While August Förster pianos are not plentiful in the US, they have been sold here long enough to be known for their consistently high quality and dark, rich tone. This kind of consistent, identifiable tone does not come by chance, but rather from generations of consistent work and dedication.
I met up in Löbau Germany with Bert Neidhardt who has been the US distributor for August Förster for something like 40 years. Löbau is deep inside what had been the DDR, or East Germany and has not, at least to my eyes, thrived under the DDR or reunification. But I have always admired the Förster piano and was really looking forward to visiting. I was not disappointed.
You can find my photos of the August Förster factory here on Flickr
I was received by Geschäftsführerin Annekatrin Förster and her father Wolfgang. These two represented an unbroken chain of family management going back 5 generations! Förster was nationalized during the existence of the DDR with Wolfgang serving as the public face of management. However now with the full reinstatement of family control, management has passed on to Annekatrin. The Forster family was cordial but cool. How much of this comes from the natural nature of East Germans and how much comes from their particular family personality I am not sure. There is also the possibility that, even though I professed to be there purely from a personal interest, they may have been considering that I might be secretly be there on some nefarious Bosendorfer/Yamaha mission. However they gave me and my camera complete access to the family and took me to lunch at a wonderful restaurant on a hill that gave me a view of Lobau and the surrounding countryside.
How much more could I ask for?
The Forster factory has been in continuous use since the founding of the company and positively exudes history. They were quite proud of their new gas fired boilers. As I understand it, as recently as 10 years ago they were still dealing with mountains of coal. Walking through the hallways (and getting completely, utterly lost) was like stepping back in time. I really got the feel of generations of workers turning out these pianos, using the same tools, walking the same floorboards. While there is much to be said for modern woodworking techniques and equipment, in piano building modern is not always needed, or useful. Forster is a small maker. I’m estimating around 250 grands for the world per year. There is only so much efficiency that will bring any benefit in that situation.
And, the pianos are beautiful!