Meet Your Merchant: Glass blower continues family legacy
TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212; It was built to keep the Fascist West out, not to keep them in.This is what they had said to him. It definitely wasn’t what he saw, however. What he saw were migrants doing anything they could to get out. Some would try ladders. Some would try parasailing andamp;#8212; whatever was necessary to get over the concrete wall.The year was 1974, East Germany was a very different place, and Frank Rossbach was only 19. He had emigrated to the United States in 1958 at the age of 3 with his family, but he returned years later to East Germany to learn his family’s trade of glass blowing, practiced by the Rossbachs for more than 300 years.andamp;#8220;When I was there it was very gray and brown and they still had a lot of the Russian soldiers who would check the trains I went on,andamp;#8221; Rossbach said. andamp;#8220;My Dad told me don’t talk politics because that can get you in jail real quick.andamp;#8221;It was an apprenticeship he’d never forget, said Rossbach, who owns Glasforms in downtown Truckee. At the time, he said he missed his girlfriend and all the typical luxuries of American life. Now, looking back on the experience, Rossbach said it laid the foundation for his future career andamp;#8212; in addition to some other perks.andamp;#8220;One big thing was that I could drink beer,andamp;#8221; he said with a laugh andamp;#8212; Rossbach enjoyed Germany’s more liberal drinking age at the time.But work was there too. Rossbach said he remembers working with a variety of artisans, hours spent with a torch, burning and crafting glass into art pieces and thermometers. And when there was free time listening to western broadcasts in Berlin of rock stars like Led Zeppelin, the music palpitating from secret radios East Germans had hidden in attics.At night, he said he remembered listening to local rock bands, teenagers mostly, trying to imitate American pop favorites, belting out cover tracks with lyrics gleaned from radio fizzle.andamp;#8220;They totally screwed them up,andamp;#8221; said Rossbach with a chuckle. andamp;#8220;They had these rock ‘n’ roll bands and I couldn’t stop laughing. The sh– they got wrong from listening to the English radio.andamp;#8221;Rossbach relates his nostalgic memories while at his desk in Truckee, blow torch in one hand and hundreds of vibrant glass rods spread before him. At the moment he’s crafting a frog for a customer out of a rod the color of an emerald.Beyond frogs, Rossbach has blue fish, a neon chair lift, motorcycles, chess pieces, dragons, eagles, butterflies, sharks, ships in bottles, plates and wine glasses, a seemingly endless array of transparent sculpture.Customers come in and out. They are tourists, but locals too: A woman brings in her father’s wine glass for repair options; a blonde-haired man with a thick accent andamp;#8212; later, ironically, found to be from Hamburg, Germany andamp;#8212; requests glass for a science project; more tourists wander in and out.All the while, the customer waits for his frog, a replacement after his previous one broke.andamp;#8220;Every day is a challenge with different people,andamp;#8221; Rossbach said. andamp;#8220;I do a lot of custom work andamp;#8212; people have me make wedding cake tops. I do a lot of those, firemen holding their brides, a lot of stuff like that.andamp;#8221;Glasforms has been in business, first in Incline Village and then in Truckee, since 1985. Rossbach said his business has moved a lot around Truckee because of the high rents in downtown, but this hasn’t stopped locals from finding him.andamp;#8220;Business is still back and forth to this day, even though I’ve been doing this for 30 years. You’re never sure with recessions and things like that,andamp;#8221; Rossbach said.Yet, Rossbach said an advantage to his job is he loves it, and there is no need to retire. Proof of that is his father, Gerhard Rossbach, who still is making glass at age 84.Rossbach said he also enjoys sharing some of his family’s glass-blowing secrets with kids who want to learn the craft. He has them make glass ornaments and allows them to experiment with the glass much in the same way his father taught him.andamp;#8220;It makes me feel old andamp;#8212; like I’m giving something back,andamp;#8221; Rossbach said.