Schonach is a village in the middle of the Black Forest high up in the mountains on an altitude of about 2900 feet. About 4000 people live here, most of them work in tourism and forestry. But this is also cuckoo clock heartland. Legend has it that the first cuckoo clock as we know it today was built in Schönwald in 1737 by clock-maker Anton Ketterer only 3 miles from Schonach. Making cuckoo clocks is a proud and cherished tradition here – you could say it runs in people’s blood.
August the Strong, Prince Elector of Saxony, was intrigued. In 1701, he received a letter from a young man named Johann Friedrich Böttger who was an alchemist and had been arrested in Wittenberg, a town outside August’s realm. Böttger claimed that he could turn base metals into gold. If there was something August loved more than women (rumor has it that he fathered about 300 illegitimate children), it was gold.
If you take a close look at your Hummel figurine, you will notice the signature “M.I. Hummel” on the bottom of the piece. True Hummel aficionados know, of course, that this is the signature of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, the artist behind the cute and chubby-cheeked children’s figurines.
In 2004, a 22-year old US student spent 4 weeks in investigative custody in Munich. The accusation? He had tried to steal a beer stein from the most famous beer hall in the world, the Hofbräuhaus. The judge gave this case much thought and then decided to temper justice with mercy: after paying a fine of 1260 Euros, the young man was set free and returned to the United States.
A cuckoo clock is more than a thing that keeps time…
Not too long ago, cuckoo clocks were spurned as dusty kitsch and out-of-date Grandma-style decoration among young Germans (and yes, my Grandma had a cuckoo clock hanging in her hall) and their popularity waned. But as more and more Germans rediscover the true value of traditional craftsmanship, the cuckoo clock has rightly been restored to its former splendid reputation.