Alex Schmitt, was born in 1980 in Nürnberg, Germany, he now runs the companies ‘Pyros Pyrotechnologie’ and ‘JGW Berckholtz,’ manufacturing, trading and importing fireworks from selected joint-venture partners in Europe. The company focuses on high-quality, hand-made fireworks products of every type. ‘Made for Connoisseurs’ is their motto. Currently the company is growing now owning its own big own factory in the middle of Germany, in the Harz region between Kassel and Leipzig…
Some my earliest childhood memories here in Germany revolve around fireworks especially on New Year’s Eve. I can remember just a few images and a general atmosphere, these are burned into my mind. Images of my father lighting rockets as my mother and I watching from the balcony, or putting a big cubic maroon onto the unused Hollywood-Swing in the garden. As time has gone by, and I have grown older, I am starting to remember much more. The days preceding Ney Year’s Eve were spent looking through the newspaper adverts to see what was on offer that year, and of course we would cut them out and save them in folders to have something to look at during the ‘boring time of the year.’ I also remember that memorable evening when my parents dressed me up at what seemed to me the middle of the night and without telling me anything drove to an event nearby where I saw my very first professional fireworks display; another memory that is still very vivid in my mind! Even in those early days I was sure that fireworks had to be my profession when I grew up.
But how to archive this aim? Information was not easy to obtain before the Internet, so I hunted through every newspaper through every book in public libraries and watched every clip that was shown on TV, in order to try and obtain more information. Everything was archived and even my parents had to suffer my obsession, I demanded to be taken to every show that I found out was being fired. In addition I constantly asked to visit firework company’s headquarters, even whilst on holiday. I am proud to say that I am still in touch with some of those companies today. Finally in 1997 having probably put too much strain on the nerves of a nearby display company, they finally accepted me as a helper on shows, I was in heaven!
It wasn’t long before I realised, that like more things that seemed so magical when I was younger, the fireworks industry was a business, and a business that was in crisis. The magic and excitement soon began to fade. Towards the end of the 1990’s dramatic economic change hit the German fireworks industry hard. A lot of the old family companies shut down because there was no one left to continue the business. The rest of the remaining manufacturing firms shut down their production lines and became what they still are today just importers. I always thought that you don’t just become involved in fireworks ‘by accident,’ that those involved all had a passion to pursue. However, today I view the remaining companies as mainly merchants, some are very good at it, but only very few that really put their heart into it.
It was time to do something, something better, something to reawaken the magic at least in my mind and also that of my friends. A company was needed not just dealing in fireworks, but manufacturing and trading ‘select’ products from all over Europe, a company operated by fireworks lovers for fireworks lovers. Being an avid traveler and having attended fireworks events all over Europe and the world, for me this is where we really got started. Over the years many friendships and connections have been firmly established. In Europe mainly in Italy, Spain and the UK. In business I always tried to go to the smaller family-owned and operated companies, not the ‘big names.’ I always looked for the personal touch, personal contact and input in both directions. I felt more at home this way, than with the big players, where you always feel a little bit like a number, just another customer. So with the help of these likeminded friends, we forged joint-ventures, in distributorship, working in tandem with our suppliers. So today we can offer some fine pyrotechnic products from some fine suppliers: from Valencia in Spain, ‘Pyrotechnic Europla’, from the land of the Vesuvio in Italy, the family ‘Fucito’ and we also offer a good range of products in the field of technical pyrotechnics products too with the very good friend Tony Lewis and his company ‘TLSFX’ from the UK, for whom we cover the sales and distribution for mainland Europe.
Manufacturing was a bit more of a challenge, especially here in Germany. I k new that I could lean the craft of manufacture by spending time with friends in the Italy and the USA. However, to legally get a manufacturing license in Germany was no easy task. We started by using some rooms at another friend’s factory, Peter Sauer of Augsburg. Then we moved into our first own premises just 10 minutes away from my house near Nürnberg. A big part of it was luck, the premises was being used as an ammunition factory in former times, they shut down and someone I know
dealing with historic arms and ammunition took it over. When he moved out we took it over. There we have some workrooms,some storage warehouses, a laboratory and an earth-covered bunker, for the ‘hotter stuff!’ That place was ideal to get going. I finally started producing fireworks, salutes mainly and some multibreaks plus some special effect supplies for the film industry and for technical purposes too, such as training and simulation. Soon I was very busy, so busy in fact, that after a year I had to hire two good friends to work for me.
Beside that I continue with research about the history and culture of fireworks and pyrotechnics, especially in Germany, like I had done for so many years. This led to what became another very good friendship with one of the oldest companies established in Germany is that of ‘JGW Berckholtz.’ Originally from Hamburg, Founded in 1838, they had to close down in the late 70s because of some family struggles over inheritance. The company whoever was still kept alive on paper all the time since then, with trademarks and everything else intact. I made contact with the couple who now own those trademarks who were still very lively and still very much into their families tradition. They always wanted to continue them but couldn’t. So after many hours of telephone calls and much correspondence back and forth the plan was made to take the company over and continue the tradition. With it came all their technical documents and recipe-books, a treasure in itself! And what a responsibility, continuing a company’s legacy that goes back almost 180 years!
Over the last 2 years demand for products has grown steadily, I won’t complain, it was a very good sign that our products were accepted and that all the effort we put into the mainly hand-crafted production was seen as something worthy. But soon it was a question of capacity. So once again we started to search for more possibilities and found it again through connections that go back to 1998 when I visited the famous ‘Pyrotechnik Silberhütte’ company in the Harz-region here in Germany. The director of the company for the last 10 years is Falk Schilling, it was he who had talked to ‘me’ the young enthusiast all those years ago, having found some time to answer my questions. Over the years, I tried to stay in touch and so it was that during one of our conversations on the phone in February 2013 that he told me the company’s small branch factory in Uftrungen would be free as they wanted to get rid of it and maybe I would like to buy it. Well, to make a long story short, after several intense discussions, meetings and visits, we finally managed to buy this facility together with our dear friends of the UK, everyone owning an equal share in it. So at this moment in time we are moving and concentrating everything there, now having available an area of almost 3 hectars where before almost 80 people worked under the direction of the former owners.
I guess it is finally safe to say that we have gone a long way to achieving our goal in bringing together tradition and modern manufacture. We are reviving several old treasures from our archives, going back over a century now, and putting them back into production soon. I hope that this is a good recipe for the future of fireworks and a counterbalance to the more uniform Chinese imports, fireworks that in my opinion are often sadly without soul and heart. We are moving into the future without forgetting the past. So if you need something special made, something from the wide range that fireworks we have to offer, or maybe some pyro-solution to a technical problem or just a small and simple sparkler with quality to bring back your childhood memories, then you are welcome! And if you just want to talk fireworks, I’m sure we’ll find plenty of time for that too. •