Water is the quintessential primeval element and the origin of life on our planet. Our bodies are made up of 80% water, and we dwell in water for nine months before coming into the world. It is also Axel Reichert’s ideal location when he needs inspiration for new ideas.
In Merzig, Germany, some summer days can be sizzling, and Axel is lucky to have the chance to chill out in a swimming pool, letting the water massage his body while smoking aids his creative imagination, thanks to a specially designed floating table in his swimming pool equipped with essential pipe smoking accessories. Axel’s handlebar moustache also seems to be specially designed to frame the pipe’s mouthpiece when he is smoking. Who knows which came first – the moustache, or the passion for smoking. In any case, if it were not for the modern spectacle frames, Axel could come straight out of an old painting, where attention is paid to the smallest details. Indeed, Axel himself likes to be extremely meticulous, almost to the point of being obsessive, and his workshop reflects this. It might be simplistic to call it a workshop, more like an operating theatre, or better still, a delivery room, where his magnificent creatures come to light.
Thus, you can imagine him everyday leaving the workplace, where he is a mechanical engineer, making his way home to his wife, Karin, who welcomes him with her soothing smile and sandpaper at hand, as she is also involved in pipe production, having a chat with his daughter, Joana, who in her own way also helps with relations with the clients, having a bite to eat and heading straight for the lathe. All this after having first lit a pipe.
Indeed, even when he works he smokes a pipe to relax and help him concentrate on his final goal, which is not only to create new shapes out of briar wood, but above all to manufacture pipes that are functional and make smoking a pleasure. For Axel, in fact, perfection is in achieving a purpose. After all, the engineer within cannot be silenced completely.
Although pipe making has provided him with a new kind of stability, he cannot avoid who he is. This means that when something goes wrong, whether because of the heat, or of too many worries, Axel dives into the pool, into his personal waters. And he smokes. A sort of resetting the mind to restore himself. During winter, on the other hand, when he needs to let his mind take a break, he takes a cup of coffee to the living room. White walls, doors, sofa and carpet, an explosion of light which soothes and restores him to his original idea, made up of curved, flexible shapes that seem to have little to do with the discipline and orderliness surrounding him.
His pipes certainly do not seem to reflect his workplace, where every tool is in its proper place on the wall, where every block of briar wood is labeled and there had better be nothing overlooked, and where even dust has problems settling on the floor.
Yet, some pipes have such unusual shapes that they seem to have been picked straight from the garden, from one of the pots that line the swimming pool. Others look as if they had emerged from the wind battling with fire. Yet others give the impression of time slowing down into a block of wood. So different from Axel’s creative process and daily life that if it were not for Axel’s moustache curling up at both ends, which Axel rolls between thumb and forefinger when he is not smoking a pipe, you could think it highly unlikely that Axel and his pipes had any connection. Rainer Barbi, his mentor, had already understood this, and Axel says that he owes everything to this master craftsman, without whom he could never have become a proficient pipe maker.
There may be a hint of the master in his approach, too. Indeed, at the end of a lesson Barbi would never allow anyone to touch anything in the workshop, and he would send the pupils home to practice what they had learnt in class. This is the miracle of the German school, transforming a sense of rigour into fluidity, hardness into softness. Of course, Axel only speaks German, representing thought through harsh consonants to express his life and artistry, while the softer English sounds are left to his daughter, who is responsible for public relations. In the same way the innovative soft, undulating lines of his pipes emerge from the solid briar wood crafted with precise, expert hands.
Special thanks to Mr. Axel Reichert for his precious contribution
Milano, February 2013