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Gmund: over 190 years of paper culture and high-tech company More than a paper factory

Text: Anne Bessaguet - Photos: Benoit Linero

There are tons of sheets here, where paper takes shape. The machines transform liquid to solid, almost by magic. The colors are multiple, invariably beautiful and the grains are diverse. If there is so much paper here, it is undoubtedly because Gmund, a family factory today managed and owned by Florian, has so many things to tell us…

Gmund is about two small machines which go relatively slowly but the company is led by a man who goes much faster than others. Florian is now the sole owner and he has very modern ideas. Computers are omnipresent and of the latest generation. Florian creates his own papers and colors. Previously, his father was in charge...

An ecosystem

After a few hours on location, we understand that Gmund is not just a paper mill.

 

This is the 4th generation of a family business, an innovative dynamic. We talk about calibration and weight as well as nature and emotions. It is a factory open to visitors, with a room – the White Lab – where one can work and create; with a restaurant open to the public, Mangfallblau Restaurant. The 130 people working here enjoy opening up their offices and sharing their daily lives, which after barely an hour spent here, seem both peaceful and exciting. Near a river in the heart of Bavaria, this small and high-quality paper mill also includes a shop. There, after examining the fine lines of the manufacturer’s countless papers, one wants to buy everything. Gmund may be first and foremost a factory, but it is also a rather unique atmosphere, to which it is difficult not to succumb.

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Gmund has been making all the stationery for the Oscar ceremonies for the past 5 years thanks to it’s unique gold paper. The special quality, feeling and nature of paper is also part of the brand, which is why major luxury brands love using them.

 

Furthermore, as you walk around, you actually feel like you’re in the atelier of a great couturier. Associations of tones, colors constantly revisited, a style, the incomparable way this paper flows.

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Near the river

The local villagers say that the water is actually cleaner now than before the factory activities. These are incredible machines, one of which dates back to 1883. Spare parts no longer exist, they must be manufactured if there is a need to replace them. The oldest machine is placed near the river. It has the soul of an old locomotive; an accumulation of gears requiring tools. It’s long, with mechanics extending over a hundred meters and it seems to never end. It brings us to the trees and the river, to the source. It takes more time, so it is entrusted with the production of dark colors paper. The longer time allows the color to impregnate the paper better.

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Water takes material form

At first, paper is 99% water. In one turn of a roller, on the production table, the water, mixed with cellulose, is transformed into a thin white, immaculate sheet. The texture depends on the raw material. The touch, on the other hand, depends on special rollers, around which papers are softened or smoothed. Then the rollers dry the paper at a high temperature in a huge machine. In addition to this machinery, mechanics, gears, technical and artisanal know-how and real high-tech laboratories also guide and regulate everything to the nearest gram.

Other cylinders are also responsible for creating the grain. Or rather the grains, since there are many different varieties. The paper is stored on wooden reels and each roll weighs about 250 kg. 95% of the paper leaves the premises after being cut into sheets. The last step in the manufacturing process is the control space where each sheet is scrutinized, and contemplated.

 

For the workers, the process is very hot and physical because it takes temperature and humidity to make good paper. There are no unpleasant odors, however, the atmosphere is almost strangely healthy.

What emotion do you want to convey?

Paper offers an identity and the mission of Alexa, event manager at Gmund, is to make us discover and feel it. For this purpose, she has designed a range of workshops. Four modules more or less complete allow us to reconsider our approach to paper. Each one has a specificity and an ambition. In a few fun tests, Alexa makes us aware the sensuality of paper. She invites us to touch the paper, to smell it, to sense it and to discover it with our eyes closed. Sensations play a major role in the affection that can be developed for brands. Gmund offers to guide them in the choice or creation of their own paper, its weight, color and texture. There is no other approach like it.

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The touch, the first sensual contact

 

If you touch a Leica box with your eyes blindfolded, you detect simplicity and strength. When you touch a catalogue created for the Vuitton Art Gallery, the emotion is different. 


Our customers come in search of completely different things. We work for the Oscar ceremony and for many international brands but we are not a luxury papermaker, our factory is open to all artisans, creatives, artists...

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Gmund campus,

a destination for tourists

 

Mangfall, a river and a valley, has always been a source of inspiration for Gmund. A real attraction. Some customers, such as the German pencil brand Lamy, have gone so far as to affix the Gmund logo to their pencils. In Germany, Gmund is known for its values and ecosystem. In October 2019, there will be the second UNFOLDED Design & Print Festival, a meeting place for designers and brands, and the only festival of its kind in Europe. Gmund also has a magazine, the Gmund Paper Magazine. With paper a little more expensive, because it respects the environment, and is entirely from this environment. “So, did you enjoy it?” asks Viviane, Project Manager for France, asks us at the end of the day, of course, of course. And seeing our enthusiasm, she says. “It’s frustrating for me that I’m not able to tell all this to all my customers.”

That’s normal, Viviane. Gmund can create all the paper in the world, but this kind of experience cannot simply be put into words.

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After a day spent near the river, in contact with its papers, its colors, alongside Florian and his team, we understand that Gmund is not just a paper manufacturer. It’s also a kitchen, a style studio, a laboratory, a creator’s lair, an ecosystem, an architect’s office, a refuge, and a place of philosophy. In short, we don’t really know how to define it yet. Thousands of things go through our minds. It’s time to go and interview Florian.

 

“Gmund is a paper factory. I like the word factory.”

Clémentine Larroumet

Color is one of the characteristics of the Portrait de Villes collection. It’s an entry point. We support a lot of craftsmanship at be-poles... Paper is real life. Portraits de Villes is a view. An artist’s view of a city, of the world.

Florian Kholer

Paper is a culture. Take the Americans, they don’t have that culture. They appreciate our work, our difference. But eventually they will always take the more classic route. This is what I call the Coca-Cola effect.

 

Digital has its limits

Florian Kohler

Even the big brands feel it: there are limits to websites. More than a year ago, Mercedes decided not to print anything anymore. BMW jumped for joy. A potential customer who leaves a showroom with nothing in hand to remember the sensations of his visit is not a good idea. For this kind of product, it is not about a need. It is only about desire. The Internet gives us what we need. Desire is communicated through life.

 

Florian wants Portraits de Villes to be present at the Unfolded festival. Clémentine would like to do a Portrait de Villes of Munich. It’s the start of a beautiful story…

 

The history of the factory begins in 1829....

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The Portraits de Villes collection is printed on Gmund paper

Supplier to the King’s Court

 

What did they use paper for at that time?

Florian Kohler

In the past, the best papers were those for governments, whereas today, they use the lowest quality paper. We’d consider it a little too absurdly chic which is too bad, since another advantage of this choice is that all the documents are still in very good condition and very well preserved. Thanks to his contacts, he was asked to be a member of Parliament and he said yes. He introduced himself and was elected Bavarian President in Munich and then got elected in Berlin. The world’s first social laws were invented by Bismarck at that time. Gregor was on the decision-making committee and because he was at the heart of a factory and he had workers, he was also at the heart of the debates.

 

 

“We inform you that your factory has burned down.”

 

In 1860, he received a telegram in parliament informing him that his factory had been completely burned down. He took the train, went home and indeed, there was nothing left. The workers thought that without insurance and having already made his reputation, he wouldn’t restart everything. All papers are manufactured by machines and ordering new machines takes time. He obviously hadn’t planned anything. He bought a paper machine in an abandoned factory, took it over to the destroyed factory and rebuilt it there. That was 1883. The machine is still in the same place, and it still works.

 

In 1904, Ludwig A. Kohler takes over the company

Florian Kohler

We have a slight complex about this. We’ve only been papermakers since 1904. But, fortunately, we still have roots before that…

 

Along the river, there was a young, rather good, papermaker.

 

He wanted to buy the factory but he didn’t have any money so he took on two partners. That was in 1904. He invented the mass-produced tinted paper, a real shock. He received angry letters from printers: “How dare you put color in paper! That’s our job.” You imagine, it was a bit like the Sex Pistols in the late 70s: they were the first to put color in their hair. At first, it’s always a shock. Anyway… he had already understood that a color is of better quality when it’s in the material, in the fibers. During the First World War, he managed to buy back one part share. It was only in 1995 that the other part share was bought back, allowing us to become more creative.

After the First World War in 1921, my great-grandfather lived here on the first floor. We’ve always lived here. In February, it was very cold. Every evening, he would come downstairs wearing his “Loden” (the typical Bavarian coat). At the end of the wet part, before the drying part, it’s there that you can see the quality of the paper. The Loden got caught in the machine. A tragedy. And since he had no children, it was his nephew who took over despite his poor education. He was neither a technician nor salesman. In fact, he had wanted to be a priest. But he was happy to become a papermaker, and he had three children.

 

In 1921, Ludwig W. Kohler succeeds him

 

He wasn’t very good at selling paper but he was the first to start exporting and Hong Kong still accounts for 75% of exports but let's not talk business.

Under the Third Empire we were forced to make paper for maps and gas mask filters. We even became the largest German manufacturer of black paper, to hide the light in the rooms and thus avoid being spotted and, in passing, bombarded.

 

After the war, my father entered the business, with a serious advantage. He had studied technology and business. After the war, the mill could have made a lot of money by mass-producing paper, but he chose to continue in his direction.

 

My father developed his own system. As a truck driver in the 1950s he didn’t hesitate to pick up parts here and there. He built up a unique collection from all European factories and he expanded the know-how and created aesthetic papers. Even when paper consumption declined, he always ensured the mill’s economic growth. Then he bought a new machine and he changed from the usual size of 1m56 of small machines to a width of 2m20, which made it possible to produce not more quickly but with more width.

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Transforming

Florian Kohler

When I was young, my favorite hero was Asterix. I believe in “the little village”. We are often impressed by large groups. And yet. The most interesting projects are those that have a sense and that generate quality. In the 1990s, I took over the factory and shortened the name. Gmund is sufficient, geometric, a little weird and attractive at the same time.

 

We were the first to launch collections. With at least two new creative and innovative products per year. Our vision? We are developers and “innovators” of affordable paper (certainly more expensive, but still affordable). We started making finished products and it's working well.

 

Our most recent activities? Events: a festival, a restaurant, a department that organizes workshops, meetings, sometimes completely outside the paper industry. I like communications, and human relations. This is a very touristic place. It is the best of Germany. There are many great hotels, and it’s a very chic place. Big brands are less and less interested in launching products in hotels. Here, it’s the ideal atmosphere to launch beautiful, innovative products and hold conferences. It’s a place open to everyone. Today, 6000 to 7000 tours are organized per year. It’s a place of communication and history. If there's one thing I should remember from my own story, it's that people who are very successful often haven't planned it. The essential thing is to want to transform, to make things change for the good.

 

 

Located in the beautiful Mangfall Valley in Bavaria for over 190 years, Gmund has always taken care of its environment. The river and the quality of its water are checked continuously and used responsibly. The plant has invested more than a million euros in an ozone purification system that allows it not only to discharge pure water but also to massively reduce consumption.

 

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