Vistiting Leica in Wetzlar
13-11-2021, updated 16-12-2021
I had wanted to visit Leica since quite a while, and finally persuaded myself to have a day trip to Wetzlar. November 12th 2021.
It was foggy all day and everywhere. A very bad day for binocular testing outside, but it will be nice to play around for a while inside the shop. I expect the full range of Leica binoculars and plan to look through all the 8x models.
From the train station in Wetzlar it is a nice 45 minute walk, crossing a beautiful park and then even half a mile of woodland. And suddenly you bump right into the Leitz park.
The contrast of trekking on a small path through old oaks and entering a vast space of almost naked concrete and granite was almost worth the travel alone.
I take the guided one hour tour. Leica binoculars are now built and serviced at the Portugal branch (founded in 1973).
There are about 700 people working at Leica in Wetzlar. I was surprised to hear that they only produce 2000 lens elements per month. No wonder buyers may have to wait long until they get their lenses.
Lens assembly line at lunch time
Some impressions of their special binocular exhibition:
Development of the new Geovid design
A stabilized 14x42? Not much information was given at the exhibition except some headlines, and I missed this one.
I forgot to document the headlines here, too, but assume from context this are WWI Binuxit predecessors.
"1918: back to civilian production."
The Amplivid 6x24 from 1954, with Uppendahl prisms.
The Trinovid I line from 1954.
Trinovid II from 1963 (upper right corner), Trinovid III (middle row) from 1990 (BA) and 1992 (BN, with improved close focus).
Upper row: Trinovid IIs (1963).
"Never made it into serial production": Trinovid (II?) Vario 7-12x42.
Design studies for Triovid III (left and middle).
It seemingly started as Trinovid generation IV but then was named Ultravid. Size difference in the Trinovid III 8x32 vs Ultravid 8x32 always amazed me. I love this 8x32 with all its flaws. Would like to have one in black leather. Why is Leica doing such a lot of weird stuff instead of black leather, like...
..."Colorline compact binoculars".
My Ultravid 8x32 HD+ joins some bigger siblings in the shop. Most beautiful binocular line in the world.
Then some binocular testing in the shop. Staff was very friendly, and especially a huge chromed sculpture of a Leica M providing a very good, contrasty and threedimensional test object. Unfortunately due to Covid there is a shortage of binoculars and a lot of models were not available. I was most impressed with the Ultravid HD Plus 8x50 and sorely missed my Leica favourite, the UVHD+ 7x42.
Next, Leitz museum exhibitions. Great photo exhibitions we can take for granted here, and I enjoyed this very much.
The history of the company is interesting and thought provoking. It is presented with understatement to the point where it is hard to miss essential information. The leading members of the Leitz family through the three generations were convinced democrats, offered their workers good wages and social security, and acted brave and humanitarian during the Hitler regime.
In 1869 a optical company founded in 1849 became "Ernst Leitz - Optische Werke - Wetzlar", run by Ernst Leitz I.
About his son, Ernst Leitz II, during the Hitler regime, this quote from wikipedia:
"At considerable risk to himself and at the risk of his company's prestige, Leitz provided valuable assistance to or saved the lives of 86 people between 1933 and 1945, 68 of whom were persecuted on racial grounds. Most were Jews. He employed endangered Wetzlar Jews in his company immediately after the seizure of power and provided many of them with money and letters of recommendation to emigrate, especially to the USA. There, many persecuted Jews were employed in the company's New York branch until they could find other jobs. This process was later called The Leica Freedom Train in the United States." Ernst Leitz II, according to this article (in German), never talked about this, so that his grandson - who was close with him - was very surprised when a Frank Smith, a rabbi from London, published the story in 2007 after 15 years of research (article in German).
Leitz Cine has just named their latest set of cine lenses "Elsie", which made me wonder why that name. "The name ELSIE is inspired by lifelong humanitarian Elsie Kühn-Leitz, daughter of Ernst Leitz II, who championed the oppressed and suffering and risked her own life to help them."
A film in the museum tells that Elsie was imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944 for "exaggerated humanity", because she had tried to make life easier for employed prisoners of war. Her father managed to buy her free 10 weeks later and save her from concentration camp. The rest of her life Elsie worked for renewing the French-German relations and unifying Europe.
It was time to head for home and into the night, but not without having a look at the old town of Wetzlar on the way to the train station.
It´s beautiful here.
One third of the Germans so far refused to get vaccinated. Covid incidences are soaring rapidly again, medical capacities are stretched almost to breaking point (F.A.Z online, today). We really need to rethink our school system. Biology, history of science and statistics need to be a bigger part of it. It is much more important for our society and survival than ancient Rome, the French revolution and the movie "L.A. crash" that has substituted Shakespeare even in advanced English classes. We need much better education for each and everyone, and not only for the kids. We probably need a second enlightenment. "Enlightenment is man´s emergence from his self-impaired immaturity" (Kant). The one sentence from my school time that burnt itself into my heart.
It was a grand day out.
... response from a reader:
I just wanted to reply to your paragraph on Enlightenment which struck me deeply. Its first principle, which you can find in writers like Condorcet and d'Alembert, was education, especially in scientific reasoning. They assumed that everyone was capable of it, but also saw how necessary it was for democracy to work, for example using mathematics to estimate the probability of a correct decision by a body of people as a function of their individual ignorance. They also laid out the math arguing for inoculation against smallpox, but ultimately had to conclude that people would weigh the risks differently, according to their age, life circumstances and so on. Of course there actually was some risk of contracting smallpox back then from the inoculation itself, as there is not with COVID. They would have been appalled to see molecular biology spurned by anti-vaxxers. A new Enlightenment may not happen before our civilization collapses under the cost of climate catastrophes, but it's good to hear from someone else who longs for it.