History of Glockenspiel Bells
Glockenspiel bell instruments originated in Europe and were frequently placed on the town square or city plaza where passersby could enjoy them. In addition to being architecturally unique, Glockenspiel bells use animated figures that, at different times of the day, enact a play or skit that is important to the town’s history. The glockenspiel also makes music and include cast bronze bell carillons.
Together these instruments offer some of the most unique and culturally entertaining performances displayed in public.
The Rathaus on Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
One of the most famous glockenspiel clocks is located at the front of the Rathaus on Marienplatz in Munich, Germany.
Built at the beginning of the 19th century, the glockenspiel clock is the largest in Germany. The carillon has 43 bells, which together weigh in excess of 1,300 kilograms (more than 2,800 lbs) and includes 32 life-sized figures.
This glockenspiel bell instrument celebrates two different events from Munich’s past. The top half re-enacts life-sized knights jousting in a tournament which took place at Duke Wilhelm V’s royal wedding to Renata of Lorraine. These tournaments were common in celebrations, and such a historic wedding deserved both the recognition of such a celebration, as well as its re-enactment among the glockenspiel bells.
The bottom half shows barrel makers, or coopers, dancing in memory of the end of the black plague in 1517. This was significant as the barrel makers were the first group of people to come out of hiding and danced to mark the end of the plague. The Duke of Bavaria was so impressed, he instigated a tradition of re-enacting this celebration of the barrel makers every seven years. The historical significance of this dance won its portrayal among the glockenspiel bells as a daily display.
The daily performances are held at 11 a.m. with additional performances at 12 p.m and 5 p.m. during the summer. This tourist attraction has become a “must-see” with hundreds of visitors waiting to see the shows each day.
One of the oldest glockenspiels, the Zytglogge located in Bern, Switzerland was originally built around 1218. In 1405, the tower burned and suffered extensive damage and was not fully restored until 1983 and is still in operation today.
Contemporary Glockenspiel Installations
A more contemporary example of glockenspiel bells can be found in Schonlau Park in New Ulm, Minnesota. This glockenspiel bell instrument is a free-standing carillon clock tower with bells that play a melody in Westminster style every hour.
Dedicated in 1980, the tower stands 45 feet high, holds a carillon of 37 fully chromatic bronze bells and can be played either electronically or with a keyboard. The glockenspiel bells’ twelve animated figures are designed to convey the community’s rich heritage, and they perform their “play” at Noon, 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm each day. These figures are also interchangeable with a nativity scene that can be enjoyed by the community during the Christmas holiday season.
Other glockenspiel bell installations can be found in Kentucky, several locations throughout Michigan, in Pella, Iowa and even in the Central Park Children’s Zoo in New York.
Regardless of where they are located, a community’s rich heritage and cultural symbols are honored and memorialized while residents are delighted by the unique presence of the glockenspiel bells that commemorate their rich heritage. These performances further enhance appeal to tourists, who help support the local economy with their increased patronage.