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A factory tour for connoisseurs – a look behind the scenes of the Härke, Rausch and Pelikan brands

Landschaftsbild des Landkreis Peine (Copyright: Christian Bierwagen)

Craftsmanship is very important in the Peine district. Even in areas where you wouldn’t expect it. Join us on a delightful tour as we visit three well-known brands from the region.

This tour for connoisseurs is organised by Tourist-Info Peiner Land (wito gmbh). And what does it include? Three exciting factory tours offer an abundance of aesthetic and tangible pleasures. A convenient shuttle bus takes those on the tour from one site to the next. Our editorial team checked out the tour for you and documented their impressions.

1. Pelikan – a fountain of writing culture

Our ‘expedition’ starts in the village of Peine-Vöhrum. This is the only European production site of the Pelikan Group – the renowned manufacturer of writing ink and artists’ paints. Apart from Pelikan, the company is also home to the Herlitz, Geha and SusyCard brands.

Reinhold Eva, a mechanical engineer at Pelikan, mentions a few historical highlights before we start our tour of the production area. Then-owner Günther Wagner registered Pelikan as a trademark in 1878, thereby creating one of the oldest brands in Germany. In 1929, Pelikan was the first company in the world to introduce a new ink system that revolutionised writing with the fountain pen.

The golden secret

The ‘Souverän’, for example, has been manufactured on the basis of this mechanism since its launch as ‘Model 400’ in 1950. The model has since achieved cult status. Like all Premium fountain pens, the ‘Souverän’ has a handcrafted, solid gold nib.

The production of these golden nibs is one of Pelikan’s best-kept secrets. It takes place in a closed area to which only selected individuals have access. Those who have decided to take this tour for connoisseurs are among the lucky ones. We had the chance to look over the shoulders of the employees who make these pen nibs in more than 20 individual steps.

In the luxury segment, Pelikan produces unique fountain pens upon request only. Its flagship ‘Maki-e’, for example, is finished by Japanese artists using gold leaf. Cost: up to 15,000 euros.

A busy start to the school year

But let’s return to Peine-Vöhrum now, where production is in full swing. Over the course of up to three shifts, around 100 employees produce 1.3 million writing instruments for students and young people, 148 million ink cartridges, 14 million erasers, 13.5 million ink erasers and 2.3 million paint sets – all in one year. Pelikan employs a total of more than 250 people in Peine.

Our tour through the huge factory starts in the toolmaking area. ‘Once marketing has decided what a product will look like, tools are developed for each individual part,’ explains Eva. In the toolmaking area, employees have access to every conceivable option, from metalworking through to erosion – a process that makes it possible to create especially smooth surfaces.

A mecca of writing culture – the Pelikan factory in Peine
The blue school fountain pens with an embossed water bird are still well-known throughout Germany today. What’s even more interesting is that the stationery giant also makes elaborate luxury fountain pens by hand. We took a look behind the scenes at Pelikan’s factory in Peine.

Handmade using injection moulding

The in-house plastic injection moulding shop produces almost all the parts needed for Pelikan’s production. For example, one of the 40 injection moulding machines ejects 144 ink cartridge blanks every five seconds. Robots remove pen components and plastic shells, which are later used to make paint sets.

But work is done by hand in the plastic injection molding shop, too. An employee removes parts for a high-quality writing instrument from a machine and cleans the injection molding tool after each ‘shot’. She then examines each part meticulously under a large magnifying glass. Her critical eye doesn’t miss even the slightest scratch. Parts that do not meet the company’s high quality standards are rejected – and the good parts are neatly packed in a small box. On another machine, an employee manually inserts tiny gold-plated trim rings into the tool before sealing caps are moulded.

Top-speed production

We move on to where the paint sets are assembled. Four employees use 96,000 paint tablets to create 8,000 paint sets over a seven and a half hour shift. The paint tablets are pressed on an adjacent machine. At 900 pieces per minute, its output speed is similar to the rate at which a machine gun fires.

We are equally impressed by the ink filling system. Three machines fill one million ink cartridges in 24 hours. The ink is fed via a line directly from the ink production area. Pelikan produces nine different colours, including pink and turquoise. The bestseller is, of course, number 4001: Blue-Black.

After visiting the fountain pen assembly area, our Pelikan factory tour is almost over. In this area, employees craft the high-quality writing instruments entirely by hand. ‘The demand for high-quality writing utensils is increasing,’ Eva is happy to note as he surveys the activity around him.

2. Härke – beer made from regional ingredients

The next stop on the connoisseurs’ tour is Brauerei Härke, a brewery in the centre of Peine. Beer has been brewed here since 1890, initially in a pub brewery. Plant manager Martin Härke, the great-great-grandson of founder Ernst Härke, is waiting for us in front of the brewery buildings, which are protected monuments.

The brewery tour starts in the courtyard, because water, the most important ingredient in the beer in terms of volume, is sourced here beneath our feet at a depth of 86 metres. Until it is needed for brewing, the water is stored for a short time in four brewing water tanks – the largest of which holds 80,000 litres.

Beer made from regional ingredients – BrauManufaktur Härke in Peine
Beer has been brewed at the Härke brewery in the centre of Peine since 1890, initially in a pub brewery.

Lower Saxony is a good place for growing barley.

In addition to the water, another of the beer’s ingredients is also sourced right here in the region: malt. ‘We source 80 percent of the malt from a malting plant in Salzgitter, which in turn processes only barley from Lower Saxony,’ explains Härke.

We now enter the heart of the brewery, the brew house. The plant manager hands out cotton gloves to everyone on the tour to ensure that the historic kettles do not lose any of their shine. ‘During our renovation in 2008, we put our heart and soul into polishing the copper containers,’ recalls Härke.

The whole process starts in the brew house. Here, the brewers mix four tonnes of malt grist with water in the mash tun to create a brew. Using temperature controls, they regulate the subsequent flavour of the beer. At the end of the process, which requires a great deal of specialist knowledge and intuition, 24,000–25,000 litres of wort remain.

‘The craft beer scene is good for business’

Craft beer from Heine – Härke Amber Ale

The wort then passes through the lauter tun, wort boiler and whirlpool – but it’s important to note that this isn’t a tub for employees relax in, but rather the place where the wort is clarified. Härke is quite enthusiastic as he shows us the wort boiler, as this is where the hops are added to the wort. ‘The beer market is booming right now thanks to the craft beer scene. People are curious about beer again and are ready to try something new,’ says the master brewer. For its new Amber Ale, Härke uses very specific varieties of hops, one of which tastes like lychee.

A few process steps later, the brew is first referred to as beer, or more specifically as green beer. That is, once the yeast has been added. Härke explains the difference between top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting yeast to his visitors, and notes that green beer isn’t really drinkable, but causes headaches. Then, the beer is allowed to mature for another two to three weeks before it is ready.

But this isn’t the last stop on our brewery tour. You may have already guessed it: at the bar, those on the connoisseurs’ tour have the opportunity to sample Härke’s different types of beer. And we’re more than happy to do just that!

Connoisseurs’ tour – a visit to Härke in Peine
At the bar, the members of the connoisseurs’ tour have the opportunity to sample Härke’s different types of beer.

3. JR Die Schokoladenfabrik GmbH – pollinated, harvested and poured by hand

The next and last stop on the connoisseurs’ tour is a place of love and happiness – at least according to Karin Credo, a sales employee. But before we dive into this sweet world, Credo gives us white coats and caps to put on. You can only enter Mr Rausch’s factory if you’re dressed in this suit. And we get to make our own chocolate here!

Connoisseurs’ tour – visiting SchokoLand in Peine

Karin Credo is in her element when it comes to chocolate. She explains the important details of pouring chocolate bars and invites us to try some. We can choose between 43% chocolate with fine cocoa from Venezuela or chocolate with 70% cocoa from Ecuador. Later we will learn that the fine milk chocolate ‘Rausch Venezuela’ is made from Ocumare fine cocoa, with hints of almonds and caramel. Arriba-Nacional fine cocoa from Ecuador, on the other hand, has a flowery, cocoa-flavoured note.

chocolate workshop
The workshop at the long-standing Berlin company (Photo: Rausch GmbH)

Shopping on the plantation

Since 1998, the Rausch family have regularly travelled to regions where fine cocoa is grown – and they get around quite a bit: from Central and South America, to the Caribbean and Madagascar, to Papua New Guinea. On selected plantations, the long-standing company, which is based in Berlin, buys cocoa beans directly from the farmers. At Rausch, only cocoa butter, cane sugar and, for fine full-cream milk chocolate, full-cream milk powder is added to the cocoa paste. Lecithins and flavours, standard ingredients in chocolate made from common-grade cocoa, aren’t used for Rausch’s plantation chocolate.

And now it’s our turn to give it a go. As chocolatiers, we are allowed to add any ingredients we like to the two bars that we are now pouring in the workshop from warm chocolate, which is kept at a constant temperature of 30 degrees: hazelnut and almond kernels, coconut flakes, smarties and gummy bears, muesli, raisins and chilli flakes are all options – and much more.

Cocoa bean
The Rausch family regularly visit regions where fine cocoa is grown. A cocoa plantation is pictured here. (Photo: Rausch GmbH)

A brief history of cocoa

Once all the moulds are in the fridge, we move on to the chocolate factory’s museum. Standing in the shadow of chocolate volcano that is shaken by constant eruptions, Ines Schlüter, who also works in sales at Rausch, introduces us to the history and secrets behind the cocoa culture.

We learn that the Aztecs invented a cocoa-based beverage. This power potion for men and warriors was a mixture of water and cocoa flavoured with vanilla and cayenne pepper. They called the bitter cocoa water ‘xocólatl’ – and, voilà, this is where the name ‘chocolate’ comes from.

Patience is a must for cocoa farmers

Cocoa farmers, who have to pollinate thousands of flowers on a cocoa tree by hand, are manual workers. ‘If they are lucky, they will harvest 50 fruits from a tree,’ says Schlüter. One fruit contains 25 to 50 cocoa beans, which in turn – depending on the variety – are enough for about 100 grams of chocolate. The fruits are also harvested manually.

Schlüter finishes the tour by leaving us with a few more numbers to ponder: the average German consumes twelve kilograms of chocolate every year – and Rausch processes 70 tonnes of cocoa a day during the season. Before we leave Rausch and Peine, Credo hands everyone on the tour two 250-gram bars of finest plantation chocolate, which they have created and poured themselves. What a bit of good luck!

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