THE JACK OF ALL TRADES
What does a lightly dressed Rennsteig hiker passing through Tambach-Dietharz do when it rains? He rings the bell of the Kraft family and stays forever. In the long version of the story, Ralf Kraft entered the outdoor events center on Schmalkalder Straße and came out the back door three three days later dressed in full freeclimber gear with breakfast in his belly, a husky puppy under his arm and his musher's license in his pocket, only to ask himself: Why? Well it turns out he didn’t really want to leave the small town on the northern slopes of the Thuringian Forest. What sounds like the plot in one of Ralf Kraft's fairy-tale books just might have actually happened in the nine years since the jack-of-all-trades bought the former Konsum department store and converted it into a shopping paradise for dog supplies and hiking equipment with a guesthouse, café and animal physiotherapy practice.
Everything we do as a family is also preparation for what will come in 10 or 15 years.
“I now have two strong wild ones here, a harmless one and a big calm one,” Ralf says this morning with the joyful face of a child who sets off for a romp in the woods after finishing his homework. But work is just beginning for the 53-year-old. “You can always pick and choose which personality suits you at the moment,” he continues as he packs three of his 20 domestic and farm huskies into the trailer and one, the harmless one, into his van for a little jaunt up the mountain. What Ralf is talking about, of course, are the dogs, but he could just as well be talking about himself. The Erfurt native has actually done just about every job there is since his apprenticeship as a toolmaker in the metalworks known as the “screw” in Tambach-Dietharz. “Everything we do as a family is also preparation for what will come in 10 or 15 years,” says Ralf, with a new route for the sled dog hike in mind and the third children's book for the local hospice in his head. “At some point, these will all be retired dogs who won't be able to pull a sled anymore, not to mention me,” he says. “That's why there's always this unwritten business plan.”
At some point, these will all be retired dogs who won’t be able to pull a sled anymore, not to mention me.
Listening to Ralf, it seems he has always been blessed with the gift of foresight. Even at the young age of 16, to Ralf the GDR seemed full of plans and possibilities. “Getting away from the stressful city felt like winning the lottery,” he recalls of his move to the town of 4,000, where he came to know and love not only his wife, Christina, but also every meter of altitude. “I always knew I wanted to go to the Thuringian Forest.” Ralf also wanted to become a tailor. That was in the late 1980s. And even though Ralf is a rather restless soul, there came a point for pause and change, which, like the metalworks or the department store, is part of almost every story in Tambach-Dietharz. The German reunification was rough. But Ralf Kraft doesn't ever do things halfway - not on the sled and not in life. So he “made his way over to Wuppertal the night the Wall fell” and then spent five years “in finance, because the tailoring profession was no longer so blessed with riches in the free market economy.” And finally, “it’s the things you do in life.” He opened three galleries in Thuringia, painting as a freelance artist, for 15 years - always in preparation for what was yet to come.