300 years of organ bulding tradition in the Rhön

Hey is an integral part of the more than 300 years successfully creating Rhoener organ building tradition. The tradition is based in organ building family Biehn, who ran a thriving business in the Fulda area in the 17th century. The roots of Hey Orgelbau can be found around 1715 in the family Oestreich, through the families Schneider and Katzenberger, the company was finally passed to Wilhelm Hey.

So our organ workshop bears for more than 140 years the name Hey. It has survived hard times and wars, expanded, and worked for and with the likes of history, music and society, built and tuned instruments.

Find out more details in our history in how the foundation was laid for a family business where tradition blends with modernity and be delighted by the story, stating that Franz Liszt as one of the greatest artists of the 19th century, owes our ancestor Wilhelm a sonorous performance.

Wilhem Hey, Otto, Erich, Wolfgang, Herbert, Thomas Hey 

The organbuilder family Biehn (17th century)

  • Johann Daniel Biehn (until 1670)
  • Johannes Biehn (1663 until 1739)
  • Franz Karl Biehn (around 1744) 

Johann Daniel Biehn from Blankenau near Fulda was an organist, organ builder and carpenter in the 17th century. Just repairs are documented about him. When he died in 1670, his son John Biehn succeeds.

The Following organs are built by him: 1701 Florenberg, 1703 Hosenfeld, 1715 Elm 1729 Herolz, 1734 rebuilding in Burghaun. His son Franz Karl Biehn is attributed to the construction of the organ in his home Blankenau of 1744.


The organbuilder clan Oestreich (1715 until 1929)

The organ builder clan Oestreich, whose ancestors came from Kümmerzell near Fulda, are one of the most important organ builders of the Baroque and following times. Fourteen organbuilders in five generations dominated the Fulda organ landscape mainly.

  • Jost Oestreich (1715 bis 1790)
  • Johann Markus Oestreich (1738 bis 1833)
  • Johann Georg Oestreich (1770 bis 1858)
  • Michael Oestreich (1802 bis 1838)
  • Augustin Oestreich (1807 bis unbekannt)
  • Adam Joseph Oestreich (1799 bis 1843)
  • Emil Oestreich (1832 bis 1857)
  • Maximilian Oestreich (1834 bis unbekannt)
  • Maurus Oestreich (1836 bis 1912)
  • Damian Oestreich (1843 bis unbekannt)
  • Johann Adam Oestreich (1776 bis 1865)
  • Constantin Oestreich (1808 bis 1864)
  • Joseph Oestreich (1817 bis 1870)
  • Wilhelm Oestreich (1848 bis 1929)

The following sections discuss only Jost, Johann Markus Oestreich and Michael.

Jost Oestreich has probably learned organ building from John Biehn from Oberbimbach near Fulda. The first works by him are documented in 1745 during an organ repair in Großentaft in the district of Hünfeld.

Johann Markus Oestreich was the most important organ builder of the clan. He built in Hesse, Thuringia, Franconia and Westphalia one and two manual organs.

Architecturally his two manual instruments are unusual: They are divided in thirteen pieces including a five section positive, which connects to both sides of the divided Hauptwerk with sophisticated harp-fields. The Pedalwerk is located behind. Possibly influences from the Frankfurt workshop of Philipp Ernst Weegmann are noticeable. Johann Markus Oestreich maintained the two pipe organs of the Dom in Fulda for many years. After him the family-line divided, his sons George and Adam formed the Oberbimbach familytribe and the Bach Rain tribe.

Michael Oestreich first worked with his father Johann Georg. In 1828 he was involved in his father's organ building in Großkrotzenburg. He went to Westphalia in 1830, was a journeyman at Arnold Isvording in Dringenberg and after his death in 1833 he continued the local workshop. With his untimely death in 1838 the Westphalian tradition of organ building extinguished for the moment. The last Bimbacher Oestreich - organ builder emigrated to America.

The Oestreich tradition in the Fulda area was already passed over to the Oestreich scholar Johann Schneider and his sons in the late 18th century.

The organbuilders Schneider (1750 until around 1830)

  • Johann Schneider (1750 bis 1825)
  • Andreas Schneider (1790 bis 1859)
  • Nikolaus Schneider (um 1810) 

Johann Schneider from Allmus near Fulda was a student of the organbuilder clan Oestreich. He also called himself John Sartorius and worked mainly in the Rhön and its surrounding areas. In 1766 he repaired together with Johann Markus Oestreich the organ of the lock of pheasant (Schloss der Fasanerie) at Fulda. In 1808 he transfered an organ from Bildhausen near Bad Neustadt / Saale to Wickers near Hilders. In 1813 he built the organ in the Cath. Church Unterelsbach.

By Andreas Schneider, who, like his father called himself Sartorius, following organ works are on record between1826 and 1839: 1826 rebuilding respectively building of the pipie organ in Hofbieber. 1830 building of a new pipe organ in Steinau near Fulda. 1831 rebuilding of the organ in Johannesberg. 1832 building of new pipe organ in Haimbach with 12 stops; the old organ was installed in Büchenberg by Schneider. 1833 building of two additional stops in Florenberg. 1839 building of a pipe organ in Steinhaus near Fulda.

Nikolaus Schneider was probably the second son of organbuilder Johann Schneider and lived in Oberelsbach in the Rhön. He was active from 1810 to 1850. In addition to other new built pipe organs noted in historical documents, he created in 1820 the pipe organ in Ginolfs in the Rhön, in 1823 the organ in Unterweißenbrunn and in the 1840s the pipe organ in Sondernau. There should also some previously unidentified organs in the Rhön come from his workshop.


The organbuilders Katzenberger (1813 until 1874)

  • Michael Katzenberger (1813 until 1874)
  • Alfred Katzenberger (unknown) 

Michael Katzenberger comes from Oberelsbach in the Rhön and was companion and successor of the organ builder Nikolaus Schneider. He was "constantly tasked with maintenance and tuning of organs in a part of the diocese" by the chapter of Fulda. On record, in addition to numerous repairs, are new organs in the Catholic Church in Braidbach (1853) and Batten (1865).

His son Alfred Katz was disabled and was only able to carry out elementary works. Only an organ tuning in Wickers in 1876 is known.

Wilhelm Hey

Wilhelm Hey (1840-1921) started out as a joiner at his father's workshop, then switched to organ building at the suggestion of Michael Katzenberger. He learned the trade from A. Randebrock in Paderborn, Westphalia, where he advanced to the position of head workman. In 1870, he traveled to the USA on behalf of his teacher Randebrock to set up a large pipe organ in Detroit. Back in Germany, Wilhelm Hey was working at this time on organs in Warburg, Werl, St. Walburga and Corvey.

The Sondheimer chronicler H. Kaiser reports on a story by Wilhelm Hey:

'Im westfälischen Paderborn habe er die edle Orgelbaukunst gelernt und dabei an der Orgel der schönen katholischen Kirche in Corvey an der Weser mitzuarbeiten gehabt. Im Schlosse zu Corvey wohnte aber damals der alte Hoffmann von Fallersleben, und oft hat der Lehrling den würdigen Mann im weißen Kinnbart mit dem großem Mantel über den Hof des Schlosses schreiten sehen. Einmal aber sei er auch in des Dichters Wohnung gerufen worden, um dort das Klavier zu stimmen - für einen sehr berühmten Gast, wie ihm gesagt wurde. Dieser war kein geringerer als der größte Klavierspieler aller Zeiten, Franz Liszt aus Weimar. Ich fragte, ob er denn den großen Künstler auch habe auf dem Klavier spielen hören. Nein, das nicht - aber ein Glas Wein wurde mir hereingebracht zu meiner Arbeit, und das habe ich auf das Wohl jener beiden berühmten Männer mit Freuden ausgeleert.'

As Michael Katzenberger died in 1874, Wilhelm Hey returned home equipped with qualified knowledge and thorough experience, and took over the clients and workshop at the age of 34 years. In this date, the Hey company anniversary is founded.

Wilhelm Hey quickly gained the confidence of customers in the tri-state region where Thuringia, Hesse, and Bavaria meet. His new organs featured classic rectangular or round-arched fronts. Even today, the instruments he built bear witness to the high level of craftsmanship and artistry which he attained.

The sons Otto and August Hey

Hey Otto was a subtle, musical man. He learned the trade from his father and took over the workshop in a difficult economic time. In these times orders for building new organs were hard to get in the sparse Rhön. He mainly did rebuildings, repairs and tuning works. William Heys second son August began working with his father as an organ builder and later he joined an apprenticeship at a textile company in Leipzig.

Erich Hey

Hey Erich learned the craftmanship of organ building from his grandfather Wilhelm Hey and after his death he finished the apprenticeship at his father Otto Hey. The adolescent developed at an early age great talent. After school, he worked at the workshop of his grandfather Wilhelm. He extended his skills and knowledge of organbuilding, in 1925/26 at the Steinmeyer company in Oettingen and 1926/27 at Paul Faust in Schwelm / Westphalia. Since mid-1927, he was working in his father's workshop again. 1936 Hey Erich made his certificate of master organ builder in Weimar and took over the organbuilding workshop, which he later moved to the now called Hauptstraße in Sondheim / Rhön.

Hey Erich was considered musically gifted: He was a master in playing seven instruments, was also a cantor and choir director in Sondheim / Rhön and teached music lessons in the evenings

Wolfgang and Gotthard Hey

Wolfgang Hey learned organ building from his father Erich Hey and extended his knowledge including also Steinmeyer in Oettingen, where his father had learned. After the untimely death of his father in 1962, he took over the company of organ building in a uniquely difficult time.

Together with his brother Gotthard Hey, he moved the workshop in 1963 from Sondheim / Rhön to the neighboring Urspringen / Rhön. Gotthard Hey learned the organ building craft from his father and at the Kreienbrink company in Osnabrück.

With the growing amount of orders and personnel Wolfgang Hey built 1972, a completely new workshop. The modern equipped exhibition-, storage-, restoration-, construction- and office- facilities spread over 2,100 square meters. Here almost any size of organ can be built or professionally restored.

Wolfgang Hey earned the trust of many organ experts and parishes and was able to extend his field considerably.

Herbert and Erhard Hey

Hey Herbert was born in Urspringen / Rhön in 1954 and grew up in a family of organ builders with great tradition. The constant contact with the craftsmanship of organ building in his father's workshop impressed and inspired him already at a young age. His musical education began at the piano and later at the organ. He learned organ building at a German organ building company. Study trips took him to Holland, Spain, France, England and the United States. He complemented his expertise in the building of languid-pipes and reed-pipes in Freiberg / Neckar. For a long time he was honorary member of the examination Committee of master organ builders at the HWK Nuremberg. In 1976, he successfully made his certificate of master organ builder as the youngest German master organ builder. Besides the building and rebuilding of numerous new pipe organs, the professional restoration of organs, taking their historical background into consideration, was and is of special interest.

In 1996, Herbert Hey took over the paternal organ building company. Assisted by his brother Erhard, who made his master's certificate in organbuilding in 1984 and lead in the period between 1993 and 1995 the company together with his brother, he made and designed the new organ works strictly according to classical principles. But never the achievements of contemporary organ building were disregarded. In 1998 he was awarded the title "master restorer in organ building" by the HWK Stuttgart, according to the training examination regulations. Erhard Hey, who has worked as voicer and tonal director at the organ building Hey, died in 2007 after a short illness.

In addition to his two sons, Thomas (born 1976) and Christian (born 1980) work 13 experienced employees in the well equipped workshop Hey in Urspringen.

Thomas Hey and Christian

Hey The family is now active in the sixth generation. Thus, the Hey workshop is one of the oldest organ building sites in Germany. Today it is run by Herbert Hey, whose sons Thomas and Christian already support him in the management.

Thomas (born 1976) graduated in July 2000, his apprenticeship as an organ builder at the organ building company Rensch in Lauffen with outstanding success. At the vocational school in Ludwigsburg, he completed his apprenticeship as business manager (management in handicraft) with commendation. Thomas is primarily responsible for the recent projects abroad and ensures that Hey Orgelbau is no longer just a name in the Rhön that is associated with high craftsmanship in instrument building. Especially in Asia there is currently developing a significant sales territory for the Hey family.

Hey Christian (born 1980) graduated in January 2000 his training as organ and harmonium builder and worked for the company until 2022.