Switzerland is, of course, the home of European watchmaking, but the next-most prominent country when it comes to creating watches is Germany. It’s a nation that’s famed for precision, order, and timekeeping just as much as Switzerland: maybe even more so. I once had a German colleague who continually chastised me for being late, so – just to show him – I subsequently made a point of arriving 10 minutes early. Alas, this resulted in yet more bewildering condemnation. “But being 10 minutes early is just as imprecise as being 10 minutes late,” he churlishly pointed out.
I eventually got my revenge. The very same colleague later texted to inform me that he would be between “three and four” minutes late for a meeting. I imagine that this was probably one of the most mortifying messages of his life…especially as he wasn’t able to be any more exact.
Marking that moment of shame was his beautiful Junghans watch, which I remember being fascinated by. It was somewhat ironic that we eventually bonded over a shared love of timekeeping devices. Many German watch brands (although not Junghans) come from the small town of Glashutte to the east of the country near the Czech border. It’s to Germany what La Chaux-de-Fonds is to Switzerland; the fulcrum of German watchmaking.
But I recently took a trip to the other end of the country; the Eifel region in the northwest of Germany. I obviously thought long and hard about which watch to take with me. If only I had paid the same amount of attention to the quantity of underwear needed…
The ideal watch would have been a German one, but I don’t actually own one. Yet, I also contemplated a FORZO watch, as I was staying close to the fabled Nurburgring race track – the famous ‘green hell’ – and so a green Drive King would have been ideal. But without giving too much away, that will be another story for another time (as will be a trip to Glashutte).
Instead, it turned out to be a reasonably straightforward choice. I needed to keep a close eye on the time at home, due to various work commitments. I also required a watch that was easy to read, yet discreet, and able to fit into any occasion.
So, it clearly had to be a GMT watch, and that meant my trusty Squale Sub-39 Vintage GMT. In the year or so that I’ve owned it, this Squale has turned out to be one of my favourites (and therefore most-worn) watches for a number of reasons.
The sheer practicality of a GMT watch when travelling is unparalleled, and this is one of the very best examples. But in this case, it’s combined with a retro dive watch look, which makes it absolutely unique: there’s nothing else quite like it on sale. It’s a bit like having three watches in one, and this is what helps to make it my go-to choice so often. It’s very discreet, yet at the same time seems to attract a huge number of compliments.
Most of all, it’s a watch that just fits into my life; a large part of which revolves around travel. But northern Germany is often overlooked as a tourist destination, which is a shame when it has so much to offer.
The Eifel region is largely volcanic, and it’s famous for its lakes that have formed in volcanic craters. The landscape is lush, verdant, and punctuated by Hansel and Gretel-style houses: more green heaven than green hell.
It’s definitely rustic around here; in a homely German way. You get foaming steins of Weissbier and huge slabs of schnitzel, all slathered in a creamy mushroom sauce with steaming piles of potatoes, and a few sausages on the side for good measure. There are around five different types of mustards to choose from: and that’s just for lunch. A couple of hours later, it’s back to the table for Kaffee und Kuchen – coffee and cake – which is another German institution that happens around 4pm every day.
Germany is about quality as well as quantity, which is why it’s always a pleasure to stroll around the towns looking at all the watch shops: a customary habit of mine, wherever I find myself. I did take one trip to the city of Cologne, where all the big brands are seen on the Schildergasse: the city’s principal shopping street. In particular, there’s a window where you can drool over the products of A.Langhe & Sohne – perhaps the archetypal German watchmaker – courtesy of Wempe: one of Germany’s best-known jewellers that also makes watches under its own name.
But for the most part, my browsing took place in the smaller towns; principally Daun, where I stayed at the amazing Amsthaus. Daun is a quiet little town, with the Amsthaus – an old castle – sitting majestically at the top of it. It’s worth going just to stay there, taking in the charm of the beautiful old building, typical wooden furniture, sumptuous rooms, and even more elaborate fruhstuck (which means ‘breakfast’) buffet. You’re never far from copious quantities of food in Germany: another reason why I like it.
You don’t get dedicated watch shops as such in these small towns: instead, they are usually independent jewellers, which tend not to sell very high-end brands. But you can still see a lot of affordable quality: the best finds were the stunningly-coloured Glashutte Original watches and of course one of my favourite German watch brands: Sinn. Something else I discovered, during the course of my browsing, was that renowned German camera manufacturer Leica makes watches too. I remember reading about them a while back, but this was the first example I had seen in the metal.
Lower down the scale, there were some intriguing German alternatives, such as the Kerbholz range, with cases made out of wood (I was actually very tempted by a kitchen clock but managed to resist). I loved the range of Union Glashutte watches too, which is a company I definitely want to find out more about, and I was intrigued by Bruno Sohnle. Another, more familiar, brand I encountered on my travels was Laco: proving that you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a German watch to be proud of, while Marc & Sons was new to me but seemed to be offering some pretty good value dive watches of decent quality.
There’s a huge collecting scene in Germany: I met one person who had accumulated every single Moonswatch in just a matter of days. And of course, loads of people wanted to see my Squale more closely as well, which made a perfect travelling companion, as I knew it would.
But all good things have to come to an end, and after a week I was heading back from Germany, ready for the next adventure. I had half a mind that I might buy a German watch while I was over there, and although I was sorely tempted by a Glashutte Original, it just wasn’t quite the right moment. What with that and the regular intake of Bitburger beer, this was at least one trip where I didn’t return home several pounds lighter…