Born in the Winter: Black Forest Clock Making

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When  time, incentive, and patience come together, something great can happen. And it did. The tradition of Black Forest clock making began with those three ingredients, some farmers, and the craft of wooden gear clock making, back in the last half of the 17th century.

 

During the long winter months when sowing, tending, and reaping were at a standstill, the farmers had plenty of time on their hands. And in that pause, a need was filled.

How? In the Black Forest, it was customary for a farmer’s oldest son to inherit the farm–-the younger son or sons were given only a small parcel of the farm. That created a need. Looking for additional ways to earn their living–here’s where the incentive comes in–some of the younger sons began crafting wooden clocks during the winter months to supplement their income. There were also cottagers and poorer farm families who took up the craft.

Clock making was a likely choice for their new venture, as linden wood was abundant in the region. The wood was soft enough to carve, yet hard enough to support the structure, and there were plenty of rivers and streams to power the lumber mills. The rocks that were used to power most of the weight-driven “Waaguhr” clocks, as they were called, were also in abundance.

Now for the patience: Farmers know that seeds grow at their own rate, and that mother nature can’t be rushed. Farmers know how to wait. Knowing how to be patient prepared them well to be clock makers. For long hours they could sit at their benches using their skill,Wood-Gears#2-uh.edu inventiveness, and the simplest of tools. The movements of the clocks, including the gears, were all made of wood. Without the benefit of electric-powered jigsaws, they had to hand-cut, file and shape every tooth on each gear, one at a time, carefully, slowly and precisely.

How many gear teeth did the average Waaguhr have and how long do you think it took to make such a clock? Based on our research, we estimate that the movement had, more or less, 140 to 150 gear teeth among its three gear wheels. As for how much time it took to make one of these timepieces…we can only guess! But the winters were long, and it was good that they were.

When spring came it was time to, so to say, “harvest” the clocks and bring them to market. The farmers gathered them up, and had traveling clock peddlers find eager homes for them. These were the first, the simple Waaguhr clocks, which were followed some decades later by the immensely popular cuckoo clock. Artisan clock makers steadily developed their own styles in the designs of the cuckoo clocks, and the Black Forest gained a worldwide reputation for producing timepieces of great beauty and craftsmanship. What had begun as a small cottage industry, in the pause of winter, grew and flourished throughout the region and beyond. In time, the clock making tradition of the Black Forest gained worldwide recognition.

So, great things did happen…when time, incentive, and patience came together.

Below is the “Hohenzollern”, a 17th century replica by Rombach and Haas. Click here for more details.

Waaghur-#2-Rombach-7640

Photo credits:

Photo # 1 – Potato Planters by Jean-François Millet – hoocher.com

Photo # 2 – 17th century replica of a Waaguhr style wall clock – uh.edu

Photo # 3 – 17th century replica  ” Hohenzollern” – Waaguhr style clock by Rombach and Haas

 

 

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The Clock Route Of The Black Forest

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What if you knew there was a vacation spot that combined your love of clocks with breathtaking scenery, German tradition, delicious cuisine and historic sites? Well, there is such a place. Up high on the mountain range in the southwest region of Blog-Black#3-Forest-germany.travel-en-index-htmlGermany, bordering the Rhine River, sits an expansive carpet of trees known as the Black Forest. It’s a  place filled with myths and fairy tale settings, where if you were ever to cross paths with a hobbit or a team of dwarfs, that’s where it could happen.

Easy Exploration

You can be one of the millions of visitors who stroll through the Forest each year. When you’re there, you’ll find a series of travel routes throughout the region that make it easy to explore at your own pace. A-Black#2-Forest-MAP-black-forestEach route journeys through places that are linked by a common theme; among the most popular routes are the Romantic Route along the Rhine River, the Schwäbisch Baroque Route and the circular shaped Clock Route known in German as “Deutsche Uhrenstrasse.”

Sites, Sounds and Smells

The path of the Clock Route is a circular, so any town along the way is a proper starting point. The route road is a packed tour of discovery and runs about about 320 kilometers through an immense variety of sites, sounds, smells, culture and history. You’ll encounter picturesque towns and A-black#2-forest-myfamouscastles-blogspot-comquaint villages with shop signs of wrought iron, hotels, inns, guest houses and restaurants that serve local specialties like smoked ham and streamed trout… and of course Wild Cherry German Schnapps. The route takes you through many scenic charms of the Black Forest – half-timbered farmhouses with wooden shingles, crystal clear streams, lakes and waterfalls, lush meadows, winding valleys and thick forests of dark green. Then there are the ancient castles, monasteries and Roman baths, skiing in the winter,  hiking in the summer, and a diverse selection of health and wellness resorts. The more you know about this remarkable place, the better it sounds.

A-Black3-Forest-cuckoo-sample-rh4571Yet, with its amazing lineup of impressive attractions, one of the biggest reasons tourists head to the Black Forest is the allure of the humble cuckoo clock. In fact, the charm of the cuckoo clock has played such an important role in shaping region’s history, that the clock has long standing been a symbol of the Black Forest and it’s 300 years old tradition of clock making. What better introduction to that tradition could there be than a jaunt down the German Clock Route?

As you journey the route you’ll find small clock making workshops, state of the art factories like Rombach and Haas and Anton Schneider, and clock painting studios. You’ll be able to observe, first hand style, clock smiths working their craft, from beginning to end; and by the time you’re done you’ll have a greater insight into the art and science A-Clock-Paintingof German clock making.

World’s Largest Collection

Along the entire stretch of the Clock Route,  you’ll also encounter so many fascinating places, rich in tradition with a story to tell. One of those places is Furtwangen. Your camera will be busy in this small picturesque city, which for a long time, has been the largest clock production center in the region. It’s also the home of the world famous German Clock Museum (“Deutsches-Uhrenmuseum”.) A-Black#2-Forest-antique-deutsches-uhrenmuseum.deBut get ready, because they have the world’s largest collection of A-black-antique-wrought-museum-furtenwagen-ironGerman clocks – over 4,000 of them. So, you might want to set aside some extra time to Frühe Kuckucksuhr, Schwarzwald (?), 2. Hälfte 18. Jahrhundert.take it  all in. The museum began as an idea of Robert Gerwig, the headmaster of the first clock maker’s school founded there. That was in the mid nineteenth century. In his foresight, he urged the people to keep and collect the old hand-carved wooden clocks that would eventually become the beginning of the German Clock Museum. And if you want to behold the landscape from a high vantage point, take a climb up the Furtwangen’s observation tower for a magnificent view.

Where The Cuckoo Clock Was Born

Not far from Furtwangen is the beautiful holiday retreat spot of Schonwald, the place where by popular and traditional belief, clock master Franz Kellerer devised a clever mechanical system using two small bellows and wooden whistles, much like the pipe organ, to reproduce the familiar two-note call of the cuckoo. The year was about 1740, and that was the birth of the world’s very  first cuckoo clock.

A-#2Black=Forest-domenico1974.wordpress.com-schiltach-4Continuing on the route, you’ll come to Schwenningen, formerly the biggest clock-making town in the world. There you’ll find the Museum of Clock Industry housed in an old factory building. It’s well worth your visiting time, especially if you’re interested in the history of the alarm clock and industrial clock. There is also a health spa, clock workshops, an ice skating rink and the International Aircraft Museum. It’s a town with plenty of character.

When you come to the beautiful town of Schonach, you’ll see and hear the largest cuckoo clock in the world. And if you’re a hobby clock maker or looking for replacement parts for old clocks, you’ll find Trossingen to be a paradise with over 10,000 clock building items. But let’s not forget about grandfather clocks – in the towns of  Lenzkirch and Lauterbach you can take in some excellent exhibits featuring a number of stately grandfather clocks and their German history. And in the village of Simonswald, known for its cuckoo clock production, you can also experience its folklore evenings,  jewelry making, old world mills and its many restaurants dating back to the 15th and 16th century.

Ketterer devised a clever mechanical system using two small bellows and wooden whistles, much like the pipe organ, to reproduce the distinctive two-note call of the cuckoo. – See more at: https://www.thewellmadeclock.com/the-little-pipe-organ-history-of-the-cuckoo-clock.aspx#sthash.utit90hg.dpufWhen you come to the beautiful town of Schonach, you’ll see and hear two of the largest cuckoo clocks in the world. And if you’re a hobby clock maker or looking for replacement parts for old clocks, you’ll find Trossingen to be a paradise with over 10,000 clock building items. But let’s not forget about grandfather clocks – in the towns of  Lenzkirch and Lauterbach you can take in some excellent exhibits featuring a number of grand (stately) grandfather clocks and their German history. And in the village of Simonswald, known for its cuckoo clock production, you can also experience its folklore evenings,  jewelry making, old world mills and its many restaurants dating back to the 15th and 16th century.

Want to see an  A-Black#2-Forest-travel-Triberg-waterfallsimpressive collection of antique Black Forest clocks and  barrel organs? You can at the Black Forest Museum (“Schwarzwaldmuseum”)  It has the largest collection of barrel organs in Europe. The museum is located above the entrance to the beautiful Triberg waterfalls, the highest in Germany.  A-Black#2-liveauctioneers-organWhen you arrive at the entrance to the falls in the morning bring a bag of peanuts with you –  you’ll find a whole lot of squirrels waiting for a second breakfast.

So if you’ve been thinking of a new place to visit on your next vacation, Germany’s Black Forest could be just for you. We’ve touched on just some of the attractions; there are so many more.

In the meantime, you can take a “guided tour” of the Black Forest in just two minutes…

by watching this video of the Black Forest. One of its stops is Staufen, a charming medieval  town with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings, located along the southern trunk of the forest.  Enjoy!

 

 

Photo Credits:

Large Top Photo #1 – View Of Valley With Clouds – germany.travel/en/index.html

Photo #2 – View Of River Through The Trees – germany.travel/en/index.html

Photo #3 – Map Of Germany – mygermancity.com

Photo# 4 – Liechtenstein Castle – myfamouscastles.blogspot.com

Photo #5 – Rombach and Haas Cuckoo Clock -TheWellMadeclock.com

Photo# 6 – Artist Painting Clock Faces – germany.travel/en/index.html

Photo #7 – Antique German Shield Style Wall Clock – deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de

Photo #8 – Antique Wrought Iron Mantel Clock – deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de

Photo #9 – Antique German Cuckoo Clock – deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de

Photo #10 – Small Black Forest Town – domenico1974.wordpress.com

Photo #11 – Waterfall in Triberg – black-forest-travel.com

Photo #12 – Antique German Barrel Organ – liveauctioneers.com

Video Credit:

A Walk In The Woods – ricksteves.com

The Long-Lived Cuckoo

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BLOG#2-rh8264webbig_289x433Three centuries is a long time, long enough for things to come in and out of style many times over. But if I were to tell you that there’s a unique product, that after three centuries is still going strong, could you guess what that was? If you know your clock history then you may know that it’s none other than the beloved Black Forest cuckoo clock. What’s the reason for its continual popularity?  It’s a combination of things: whimsical charm, kinetic experience and a relationship that can start from the very first day you bring the cuckoo into your home.

But there is one more reason: it’s the German clock making tradition of the Black Forest. For generations cuckoo clocks have been made by craftsmen of that region with a consistent high level of workmanship. These clock smiths are masters at what they do and they love their craft. The passion they put into their work shows in the long lived quality of their clocks and in the abundant variety of their designs.BLOG#2-Modern-Cuckoo-rhbb1111 In recent years a lot more choices in decorative styles have emerged, but the cuckoo clock has traveled through time in mostly an unchanged state. It’s anchored in tradition and keeps going strong.

To preserve this tradition of clock making the Black Forest Clock Association was founded in 2006. After I viewed their video (below), being an artist and technician myself,  I had so much more appreciation for the works of these craftsmen. This “bird’s eye” video tour takes you right into the heart of Black Forest cuckoo clock factories and workshops of Rombach & Haas and Christophe. There are lots of great closeup shots. You’ll see movements and clock cases being assembled, jig saws cutting templates, wood carvers carving their designs, painting, staining, varnishing and the making of pipes, clock dials and figurines.

So take the tour. I hope you enjoy it! Also, you can click here to find out about The Clock Route Of The Black Forest.

 

Photo and Video Credits:

Photo #1 – Rombach and Haas Filigree Cuckoo Clock

Photo #2 – Rombach and Haas Bamboo Cuckoo Clock

Video – Black Forest Clock Association

 

The Clock Peddlers

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Anton-Shneider-2-clock-peddler I can remember the mid 60′s in New York City…

when door to door peddlers still made their rounds. I didn’t know then that I’d be writing this now with a nostalgic feeling for the simplicity and warmth those peddlers brought to our lives. At that time their numbers were dwindling, but they hadn’t yet disappeared completely. A well-rounded variety of them still came around selling brushes, soap, encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners and other household items that we all needed. One kind of peddler that I know I’d remember would be a clock peddler. But I never saw one. If I had lived in the Black Forest region of mid-nineteenth century Germany, I would have.

If you roll history back far enough, there was a time when clock peddlers sported their goods through hills, forests and countryside, and that happened on their regular routes through the region. On foot they carried all sorts of clocks tied with rope to large backpacks. These hardy entrepreneurs of old were called “Ührschleppers” in German.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

There is a fable* told by Father Franz Steyrer in his book, “History of Clock Making in the Black Forest,” written in 1796. It was about two peddlers from a town called Furtwangen in the Black Forest of Germany who met a traveling Bohemian clock merchant. BLOG-Kleiser_ClockThe peddlers were so enthused that they purchased one, brought it home, and made copies, then showed them to other clock merchants. The clock caught on in the region and more and more clock makers started to build them. It turned out to be a seasonal business: during the long harsh winters the artisans crafted the clocks, and then in the spring went about the countrysides and beyond to far away places selling the cuckoos. The fable has it that those clock peddlers played an important role in launching the popularity of Black Forest clocks. Today, the image of the clock peddler is a prominent symbol of the Black Forest clock industry.

as-8T1686-9

 

In modern times we no longer have…

any clock peddlers.  But if I get nostalgic, I can always look at the clock peddlers preserved as wood carved figurines on some of our beloved cuckoo clocks. On the left is a sample of one. 

 

In case you’re curious about the below photograph…

it’s a rare (yes, it’s worth thousands) and very collectible table clock, a Black Forest clock peddler timepiece from 1850 to 1860. Peddler2-Justin-685x1024The small clock he’s holding is a working clock with a porcelain dial. The figure is made of formed sheet tin and is hand painted. Don’t you just love the peddler’s old-world attire?

One last thought…

Although I’ve never been eyewitness to a real live door to door clock peddler standing at my threshold, if by some chance you’ve ever had a visit from one, we’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment and let us know the details.

PHOTO CREDITS:

1. Schneider Cuckoo Clocks

2. German clock shop street sign

3.  North Coast Imports

4. BlackForestClocks.org