A Cuckoo Clock Isn’t Crazy

The cuckoo clock can be distinguished from any other timepiece in a number of ways. Like a grandfather clock, the cuckoo has a particular shape that readily identifies itself. It is a wall clock that has two or three weights to drive time, the hour, and possibly a melody. The clock case generally is dark brown and in the shape of a chalet style house with a peaked roof that is decorated with a carved large bird or other animal. The most distinguishing element of this clock is, of course, the cuckoo bird that jumps out of an opening in the peak of the chalet to announce the hour with the right number of “cuckoo” sounds and announce the half hour with one “cuckoo” sound.

The video below shows some of thr many types made.

A Modern Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo clocks originate from the southern part of modern Germany known as the Black Forest region. Franz Anton Ketterer made the first clock around 1730 in the small village of Schönwald just a few miles from Triberg, Germany. Believe it or not, there is a real bird indigenous to the Black Forest area known as the European cuckoo that makes a sound just like the clock. When I visited this famous clock area some years ago, I was astonished to hear the sound of what I thought was a very loud cuckoo clock only to realize that I was hearing the real bird. The bellows mechanism inside the clock imitates the sound of the bird very well. Many a G.I. stationed in Germany at the end of World War II and during the years of the Cold War brought home a German cuckoo as a souvenir. Cuckoo clocks made in a variety of countries can be bought here in the U.S. and in clock shops around the world. The cuckoo seems to capture the imagination and happily announce the time in millions of homes.

The original cuckoos were made with a hand-carved case and mechanical works based upon a pendulum. Some inexpensive modern ones have a plastic case and/or a quartz mechanism but true Black Forest clockmakers continue to make traditional cuckoos. While the Triberg area continues the manufacture of authentic Black Forest clocks, tourists in the area must be aware of what they are actually buying in the large clock shops. Many of the clocks, fancy and inexpensive alike, are made in assembly line fashion in the local area while others may be imported and just sold in the Black Forest region.

You can still purchase a hand carved cuckoo of fine quality if you know where to look. Ask locals for the location of the old clock shops in the Triberg area where cuckoos are still made by hand. You can spend the same amount as you would at the large tourist shop but instead ship home a fine hand-crafted cuckoo clock. Or, if a trip to Germany is not in your plans, you can buy a fine one anytime on eBay.

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Chalet Style Cuckoo Clock

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