What do you know about the Black Forest, Joe?

Not very much, reader Brian. I drove through it once on the way to visit the city of Freiburg. I remember the Black Forest being quite black indeed because of all the pine and fir trees, but that’s about it for the forest itself. One thing I remember about Freiburg, however, was all the cuckoo clocks. The Black Forest area is known for cuckoo clocks, which have been produced there, in one form or another, for some 300 years. There was a shop in Freiburg that seemed to have nothing in it but cuckoo clocks. The sheer absurdity of it made you want to buy one.


Until then I’d always assumed that cuckoo clocks came from Switzerland. I’m told that while the Swiss do make cuckoo clocks they’re in the more tasteful “chalet” style than the classic carved-wooden-deerheads-with-pinecone-wieghts cuckoo clocks. Taste, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

Before my experience at that shop I confess I’d never wondered: why put a cuckoo in a clock? The answer is that the cuck-coo, cuck-coo sound of the common Eurasian cuckoo is, at least in that part of the world, a harbinger of spring. A happy sound, in other words. Or at least it starts out that way, until you hang the clock in your living room and it positively drives you mad. Which may well be why that cuck-coo sound also signifies crazy in Western culture. Anyway, that’s the sum total of my knowledge, Brian. Thanks for the question.

4 thoughts on “What do you know about the Black Forest, Joe?”

  1. How funny, Joe! I love the sound of a wheezy old cuckoo clock.

    My grandfather was stationed in Germany for a few years after WWII and he loved to travel the country in his spare time. He brought home with him one of those totally tasteless carved-wooden-deerheads-with-pinecone-weights clocks and it hung in his study (much later, my grandmother’s final bedroom) until the day we emptied the house after my grandmother’s funeral.

    It kept terrible time, made pained noises, and the whole family couldn’t have loved it any more. It was a constant reminder of a playful character who delighted in the silliest things. It had given up the ghost by the time my grandmother had to move into the ground-floor study as her bedroom (my grandfather having passed away about five years prior) but my mother insisted on taking it home with her. She was wrecked to learn that cuckoo clocks generally were made so poorly that they’re impossible to repair. It’s as silent in her basement as it was in my gamma’s room, but it’s not going anywhere.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane to my poppop’s finer days.

    1. Love that story, Essbee! Amazing the sorts of things we get attached to, especially if they’re evocative of people we love. I have some funny old stuff that belonged to my grandfather that reminds me of him — even though he wasn’t funny in any sense of the term. We humans are sentimental creatures though, in the oddest ways!

      Cheers and thanks!

      – Joe

  2. *hehe – reading through your blog is fun. I lived in Freiburg for a while and it’s still one of the best cities to live in, which I have ever visisted. Awesome climate, winter skiing, summer sun bathing, rivers, lakes, forest, hiking mountains, plenty of local fresh yummy food, farmer’s markets every day, lots of public transport (I did not need a car in the time I lived there), nice people, great weather, the list goes on.
    Cuckoo clocks are there for the tourists though. And Triberg appears to claim to have the biggest one, as well as being the cuckoo clock center (it’s actually IN the Black Forest, not on it’s outskirts like Freiburg). Either way, fun to read.
    Oh – and on that note – not sure about the origin, but in German there is a phrase translating to ‘you have a bird’ (in your head), meaning you are crazy. Usually you tip on your forehead saying that, where the bird appears to reside. Would be the position of a cuckoo in a cuckoo clock as well. Probably just coincidence, but I just found that thought funny!
    And Freiburg is absolutely WORTH a visit!!! Just don’T fall into the ‘Bächle’ – the small water runs going throughout the city. Otherwise you gotta marry a local 😉

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