Although car-makers such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are often the first to spring to mind when people think of German brands, there are scores of other products that highlight the innovative design and solid engineering that have become practically synonymous with German-made goods. Now that we've already shared the best Berlin souvenirs, we’ve decided to round up some of the country’s most enduring labels that are worthy of getting hit with an airline’s overweight-luggage charge.
While footwear brands Adidas and Puma are practically household names the world over, Zeha is almost unknown outside of its homeland. The brand was the footwear of choice for fashionable Berliners in the Golden Twenties, but today Zeha is best known for the distinctive double-striped sneakers that became popular during the days of the Wall as the footwear of East German Olympic athletes. Whether out of a sense of style or of nostalgia, today Zeha is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Pair those hip kicks with knee-highs or bold-print socks from FALKE for the ultimate in fashionable feet.
In the world of couture, several prominent fashion houses can claim German roots. Munich-based ESCADA can now be found worldwide, with royalty such as Sweden’s Princess Victoria among the label’s fans. Even part-time fashionistas are already well acquainted with powerhouse BOSS, but up-and-comer Michael Sontag, a Berlin native whose designs have been worn by the editor-in-chief of German Vogue, is still relatively unknown in the English-speaking world. Shop his Kreuzberg boutique to be the first back home to wear the designer, who's known for clothes that are as flattering as they are chic.
It might be something in the water, because Munich is also home to AIGNER, maker of classically styled leather goods bearing the familiar horseshoe logo, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fashion world. Leather gets more contemporary in the hands of Kreuzberg's own LIEBESKIND, producer of totes and handbags that are both bold and casual, with a vintage line characterized by a timeworn look.
If it's a little bling you're looking for, Hamburg-based Wempe, founded more than 135 years ago, crafts luxury jewelry and timepieces that have earned a reputation for precision and attention to detail. Or opt for more modern pieces from Sabrina Dehoff, another Berliner whose designs have caught fire with the cognoscenti: A few years ago, her cord bracelet was the statement piece desired by trendsetters, and it seems a season can't go by without German Vogue doing a piece on the designer.
Houseware and Décor
German porcelain is in a class unto itself. The “white gold,” as porcelain was known when it was originally imported from the Far East, was first developed outside Asia in Meissen, Saxony, where the original manufactory still stands. The MEISSEN brand has since expanded to couture, accessories, and even interior design, but it’s the fine tableware for which the company is still best known. Not to be outdone, KPM (Königliche Porzellan-Manufactur), founded by none other than Frederick II, still produces its royalty-worthy serving sets in Berlin’s Tiergarten district. The 1967 Stambul mocha service is so sought-after that it fetches steep prices at auctions. Learn more about KPM’s history with a visit to the company's museum, where you can watch artisans at work before perusing the on-site store.
If it’s seasonal flair you’re after, look no further than Käthe Wohlfahrt, famous for Christmas decorations. In addition to the “Christmas Village” and museum that live year-round in the medieval town of Rothenburg, the yuletide purveyor pops up in Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) around the country each winter to offer their Bavarian-style nativity scenes, nutcrackers, and traditional Christmas pyramids, candle-fueled carousels that originated in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) but which are now popular throughout the country.
Returning home empty-handed for the little ones is verboten, so stock up on Teutonic toys that will make you the best parent/aunt/uncle/godparent in town. Although Playmobil is almost as ubiquitous as the Danish company LEGO, picking up a set from the toy producer’s German homeland is a surefire way to earn kudos with the kiddies. Or share the nostalgia for yesteryear with wooden toys from HABA, which prides itself as an “inventor for inquisitive minds.” With lines that cater to infants through mid-childhood, the eco-friendly toy company is best known for its wooden blocks, but other natural-material products, such as fabric animals, have also achieved parent-approved standards. Find HABA products at Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus and most upscale department stores.
No matter what age you—or your souvenir recipients—are, the plush toys at Steiff will be cherished mementos for years to come. The company, which holds claim to creating the original teddy bear (named for US President Theodore Roosevelt), still fabricates many of its products by hand. Its cuddly and highly coveted creations still bear the trademark Knopf im Ohr (“button in ear”) stamp of authenticity that has been a hallmark since 1904.