ago started restoring the damaged shipped goods of U.S. soldiers sent to Heidelberg. Now Fleig has the business. He says 40 percent of his work is fixing Americans’ furniture damaged in shipping.
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