It was a dog bite that started it all, when I was almost three years old it was a very traumatic experience for me. With my mother I was on the way to a bank, she gave in to my begging to be allowed to wait outside - a dog on a leash attracted me magically. My mother still warned me not to get too close to the dog, but as soon as she turned her back on me I fell around his neck. The animal bit powerfully - in my left cheek. Half of the cheek was hanging down, I was screaming strong, when my mother came running, some bank clerks in tow. I don't remember exactly what happened after that. Only that I was hospitalized and the wound was sewn.
Whenever I was later asked about my scar, I stiffly and firmly claimed to have been bitten by a doctor. Pretty crazy, I know! My father saw my chances of getting married sometime and seriously considered increasing my dowry. This did not happen, but the pet owner had to deposit a decent amount in a savings account - for any cosmetic surgery.
When I was 16, the hub was still clearly visible on my cheek, my parents considered this step. That was out of question for me, but I let myself be persuaded to one thing: my pediatrician at the time should examine my scar thoroughly. He prescribed an ointment with a high percentage of natural wool wax for me to mix in the pharmacy. I massaged my left cheek twice a day, it took time to heal the scar. Like many pubescent teenagers, I had acne, amazingly the pustules bloomed significantly less on the left side than on the right. That motivated me to follow the recipe and to put together my own ointment with the help of the pharmacist. This was my first cream - it soon became popular with my friends. That was around 1977/1978. At that time it was called thyme skin cream (which today is the sage cream in almost unchanged form). So this terrible childhood experience turned the starting into a very fulfilling job for me. And the scar? Yes, it did go away over time (almost when I laugh you can see that I have two dimples on the left and only one on the right). Wool wax became one of the most valuable ingredients in the distinctive creams of my natural cosmetics and is still an important component in the treatment of scars, even under the name lanolin.
I have always strived to extract essences from a medicinal plant without side effects - I have gained valuable experience in countless interesting experiments. Today I don't really know how I came up with certain things, but I often got up early and the idea was there. Over the years, a special process has emerged to produce plant extracts: by distilling, calcining and solutions, I gained the precious plant salts and was really proud of my "invention", because the effectiveness of the products increased enormously through these extracts, while the harmful side effects dropped from highly potent medicinal plants. It occurred to me to patent this process. The effort and costs for such a patenting process exceeded all expectations, so I pushed the implementation ahead of me. One day Susanne Fischer Rizzi, the well-known aroma therapist, visited me. She was a co-founder of the Primavera company, around the time when I started my natural cosmetics company. We talked about medicinal plants and extracts, and when she asked me about the secret of their extraction, I told her my method of making plant salts, after all, we were good friends. She got big ears and clapped her hands enthusiastically: "Martina, that's spagyric what you're doing!" she exclaimed. I looked at her in amazement. "I beg your pardon?" I said, "My procedure already exists and even has a name?" She explained to me that this was invented more than 8,000 years ago in the Middle East. With that, my own patent was no longer necessary. But at least now I knew what to look for to expand my knowledge of spagyric.
It was February 1986: I had just successfully completed my architecture studies and had to make a decision: either continue to make money with my cosmetics or, as my parents wished, try to find a job in an architecture firm.
It was probably the only time in my career that I struggled with one decision: I had built up my cosmetics line as a mail order business for years - from time to time I was present at Christmas or summer markets, enthusiastic customers brought me a lot of joy and recognition. The most important thing was: I worked with my own creation. Executing other people's ideas in an architectural firm didn't seem particularly appealing to me, but it would guarantee a secure income and reassure my parents. What to do? In order to make my decision easier, I decided to present my products at a trade fair first: if I were to be successful, I would continue, if not, work as an architect.
A Munich health fair in April 1986 was the decisive factor: I had really weak knees to register for such a large exhibition, but I calmed down that it would not be much different than at one of the Christmas markets.
So there I was: with my fold-out wallpapering table and a white bed sheet over it. In the middle I draped a vase with freshly apple blossom branches. A dream of a bouquet that properly upgraded this completely unprofessional stand among all the glossy "plastic stalls". Whenever I think back to this fair today, I see this bouquet and feel that it was a sign in advance that something very special should be brought to bloom at this stand.
The fallout in Chernobyl had shaken the world three days earlier, and we in Bavaria were particularly badly affected. Announcements were heard repeatedly while the stand was being set up: a kind of special exhibition in the entrance area presented products that are said to help against radioactive radiation. It was very surprising how many exhibitors were involved, and the space was packed in no time.
The fair opened and my booth with the magical apple blossom branches attracted many visitors. Including a journalist from the magazine Natur. Actually, she just wanted to sniff the flowers, but then she got stuck on my jars.
She asked me why my ginseng products could not be found at the special exhibition. She saw ginseng tea there, which the exhibitors claimed could help. It was new to me (and also the journalist) that ginseng could have a therapeutic effect against radioactivity, we were both amazed at all the supposed knowledge - nobody had experience, this fallout was something completely new for everyone. She apparently liked my honesty, at least she took her time and I explained my products to her. She was thrilled by the fact that I do not use any preservatives and make them after the moon has passed, in order to naturally influence their durability. She promised to interview me for an article on the harmfulness of preservatives in cosmetics. And indeed: after the fair, she came with a larger order: she should test about 20 more, more conventional, but very well-known brands for preservatives. The result was overwhelmingly good for my products, and so was their detailed article. After it was published in the summer of 1986, a flood of inquiries came to me, especially the health food shops that were springing up at the time wanted to order my products. The decision was made as to whether I would make cosmetics or architecture in the future. Later I was even able to afford my own architectural office and only had to take on the jobs that I really enjoyed - if my time allowed.
Until 1989 we worked with simple, black and white Zweckform address labels. Not only our product name adorned the label, but also the sketch of a rose or sage plant, depending on which product it was. At some point my neighbor came over to me with a funny suggestion: could not her three children put some color on the labels and color the flowers with crayons? They would like to do that for a little extra pocket money. I liked the idea, but first I asked the neighbor not to hang her on the big bell: child labor puts the client in jail faster than he likes ...
So the three plugs were soon at the door, dragged the brightly painted bows a little later and took new ones with them. With rapidly increasing orders, the need for labels also increased, and I was more and more amazed at how the children actually got on with their work. One day I wanted to reward them for their hard work: I promised them an invitation to ice cream the next time they brought the labels. A week later the doorbell rang, a crowd of 20 children stood outside and waved the painted works of art!
I was amazed. Where did they all come from? An employee in the next town had to find the ice, we could not have met the need. After the clever under-trade of the three painting talents came to light, they soon got rid of their job. I was a little queasy, because of the child labor and so many other people. A little later we got decent labels made in the printing house.
Not long after Chernobyl, and thus also after my great trade fair success, I looked around for larger production rooms and found them in a small town with perhaps 700 inhabitants in the Bavarian district of Landsberg. It was not without pride that I inaugurated my first filling machine there and hired my first employees.
The trade office soon called to check that everything was right. The officer, with his scrutiny, seemed satisfied and also in a good mood: he told me about one competition in the district: and it was hard to believe, but true, in the same small place as I was. It is an entrepreneur with a natural cosmetics company who has just invested heavily. Nobody in town apparently knew about it. Of course I was curious, I got the address and phone number of my competitor from the officer. He and his company sat inconspicuously in a former beer warehouse at the other end of the town. I called him and immediately got an invitation. And who is there to welcome me in the office next to the beer hall? An Indian with a turban, who speaks German like a wheel and receives me with French champagne.
I was very impressed by its equipment: there were highly professional, brand new filling lines, the glass bottles were waiting in line for their filling, everything sparkling clean. I was amazed that nobody worked there and was told that production only takes place about once a month. "Du Gebhardt" he kept saying when he started a sentence. He had brought a hair product recipe from the Himalayas with him, and the necessary vegetable raw materials in his warehouse were perfect. To demonstrate the quality, he took off his turban. The hair below it reached his knee.
Talking shop we spent a nice afternoon, goodbye to my host good luck. The phone rang a week later: my Indian called excitedly and asked for help. What happened? He had an order, but unfortunately he didn't know how his filling machines worked. He wanted to know if he was allowed to fill up with me. I invited him, even with me there are days when there is nothing going on in the laboratory, depending on how the moon runs.
He showed up in person, wearing a turban and caftan, and bottled his hair with me. I helped him, he in turn occasionally helped me out with raw materials, for example when the olive oil hadn't arrived in time. We just had a lot of fun together: An Indian as the only competitor in a tiny urban picture-book town, who would have thought that!
In 1990 a company placed our first order to develop and manufacture our own cosmetic series. A great challenge! The pick-up date of the shipping company was already on our backs, so we had to do everything we could to be ready on time. It was the first time that we got a full pallet with one delivery, but we didn't know the technique of how the pallet should be stacked and sealed correctly!
We only had an hour to pick up and just as long to deal with the packaging problems! We also did not know how high and how heavy a load on the pallet could be, consequently the accident took its course. Unfortunately, the anteroom for the production and packing warehouse was not yet concreted and consisted of pounded clay.
The pallet truck that was supposed to move the pallet pushed itself deeply into the clay soil under the weight. Outside on the street, the guys from the shipping company were waiting impatiently. We sweat and swear until the farmer from opposite us finally offers to lift the heavy part out of the anteroom with the front loader. Unfortunately, the access was on a busy street and also in a confusing curve. When the tractor turned to lift the pallet onto the truck bed, the tower of the extremely poorly welded pallet crashed directly onto the road. The glass bottles, square and therefore very fragile, shattered almost all of them, and together with the broken cream pots, a gigantic smear formed on the street soaked in the hot sun. I no longer know how much time it took to divert traffic and remove the street grease, but that was a lesson to us: first of all I did a course in pallet packing!
In connection with my New Zealand organic wool wax project, I ran a small acreage on the South Sea island of Samoa. It was strategically located - as a stopover on my flight to New Zealand. The locals made a natural maceration (heat extraction in the sun) of flowers, herbs and roots from coconut oil, resulting in a wonderfully fragrant oil. I was often there when they were singing and doing their work with great dedication. After pressing, they put the plant parts in glass bottles and dig them to ripen in the warm sand on the beach - so that the extract could slowly soak into the coconut oil.
At that time I decided to create my own cream with this extract, it should be called Samoa Cream. I placed orders with a contact person on the island and paid in advance. The person sent the oil to Germany reliably. It went like this for about two years, then I flew there again. The island women who were allowed to make this oil for me were proud and happy about it, and when I came here for the second time, they welcomed me with a big party at which they prepared an "umu" (the earth becomes overnight a pig cooked with hot lava stones). At some point, however, no more deliveries arrived in Germany. For six months I tried to contact my Samoa contact without success! One evening, around half past ten, I was already in bed, the doorbell rang at the door (at that time I had my private apartment directly above the company). I opened and faced a tall, dark-skinned man, a pretty irritating sight in the middle of the night. I was close to closing the door when I saw a taxi waiting behind him. The man told me in a Mishmash English that he had a shipment from Samoa and whether I was the German cosmetics woman.
I followed him curiously to the taxi, about 20 one-liter Coca-Cola bottles were waiting for their release in the trunk, filled with the valuable blossom coconut oil. The man made it clear to me that his brother, who had been my supplier, had died. He himself had not known how such a delivery would take place, so he had collected money for a flight all over the village so that he could hand over the delivery, which had already been paid in advance. The tears were in my eyes, at least I wanted to share in the "delivery costs".
He refused to accept any money, not even the taxi that had taken him from the airport in an hour and a half to be refunded. The next morning he flew back, and since then I haven't dared to order in Samoa. Finally, there are fears that the village will go broke on my account. On my next visit I took generous gifts with me - unfortunately I had to take the Samoa cream off the market.
As a manufacturer of natural cosmetics, I was, of course, against animal testing and the use of animal raw materials right from the start and also one of the first members of the animal protection association. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had advertised this fact in all of my brochures. At that time, the IHTK (International Manufacturers Association for Natural Cosmetics without Animal Additives) did not yet exist, the German animal welfare association took over the contractual regulations. At the time, I had not only cosmetics in my range, but also accessories such as hair brushes and cosmetic mirrors made from fruit woods or natural bath sponges. One day a customer called angrily and accused us of breaking the contract with the guidelines of the animal welfare association. I vigorously defended myself. How dare she say that, I asked her that I was 150 percent under control.
"They sell natural bath sponges from the sea," she called angrily on the phone. "Well, that's good," I said, not understanding her problem. "These are animals," she cried. "Never," I replied, "someone has tied up a bear for you, animals move freely and sponges have grown on the sea floor like other plants." We declared each other crazy, and in the end I hung up. However, I was itchy to follow up on their claims, and later I had to admit sheepishly that sponges are actually animals. I wrote her a conciliatory letter ... the customer still buys from us today, but our dry range had come to an end with this dispute.
At the beginning of the nineties, we had just moved to our new premises in Rott-Pessenhausen, I offered Erika, who had been with me in production for many years, the position of "production management". She was the ideal employee. Never sick, always reliable, super accurate, popular with the laboratory team. She endured the worst stress without being seen. Finally I was able to drive away with the knowledge that everything will go well!
After four years of additional work as an architect and construction worker in the renovation of my over 800 year old farm, now was the time to exhale. An ideal timing to get pregnant. After the result was clear, I took a 4-month "break" and visited all of my raw material projects worldwide.
I didn't want the baby or toddler to endure such strenuous journeys. Shortly before my departure, I was at the end of the third month, I confessed the pregnancy to my employees. Everyone was happy, thought that this was the best possible time for me, or better: high time, since I was already 36. Only Erika looked a little pale at this message and entered - I quickly found out that she was pregnant in the second month.
Well, she shouldn't be worried, we'll swing that left! I thought and maybe said it too. The day after Erika went on statutory maternity leave, my son was born by caesarean section. I was in the hospital for a week. Production was at a standstill, another week, I couldn't even think about running. When the third week came and we hardly had any more goods in stock, I dragged myself to the laboratory with all sorts of supports wrapped around my stomach. My son slept in the stroller in front of the laboratory door. I used to mock about these employer-unfriendly maternity protection measures, and now I was able to experience firsthand how it feels for a mother. As a boss, you just have a fresh operation in the laboratory, even though it was really hard! How good maternity leave would have been for me and my son. Luckily Erika had a spontaneous birth, and as a motivated employee she was soon back in the laboratory. I always like to tell this story when an employee complains.
My son's father owned a house in the United States - in the Wild West, so to speak, high in the mountains. We spent our vacation there once a year. The place seemed ideal to me for the cultivation of medicinal plants, those from organic cultivation were still difficult to obtain at that time. Without further ado I decided to buy a neighboring farm - a gut decision. Later I often wondered what I was thinking of shopping in the land of the Mormons and Cowboys.
The 50 hectares were and are mainly pasture land, in the region the "cattle" is practiced (calves are marked with branding iron, cows are caught by horse with the lasso). My idea of growing herbs, on top of that "organic", made Mormons and cowboys laugh.
But there are nice, helpful people out there in the vastness of the West and I followed their advice to leave the pastures to graze for the animals instead of plowing them up for growing herbs. The country was originally desert sand, nothing would have grown on it anyway. So I involuntarily became a cowherd on my farm, only the edges of the pasture I used for growing herbs. Since I was certified organic, it was also the cows, to the hearty laughter of my neighbors.
Of course, I had never owned a herd of cows before, but it's basically difficult for me to do what everyone else does. My favorite thing to do was "Everything Different from the Others" (the four A's with which, as marketing strategists say, you do everything right.) I didn't let my cows be vaccinated, instead they grew their horns and put them on the bulls with them Pasture. I even released an Angus bull on my Hereford cows. Next to it, my neighboring cowboys said with amusement. But I was proud of my bull and felt that the bull was proud of his 20 head harem. A nice little herd flinched over the pastures - about 40 cows and young cattle. Once a year they were rounded up and the young animals put up for auction, crammed into a large coral. There the cool cowboys sat with the beer can on the wooden borders and pondered about their most beautiful cattle and who would probably win the best price this time. Unbelievable, but true: I got it, true to the saying: "The stupidest farmers harvest the largest potatoes", a wisdom unknown in the USA. "Gentlemen," I can only say there was something going on. But cowboys can also be gentlemen, and soon we were able to look forward to fruitful cooperation and neighborhood. That was in 1998. I hardly made any money with my cows, at that time there was no market for organic meat. However, I did not make any special efforts, because the herd was primarily there not to let the pasture be used up. I was able to use the manure for the growing herb cultivation very well.
When the so-called mad cow disease became popular in the USA in 2001, the tide turned. Within a few months people only wanted organic meat and I was able to sell my cows four times as much. The neighboring rancher now wanted to learn from me how to "go organic" - since then they have also known how to do it in Utah. I was less fortunate to grow herbs. Exceptions were and are the native plants that are highly valued by the Indians. So I redesigned and only harvested herbs like this. This gave rise to the Wild Utah men's series, which is still my personal favorite product today - even though I actually developed it for men's skin.
I think it was spring 2003. I was sitting on my farm in Utah with two German friends when the phone rang. An employee of my company excitedly called the receiver. At first I didn't understand her, prepared for the worst, I asked her to start over and speak slowly. She said almost spelling: "Nicole Kidman uses our cosmetics". Almost a bit annoyed, I ask, "Who is Nicole Kidman?" I almost had to keep my ear open, a deafening screech from my friends from the corner of the sofa mixed with that of my colleague at the other end of the line: "Waaaaaas, you don't know who Nicole Kidman is?" sounded it.
I squatted pretty helplessly there and had to be instructed. Admittedly, I was never particularly good at actor names. Except maybe Julia Roberts - one of my favorite films is Pretty Woman - and I hardly knew Richard Gere. I had it explained to me and at the next opportunity I drove into the city to get a picture of Nicole Kidman from a video. My colleague reported that she had been made aware of this by an article in a women's magazine that also mentioned our camellia seed oil used by Ms. Kidman. Unfortunately, we were never allowed to exploit this little sensation in advertising, an advertising contract with the star would have been unaffordable. We were of course allowed to show the magazine with the corresponding page to our customers - we bought up the entire stock of this issue.
My son was now in elementary school in Utah, which forced me to stay over there for a long time. Growing up bilingually was good for his development, and more importantly, I felt - he lived in a natural environment on a farm.
The animal population had expanded to include horses, goats, chickens, llamas, donkeys and a pig. And what a pig! One who thought he was a horse and therefore trotted around in the pasture with the horses. My son Michael and the pig became close friends, we called it Scratchy and it accompanied him to the school bus stop every morning. Then it trotted back home, running around with the horses again to pick him up from the bus stop on time when Michael came back from school. Michael trained the pig and got it used to a small pony saddle so that he could ride on it. On his birthday we had invited the children from the village, Michael was riding his pig and was literally a hit. Of course, all children wanted to do the same to him, they even argued about who was allowed to ride in the saddle first. The girls, shiny in their white Mormom dresses, didn't want to be inferior to the boys in pig riding. The mothers had long since pulled out their cameras and video cameras, but Scratchy soon had enough of the spectacle and when two girls swung onto his back, Scratchy ran into the middle of the wall, a loamy puddle that we used as sun protection for the sensitive, rosy pork skin. With the girls dressed in white on their backs, Scratchy landed in the mud. It was the first "Black Mud" face pack that the girls were given in their lives.
The editor of a well-known women's magazine had written a long article about my work and me, which she emailed me to the United States for approval. I was not at all satisfied with the photo, so I offered
that my friend, a professional photographer, should photograph me in the pasture of the farm, where the animals grazed peacefully. The matter was racy, the picture should be available to the editorial team the next morning. We did our best, I was trampling around in all sorts of poses when suddenly the donkeys joined us. They are always very curious and obviously they smelled pieces of sugar in my hand. I didn't have them, but I fooled around with them. My friend continued to shoot hard, also for the family album. Later I looked through the material - there were about 1000 pictures.
For a short selection I wrote down the identification numbers of the material, reloaded these pictures for viewing on the computer and made my decision. It looked perfect: I was dynamic, young, as a woman likes to be shown in a magazine. I noted the identification number, clicked it on my email as an attachment, and the picture was gone.
A month later, I had just returned to Germany, the issue with the article fluttered onto my desk. Full of anticipation, I opened the booklet and thought I couldn't see properly! Me, almost full-page with my donkey - and we both lick each other tenderly! I had mixed up the picture and nobody had said anything! I immediately complained to the editor. She cheerfully said that it was one of the best pictures they ever had and she congratulated me on my courage. She couldn't imagine that this photo was due to an accident on my part! Since then, I have been more careful with attachments to an email, checking again exactly what I am sending.
I think it was 1983 when I used my expertise as an aspiring architect in a Waldorf kindergarten to help expand the roof - a time-consuming project and I just had the semester break to get it done. Waldorf schools and kindergartens are financed by donations and the active help of parents.
I had no child yet and nothing to donate other than a little free time. But I was in love with one of the members of the facility, so I tried really hard to build something decent. After the semester break, I only had the weekends for the renovations. Because there was a shortage of donations, I even let myself be persuaded to build the windows myself. An also anthroposophically oriented carpenter helped. These windows were delivered to be installed on a weekend of all days, when I exhibited my cosmetics at a biodynamic Thanksgiving market. I always had to leave my stand in my most beautiful summer dress and help with the installation of the windows.
When I came back in between, a mother had dipped her finger fully in the cinnamon and carrot cream, one of my products, which was kept in large earthenware jars. She let her child lick it, thought my cosmetics were baby food. After the first horror, I was able to calm her down, as all the ingredients in my cosmetics were edible (and still are today).