What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Germany? Oktoberfest, Michael Schumacher, lederhosen and Mercedes? What about Cuckoo Clocks? No? Didn’t think so!
Believe it or not, Germany is a country steeped in historic traditions and in February I was invited on an international blogging trip with the German Tourist Board to #joinGermantradition and discover just how many interesting and time-honored customs still take place in our modern day world. I packed my bags and my winter coat and headed to the Schwarzwald region (The Black Forest) for the first time!
It seems time has stood still in the picturesque region of Baden-Württemberg. Villages still look like images out of fairy tale story books and traditional clothing is still very much worn. But in the small village of Schonach, time is hand crafted. Time is created.
Walking into the workshop of the Rombach & Haas was like going back to the past when the very first cuckoo clock of its kind was made in 1894. The workshop where their very first cuckoo clock were made still holds its charm and original features and little has changed even though the company is now in its fourth generation of clocks.
18th Century workbenches are adorned with clock pieces and tools just as they were over one hundred years ago. Wooden draws with porcelain knobs still house all the clock components and the store room lies home to the traditional shop bench that once sold the wheat, flour and sugar of the towns convince store. Time has both stood still and has yet managed to pass and develop over the generations.
I met Ingolf Haas the now owner of the family establishment. He was kind enough to explain the history of the cuckoo clock and how it has developed over the years. Over the past century Rombach & Haas have been producing traditional Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks, gaining themselves world recognition as one of the best producers of the traditional clock for its quality in handcrafted wood work, designs and inventiveness. And I must say their attention to detail is outstanding.
The town of Schonach sits at the heart of the cuckoo clock making world, with the clocks moving parts manufactured just a short stroll from the workshop in one of the only remaining companies in the world to still produce cuckoo clock components including the bellows that produce the infamous and world recognizable sound of the cuckoo.
Historically Rombach & Haas (ROMBA for short) sold a large percentage to the USA Market due to a high number of Americans who were living or had travelled to Germany during World War 2. There were of course the large influx of American tourists that were visiting the Black Forest area who fell in love with their clocks, who would then return home with neighbors and friends would admire the craftsmanship, often resulting in further sales.
In the wake of 9/11 the sales of ROMBA’s clock dramatically declined. American tourists were not travelling as much as they used to which caused two other cuckoo clock producers to become bankrupt. With sales declining ROMBA decided it was time to reinvent their brand, taking the slow down in business to design and create the latest generation of modern cuckoo clocks. Ingolf explained that the Black Forest locals were against the decision to move away from the traditional style of the clocks at first, however once introduced they became a roaring success, selling more modern cuckoo clock pieces then the traditional styles.
Luckily for Ingolf, sales are increasing year on year with more and more Asian tourists discovering and falling in love with the infamous clocks. And believe it or not, even the locals and fellow countrymen of Germany have a new found love and admiration for the new modern designs.
When asked, Ingolf explained it takes roughly 6 – 10 weeks to produce a traditional clock while the new modern clocks can be produced in a matter of hours, often creating 10 pieces a day. Of course it is not just Ingolf who works by himself, ROMBA has a staff of 18 qualified clock makers and even his wife Connie helps out with the restoration work and painting of the clocks.
Both their initiative thinking and their hand craft is impressive. I remember as a child a relative of mine owning a cuckoo clock, so the traditional wood carved style appealed to the nostalgic side of me. However the bright and modern designs are fantastic and I would of loved to of purchased one for my apartment. Entering their ticking show room just showcased the variety of clocks they produce, with bold modern designs sat along side the traditional hand craved and so intricately designed traditional clocks. If by chance you don’t like any of them, you can even have your own custom made one!
Disclaimer: While my visit to Rombach & Haas was part of a blogging tour with the German Tourist Board, all thoughts, opinions are my own.