Germany’s Black Forest region has long been renowned for talented wood carvers. These are the people, starting as far back as 1600, who began carving the intricate patterns that are now so cherished in authentic German cuckoo clocks.
Cuckoo clocks are still made by hand here in southwest Germany and if you walk quietly through the dark fir trees from which the Black Forest gets its name, you might hear the call of wild cuckoo birds, sounds that most of us recognize only because of these charming time pieces.
Woodcarvers in Germany’s Black Forest
For a deeper immersion into the cuckoo clock world, I highly recommend a visit to the monastery in the village of St. Märgen, about 15 miles from the larger community of Freiburg. Although a few monks still live here, the focus at the monastery, which dates to 12th century, is the clock museum.
Just up the hill and around a bend in the road from the monastery, you’ll find the studio of another woodcarver named Simon Stiegler. His is the only studio in St. Märgen, a charming little village of fewer than 2,000 people.
Simon carves some pretty incredible stuff using lindenwood from the forest around his home. They kind of stop you in your tracks, right?
My first thought was that these would make great Halloween costumes. But that’s not their purpose, according to Simon.
Mardi Gras Masks in Germany’s Black Forest
These masks are used for Mardi Gras celebrations, or Fasching as it’s called in much of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Dating to pagan times, fasching is that period leading up to Lent. Townspeople wear elaborate and frightening wooden masks to drive away evil spirits that had settled in during the cold, gray winter months.
Some of the masks you’ll see in these parades are quite old, having been passed down through several generations. They can be quite expensive and quite heavy as well. The one I held was easily 20 pounds or more.
My friend Rebecca Bingham, whom I was traveling with on this occasion, videotaped her conversation with Simon as he explained the detailed efforts of his work.
So, because the masks neither fit in my budget nor my carry-on bag, I opted for other, less intimidating art for sale in Simon’s studio. These are little treasures I can enjoy year-round while remembering the creativity of woodcarvers in Germany’s Black Forest.