Last October, I was sent to Nuremberg, Germany to visit the Faber-Castell headquarters. Initially I had wanted to just see the castle and maybe take a tour—that was what I had planned on doing—but I extended my stay and managed to make the most out of this quaint city. It’s been a few weeks since I took a detour to Germany, and it’s only now that I’ve gotten the time and energy to sit and write about this once in a lifetime experience.
A little backstory: so, early this year while I was planning my schooling schedule and fixing my trip to New York, I had an event for Faber-Castell in Manila. And then a wild idea came through: what if I visit the headquarters in Germany? I did hear there was a castle and looked up their website for possible tours of the factory, museum and castle. I could document it and show it to you, my readers. That was a long shot, I told myself. Tricie and I pitched the idea and I kept my fingers crossed for months, up until I had received a call (I remember this was March and I was out of Manila) saying it was approved. I was going to Germany! OMG. It took me awhile to say that out loud. I couldn’t sleep for weeks!
This was also my first time flying alone to Europe (and taking the train), so I was kind of nervous. What would Germany be like? I have briefly visited Heidelberg a few years back and I had no memory of this country. I can’t speak German, and I look 100% Asian. I was scared but also so excited. Surprisingly things went well and I managed to arrive in Nuremberg at sunset, just in time to catch the last few moments of daylight as I walked to my hostel in Nuremberg. I realized I forgot my universal adaptor (yay, me) so I rushed to get one after checking in. Then, I was greeted with a nice dinner from Sandra and Kirsten from Faber-Castell (sushi, no less!).
Can you tell how amused I am? Wes Anderson approved train machine (and branding, tbh).
But since I’m such a good navigator, I got lost (lol). The front part of the complex was under renovation, so I had to pass through the back entrance and luckily found my way inside. First, Emelia (my tour guide) took me to the pencil factory where Faber-Castell’s world famous pencils are produced every day.
I have long been a fan of Faber-Castell—I remember saving up my allowance to get a set of Classic Color Pencils in fifth grade. So imagine how overjoyed I was to be able to work with them now that I’m an artist?
The factory windows are painted in primary colors (quite apt, if you ask me), and each floor is dedicated to each department for production. I got to know more about how a pencil is made—from sourcing the right type of wood (the wood used for the pencils are from the forests they manage in several parts of the world—particularly in Brazil, because Germany is generally cold), cutting out the wood chunks into pencils (did you know that Faber-Castell is famous for its tri-grip pencil shape?), to coating each pencil with the right amount of paint (exactly six color coats, and two clear coats), to seeing it foil stamped at the pencil printing department, up until it is time to dry each batch and pack for distribution out in the market.
It’s quite amazing to see all this happening all in a day’s work in several rooms here at the factory—and I’m always amazed at how things work from start to finish.
Before they are left to dry, the pencils are sent to the printing department where each pencil is foil stamped according to its type (colored pencil, pencil, etc).
The pencils take around a full day to dry. They are kept in a fixed temperature to make sure each pencil batch dries at the same time.
It’s so satisfying to be able to see these pencils in the drying room all sorted out by pencil type and color. (I may be geeking out too much, but come on, I love pencils!)
After drying, they are packed in boxes for distribution out in the market.
That’s my giddy “I can’t believe I’m in a factory” face right there ^
After lunch, Emelia took me inside the Faber-Castell Castle, where Count Alexander and Countess Ottilie and their family used to live. Emelia told me all about the family history and how the oldest pencil was created. I also found out Vincent Van Gogh used Faber-Castell pencils, because I’m a true VVG fan (lol). The castle is huge—especially the bathrooms (wow). There was also a clinic and home school inside to make sure all their children lived in comfort. Imagine living in luxury and having a house in the form of a castle?
Loved the light coming in at this area of the castle, where the history of Faber-Castell was explained through photos, ephemera, and…vintage packaging! *heart eyes*
I particularly loved this Polychromos packaging they used from way back. Can you believe most of the packaging in the old days were hand-drawn? I love it.
Fanciest staircase ever. Did you know people book this castle for weddings, too? I actually saw a newlywed couple taking photos as I made my way out this castle, lol.
In historical facts, the castle was also used during the Nuremberg Trials as a place for refuge for artists and writers. They would organize parties and events inside the castle to keep them busy and entertained.
The next day was spent at the Faber-Castell Academy, just a few blocks away from the Faber-Castell complex. I was assigned to a printmaking class with Clemens Lang, who has been doing printmaking since the 80s and has been teaching at the academy for quite some time.
Inside the printmaking studio. That’s a monotype printing machine on the right.
I honestly had no idea what printmaking was, so when I was tasked to experiment on different materials, I was terrified. As someone who’s always been very concise about her process, the spontaneity of printmaking was so eye-opening. I loved it!
By lunchtime I was glued to my work area and was working on bigger and bigger canvases, until Clemens eventually told me to work on my final piece (which I managed to take home). I love how printmaking made me rethink making art—and that while planning is also important, it’s also good to just keep experimenting and seeing how things go.
After the printmaking class, Kirsten took me out to see Nuremberg’s Old Town.
We went to Albrecht Durer’s house (fun fact: Faber-Castell watercolor pencils are aptly named “Albrecht Durer” to pay homage to the same artist!) and got to know more about his work.
There was also a castle and we crossed one of the oldest chain bridges in the world. Nuremberg feels very medieval compared to other European cities, and that’s what sets it apart so much. I had some beer and schnitzel for dinner like a true German (it was good!).
My last day at the Faber-Castell HQ was spent teaching a hand lettering workshop to fellow artists.
Never did I imagine getting to teach in Germany! That was such a nice way to end my stay in Stein.
Apart from getting to see this side of the world, I loved meeting new people and exploring an unfamiliar city that I unexpectedly loved. Nuremberg is low key but also quite hip, and the food is so good (I spent all my dinners tasting all the good food in Nuremberg—drinks included). Most of all, this experience is something I’ll never forget. Sometimes I still pinch myself to see if this all really happened.
Kirsten took care of everything during my visit to Faber-Castell. Thank you, Kirsten!
Thank you so much to Faber-Castell Philippines, and to Faber-Castell Global (especially to Kirsten, Sandra, Annika, Joel, and everyone I met from the Faber-Castell team) for this amazing opportunity!