Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wetzlar - home of the Leica Camera

In the early seventies, I visited Wetzlar from time to time - more specifically, I visited the Ernst Leitz Company, which happened to be in town. Wetzlar is close to the line that formerly divided East Germany from West Germany and the city had the good fortune to fall into West Germany during the carve up by the Allies after WWII, making is accessible throughout the cold war. A second outcome of WWII was a huge increase in population owing to the huge number of displaced persons and the flood of refuges from the east. Pre-war, population had been around 16,000 - by 1955 it was over 30,000. From it's beginnings in 1845, the the Leitz company underwent numerous name changes, finally settling on the name Ernst Leitz in about 1870 - a name that then endured for seventy years or thereabouts. From day one, company products were based in optical engineering, first telescopes, then microscopes and eventually evolving, in the 1920's, to still cameras. The major claim to fame of the first camera produced by the company was in the use of standard sprocketed 35 mm cinematography film - a tiny picture format compared to contemporary cameras - with image quality maintained by superb Leitz lenses made just for that purpose. The name chosen for the camera, Leica, was derived from LEItz CAmera and this name eventually eclipsed the company name. Further, the camera's concept eventually eclipsed the entire camera market being, as it was, the archetypal 35 mm still camera. Thirty-five years ago, Wetzlar was something of a backwater, a quiet rural town, seeming somewhat isolated from the world at large. Today, with a population of more than 50,000, it appears much more in the mainstream and also to be relatively prosperous, certainly so when compared to cities further east. Wetzlar is on the river Lahn, has the obligatory hill, steep roads, narrow streets, a castle and a cathedral - just about everything the ideal European town could desire. The old town in fact, is a fine example of history in the remaking - streets cobbled with pristine precision, walls and buildings perfectly patched, a plethora of lamp posts more elegant than functional, pedestrian areas cordoned off by ranks of traffic bollards, roofs decked out with high-tech composition shingles, buildings painted in startlingly colorful DuPont emulsions, utilities neatly routed underground, an excess of upscale sidewalk cafes and, of course, a smattering of tee-shirt, post card, ice cream, fudge and souvenir shops, all conspired to exude a vague déjà vu of a sterile Theme Park. In truth, every town or city we visited that had more than a few old buildings, radiated a similar air of unreality. Anyway, enough adulation of the tourist industry. Following are a few snaps of places about town.

The Lieca plant can now be considered squarely in the 21st
century having a McDonalds sign right across the street

A few hundred yards down the street from Leica is
this view of the Old Town across the River Lahn

Bonus picture - unusual building and a narrow street!

Impeccable pastel painted portals on steep cobble street

Detail of previous building

Wending through town is a maze of
extremely steep and often narrow streets

More manicured mansions around a major square

Tiny street off the corner of the square

Looking back down the narrow road

At the rear of many of the show buildings,
some were really showing their age

Crafted in Wetzlar by unhurried hands, the sandstone
cathedral, begun in the 1200's is still unfinished. At the
left of the picture, the base of the incomplete second
tower can be seen. No date for completion is available

Cathedral interior - relatively spartan, typical of Germany

On the river walk from campsite to town, Poppa Duck
was seen helping Momma Duck with the chores

After our poor experiences with German cuisine, we were
pleased to find the campsite restaurant run by a Greek
family. The Lady of the house certainly provided an
enjoyable meal

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