Daily Archives: January 12, 2010


Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Germany

Perhaps there are corners of the Black Forest that are indeed black, but the parts we saw were a gorgeous emerald green.  Fog was hugging the mountains in the chilly morning air when we arrived, but sunshine broke through to illuminate stands of trees and open fields. 

The Black Forest is in southwestern Germany, with a range of mountains that are not particularly tall compared to other places in the world.  Its highest peak is not quite 5,000 feet.  The region is dotted with villages and hamlets and farms, and — apart from its natural beauty — the Black Forest is principally known for two things:  a delicious chocolate-and-cherry cake is one of them.  The other is the production of cuckoo clocks.

Since the Black Forest is the cuckoo clock capital of the world, we made a pilgrimage to a factory there that assembles them.  The building that houses the factory is itself a giant cuckoo clock, and we paused outside to watch it announce 11:00.  Then we went inside to expand our knowledge of this unique timekeeping device.

It turns out that cuckoo-clock making, at least in the Black Forest, is truly a cottage industry.  In a chalet on the side of the mountain somewhere, one craftsman specializes in bellows.  Another family down the road makes the pendulums.  A workshop elsewhere in the woods generates gongs and pipes; someone else makes the gears.  Then all of these parts made by subcontractors are brought together, assembled, and put into their ornately carved cases at the “factory”.

Following his lecture, the man who worked there pointed out the obvious:  the clocks that surrounded us were for sale.  I nodded pleasantly and smiled, looking for an exit.  My wife turned to me and quietly said, “Talk me out of it.”

This was not a plea, like an addict needing emotional support during a moment of crisis.  It wasn’t a challenge, either; no gauntlet was being thrown down.  Sally was inviting me to have a rational conversation about the pros and cons of cuckoo-clock ownership — but I’ve been married too long to fall into that trap.  I merely replied, “If you want one, you should get one.”

I knew that she did want one, even though a cuckoo clock doesn’t… how shall I put this?  It doesn’t seamlessly fit the overall decorating scheme of our home.  My general preference is for accessories that don’t make startling noises.  Sally had fallen in love with cuckoo clocks as a little girl, though, because her grandfather had one that she admired.  So, since it made her happy, I was happy for her to buy one.

I was even happier that she didn’t have her heart set on the ultra-deluxe model that sold for 6,000 euros.  She picked out a classic (relatively small) one that our cuckoo-clock budget could accomodate.  So that’s how we happen to have something in our home that reminds us of our enjoyable visit to Germany’s Black Forest.  And it faithfully reminds us of that journey every half-hour of every day — even at three o’clock in the morning.