Along a street mostly unchanged since the 1700s in Dresden, a small nook is occupied by the most beautiful milk shop in the world. It was entered into the Guinness Book of Records in 1997.
And the name of that milk shop is Pfunds Molkerei.
Its beauty has endured hell—surviving two world wars, Soviet military occupation, closure, and near destruction. But survive it did. And boy, has it got a story to tell.
Today, you can still walk inside and find yourself weak-kneed from what Pfunds Molkerei is most famous for—besides its quality dairy products—that is its interior: exquisitely decorated with colorful neo-Renaissance style wall and ceiling tiles, produced by Villeroy & Boch.
These ceramics are decked out with cherubs, playing children, classical garlands and wreaths, woodland animals like squirrels and butterflies, and, fittingly for a dairy shop, cows throughout. There is an exquisite counter with brass and tile paneling to match.
You can sample its famous cheeses, treat yourself to flavorful ice cream, or enjoy a tall glass of their wholesome, fresh milk. They have myriad other products, with a specialty store next door selling bratwurst, soup, and hearty, peppery German mustard.
But beyond its beauty, this fanciful store has a riveting history.
It's truly a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders, the Pfund family, who established it in 1880 amid Dresden's industrialization.
Cities grew, and founder Paul Pfund found the simplest hygiene rules were not being followed. Milk arrived contaminated, sour, or even watered down.
To improve the lives of Dresdeners, he started a dairy sanatorium, providing quality milk, and the company flourished. It expanded by opening its main shop on Bautzner Street, in the Outer New Town, where it is now.
Trained as an economist, or farmer to Germans at the time, Paul Pfund and his brother Friedrich Pfund, a celebrated actor, together saw the business' prestige increase.
The enterprise widened its scope in leaps and bounds, diversifying product lines as distribution networks grew denser. They obtained a butter press and a milk separator. Condensed milk production marked the start of Pfunds's success abroad.
Initially serving just 500 liters a day, by 1895 that had increased to 40,000 liters.
So they wouldn’t have to rely on other trades, they bred their own animals; they set up their own cardboard box factory, print shop, shoe forge, paint shop, and tailoring and laundry facilities for employee uniforms.
The company blazed a trail in taking care of its people. They introduced their own insurance for health and maternity and staff subsidies. They ensured employees who worked 25 years who retired at 65 were paid benefits for life.
Calamity lay ahead though—World War II in particular all but leveled the city of Dresden. Most amazingly, Pfunds Molkerei survived the aerial bombing and inferno in February 1945.
Then, as East Germany fell into Soviet hands in the post-war era, Pfunds Molkerei faced a tyrannical communist military regime that threatened confiscation of the business by the state.
The shop owners held the regime off for a time, until it was mandatorily expropriated in 1972 and closed in 1978. Those beautiful, classical tiles did not suit well the socialist aesthetic.
A lack of maintenance led to large parts of the business being demolished. Yet the handsome salesroom with its mythical creatures, angels, and décor survived.
The owners had done well by calling the Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments, leading to a preservation order being placed on the store, protecting it.
Finally, with the fall of the Soviets the heirs of the business regained ownership in 1990. Though they had to relinquish management to a Dresden businessman, Pfunds Molkerei is still running after nearly 150 years.
Amazingly, only 5 percent of the tiles needed renewing. The rest are all original. Villeroy & Boch, still operating, furnished new tiles to match the old décor.
The milk enterprise that once ran a vast chain and production facilities now contracts out to regional farms.
Yet you can still enter and marvel at its colorful tiles, adorned with charming, gorgeous Renaissance designs, and sip a tall glass of wholesome, fresh milk.