Significant Design Features of the German Cuckoo Clock
A cuckoo clock just isn't a cuckoo clock if it doesn't come from the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. For nearly 300 years, this area of Germany has been world famous for the development of quality, handmade cuckoo clocks. With their distinctive wood carved designs along with their bellow and pipe created cuckoo calls, German cuckoo clocks have been treasured pieces of handcrafted beauty for generations. As with most traditionally made wooden handcrafts from Germany, their design elements were inspired by the wildlife and daily activities that were seen in the Black Forest region of the time. These traditional styles are still popular today and are what make German cuckoo clocks such unique and treasured collectibles.
From the earliest German cuckoo clocks that were developed around the early 1700s, their designs have always been inspired by the plants, animals, and people who inhabited the Black Forest villages and surrounding woods. While there were many different styles being developed during these early years, the "railway house" type of clock design has remained the dominate style since it was first developed in 1850. The Furtwangen Clock Makers School launched a clock making competition that year which called for the submission of professional clock housing designs. Friedrich Eisenlohr was an architect at the time that was responsible for developing and designing the railway houses that would stand at each German railway stop. Eisenlohr submitted his railway house cuckoo clock design, based on his real railway houses, and his winning design became the prototype for most of the cuckoo clocks that still exist today.
Eisenlohr's railway house cuckoo clock style incorporated a square box with a pitched roof, large clock face, a hidden cuckoo door, and intricately carved ivy leaves. The design was meant to mimic the Bavarian landscape that surrounded the typical railway houses that existed throughout Germany. This design eventually became the most successful and recognizable style of German cuckoo clock and remains popular to this day. Of course, there are many different interpretations of this original railway house design, but most remain focused on and inspired by the types of scenes you would most likely see in the remote Black Forest region and villages of southeastern Germany.
Probably the most traditional design feature of the typical German cuckoo clock is the bird and ivy design. Large hand carved birds nestled inside a thatch of intricately designed ivy leaves is a simple, yet beautiful representation of nature at its finest. While there are many different versions of this basic design, it is one of the truest examples of traditional German cuckoo clock workmanship. As with most traditional cuckoo clock designs the internal mechanisms are pendulum and weight powered. Pinecone shaped metal weights hanging on chains that must be reset once a day or once a week are the most commonly seen cuckoo clock designs today.
Hunting and mounted deer head designs have also been very popular cuckoo clock styles over the years. Many of these cuckoo clocks feature hunting motifs that include deer, rabbits, birds, rifles, hunters, dogs, trees, and oak leaves. Another popular design style uses a large deer head with antlers prominently placed at the top of the clock just above the cuckoo bird door, much like it would be mounted on the wall of a typical German hunter's cabin. Because the Black Forest region has such a rich history and love of hunting, these nature scenes became quite popular. Cuckoo clocks can be very simple or quite ornate in design, but they are always beautiful.
Another popular cuckoo clock design is the "chalet" style. These clocks mirror many aspects of the typical daily lives of the Black Forest townsfolk. Designed to look like the traditional Bavarian home with its shingled roof, wooden balcony, and working waterwheel, many of these chalet style cuckoo clocks reenact a typical day in the life of the everyday German. Most of these chalet cuckoo clocks are intricately designed and take a departure from the basic cuckoo clock style. For instance, rather than using the chirping cuckoo bird to announce the hour, many of these clocks reveal dancing villagers that whirl around in a whimsical dance at the top of the hour. Or you might see a whole scene come to life as beer drinkers raise their glasses, woodcarvers saw wooden logs, waterwheels spin, dogs and cats jump as their masters return home, or chimneysweeps moving up and down as they clean chimneys. These animated cuckoo clocks come to life at the top of each hour and are often accompanied by music from a music box.
As you can imagine, a great deal of detail goes into each and everyone one of these cuckoo clocks, no matter how simple or how ornate. Whether it's a simple cuckoo bird that pops out of his hidden nest or an entire village that comes to life whenever the clock strikes, these cuckoo clock designs are intricately detailed and embrace life as it once existed in the Black Forest region of Germany. While many of the modern cuckoo clocks of today use more modern technologies, such as quartz battery operated mechanisms and even digitally recorded cuckoo birds, the traditional design features of the original cuckoo clocks still remain very much the same.