Black Forest Carvings and Carvings from the Black Forest, Part 3

Cuckoo Clocks

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Jan 18, 2012 • 2 Comments

The cuckoo clock is an item that actually did come from the Black Forest.  There were some from Switzerland (better quality clocks, actually), but most were known to have come from The Black Forest.  The dark wood cases of these clocks are carved with intricate folk and forest scenes. Cuckoo clocks come in a one day and eight day variety.  With eight day cuckoo clocks, every hour, on the hour, a little bird pops out and gives the classic “cuckoo, cuckoo” sound.  Often, the cuckoo bird is followed by a procession of townspeople and forest animals that circle around and then retreat back into their little home until the next hour strikes.  With many of the one day clocks, the bird (and bird entourage) pops out and cuckoo’s every half hour.  The traditional cuckoo clock is embellished with carvings of leaves and animals.  These clocks are mainly weight driven (with the exception of the few more modern ones that are spring driven).The Black Forest region, in Germany, is cold and dark – known for its impressive snowfall.  Because the area was never big in the agriculture department, clock production exploded in the area.

It’s said that local citizens learned how to make clocks because a traveler introduced them (around the year 1640) to a simple Bohemian clock.  They took the clock apart and taught themselves how to put it back together.  They even built the tools they would need to reproduce the clocks.  By late 1700s, these clocks were exported and sold places as far away as Russia.

The man thought to have invented the cuckoo clock is Franz Anton Ketterer (1676-1749).  Ketterer used the church organ pipe sound to make the bird “cuckoo cuckoo.”  French people took to the cuckoo clocks, but believe it or not, they called them “Swiss Clocks” even though most of them were from Germany!  The clocks adapted to different cultures and what they preferred.  Every nation had its little preferences; the French loved their cuckoo clocks to be ornamented with flowers.  The Dutch and Belgians preferred tin or porcelain dials. The clocks continued to evolve – more recently – in the 20th century, being digitalized, playing different songs at different hours and being programmed for optional silence in the nighttime hours.

New cuckoo clocks continue to be “the” souvenir to pick up when visiting the Black Forest in Germany.

Continue to Part 4