Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leitz Park, Wetzlar and the 50th anniversary of the LHSA

Leitz Park, Wetzlar and the 50th anniversary of the LHSA

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  No Leica fan visiting Wetzlar can resist standing on the spot where Oskar Barnack took his iconic shot of the Alten Münz house in the Eisenmarkt in 1913. This is my effort, taken with the nearest digital thing we have to a Barnack Leica, Leica CL and 23mm Summicron. It is said that the Ur-Leica back in 1913 had a focal length of approximately 42mm.
No Leica fan visiting Wetzlar can resist standing on the spot where Oskar Barnack took his iconic shot of the Alten Münz house in the Eisenmarkt in 1913. This is my effort, taken with the nearest digital thing we have to a Barnack Leica, Leica CL and 23mm Summicron. It is said that the Ur-Leica back in 1913 had a focal length of approximately 42mm.

Yesterday morning I opened the curtain of my room in the Ernst Leitz hotel in Wetzlar to find a clear and bright day. Every other morning during the four-day LHSA — the International Leica Society — meeting at Leica HQ had been foggy, so the clear sky was an excellent prompt to head for home. Most of the LHSA members had already left, at the ungodly hour of 6 am, for the Rhine cruise, but I had missed on that one. 

  This iron cover, made from local Wetzlar iron, sits in the Eisenmarkt (iron market) to mark the spot from where Oskar Barnack took the Ur-Leica picture
This iron cover, made from local Wetzlar iron, sits in the Eisenmarkt (iron market) to mark the spot from where Oskar Barnack took the Ur-Leica picture

So, after breakfast, I pointed my car towards the Leitz roundabout and headed for the B45 autobahn in the direction of Dortmund. I was feeling particularly good, after having been laid low with some sort of bug last week, so I decided to see how far I could get in the day. It was a long way, as it turned out. But seven hours and seventeen minutes later I was home, in London, having covered 461 miles — a nice round 750km — at an average speed of 65 mph. This marathon was my first long journey in the newly acquired 2016 Macan, and I was impressed by the overall fuel consumption of 41mpg. It’s proper compensation for daring to own a diesel car in 2018.

  Most Leica aficionados know the company is based in Wetzlar, but many are not aware that this is a beautiful medieval city with an enchanting old town. It would be worth a visit even without the lure of the Ur-Leica
Most Leica aficionados know the company is based in Wetzlar, but many are not aware that this is a beautiful medieval city with an enchanting old town. It would be worth a visit even without the lure of the Ur-Leica
  Goethe meets Bollywood: This striking, if rather bold mural in Wetzlar depicts the moment Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spending a few months in Wetzlar in 1774, fell for the charms of local girl Charlotte. It was an unrequited love, and young Johann went off to write his loosely biographical seminal novel,  Die Leiden des jungen Werthers  (The Sorrows of Young Werther).
Goethe meets Bollywood: This striking, if rather bold mural in Wetzlar depicts the moment Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, spending a few months in Wetzlar in 1774, fell for the charms of local girl Charlotte. It was an unrequited love, and young Johann went off to write his loosely biographical seminal novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther).

Yet this was small beer in comparison with the mad things I did in my youth. I then thought nothing of jumping on a motorbike in Berlin and riding hard to Calais, with a couple or three brief pit stops, before loading the bike on a ferry for the 90-minute crossing and another 90-minute ride to my home in London. Those were the days, that was the bladder, that was 1100km or 675 miles and a numb bum. I could ride down the Kurfürstendamm at 7 am and stagger over my front step at 7 pm. Times have changed, but the Macan was a competent travelling companion, and I had time during the endless miles of Autobahn and autoroute to reflect on the four days of intense Leica worship at the high altar in Wetzlar. 

  Brazilian photographer Marcus Lins-Barroso shares a moment with Leica’s big boss, Andreas Kaufmann
Brazilian photographer Marcus Lins-Barroso shares a moment with Leica’s big boss, Andreas Kaufmann

The LHSA is a remarkable organisation, initially mainly US-based but now making a bid for the world, and this meeting marked the 50th anniversary of the society. It attracted around 140 members from no fewer than 18 countries and brought together some of the world’s leading Leica experts. Two of them, Jim Lager from New Jersey and Lars Netopil from Wetzlar, are said to know more about Leica history than anyone else. 

  It’s a fair bet that no-one, but no-one knows more about Leica history than Jim Lager and Lars Netopil
It’s a fair bet that no-one, but no-one knows more about Leica history than Jim Lager and Lars Netopil

The occasion was also something of a revelation for me, and I lost count of the number of people who confessed to having read Macfilos. Some claimed a daily attendance. For the first time, I met the enthusiastic Mike Amos, an Australian now working as an animator for a large studio in California. Marcus Lins-Barroso from Sao Paulo came up and shook my hand as did Philip Ramsden from Mosman, NSW. I suggested he join the Macfilos Ozzie trio of John Shingleton, Wayne Gerlach and Jason Hannigan as a contributor. Macfilos may not be the most significant photography blog by any stretch of the imagination, but it has an active, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable readership from all around the world. 

  The Leica Archive has been shunted around over the past 40 years but has now found a permanent and very special home at the Leitz Park. Monika Bock, seen here, is dedicated to caring for the vast amount of material that has been collected over the years. Dr. Kaufmann recently bought the extensive Fricke Collection but we were not allowed to take any pictures of the cameras,
The Leica Archive has been shunted around over the past 40 years but has now found a permanent and very special home at the Leitz Park. Monika Bock, seen here, is dedicated to caring for the vast amount of material that has been collected over the years. Dr. Kaufmann recently bought the extensive Fricke Collection but we were not allowed to take any pictures of the cameras,

Macfilos contributors William Fagan was there with Laura from Dublin and Jono Slack from England. There was also a good contingent of British Leica fans, including John and Mary Gregory and Keith and Amanda Walker, all stalwarts of The Leica Society. 

It was a great pleasure also for me to meet some of the US Leica dealers I’ve heard so much about, including David Farkas of the Leica Maimi store, Dan Tamarkin from Chicago and John Pegouske from Western Camera Co. in Dearborn, MI. Last week truly was a gathering of the great and the good of the Leica world. 

  Question and answers from the guys who know — Peter Karbe, Stefan Schultz, Stefan Daniel and Jesko von Oeynhausen. Keeping an eye on proceedings from behind Peter Karbe is the new LHSA president, Alan Weinschel
Question and answers from the guys who know — Peter Karbe, Stefan Schultz, Stefan Daniel and Jesko von Oeynhausen. Keeping an eye on proceedings from behind Peter Karbe is the new LHSA president, Alan Weinschel

Although this is the first annual LHSA conference I have attended, I suspect they all adopt a similar programme. We assembled at the Leitz Park on Wednesday evening, and we then enjoyed two intense days of presentations, Q&A sessions and educational visits. They included an opportunity to inspect the newly housed Leica Archive under the direction of Monika Bock, a walking tour of Wetzlar (with a moment on Oskar Barnack’s manhole cover to get the obligatory shot of the Alten Münz corner) and a trip to the Leitz family graves.

  Kannan Palanisamy from Copenhagen with his SL and new 28mm f/5.6 Summaron
Kannan Palanisamy from Copenhagen with his SL and new 28mm f/5.6 Summaron

The presentations were all fascinating, but I think everyone was bowled over by Peter Karbe’s erudite explanation of the progress of Leica lenses through the ages. It was an hour packed with facts, impressive visuals and a touch of humour and wit. I will be looking in more detail at this and other events during the next few days when I’ve got my wind back. 

  Mike Evans with Dan Tamarkin in Marburg (Image Keith Walker)
Mike Evans with Dan Tamarkin in Marburg (Image Keith Walker)

Without a doubt, this has been an exceptional opportunity for me. I have met many new friends and, of course, old friends whom I had not personally greeted before, and it was my first visit to the new Leitz Park. I was able to chat with most of the leading lights of Leica, including Andreas Kaufmann, Stefan Daniel, Stefan Schulz, Ruud Peters, Jesko von Oeynhausen and, of course, the entertaining and vastly knowledgeable Peter Karbe. Because we were on home turf this year, the 50th-anniversary conference was unique in having access to the Leica top brass en masse as well as bringing together a perhaps broader international slice of the membership than is typical with USA-based conferences. 

  Leitz Park: A magnet for photographers from all over the world
Leitz Park: A magnet for photographers from all over the world

I was fascinated to see the vast range of Leica products draped around the necks of the visitors. Packing for a weekend with the Leica top brass is a challenging prospect. You don’t want to look a complete dumbo, so care is needed. I did see a Fuji in the wild and I had the little Sony RX100 stuffed surreptitiously in my trouser pocket for emergencies, but as you would expect almost all the cameras had the Leica name on them. Not surprisingly, Ms were in the majority, but not just modern digitals. There was a fair smattering of really old stuff in active service. The most unusual was the working Ur-Leica wielded by George Furst from South Korea. He had constructed this working model from the shell of an Ur-Leica replica. Quite remarkable and I will have more on that when I get hold of William Fagan’s photographs later this week.

  British Leica enthusiast, Keith Walker, keeps an eye on the fruit and veg at the Marburg Cathedral market
British Leica enthusiast, Keith Walker, keeps an eye on the fruit and veg at the Marburg Cathedral market

Film cameras were very much in evidence and several members, including Alejandro Blaquier from Argentina, use film exclusively. There was a smattering of Qs and, as you would expect, the SL was popular and was heaped with praise by owners who seem unfazed by its size.

But the big surprise for me was the large number of CLs in use. Even Leica’s Dr. Kaufmann had one with him at Saturday’s banquet, and there is no doubt that this new camera has been a hit. I didn’t see a single T, but perhaps I wasn’t looking as closely as I should have been. Despite this, Leica executives I spoke to said that the TL2 and CL were very much sister cameras as would continue in production side by side.

  A working Ur-Leica, no less, and not the one from the deepest vaults at Wetzlar. This Ur-Leica replica was turned into a working camera by George A. Furst in South Korea and he used it throughout the weekend. We are looking forward to seeing some of the results
A working Ur-Leica, no less, and not the one from the deepest vaults at Wetzlar. This Ur-Leica replica was turned into a working camera by George A. Furst in South Korea and he used it throughout the weekend. We are looking forward to seeing some of the results

I now need to take stock and look at some of the interesting tidbits I’ve gleaned. I’ve returned with lots of material and ideas for new Macfilos posts in the coming weeks. Today I’m going to take it easy and recover from the journey from Wetzlar to London.

If you are interested in joining the LHSA, not least for the opportunity to receive the wonderful Viewfinder magazine visit the website here.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. A great read, Mike, for those of us more earth-bound. There IS a Leica aura which is quite special. Though I wish someone would convince the design teams that a movable LCD screen could also count as belonging to "das Wesentliche"!

  2. I am now in Heidelberg having left Wetzlar this morning. I will post an article with plenty of photos on my take on these events when I get back to Dublin this weekend, including a trip on the Rhine with LHSA members and, of course, Heidelberg. As somebody who has a great interest in historic Leicas I was greatly impressed with the progress to date on the Leica Archives, which will include a full blown museum by 2020. I did my best to impress on Leica personnel from Dr Kaufmann on down that Leica’s history is very important to the current success of the Leica brand. My friend Jim Lager tells me that he has been doing this for at least 40 years and that it is only under Dr. Kaufmann’s leadership that the Archive/Museum project has really taken off. A very significant person in this process is my friend Lars Netopil who has a Leica shop in Wetzlar and has recently published a book on the Leica Museum contents.

    I will also have some interesting news about how LHSA intends to expand its activities and membership on a global basis. Finally, for those whose interest is in more modern Leicas, I believe that I may have spotted the 35mm APO Summicron ‘ in the wild’.

    And we did find something interesting at the grave of Oskar Barnack.

    William

  3. Glad you made it back in one piece, although thanks for the MPG of the Magan, I’ll pass on one of those.. My old diesel Toyota Corolla still passes the new MOT and routinely punches out around 60 mpg.

    I will look forward to seeing future articles from yourself and William about the things you saw, and more importantly photographed while out there.

    Dave S

    • Thanks, Dave. 41mpg is quite impressive for a largish SUV these days. Obviously smaller and lighter cars can do better, I’m now taking a bit of a rest after the stress of covering Photokina followed by a major tour of Germany.

  4. Mike, I’m glad you enjoyed Leitz Park and the LHSA meeting
    I wish I could have been with you all and met you in person
    Of course, I am enjoying my 40th anniversary with my wife on our cruise in the Med! Strange, I could not convince her to go to Wetzlar instead?!?
    Of course I am giving the M10 a workout with fantastic results
    Please keep me in mind for a Viewfinder article or two
    Cheers,
    Bill

    • Bill,

      Yes, it was a great weekend despite my feeling rotten for the first two days — some sort of bug. But I met a lot of people. I’ve done four or five posts for Macfilos as you know, and have some more to come. I also did a link to encourage new members. William Fagan is also working on an article, mainly focusing on the older stuff. If you can make anything out of all this you are very welcome.

      Have a safe journey home.

  5. Mike,

    Yes, the LHSA Wetzlar event was a good time with much All-Things-Leica information to process. It was also great to share an Italian meal with you and a couple others on the Dom-Platz in Wetzlar one evening. Keep up the excellent work – Cheers, Wilbur Norman

    • Hi Wilbur and thanks for getting in touch. I enjoyed the weekend, especially meeting so many Leica enthusiasts such as you. That was a great meal in Dom Platz. I look forward to meeting you in the future, perhaps at next year’s event. In the meantime, I’ve abandoned my plans to move to New Mexico thanks to your vivid accounts…..

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