Axel Stüber is one of the last four barrel organ builders in Germany. But the cult instrument threatens to die out. With his club, Stüber is now fighting for the future of the barrel organ.
Gently, Axel Stüber turns the small whistle of bright alder wood between his fingers. A critical look, then a satisfied nod. «Fits,» he murmurs and sticks it to the other pipes in the black barrel organ. At a constant speed Stüber turns the crank, a sonorous melody breaks through the silence of the small workshop in Berlin-Biesdorf – «Veronika, der Lenz ist da» out of 100 pipes.
The 64-year-old has specialized in barrel organs decades ago. «I can not do anything else,» he says. «After all, I have been doing this for 41 years now.» He is not only one of the most experienced barrel-organ builders, but also one of the last. «In Germany there are four of us,» says Stüber. «The next one lives down in the Black Forest.»
The native of Mecklenburg began in 1970 with the construction of church organs in his youth. «At the same time, I could not even play the piano,» he says with a laugh. But he has a good ear and that’s what it’s all about. But the business with the organs became increasingly difficult, which is why he soon took over a workshop for barrel organs.
«Organ Stüber» now emblazoned in golden letters on the dark rosewood. «All wood inlays,» says the organ builder proudly as he strokes the filigree decorations with his forefinger. This means that different woods are accurately cut and assembled. «This process lasts the longest,» says Stüber. For a large barrel organ he needed about three months – but only so it will be noble and high quality.
That’s what it’s all about for its customers, he continues. After all, the cult instrument is an expensive hobby.
He has already sold his organs to 43 countries, says Stüber proudly. «From Albania to Israel to New Zealand, the customers appreciate the quality instruments from the home of the barrel organ.»
With his club, the International Barrel Friends of Berlin, he wants to preserve the tradition and establish the Berlin barrel organ playing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site . In 2016, a first application was rejected by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture in the preselection, a second attempt failed this June. The reason: Lack of youth work, it is not sufficiently taken care of the transfer of cultural heritage.
«Berlin is probably more high-tech than barrel organ,» commented Stüber the renewed rejection with a wink. He still wanted to keep trying, even if it was just a formality for him. «Everywhere in the world, it’s clear that this is a cultural heritage.» The official recognition is simply a matter of the heart – after all, no one knows how long anyone else is interested in barrel organ.
Stüber rests on the worn workbench, sawdust pile up next to his elbow. «In Berlin, only about 120 players in the club are organized,» he says in a lowered voice. «Around 800 in Germany.» Stüber says that there is a lack of young talent in particular. At some meetings he was the youngest at the age of 64.
Even his own children Stüber could not convince of the barrel organs, for the youth it seems simply too antiquated. «Many view the cultural property as almost extinct,» Stüber notes. He does not want to see it that way. «Many only start with the organ when they are old,» he says and shrugs. «And old people will eventually always exist.»