You were born into a family of watchmakers. When was your first encounter with timepieces?
Today, children play with remote-controlled cars or computers. When I was young, I had a watch kit. I can’t remember how old I was, but I assembled a watch with the pieces. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the manufactory; that had a big impact from the very beginning.
Did you train as a watchmaker yourself?
Yes. When I was 16, I followed in the family tradition. At that time, the only master courses were available in Glashütte, near Dresden, so I went to Karlstein in Austria. After one and a half years, I had to interrupt my apprenticeship because I was drafted into the army. Then, after the war, I continued my apprenticeship with Alfred Helwig at the school of watchmaking in Glashütte.
On the last day of the war, you witnessed the bombardment of the manufactory. How did this affect you?
It was a terrible event. I had returned home via the Baltic Sea and ended up in a field hospital near Glashütte, where a leg injury I had sustained was treated. It was fortunate; a stroke of luck if you will. My father secured a leave of absence for me, issued for the period of May 7-15, 1945. I was incredibly happy to finally be with my family again. But on May 8, in the morning, the bomb alarm went off and our main production building was destroyed in a raid.
At that time, my father, Rudolf, and his two brothers, Otto and Gerhard, ran the manufactory. Of course, we tried to keep working and rebuild the production facility. I had extensive discussions with my father and Uncle Otto regarding the future of the company.
We began to develop the calibre 28 for a wristwatch, but before it went into production, the company was expropriated—taken away from us basically—in April 1948. My father and his brothers were no longer allowed to set food in the manufactory. I was asked to join the union, but refused. Subsequently, I avoided forced labour in a uranium mine by fleeing from my hometown one night in November 1948.
After its expropriation in 1948, the company became a publicly owned operation and was merged with other watchmaking businesses in Glashütte in 1951. The A. Lange & Söhne brand was no longer used. You went to Pforzheim. How did you experience the situation from afar?
With great concern. I was worried mainly about my father, who was devastated by the expropriation. He came to live with us in Pforzheim, but he could not cope with the loss of the factory and his home. He passed away less than a year later. We all assumed that the family business had been lost forever and we were heartbroken.
You had the courage to restart the business in Glashütte on December 7, 1990. Was that difficult?
It was risky, but it was the only way for me to go. When the Berlin Wall fell, I had already retired. But I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to revive the heritage of my ancestors. That December day was among the greatest days of my life. I registered the brand using the borrowed address of a former classmate at our primary school in Glashütte. We had to start completely from scratch.
What are the characteristics of a typical Lange watch?
Günter Blümlein once said that a Lange watch is a fusion of the arts, consisting of a proud legacy, the passion of our staff for fine timepieces, the style of the company, a responsibility for traditions, and finally the unique technology and artisanship to which we are committed. I can only agree.
What was the best time of your life?
I’ll be honest: it was my childhood, even if that does sound rather mundane. I was carefree then; I didn’t have the worries of adulthood and there were little adventures to be had every day. It helped that I grew up in a very caring family. When I look back at my life, those are the best memories.
What was the worst time of your life?
It was a few hours during World War II after I had been wounded by a shot to the leg; I spent these days lying completely still on the battlefield. I didn’t dare crawl out of the danger zone before nightfall. The war and all of the recollections associated with it haunt me to this day.
What piece of advice would you give young people today?
Each generation should discover its own path. One thing, perhaps, in my opinion: there’s too much complaining these days. Everyone is stressed; nothing is just right. The conditions were totally different when I was young. For a trip to Dresden, my mother would pack a few boiled potatoes as provisions and that was all. Or the years after the war: initially, a meal consisted of water “soup” with grated potatoes, or so-called “Zudelsuppe.”