Industry in The Black Forest | Economic History

Industry In The Black Forest

When people think of Germany, they often recall common Iconic festivals like the Oktoberfest or traditional items like beer steins and cuckoo clocks. These are specific to Southern Germany and Bravaria and the impact these traditions have had on the world is truely outstanding.

It's worth exploring what events brought such iconic items like the Cuckoo Clock into existence. Was it purely creativity? Was it luck and chance? was it carefully calculated? Let's look at the humble beginnings of what has become a world renowned house hold favourite for generations.


Germany's Economic History | 1700's

The cuckoo clock was believed to be first invented in the 1700's, but its worth reflecting on the 100's years that came before to set the stage of how truely innovative and remarkable this item was.

Between 1618-1648 Germany was stuck in a terribly unstabalising and unrelenting war named The Thirty Years War. The war and its soldiers ravaged the land and its citizens spreading the plague (which you can read more about here), plundering food stocks and animals on farms and killing millions of people. It took generations for the people of Germany to fully recover.


Different Industries | North vs South Germany

The North and South Germany differ in their culture but also their natural resources. Northern Germany was much richer in natural resources then the southern states. They had a vast agricultural industry and they mined rich coal and iron deposits. 

In Southern Germany the sates were quite poor in natural resources. The alpine environment didn't harbour the right terrain or climate for commercial agriculture or mining operations. They instead fostered small "cottage industries", which was a collection of individuals manufacturing and producing goods from home, a style of manufacturing that was revisited recently during the covid-19 pandemic when workers were not allowed to work together in factories. For a period of time they were making your cuckoo clocks from home!


Working from home | Cottage Industries

Cottage Industries allowed hunters and farmers to earn their regular living during the summer and during winter when it was too cold to be outside in the Alps, they could produce smaller goods indoors. It was during the winter in the Alps that the world renowned craftsmanship of German wood carving and clock movement engineering began. It was these skills, learned inside the protective walls of the alpine chalet's during winter and refined over 100's of years that kick started  Southern Germany's economy. 


The Alpine Region | The Engine Room Of Wood Carving

The early 1800's were also fraught with severe drought and famine. Dry seasons and cold unforgiving winters made farming and other agriculture an unreliable income. With no other large industries to support the area the locals were in desperate need to find new areas of revenue for the region.

The Switzerland government supported and encouraged the timer industry to liaise with the traditional wood carvers of the area. And so the early 1800’s saw the beginning of the professional wood carving industry and commercialisation of hand crafted products in the Alpine region.

Fast forward to the late 1800’s and wood carving schools were founded in southern Germany and Switzerland. By this time there were Black Forest wood carvings being exhibited in major exhibitions around the world.

Wood Carving is no easy feat and often only the wealthy would adore these exquisite carvings of black forest animals, furniture and eventually clocks in their homes. 

You can read more about the intricacies of wood carving and types of timber in our other Blog post - Click the button below to read more!


Black Forest Economy Today

While Cuckoo Clocks are still one of the most common take home souvenirs from the Black Forest region, this last year has tested the resilience of the local economy. 

After being in constant contact with our Cuckoo Clock suppliers in the Black Forest over the past 18 months it has been a pleasant surprise to hear the owners positive attitude and "this too shall pass" mentality. Having to carve clocks from their homes due to restrictions didn't seem to phase the wood carvers. Just like in the 1700-1800's, craftsmanship was done at home, in the Chalet's during the depths of winter. This traditional method was revisited and nothing seemed too out of place for them as they simply "got on with it". 

I think the resilience of the German people and their innovation during hardship have them well placed to come through this pandemic. As one of the owners said to me recently in an email, they are looking forward to a "beer garden summer". I think we all can say "Prost" (cheers) to that!