Sign in | Register now Like us on FacebookLike Us | Follow us on TwitterFollow Us

Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Fri
Hi: 32
Lo: 23
Sat
Hi: 34
Lo: 27
Sun
Hi: 37
Lo: 31
Advertise on OnMilwaukee.com

In Living

Gunther Tausch has been cutting hair for 65 years. (PHOTO: Julie Wagner/Special to OnMilwaukee.com)

No-frills; just a good haircut at Gunther's


You won't find hip and modern décor at Gunther's Barber Shop, 5824 W. Lincoln Ave.

There's no loud music blaring from a state-of-the-art sound system; only the sounds of Chicago's WGN on an old, handheld radio.

There's no receptionist taking appointments, nor is there a wall full of high-priced styling products; just a dusty shelf of some Paul Mitchell shampoos.

All you'll find inside Gunther's Barber Shop is the daily newspaper, a copy of the National Enquirer, an old cash register and Gunther Tausch.

Tausch, who turns 79 this month, has been cutting hair for 65 years. He learned his trade as a young man in Czechoslovakia, working as an apprentice at the age of 14. Tausch was sent to work in a gear factory as a common laborer, a move that would eventually make his emigration to the United States possible.

At 15, he was drafted into the army and narrowly avoided being sent to the Russian front. He finished his general infantry training on May 5, 1945. Two days later, the war was over.

He didn't have much time to celebrate. Like many Eastern European countries occupied by the Soviets following the war, Czechoslovakia expelled its ethnic German population. Tausch was told to pack several days of rations and was placed on a train which took him to the East German border.

"We lost everything after the war," Tausch says. "When we got off the train, they said 'Don't come back, you German pig, or we'll shoot you'."

He made his way to the border between East and West Germany and after some harrowing run-ins with the Soviet army; he finally made his way into Bavaria, where he and his family worked on a farm in exchange for food and shelter.

"There was no electricity, no nothing," Tausch says. "I wore my best suit to clean out the barn. The farmer had some old shoes and pants he gave them to me after awhile. But we had food and a roof."

To make extra money, he cut hair.

"I had my tools and was able to make a couple of bucks," he says. "I never had to reach where we had our money hidden."

In 1952, he made his way to the United States. Tausch was sponsored by a foundry owner in Racine who gave him his first job. Unable to speak enough English to open his own shop, Tausch cut his co-workers' hair to make some extra money.

The foundry was grueling -- and dangerous. Most of the employees were immigrants like Tausch, and they worked long hours for low wages. Tausch knows that they were considered cheap labor, but doesn't harbor any ill will.

In fact, he's appreciative of the opportunity.

"There wasn't an OSHA back then," Tausch says. "They used us, you know. We were a bunch of dumb foreigners: Serbs, Germans, Poles, Jews. But I don't hold it against them.

"That's life, you look out for yourself."

In the meantime, he began learning the language. With his first paycheck -- for a whopping $5 -- Tausch bought an English-German dictionary and taught himself English by reading the Milwaukee Journal comics section.

"They were simple to understand and you could make out what they meant with the pictures," Tausch says. "What I didn't know, I could translate with the dictionary.

"From then on, I did a lot of reading. Some English is very close to the German language, and I know some Latin because we use some Latin words in German, also. So it was not hard to understand the reading. If I didn't understand, I asked somebody or looked it up in the dictionary."

In time, foundry work got to be too much for Tausch, who moved to Milwaukee with friends. He eventually landed a job at the Schlitz brewery, but was laid off during a 1954 strike.

Over the next few months, finding work was difficult and he sought a job at a bakery when the owner noticed his accent. The baker asked why a barber by trade would want to work in a baker's shop. Tausch noted that he couldn't find work cutting hair.

"He told me to look in the Sentinel," Tausch says. "I had been reading the Journal and all the ads for barbers were in the Sentinel."

He quickly had his paperwork translated but had to go back to barber's school. Tausch embraced the experience, which allowed him to gain a little bit of knowledge in a number of different areas.

"It was very interesting," Tausch says. "We studied physiology and anatomy ... we had to learn all the bones and nerves in the body. I took a course in basic chemistry, which was nice, too."

Tausch found work in a shop and, after six years, opened his own in May 1961 near 35th and Lisbon. He moved to his current location in 1981.

"I built a house in Brookfield in 1972 and stayed there until my first wife died in 2000," Tausch says. He sold the home to his son, and moved into an addition behind the shop two years later, when he remarried.

Tausch has a special appreciation for his adopted home country. He's had a successful life, and his good fortune allowed him to return to Europe in 1958. He bought a Volkswagen for $1,150 -- "the dollar was worth something then," Tausch says -- and bought his father a moped so he wouldn't have to ride a bicycle to work.

He also gave his sister 1,000 Marks and sold the Volkswagen to his brother at a steep discount.

"I could have never have done that if I didn't come here," Tausch says. "I saved my money and worked hard. In this country, it's amazing what we have here. The living standard is amazing."

Tausch still has many long-time customers, but has noticed a change in the industry. Trips to the barber shop were regular events for fathers and sons, but high-priced salons are starting to cut into his business.

"When the kids get to be 10-12 years old, they want to go to a style shop and get taken care of by a pretty woman," he jokes. "Us old barbers aren't good enough anymore."

Still, he enjoys his customers. He enjoys the conversations. He enjoys trying to give them what they want. And, especially in this election year, he enjoys ribbing some of his regulars.

"It's fun; we joke about it," Tausch says. "I'm a Republican and my wife is a Democrat. We have great conversations. It's all in fun."

After 65 years, he has no plans to hang up his shears any time soon.

"No. What would I do?" he says with a laugh. "I don't bowl, I don't play cards. I'm a boring guy. I just like nice conversations with my customers.

"Where else can I unload all the bull on people and get paid? Who would listen to me?"

Talkbacks

KennyG. | Nov. 19, 2008 at 4:58 p.m. (report)

I have been getting my hair cut by Gunther for the past 46 years. His shop was located on Lisbon Ave. next to the Parkway Theater until he moved to the present location on Lincoln Ave. A yearly tradition is to have an abergut (may not be spelled correctly) with Gunther during the Holiday season. Be careful - there have been wives that have called and complained about Gunther getting their husbands drunk while having their haicut.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

susiemls | Nov. 7, 2008 at 10:20 p.m. (report)

I have known Gunther for 14 years and he still does one of the best "flat tops" around! Way to go Gunth!!!!

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Anti_GeorgeWill | Nov. 4, 2008 at 7:32 a.m. (report)

Way Cool, I use to get my hair cuts at Gunther's when he was on 35th and Lisbon.

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

kinnickinnic | Nov. 3, 2008 at 5:57 a.m. (report)

Is this the same Gunther who had a Barber shop on Kinnickinnic Ave in the 1950's?

Rate this:
  • Average rating: 0.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
4 comments about this article.
Post a comment / write a review.

Facebook Comments

Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.