Story and photos by Elaine Anne Watt
Every once in a while, you meet someone extraordinary who makes you want to stop and reflect on life and everything around you. Dieter Rausch, the dapper gentleman behind The Christmas Sleigh shop in the heart of Middleburg, will capture a piece of your heart with his kind smile and warm welcome. Spend a few minutes in conversation with him, and you can easily see why he is a beloved member of our community.
How did a man born in tiny Unterliederbach outside of the greater Frankfurt region of Germany end up in our midst after a successful thirty-year career as an architect there and having travelled all over the world?
Love. The story goes all the way back fifty-seven years to when a nine-year-old boy met Linda, the visiting granddaughter of his parents’ neighbor. He built for her a lovely decorated wooden box lined in navy velvet “to hold all the letters I will write to you while you are away.” They corresponded and visited over many more summers and then stayed in touch as adults independently pursuing their careers.
Seventeen years ago, they reconnected. Linda Tripp had “escaped” to the haven of Middleburg after being in the limelight for her pivotal role in the disclosure of President Clinton’s inappropriate behavior with Monica Lewinsky. Living in an adorable rental off of Atoka Road and beginning to rebuild her life, Linda invited Dieter to visit in November of 2000. He was delighted to see the beautiful landscape full of colorful leaves, the Shenandoah River and nearby mountains, the horses so much a part of his life back in Germany and the wonderful people he met everywhere. And, most of all, he was with Linda.
During his visit, they went to Williamsburg and saw two Christmas stores there. They were both surprised to see those stores carried almost exclusively lower-end merchandise instead of the beloved wooden and glass treasures they were accustomed to seeing in Germany. Linda told Dieter how much she loved the “magic” of Christmas. They returned to Middleburg, sat on the stone steps by the Red Fox Inn, and made the decision that would change their lives forever. Dieter would return to Germany, close up his extensive business projects, and join Linda in Middleburg.
Having shipped multiple containers of the finest garments, accessories, toys and Christmas décor that he could obtain, Dieter at last arrived in Middleburg the following fall, but still he had no location in which to open the store. The sad closing of a community fixture, Middleburg Hardware, gave them the opportunity they needed. Working feverishly to open before the holidays arrived, they spent the night before on the floor of the shop as the front door still did not close and lock completely. The store officially opened that November of 2001 and is thriving 16 years later despite some early skepticism. The store is one of if not the most visited store in Middleburg per the owners, being embraced for its singular merchandise and amazing selection of collectibles that are not easily found elsewhere.
When asked what he most loves about his work, Dieter smiles broadly and says: “Everything. I love walking in the door in the morning and locking up at night. I love the children, creating the magic. Telling them that I go to the North Pole some weekends and visit Santa and the reindeer.”
He feels honored that he has been a small part of the fabric of his customers lives, having watched the children grow up and being a part of their traditions and family pictures.
Dieter makes daily trips to the Post Office where he has many friends who have watched him build his successful web business and who help him send his wares all over the world. Taking only Christmas and Thanksgiving days off all year long to spend with his family, including seven grandchildren between the ages of two and twelve, you have a very good chance of running into him and sharing his joy. Thanksgiving morning is reserved for “riding through the beauty of The Plains” with his grandchildren, basking in his adopted homeland.
He rightfully is proud of the quality of his wares. He carries the same Alpine wear, après ski, and traditional clothes to be found in the upscale stores of Vail and Aspen, “with a much friendlier price tag.” In fact, just after Christmas you can find him in Salzburg, Austria, along with merchandisers from these companies purchasing for the year ahead.
With exquisite taste, he selects clothing from Luis Trenker of Italy, “one of the best makers of garments in the world,” and from Meindl, the top leather and suede creator in Germany. His eye for architecture has translated well into an eye for all sorts of goods including Erzgebirge KWO Smokermen, signed Steinbach nutcrackers, Christian Ulbricht handmade ornaments, German crystal and porcelain and a beautiful assortment of Nuernberger wax angels. Collector’s dolls, European doll prams, Hermann Teddy Bears and so much more await you, and fulfill the store’s slogan, “Come Experience the Magic.” If you are lucky, you might even see the store mascot, Tony, a German wire-haired pointer that accompanies Dieter wherever he goes.
New this year are the Wendt and Kuhn collection of music boxes and carved miniatures as well as a 250-piece premium wooden jigsaw puzzle which includes unique whimsical shaped pieces made exclusively for The Christmas Sleigh depicting an iconic Christmas in Middleburg parade scene.
When asked how he feels the day after Christmas, Dieter laughs and says: “Just the same, the same as before, the same after. I love my life, my wife, my family, my farm and my store. I have Yesica and Bryan [his employees]. Everyday just the same…I am so happy to be a part of this wonderful village of Middleburg.” ML
Visit The Christmas Sleigh, Inc., 5A East Washington Street, Middleburg, VA
Open 7 days 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Nov.-Dec. 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.; 540-687-3665