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It’s About (German) Time

Die ersten Uhren und die Uhrzeit

Peter Henlein and Portable Time

Germans and timekeeping have long been linked together. Peter Henlein (ca. 1480-1542) of Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Germany is generally credited with the invention of the spring-powered clock sometime around 1510. Today we take clocks and small timepieces for granted, but someone had to be ingenious enough to invent a practical way to keep track of hours, minutes, and seconds. Heinlein was a locksmith (Schlosser) who specialized in making timepieces that were small enough to be carried on one's person.

This scene from Austrian director Fritz Lang's sci-fi classic "Metropolis" shows a 10-hour clock unlike any other. This lesson concerns more conventional Uhren.

Peter Henlein's new compact, portable clock was a major technological advance in the history of timekeeping. His key invention was the balance spring (die Federbremse or die Unruh) that improved the accuracy of the spring-driven clockwork. Heinlein's clever Unruh invention would lead to even smaller timepieces, such as the pocket watch (die Taschenuhr) and the wrist watch (die Armbanduhr). Although he was not the only watch inventor, Henlein was the first maker of "pocket watches" in Germany. His small, drum-shaped Taschenuhr could run for 40 hours before it needed rewinding. (The later Nuremberg egg-shaped clocks, the so-called Nürnberger Eier, were created after Henlein's death.) His mini-clock chimed each hour and was small enough to be worn on a neck chain or carried in a money purse ("im Busen oder in der Geldbörse getragen"). But his horological creations hardly resembled today's versions. For one thing his early watches had only a single hour hand (der Stundenzeiger). The minute hand would come much later. The watch slowed down as the mainspring (die Hauptfeder) wound down. Such early Uhren were also expensive, hand-made creations far beyond the reach of the average person.

Among the prime attractions of many German and European cities is the Uhrturm or clock tower. Dating mostly from the 15th and 16th centuries, clock towers can be found in many Austrian, German and Swiss cities and towns. Munich's Glockenspiel (carillon, musical clock) graces the Bavarian city's gothic Neues Rathaus (New City Hall). It delights tourists in the Marienplatz with jousting knights and dancing coopers. Swiss Zyttürme are found in Bern, Solothurn, Zug and other places. The Glockenturm in Solothurn dates back to 1250. Bern's clock is similar to Munich's, with hourly displays of dancing figures. In Austria, the most prominent landmark of Graz is the city's Uhrturm (1561) atop the Schlossberg (castle hill). — But now let's look at some practical aspects of telling time in German.

It's About Time: Now take a look at several date and time-related features for German-learners. These include: (1) How to Tell Time in German, (2) a guide to German Numbers (along with Lektion 8 of German for Beginners), (3) an annotated English-German glossary for Dates and Time, (4) a self-scoring quiz on telling time, (5) a Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) and (6) our time links.

NEXT > How To Tell Time - Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Vocab | Quiz | 6

MORE > German Inventors - Erfinder

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WEB > Peter Henlein - Die tragbare Zeit - Zürich Versicherung
WEB > Vergessene Erfinder: Peter Henlein - Deutsche Rundschau

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