Christmas season is coming and the atmosphere starts getting really special: lights shining on the streets, gifts being bought, people seem happier and radiant. Can you imagine what it would be like if this feeling could be shares across the whole year? Well, in the Swiss city of Basel, this is definitely possible and Swiss 360º, who loves Christmas, went there to get an insider’s look.
As we mentioned in our article about “Top 10 reasons to visit Basel”, besides being practical Basel is also a very beautiful city. Its charming old town houses a very special shop: “The Johan Wanner Christmas House”. Located right in the heart of the old town, in Spalenberg, Mr. Wanner’s history of success remains active during over 49 years.
The street where the store is located is alive and inviting. While walking through old cobblestone alleyways, tourists mix with locals in a leisurely shopping atmosphere, while street musicians ‘sweeten’ our ears. In the midst of this fairy- tale scenario, we spotted the charming shop of Mr. Johann Wanner. A true Christmas oasis, the store, which looks small at first glance, surprises you with two additional rooms in the back.
We began our visit still outside, delighted with the shop window. We could spend hours admiring the richness of the ornaments, but decided to get in and our eyes are quickly dazzled with such beauty! After minutes of fascination, we found Miss. Loredana Steiner who guided us during our visit through the store.
The shop has plenty of Christmas decorations, ranging from traditional to more innovative models. The main hall displays, among other things, nutcrackers, new ornaments, cards, gift papers and advent calendars, while the middle hall contains assembled Christmas trees and decorations separated by color. The last room has “vintage” pieces – many of them were part of Mr. Wanner’s private collection.
Johann Wanner, the first of six children, was born in Basel and opened an antique shop in the mid-1960s. Inspired by his clients, he started collecting hand-painted glass ornaments, mostly from factories located in northern Poland and in Czech Republic. As a Christmas lover since he was a boy, Mr. Wanner decided to use these ornaments to decorate Christmas trees and, of course, it was a success!
People say that Mr. Wanner upgraded Christmas trees to the status of art. With innovative ideas, Johann Wanner surprises his audience by skipping the ordinary: he once set up a Christmas tree for the city of Basel using a black and gold theme – and it was simply fabulous.
He became well known around the world as a trendsetter and Swiss 360º team had the honor to meet him in person, along with his wife.
He is responsible for decorating the big Christmas tree for the Christmas Market in Münsterplatz Basel, as well as several designs for restaurants, hotels, shops and even for the White House in the United States. Lady Diana was also his client for many years.
Active in business to this day, Mr. Wanner explains the importance of being seen as a family business and wants his store to feel like an island of dreams for children and adults. While many companies invest fortunes in market research, Johann Wanner has a curious and effective method: he often analyzes his shop window looking for children's fingerprints on the glass, and so he knows which ornaments attract the most fascination between them. How genius is that?
Just like in the fashion world, Christmas industry works with new lines every year, and Mr. Wanner has a team of designers who are following up trends already at the beginning of each year. According to Miss. Steiner, the traditional colors (red and gold) never go out of style and the trending colors in 2017 are pink and silver.
In addition to selling fully decorated trees, the team at the Johann Wanner Christmas House also provides decorating counseling services. Miss Steiner recommendation is to start decorating the tree with flowers and bows to fill in the spaces, then Christmas baubles and special ornaments.
While Christmas baubles production are nowadays mostly made from plastic, the options available at the Johann Wanner Christmas House are all glass made, seen as good quality ornaments. Curious shapes are also part of the collection, allowing customers to create completely unique and personalized trees. The ‘options’ below exemplify the diversity of ornaments:
Now some curious aspects about some of the ornaments we found in the shop:
Devil: opposite to general assumption, a figure of the devil in the Christmas tree represents protection.
Birds: old tradition that symbolizes peace and freedom
Frogs: in the past, frogs were seen as mysterious animals for being able to live on land and water. That is why so many fairy tales have frogs in their stories.
Fabergé eggs: these Russian traditional jewels symbolize the achievement of a wish that is placed inside the egg.
Cucumber: perhaps the most unusual of the ornaments we saw in the store. Nevertheless, there is a story behind: Mr. Wanner’s family used to hide a cucumber inside the Christmas tree every year and the one who found the vegetable would be the first to open the gifts.
Apples: Before Christmas ornaments were created, people would decorate their trees with apples and nuts.
In Switzerland, it is also common to use real trees instead of plastic models and decorate it with candles – which requires full time attention to avoid fires.
We highly recommend a visit to the shop and to check their website to make an online purchase: https://www.johannwanner.ch/
Spalenberg 14, 4051 Basel
Telephone +41 (0)61 261 48 26
Note: A huge thanks to Mr. Johann Wanner, Miss Steiner and the whole team for providing us an afternoon full of magic around Christmas traditions and stories. We will see you again soon!