The heir to the iconic locksmith Bay Zhoro keeps his craft and workshop

The workshop on Zhelezarska Str. hasn’t been repaired and tidied in half a century

‘Look at my hands – black, hard, stinky, yet wanted’, tell us the master.

There is a magical place that totally reminds of the old spirit of the artisans district Kapana – the locksmith’s shop on Zhelezarska Str. The second story in our series ‘Kapana’s Legends’ is devoted to it and its creator. There’s hardly anyone from Plovdiv who hasn’t tried looking into the workshop on №33’s opaque windows, from which the characteristic metallic sound of the key machine always comes. The workshop’s shabby door doesn’t creak, because it’s always open for neighbours, friends or strangers. The place is so authentic that tourists often mistake it for a cultural attraction. From the narrow sidewalk you can smell treated metal, antiquity, machine oil and history. As if a whole world has been cramped into the space of just a few square meters. The world of the late Bay Zhoro and his heir in the craft – the grandson Hristo. Tens of hundreds of keys for padlocks, aristocratic gates, toilet doors, tunnels and money boxes have come out of the hands of both of them. 

The iconic Georgi Slavov worked until his last breath in his little shop. Death caught him at the proud age of 93, above the favoutite tools, not until he had finished yet another key. Today his grandson Hristo maintains the messy little place and mends Plovdiv’s locks, having inherited his grandfather’s craft. ‘They come here, so that I can make them keys or for small talk.’ For nearly 50 years the place on 33 Zhelezarska Srt. has been a ‘maternity ward for keys’, and before that it had been the workshop of a renowned Plovdiv master shoemaker.

‘The house above the locksmith’s has been uninhabited for years. I think it was owned by an Armenian. His daughter was a musician, a pianist, I suppose. We found an old suitcase full of notes’, tells the current master.

‘Nothing has been mended since we came here. The door leading to the house also hasn’t been touched; the workshop’s door was made by my grandfather. Before that there hadn’t been an entrance – it had been a wall. Most houses in Kapana were meant to be an artisan’s shop with one or two floors above, so that the masters had a place to sleep. That’s why there are doors in the walls – to go directly into the workshops from the houses’, Hristo tells us. The small transitional door is still in the locksmith’s, decorated with rusty and dusty metal links with interesting accessories on them. On the brown wooden walls there are bells, zips, wrenches, a 1984 calendar, the national flag, a toy robot (which was a gift from a painter’s daughter) and an alarm clock without hands. ‘Dozens of antique dealers have been here to ask for objects from the shop. What, am I crazy to give them to them? I send them away, either directly, or we have a beer and then they go away, but only with some new gossip, not with my jangling treasures’, Hristo added.

And then he adds that he’s a multifunctional locksmith. I can mend everything. ‘Whoever comes, whatever their problem is, I try to solve it. See, my wife’s cooking pot broke. All I need is a thin wire and it’s done’, tells us Bay Georgi’s heir. ‘My grandpa always spoke good words. That’s why people came here, not only seeking his craft. I learned the craft from him. When I was small, I was always in his feet and he wouldn’t let me touch anything. When I grew up, he saw I was good. I’ve broken a big hammer to make a screw for eyeglass frames. But that’s how it is – if your hands aren’t dirty, then you can’t call it work. You should also love doing it. It’s easy to say ‘Ne m'interesse pas’. Look at my hands – black, hard, stinky, yet wanted. That’s why when my father’s friends have come here to teach their grandsons we have sent them away. You can’t force it. You should crave for it and it should kick your head, in order to call in your craft. That’s how my grandfather started himself – not because of his father, not because of his grandfather, not because of anybody. Just because of his wish to welcome yet another client for a key or some talk’, recounts Hristo. ‘That’s what our job is – we unlock doors and human souls’, the master ends with a cigarette in his hand.

For Bulgarian language and more photos - click here - Христо отключва врати и души в Капана

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