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German Watch Museum Glashütte
History & Masterpieces

German Watch Museum Glashütte

Thursday, 19 June 2008
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Peter Braun
Editor-in-chief Armbanduhren and Armbanduhren Katalog

“It is not little time we have, but too little what we do with it.”


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8 min read

Officially inaugurated on May 22nd this year, the German Watch Museum Glashütte has opened to the public in the building of the former German School of Watchmaking. True to its slogan, “The fascination of time – Bringing time to life,” the Museum will not only illustrate the art of watchmaking through its extensive collection, it will also pay tribute to the town of Glashütte, its citizens and their history.

The German School of Watchmaking was founded exactly 130 years ago in Glashütte. The inauguration, on May 22nd, of the German Watch Museum Glashütte has given the imposing school building in the centre of town a new lease on life as a temple to the art and history of watchmaking. Watchmaking began in Glashütte on a modest scale in 1845. It enjoyed a period of expansion at the turn of the century then, under the East German Socialist regime, entered an industrial era. Since Germany reunification, the sector has risen to prominence again.

The creation of a watch museum on the site of what was once the heart of German watchmaking was a hotly-debated question for many years. The town of Glashütte owned the collections but lacked the necessary funding to support such an ambitious project; nor could a museum of this calibre be handed over to a single watch brand.

In addition to the museum, the fully renovated and refurbished building is now home to the
In addition to the museum, the fully renovated and refurbished building is now home to the "Alfred Helwig" watchmaking school for Glashütte Original © Free
Difficult beginnings

Ultimately, the decisive impulse came from Switzerland. Nicolas G. Hayek, the man at the helm of the Swatch Group and who needs no introduction, unveiled his project for a non-profit foundation that would finance the museum. The initiative drawn up by this emblematic figure in watchmaking proposed a combination of public and private funding. The town of Glashütte would take care of the collections. The buildings that would house the museum would be purchased with money from the partners, who were also brought in for the renovation, refurbishing and maintenance of the buildings for a total investment of close to €10 million. No other proposition having been received during the tender period, in November 2006 the German Watch Museum Glashütte – Nicolas G. Hayek Foundation was created.

Many would have preferred to name the foundation after one of the Saxon town’s sons, fearing that the dominant role played by a single manufacturer, the German company Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb, would give a distorted view of the history of German watchmaking, and that the different brands that also claim ties with Glashütte would be unequally represented.

This wasn’t to be. Glashütte Original is represented just once, as part of the same promotional opportunity given to all the brands – A. Lange & Söhne, Nomos, Wempe, Mühle and Bruno Söhnle – that are present and manufacture in Glashütte. Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb is outstanding in its role as representative and spokesfirm for the different members of the watchmaking industry in Glashütte, with a serenity that owes much to its historic roots.

All under one roof

Following the fall of the Third Reich, East Germany came under the control of its Soviet neighbour and a new socialist state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was founded in 1961. Private property was abolished and the industrial fabric of the former private sector was reorganised into combines. In the early 1950s, the various watchmaking and precision mechanics workshops that operated independently in Glashütte were merged into a single entity, VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe (GUB). After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this combine became Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH. Later, in 2000, the company was taken over by Swatch Group AG. From a legal standpoint, all the other watchmaking firms based in Glashütte are new companies. In this light, Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH stood out as the natural legatee for the different manufacturers that have ever been present on the site.

Furthermore, the impressive collection of Glashütte-made watches, parts, chronometers, calculators and other precision instruments that forms the basis of the Museum’s collection originally “belonged” to Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH, which operated its own small watch museum. Given that, from today’s legal standpoint, Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH came into possession of these items illicitly, through expropriation, the company was under obligation to transfer ownership rights for the exhibited pieces to the town of Glashütte in 1992. Thanks to the joint investment made by the two entities representing the foundation, a circle that had been temporarily interrupted could now be closed.

Full circle

The concept for the museum was masterminded by the Stuttgart-based agency Brückner under the supervision of Professor Uwe Brückner. Its structure is the natural continuation of 160 years of tradition. The exhibition unfolds chronologically, taking visitors on a journey through the different eras of watchmaking. It looks at decisive periods in the industry’s history, with the creation of the first workshops by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, industrialisation and the subsequent division of labour, the years of expansion when Glashütte became a jewel in the industry’s crown, the rapid decline of the sector in the face of economic crisis, and its collapse after the war. The exhibition then turns to the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe era, followed by the revival of German watchmaking with its continued success today.

Erected in 1882, the building that once housed the German School of Watchmaking is now, alongside the Museum, the site of a new watchmaking school. While not a direct descendant of its illustrious predecessor, the school trains apprentices employed by Glashütte Original. The last few metres of the exhibition that lead back to the present day are flanked by a long window through which visitors can observe these apprentice-watchmakers as they work.

Visitors can see watchmakers at work © Free
Visitors can see watchmakers at work © Free
A modern multimedia museum

Over 400 unique exhibits are spread over two floors, covering 1,000 square metres in all: Glashütte pocket watches, wristwatches and clocks from different periods, marine chronometers, escapement models, historic certificates and patents, tools and workbenches, astronomical models and metronomes are all carefully displayed. Multimedia installations prolong visitors’ discovery of the world of watchmaking. Reinhard Reichel, director of the Museum since 1992, selected the pieces on display from the Museum’s reserves and arranged for the loan of other outstanding items.

The exhibition revolves around two themes, framed by a prologue and an epilogue. The first is illustrated by historical pieces, chosen to highlight the events that have marked the town of Glashütte throughout its existence. Ferdinand Adolph Lange, Julius Assmann, Adolf Schneider and Moritz Großmann, the founding fathers who transformed Glashütte into a pre-eminent town for German watch manufacturing and training, are also presented here. The visit continues with a series of historical tableaux illustrating Gründerzeit, the First and Second World Wars, the dismantling and forced nationalisation of the industry, German reunification and, finally, the revival of German watchmaking.

The second part of the exhibition or “time rooms” interrupts this chronological narrative and takes visitors on a discovery of the microcosm of a watch, where they can appreciate for themselves the precision and interplay of the hundreds of different parts. One of these “time rooms” is reserved for multimedia installations where visitors can explore, at their own speed, the multiple facets of watchmaking. One such installation is the interactive glossary: visitors wishing to learn more about a particular aspect of time measurement can enter a term and the glossary then displays texts, drawings and film sequences on this subject.

A museum for everyone

The opening of the German Watch Museum Glashütte on the historic site of the former German School of Watchmaking marks the beginning of a unique venue that will be a place in which to conserve the town’s cultural history and also to promote watchmaking, education and science. Speaking at the opening of the Museum, Frank Müller, Managing Director of Glashütte Original who, alongside the Mayor of Glashütte, is a founding member of the Foundation’s executive board, dedicated the Museum to a wide audience: “As a modern and experience-orientated time-world, the Museum is designed to appeal not only to watch enthusiasts but also the layman, families and young people. We look forward to welcoming our first visitors and hope that this Museum will help transmit the fascination of the art of watchmaking and knowledge of time measurement to future generations.”

The German Watch Museum Glashütte is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is €6 for adults and €12 for a Family ticket. Guided tours are available on request. For more information, visit the Museum’s website at www.uhrenmuseum-glashuette.com or call the visitor welcome service on +49 (0) 350 53 46 283.

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