German style hunting hats
By: Mark Stone
There’s a well known saying that goes ‘if you want to get ahead, get a hat’. As to how true this statement might be is hard to say, but from my point of view it could well be true especially if the interest shown in the hats I’ve been seen wearing on the front cover of Gunmart is to be believed. For years I’ve always worn hats, something that was drilled into me from an early age, my personal choice having always erred towards those worn in Bavaria, due mainly to my grandfather’s influence and the fact I’ve nearly always worn German hunting attire, the styles and soft materials to my personal liking, something I seem to have become known for.
Whilst the once familiar high street milliner has more or less disappeared from most English towns, large manufacturers now supplying most stores, German villages, towns and cities still boast at least one hat maker. Similarly, whilst the baseball cap has more or less become standard head gear, especially for certain branches of shooting over here, central Europe has remained traditional in choice, styles and the enthusiasm with which hats are worn, many daily activities, festivals and the Sunday morning visit to church dictating which hats are to be worn.
Interestingly, many German hats still indicate the wearer’s profession, a high crown with three depressions made from pale grey loden being that of a bergfuhrer or mountain guide, the identical hat in green being worn by jagers or hunters. Elsewhere, the simplistic sternklopfer in grey or brown that of a shepherd or alpine farmer, whilst a larger brimmed berghut in pale green folded up at one side being the exclusive preserve of the gamekeeper or forest warden, all these styles worn with what verges on a passion, with southern Germany and northern Austria fiercely keen on preserving and maintaining their traditions.
Now whilst there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the English preference for flat caps and trilbys, it was the recent appearance of my German Ski Cap or Bergmutze - one of the most recognizable German styles - that prompted this article, various readers keen to find out where they could get one for themselves. The chosen headgear of the gebirgsjager or mountain troops, the basic design is that of the Austrian military field cap slightly modified. Whilst the design eventually went on to be worn throughout the German army, it’s still considered the preserve of the mountain troops, a cap they still wear with immense pride.
Once manufactured in various materials dependant on where the troops were stationed, the civilian versions of these versatile caps tend to be manufactured from loden. A thick, resilient wool fabric, the modern caps tend to have a lower crown since no army or divisional badges have to be displayed whilst the military metal buttons have been replaced by more decorative horn versions. The stiff peak shelters the eyes from both sun and rain whilst severe weather can be closed out by folding down the ear flaps and fastening them under the chin, an asset I’ve been more than thankful for on many a windy, rainy grouse moor or when sitting in a cold high seat.
Usually silk lined, these caps are comfortable, warm and traditionally stylish whilst the application of a water repelling agent such as Ballistol’s Pluvonin enhances the loden’s waterproof qualities. Price wise, expect to pay around £50 for a decent bergmutze, one of the slightly heavier versions being my own recommendation along with the suggestion you opt for one size larger than you need as loden shrinks ever so slightly after its first encounter with rain.
Berghut or mountain hat
For those who’re looking for something different without the military connotations yet still traditionally Germanic then the various berghut or mountain hats are the way to go. Once again manufactured from loden which allows the hat to be rolled up for easy transportation, more up market versions are to be had in both rabbit and hare fur felt although you will pay considerably more for these two fabrics, loden costing between £30 and £60 whilst the felt one can rise to as much as £150 to £300.
But whichever material you decide upon, the interesting thing about most of the German designs is, apart from the hat band some of which now incorporate the mandatory blaze orange flash or other minor variations, they all start out as the same basic hat as Hans Kreuzer, the resident hutmacher in the tiny Bavarian village of Oberstdorf, explained. The Kreuzer family have been making and selling their own and other makers hats for three generations and whilst certain modern styles have been introduced, it’s still the traditional versions that outsell the rest.
“The style is determined by how the crown is formed when the hat is purchased. Once you’ve decided it takes only a matter of minutes to shape it into the individual style you want, be it traditional to the country, area or actual town. Here in Oberstdorf we have a unique curved crown which marks the style out as being from here, whilst other styles are common throughout the region. Also, the top makes that are available in most hat shops including my own are Mayser from Germany who are the oldest hat maker in existence, the Austrian maker Zapf and Lodenhut. All of them make traditional hats to the very highest standards and quality. The difference is that the smaller makers can to a degree keep the price lower and create more specific styles than the larger makers who pre-form their hats into standard styles”.
But buying your German hat isn’t the end of the process by any means, since you now have to decide as to how to decorate it. For many, nothing other than a gamsbart or chamois’ beard will do, these ornate, silver mounted plumes the height of tradition and likewise expensive – expect to pay a £100 minimum for an example. That said you can save a euro or two whilst still keep the look by opting for either a hirchbart or dachsbart made from roe deer and badger or the alternative gamsradl or chamois rosette.
If the various plumes don’t appeal, various silver or pewter and wooden badges are readily available, one of the most popular still the edelweiss or an eagle’s head with rifle and hunting horn; most badges costing around £10 to £20. Alternatively, numerous Bavarian and Austrian events and festivals provide commemorative badges which are eagerly sought after, unique and desirable, the various village shooting being festivals prime examples.
Where to get one
For one of the largest selections of German style hats contact Markus Faustmann at www.lodenhut.de / firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Hans Kreuzer on +49 8322 2154 / HutKreuzer@t-online.de whilst Ballistol Pluvonin waterproofing spray can be purchased though various UK outlets or by contacting Ballistol UK on 01207 502481. But whichever you eventually go for beware, once you’ve got one you’ll want another, my own personal collection currently standing at nine with one or two more still to be added.
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates