SAALFELD, Germany -- Volker Kraft's apple sapling sported just 18 eggs when he first decorated it for Easter in 1965. Decades later, the sturdy tree is festooned with 9,800 eggs, artfully decorated with everything from sequins to sea shells.
Decking trees with hollowed-out, painted eggs for Easter is popular in Germany, but the 75-year-old retiree's annual creation has become something special. Last year, it drew more than 13,000 visitors.
Kraft needs two weeks and countless trips up and down his ladder to hang the eggs and the task has become a little heavier each year since he began the decorations in 1965.
"I wanted to decorate a tree with Easter eggs for my children," Kraft said.
Kraft started with plastic eggs. Each year, the project grew; he switched to real eggs and enlisted his three children's help in blowing out and painting them.
His daughter, Gabriela Rumrich, says she started painting "simple decorations like flowers" aged four and didn't stop until she was 40. She still remembers her parents' Easter passion fondly.
"I love my hometown, Saalfeld, and that's why I started to paint pictures of the city on to the eggs," she told Associated Press Television News. "First easy ones, then more difficult ones."
Some of Gabriela's creations have been retired from the tree and are now kept in glass cases, safe from the wind and birds.
But there are plenty of eye-catching designs in their place: eggs covered in Baltic Sea shells or in elaborate crochet work, or with elaborate patterns drilled in their shells.
Many are the work of Kraft's wife, Christa, 74, who spends long winter evenings preparing the show.
"I need about one to two hours to crochet one egg depending on the thickness of thread, but also on the amount of beads I use," she said.
Over the years, word of the Krafts' tree has spread well beyond Saalfeld, a pretty eastern town of some 27,000 people nestled in the Saale valley.
The eggs now draw visitors from across Germany. The Krafts have responded to demand by making extra eggs each year to sell as souvenirs for about $7.10 each.
But there are limits to Volker Kraft's ambitions.
He plans to add another 200 eggs next year, bringing his total to 10,000 — and then stop, if only because he's running out of room to store the mountain of boxes.