Walter Lange Memorial In Glashütte: A Moving Tribute To 175 Years Of Glashütte Watchmaking And 92 Years Of A Life Well Lived
I’m sure Glashütte’s inhabitants had envisioned celebrating 175 years of its watchmaking industry much differently than it has turned out. This little town has such a moving and industrious history to celebrate. It’s nice to see that some of the prepared events are going ahead now following a hard year of COVID-19 restrictions, even if in a different way than initially envisioned.
While I imagine that without COVID-19, A. Lange & Söhne might have wanted celebrate the occasion a little differently, the intimate gathering of Walter Lange’s immediate family (son Benjamin and his wife Joanna), Glashütte VIPs, former Saxon minister president Kurt Biedenkopf, and only as much press as you could count on one hand – all healthfully spaced 1.5 meters away from each other during the event – felt a lot more like the way Walter Lange would have personally wanted this to go. “I’m sure that my father would have liked this special and symbolic place too,” Benjamin Lange said in his speech about the freshly refurbished church square vis-à-vis the memorial monument to Walter Lange’s great-grandfather, Ferdinand Adolph Lange.
Lange was one of the most down-to-earth people you could ever have hoped to meet. And while no effort was ever spared for his beloved A. Lange & Söhne, he never liked fuss about his own person. Which is why I venture to say this memorial statue and the bigger event planned for the unveiling might have displeased him. But because of the special situation, it likely ended up being more his style. At any rate, I certainly felt his presence that day smiling out at us.
Walter Lange passed away at the age of 92 in January 2017. Following in the footsteps of his famous ancestor, in 1990 he re-founded his family’s company after close to 40 years of non-existence as part of the East German combine Glashütter Uhrenbetrieb, reasserting Glashütte as the center of Germany’s fine watchmaking in a modern era, going hand in hand with the mechanical renaissance.
Walter Lange memorial statue by Thomas Jastram
The culmination of a nearly three-year project, Hamburg-based sculptor Thomas Jastram was commissioned to create the statue. Having completed his studies at the Dresden University of Fine Arts in the 1980s, Jastram seemed like a natural fit to craft the life-sized bronze figure, especially since one of the key themes in his work is the spatial exploration of the human form.
Jastram’s goal was to depict Lange’s likeness as approachable, radiating the same aura as the man. “He is standing because he was not a sitter,” Jastram laughed as he described his process to me. Note the welcoming positioning of Walter Lange’s hands and arms.
And – of course – the statute wears a watch. Though it’s not possible to ascertain which watch it is on the statue, Lange was generally wearing either the Lange 1 or the Tourbillon Pour le Mérite when I saw him, both of which belonged to the re-founded brand’s original launch collection of 1994.
Lange’s likeness was very purposefully not put on a pedestal – Walter Lange would not have wanted that – instead, it greets visitors to St. Wolfgang’s newly refurbished square at eye level.
When Hartmut Knothe, A. Lange & Söhne’s first managing director, and Glashütte mayor Markus Dressler took the covering off the statue, literally unveiling it to the public, my first thought was that it didn’t look much like Walter Lange. But I came to realize that was because Jastram refused to give him eyeglasses. “That doesn’t translate well to the medium,” the artist explained.
Walter Lange without eyeglasses is a strange sight, changing the way his face looks immensely. Jastram crafted Lange from a composite idea gleaned from years and years’ worth of photos and videos. “I try to find the happy medium,” he explained.
“Thomas Jastram succeeded in depicting Walter Lange’s personality and appeal,” Dressler said in his speech.
Why is Walter Lange important?
Walter Lange was of retirement age in 1990 when Germany’s reunification allowed him and business partner Günter Blümlein to undertake a renewed founding of A. Lange & Söhne, looking to restore it to its former glory. Walter Lange was 66 years old at the time. “This was a most difficult moment in Glashütte’s history,” Markus Dressler, Glashütte’s mayor, said in the speech he gave at the unveiling. “It was a crossroads that could have meant the end of Glashütte’s watch industry.”
Lange registered his new company, Lange Uhren GmbH, on December 7, 1990. This date was representative as it was the anniversary of the company’s original founding in 1845. “That was the impetus needed to ignite the renaissance of our original Glashütte watch industry,” Dressler remarked.
Lange Uhren GmbH was a joint venture between Walter Lange and the watch group known as LMH, managed by Günter Blümlein, which already included Swiss watch brands Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. “He never doubted that success for his company and for the city would come,” Dressler added.
Walter Lange was more than proud of initiating this resurgence, but it wasn’t pride that drove him to do it. It was love of his craft, respect for his family, and appreciation for Glashütte’s people.
“Walter and Ferdinand Adolph Lange lived in different epochs, but each one accomplished exceptional achievements,” said Benjamin Lange in his speech. “And their motivation was the same: ambition, of course, to make the best watches, but never personal wealth. It was always about the people of this region and avoiding impending poverty.”
For an in-depth description of Walter Lange’s life, see The Life And Times Of A. Lange & Söhne Re-Founder Walter Lange.