How the prettiest dairy in the world survived the war

How the prettiest dairy in the world survived the war
The stunning Glockenspiel Bell Tower of the Rathaus (town hall), with its imposing towers and 15th-century Frauenkirche Cathedral, is a favourite with visitors in Munich, Germany.
PHOTO: Amy Kiesgen

"Oh how lovely!" cry two elderly ladies in unison as they gaze in awe through the doorway of the Pfund Brothers' 19th-century retail dairy in Dresden.

Busloads of tourists keep arriving at the milk-and-cheese shop, which dates back to 1891 and is covered inside from floor to ceiling in hand-painted glazed tiles.

"The Prettiest Dairy in the World" is inscribed on its window and the visitors seem to agree; it's now as much a fixture on the tourist trail through the eastern German city as Dresden's famous church, the Frauenkirche, or its opera house, the Semperoper.

The brightly coloured tiles show angels, children at play, flowers with trailing tendrils, shepherds and all kinds of animals in a land that seems to be flowing with milk and honey.

Every picture represents a chapter from the history of milk and the dairy.

Fruit, grazing cows, a portrait of the German Kaiser, and even flags and coats of arms can be seen in the intricate designs on the wall and ceiling tiles, as well as rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, cats, ribbons, measuring glasses and milk churns.

"There's always something new to see," says Ina Stephan, the chief saleswoman in the shop.

Pfunds Molkerei was founded by Paul Gustav Leander Pfund, a farmer and son of a spirits producer, who relocated to the city from the nearby village of Reinholdshain in 1879, bringing his wife and six cows.

Shocked by the unhygienic standards of milk production in the city with its rapidly growing population, he set about trying to change it, founding his dairy the following year.

When his brother joined the Dresdner Molkerei Pfund GmbH, the business began to expand even faster, with Pfund developing new machinery and even managing to produce condensed milk.

In 1886 he founded the first condensed milk factory in Germany, exports boomed and he invented new products such as a milk soap and a carbonated milk drink.

The business grew to incorporate several branches, its own health insurance company, company housing, swimming baths and nursery school. Clearly there was enough money in the kitty to afford an extra-special flagship store lined with 247 square metres of hand-painted tiles.

When Pfund died in 1923 the next generation took on the running of the dairy.

Miraculously, the building survived World War II and the infamous bombing of Dresden intact: It is across the river and some distance from the city centre.

"The many angels in the shop protected us," quips Frank Zabel, current director of the dairy.

Legend has it that it also escaped the attention of Americans in the 1950s.

"Allied officers wanted to dismantle it and ship it over to America," claims Paul Pfund, great-grandson of the dairy's founder.

Taken over by the East German state in 1972, the shop then had to resist Communist taste.

Historians and conservationists were able to prevent a plan to replace the spectacular wall tiles with nice plastic panels, but didn't manage to save the shop's unique "milk fountain."

At one point the East German state trade organisation also had plans to make a Communist self-service shop out of it, says 76-year-old Pfund, who still lives nearby and drops by occasionally.

But after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and Germany was reunited, the shop was given back to the descendants of the original owners.

Most of the tiles were easily cleaned and conserved, but five per cent had to be replaced by Villeroy & Boch, the original manufacturer, which still exists and is one of Germany's leading ceramics companies.

The dairy was soon restored to its old glory, with a new milk fountain, and reopened for business in 1995. Now it receives up to 2,000 visitors a day during peak periods.

"They find themselves in another world and are completely enchanted," says Zabel.

Cheese and milk are once again sold at the 4-metre-long counters, and wares are fetched from the original giant fridges, though the bars of ice they once contained have now been replaced with modern cooling technology.

But cows are no longer milked before the customers' eyes and for hygiene reasons there's no longer any milk in the milk fountain - just water.

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