Shmuel Shapira discovered his calling to be a master hatmaker
later in his life. Although he has been practising this art for over ten years now in his Biedermeier-workshop,
which has been there since the times of the
Austro-Hungarian empire, he originally came
from Jerusalem. There he received a completely different kind of
education in a yeshivah, a higher school for Jewish studies. But his
talent for arts and crafts was discovered already at the yeshivah,
where he repaired valuable old leather-bound books.
When he came to Vienna, almost 25 years ago, he did not even dream
of handmade hats. He earned a living by being a “mashgiach”, a
supervisor at different food-production plants. It was his job to
make sure that the products would conform to the high standards and
strict rules of kosher food-production. He also had to visit the
stables of different Austrian farmers or the halls of small dairies,
who supplied milk-products to the orthodox Viennese Jews.
Fate led him to the profession of the hatter. He wanted to have his
own big, black “shabbes-hat” made over and cleaned, so someone sent
him to the Mariahilfer Strasse, to a company called Szaszi-Hats. At
that time master Caletka was the owner of the firm, one of the last
and the best master-hatter of Vienna. Mr. Shapira had a look around
the gloomy, old-fashioned workshop and was entranced by what he saw.
The old master also liked the curious young man. He had no heir and
although he had been searching diligently for years, master Caletka
had not yet found someone to follow in his footsteps. Now an
apprentice had walked right through his door! So step by step he
taught the young man all the secrets of producing a masterful
handmade hat. When the old master was suddenly incapacitated by a
stroke, he handed the workshop over to his gifted pupil.
Mr. Shapira passed all necessary tests to be a master hatter at the
Viennese institute of economy and remembers how helpful the
institute was. As his German was not yet very fluent, he was allowed
to answer all the questions in his language, which was then
translated into German. Since then he has been working every day in
his old-fashioned, cosy workshop, always busy with customers,
visitors and suppliers. His work is only ever interrupted by his
regular daily prayers.
Shmuel Shapira, the magician of the special hat very seldom works
for ladies. He leaves that to the modistes and specializes in
elegant gentlemen´s hats. He would also like to ask all ladies who
come to his workshop with their partners, to forgive him, if he does
not shake their hand. This is not meant as a personal insult or a
gesture of anti-feminism-orthodox Jews do extend heartfelt greetings
to ladies, but for religious reasons can not shake their hands.