Köhlern – a method of charcoal production in Entlebuch


Category:
Traditional craftsmanship
  • Knowledge concerning nature
Canton:

Description

'Köhlern' is a method of burning wood in a kiln to produce charcoal. The agricultural community Romoos in the Lucerne municipality of Entlebuch is home to Switzerland's last remaining charcoal producers who practise this craft professionally as a source of additional income. In the hilly Napfbergland region, the tradition of charcoal production goes back many centuries. Logging was impossible because the forests long remained inaccessible by road, so the local population concentrated on charcoal production instead. In the Romoos community alone, evidence has been found of over 200 historical charcoal production sites. The most laborious part of the process is setting up and preparing a kiln in the open air. Layers of scrap wood are stacked to create a pile some four metres high and ten metres wide. After being lit, the kiln continues to burn for around two weeks under the constant supervision of the charcoal maker. The final step is the exhausting process of extracting the charcoal. The Romoos charcoal makers produce some 100 tonnes of charcoal per year using this method. Until the 1980s, their charcoal was purchased by the steel industry. Since the decline in this sector, the charcoal makers have concentrated on the market for barbecue coals.

Image gallery

  • Constructing the charcoal pile – work on the shaft ("Füllihus") at the centre of the charcoal production site, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The floor grate forms the foundation of the pile, while the "Füllibaum" (filling tree) rises up at the centre of the construction, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • A charcoal producer applying the Löschi (granulated carbon) to insulate the pile. At the top the covering of Reisig (branches of fir trees) is visible, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Steam escaping from the burning pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The charcoal producer regulates the ongoing charring process by poking air holes in the pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Every few hours, the charcoal producer 'feeds' the pile by throwing in glowing coal embers, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The charcoal producers extract up to six tons of barbecue charcoal from the burnt-out pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Passed down through the generations: charcoal producer Anton Häfliger from the Schnürhüsli in Romoos, around 1895 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Romoos charcoal producers Josef Häfliger and Franz Koch in front of a charcoal pile during the Second World War © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Constructing the charcoal pile – work on the shaft ("Füllihus") at the centre of the charcoal production site, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The floor grate forms the foundation of the pile, while the "Füllibaum" (filling tree) rises up at the centre of the construction, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • A charcoal producer applying the Löschi (granulated carbon) to insulate the pile. At the top the covering of Reisig (branches of fir trees) is visible, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Steam escaping from the burning pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The charcoal producer regulates the ongoing charring process by poking air holes in the pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Every few hours, the charcoal producer 'feeds' the pile by throwing in glowing coal embers, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • The charcoal producers extract up to six tons of barbecue charcoal from the burnt-out pile, between 1980 and 2005 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Passed down through the generations: charcoal producer Anton Häfliger from the Schnürhüsli in Romoos, around 1895 © Paul Duss, Romoos
  • Romoos charcoal producers Josef Häfliger and Franz Koch in front of a charcoal pile during the Second World War © Paul Duss, Romoos

References and documentation

Publications
  • Michael Arnold: Die Meilerköhlerei in den Wäldern der Luzerner Napfgemeinde Romoos. Entwicklung einer fortswirtschaftlichen Nebennutzung im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Diplomarbeit am Geographischen Institut der Universität Zürich, 1982

  • Josef Duss: Holzköhlerei am Cholfirst. Ed. Schmiedezunft Eligius. Schlatt, 1978

  • Paul Duss: Holzköhlerei in Romoos. Romoos, 2008

  • Anne-Marie Dubler: Köhlerei. In: Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz. Bern, 2008 (www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/textes/d/D14031.php)

Documentation