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My Trip To Germany: Plauen (Part 2)

Plauen

A few weeks ago after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see some of the countryside!  It was pretty great!

Plauen Germany is where my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, lived from about the age of 4 until he left for America at age 18.  Here are some more sights from Plauen as I explored the area and walked in my grandfather’s footsteps.

Friedensbrücke (Peace Bridge)

The Peace Bridge (Friedensbrücke) is a stone arch bridge built in 1905.  The longest span is 90 meters which is nearly 300 feet.  It’s one of the largest stone arch bridges in the world!  There are no older bridges in the world containing this long of an arch span!

My grandfather was 9 years old when the bridge construction was finished, so I’m certain he would have marveled at this monster.  He lived less than one mile (1.6 km) from this bridge, so he must have at least walked across it and under it as a teenager.  Here’s what the bridge looked like in 1906.

And here are a few photos that I took of the bridge while I was there.  It’s really quite impressive.  Especially when you consider when it was constructed.

It’s quite difficult to get a photo of the entire bridge.  It’s really big and there are lots of trees in the area.

The bridge is quite beautiful.  The design is very organized and geometrical, but it also has some random elements mixed in.  The bridge was badly damaged during the war, but it was restored quickly, even though that took a lot of the limited resources that were available to Plauen after the war.

Alte Elsterbrücke (Old Magpie Bridge)

The Old Magpie Bridge (Alte Elsterbrücke) near downtown Plauen is the second oldest stone bridge in Saxony and one of the oldest in Central Europe.  It was first mentioned in documentation from 1244.  The bridge has gone through many restorations over these many years.  You can definitely pick out some sections that are more modern than others.

My grandfather lived about 2 miles (3.2 km) from this old bridge.

It’s a pretty neat bridge and it’s amazing how old it is and that it’s still standing.

Old Castle Looking Structure On Hill

Just one block from downtown Plauen and one block from both town squares, overlooking the entire town, sits this old fort or castle.  I’m not sure which.  It’s obviously under restoration right now.  But I didn’t see any signage and I can’t find any information on the Internet about it either.  Strange.

Whatever it is, it looks pretty awesome.  And some of it is buried in what appears to be a hillside.  But underneath that dirt, looks to be some really old walls and rooms.  This was all completely fenced off for construction, so I couldn’t explore.  I’m interested to find out the history of this structure and what exactly tourists in the future will be able to see and explore.

Spitzenmuseum (Lace Museum)

In my previous post, I mentioned Plauen’s textile and lace manufacturing revolution in the early 1900’s.  My grandfather wrote this in his journal:

After graduating [high school], I obtained a job with Otto-Baum & Son, who manufactured and exported lace.

I’m not exactly sure what type of work he did or how long he did it, though.  While I was in Plauen, I was unable to find any listings or address for this Otto-Baum & Son company, but I’m guessing that in 1913 or 1914, when my grandfather was 17 or 18 years old, small family run lace businesses were all the rage.  The population of Plauen actually peaked in 1912 due to the textile and lace industry there.

So it would have been an absolute crime for me to skip the official Lace Museum (Spitzenmuseum) in town!  The museum has on display, under glass, beautiful antique lace pieces such as these delicate gloves and scarf:

And some amazing clothing items too.

And also this incredible 1936 wedding dress.  Sorry, I didn’t catch the dates on any of the other clothing items.  I’m a dude.  That’s my excuse.  🙂

I’m guessing that this is a tablecloth.  Very cool.  And the display case is also quite impressive!

As a dude, and also as an engineer, I was most excited to gaze at the old antique lace making machinery, as opposed to looking at the actual antique lace samples on display.  But I believe that guys and gals alike can both appreciate this historical local museum.

So this machine apparently pumped out copy after copy of the same small lace pattern segment.

Here are some examples of the small lace pattern segments so you can see what the machine above produced.  These examples are about 6 inches tall or so.

This is the same example, but much closer so you can see the detail.  Basically this detail area contains two leaves with decorative honeycomb-like ribbing.  Each leaf is about 3/4 of an inch.  Pay close attention to the very short ribs on the right that are spanning between the two leaves.

This is the hand-drawn pattern that the operator used to “program” or to drive the giant machine.  The leaves which are actually less than an inch long in real life are about 8 or 10 inches long on this pattern.  And the tiny little, just a few millimeters long, ribs that span between the two leaves are an inch or more long on this pattern.

This display shows an example of how some of the lace products had to be stitched together by hand from numerous smaller sections, like a puzzle.

Here is a smaller and portable automated lace making machine.  You can see the “programming” of this machine was performed by the long roll of punched paper tape.  Surprisingly, this punched tape programming technique had been used on looms for over a hundred years.

The punched tape has holes in it that tell the machine which needles to move up and down and when to do so.

Here is a close up shot of the linear array of sewing needles on this portable machine that were programmed by the punched tape.

I thought this photo was cool so I took a picture of it.  This photo shows the prevalence of factories in Plauen at the height of the textile and lace manufacturing boom.

This display was pretty neat.  This particular lace example is very very textured and even three-dimensional.  Amazing.

And here is an example of an antique and automated embroidery machine.  From this angle, it looks basically like an old sewing machine.

But from this angle, you can clearly see the punched paper tape roll that is fed through the machine to move and control the stitching action.  I think the sewing machine stays stationary and the hoop with the fabric gets moved around.  Pretty cool.

And here is the final product from the automated embroidery machine.  Very nice.  Especially for the time period that this technology was invented and used.

Antique Store

I passed a nice looking local antique store on my way to the town square and I thought it would be fun to check it out and to look for some items that were from the time my grandfather was living in the area.

I considered buying a piece of lace from the early 1900’s, but they were all out of my price range.  This antique store had several beautiful samples, though.

I think they were from the worlds fair or something like that.  Check out the cool lead seal with the crown embedded in it.  That dates it before the first world war, I think the store owner told me.

There were some really cool items in this antique store, but I eventually landed on a vintage harmonica.  Apparently my grandfather came over to America with a harmonica in his pocket.  On July 22nd of 1914, my grandfather’s first day on the ship that took him to America, he wrote this in his journal:

We arrived at 9:00. We were invited to board the ship “Vaterland”. […] We noticed that hundreds of people were waving their handkerchiefs and shouting farewell greetings to us. We did the same.  […]  The German homeland disappeared in the distance. […]  At 3:00 the call to coffee came.  After that, there was more activity on deck. Music was made with an accordion, while some Bohemian country people were performing their dances.  […]  At 7:00, the bells chimed for the evening meal. It became stormier and the ship swayed a little. Despite the disturbance, there was still dancing on the deck. I added to the concert with my harmonica. I went to bed at 11:00.

So I thought it might be cool to own an authentic German harmonica from that time period.  Here’s the one that I purchased.  It’s not quite as old as my grandfather’s, but it’s still very cool.

The case says Liebchen’s Gruss which means Sweetie’s Greeting.  And it has a brightly colored sticker showing “sweetie” waving something in the air.  Possibly a harmonica.  The case also says Made In Germany and “Ges. gesch.” which means registered or patented.

The actual harmonica is pretty basic.  It’s in good shape, with just a couple spots of rust and no wear marks to be seen.  “Liebchen’s Gruss” is etched into both sides.  I’m happy with my purchase and I’m glad I noticed the antique store and decided to check it out.

But wait, there’s even more Plauen to explore!

You haven’t quite seen all of Plauen yet!  In my next post, we’ll explore some churches and we’ll also explore the neighborhood where my grandfather grew up!  So stay tuned!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip To Germany: Plauen

Plauen

A few weeks ago after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see some of the countryside!  It was pretty great!

After visiting the tiny little village of Zaulsdorf Germany near the Czech border, I traveled about 30 minutes northwest to the town of Plauen Germany.  This is where my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, lived from about the age of 4 until he left for America at age 18.

Coincidentally, driving from Zaulsdorf to Plauen is very much like driving from Allentown to Peoria, which is my old stomping grounds growing up.  Plauen actually reminds me of Peoria in several ways.  But it’s a smaller, less industrialized version of PeoriaPlauen has about 80% of the landmass of Peoria, but only has about 50% of the population of Peoria.  So it’s smaller and the population is way more spread out than Peoria.

In the early 1900’s Plauen actually peaked in its population.  In 1912, when my grandfather was living there at age 16, the population grew to 128,000 people, due to the peak of textile and lace manufacturing there.  That population of 128,000 in Plauen in 1912 was more than Peoria’s population is today!  Amazing!

Downtown

Plauen feels very safe and friendly.  The downtown area of Plauen has modern shops and malls.  There are many rolling hills in the area and the downtown strip, where cars are not allowed, is on quite a slope.  It gives this strip a unique character.

Here is the reverse angle, looking downhill.  I felt quite at home in this downtown strip.  I walked around for a while checking out all the stores and shops.  I imagined my grandfather walking around this same strip about a hundred years ago.  Several of the buildings appeared to be over a hundred years old, so they were in place when my grandfather lived here.

This cute little British phone booth stood out like a sore thumb.  It’s called Alice’s Book Box and it’s a free book exchange system.  The idea is that if you take a book, you replace it with a new book.  Very fun.

This photo is just a close up of some cool architecture detail that caught my eye downtown.  I tried to find a date plaque on this building but I came up empty.  The address is Rädelstraße 2, 08523 Plauen, Germany.

Town Squares

This unique old building is the Altes Rathaus or City Hall.  The building has been restored several times over the years, but it’s been around since the late 1300’s.  It overlooks a town square or market.

Here is one of the markets or squares in the middle of downtown.  They contain lots of small businesses and shops and outdoor eateries and cafes.  A very nice area to hang out.

This statue is pretty famous to the area.  It’s called Vater und Sohn or Father and Son.  This statue memorializes the local famous comic strip creator Kurt Erich Ohser, who created the popular Vater und Sohn comic strip in the 1930s under the pseudonym e. o. plauen.

Here is another market or square that actually had local vendors set up and selling goods when I walked through it.  You can see the old city hall at the far corner of this market.

Misc

This photo/camera store in downtown Plauen caught my eye because it claims to have been in business since 1856.  It also caught my eye because my grandfather was into photography and especially videography in his later years.  Did this photo shop in downtown Plauen get him started in that hobby, I wonder?

Sadly, this family owned photo business closed just a few months ago.  But apparently they ran from 1856 till 2017, which is quite an impressive run.  Especially for a small family run business.

The local theatre building in Plauen is pretty impressive.  It hosts musical theater, drama, ballet and symphonies.  It opened in 1898, right before my grandfather and his family moved to Plauen.

I wonder what shows or events my grandfather saw in this theatre while growing up here in Plauen.  My parents and my sister and I are all very much into musical theatre and I wonder if any of that interest started right here in this building way back in the early 1900s.

My grandfather was very artistic and also quite musical.  In his journal, he mentioned that he had become a good tenor singing in his church in Peoria.  At age 20 he took a job painting scenery at a theatre in Peoria.  His scenery painting gig also allowed him to act on stage occasionally for the troupe.  And he acted quite a bit for the Peoria Cinema Club that he became very active in later in life.  This Plauen theatre could have sparked some of that creativity and theatre interest in him.  Although I’ll never know details like these until I talk to my grandfather in heaven, it’s always fun to imagine and to speculate.

But wait, there’s more Plauen to explore!

You haven’t seen all of PlauenMy next post will focus on some pretty cool old stuff that I came across in my travels!  So stay tuned!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt