The name “glockenspiel” is a German term meaning “bell play,” referring to the sound made by a number of bells. The glockenspiel, sometimes referred to as a carillon, features the sequenced tolling or ringing of a number of small bells with an enchanting melody. The musical history began in Germany, where the fixed bells playing in church and town hall belfries are still a vital tradition in many areas and a great tourist attraction.
When it was invented in medieval times, the glockenspiel was a small set of actual bells with different ranges, which were struck by hand. Further glockenspiels worked on the principle of a sequence of notes using an automatic mechanism performed by a clockwork motor. The notes were played in their specific order by this mechanism which was also used to play the fixed bells in churches.
Later on, in the 16th century, the instrument was given a piano-like keyboard so that “playing” the bells was done more easily.
The Rathaus-Glockenspiel of Munich is probably the world’s most famous glockenspiel. It is a major tourist attraction in Marienplatz, the heart of Munich. Part of the second construction phase of the New Town Hall, it dates from 1908.
Consisting of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures, it chimes every day at 11 a.m., as well as 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer, and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century. The show lasts between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on which tune it plays that day.
However, Germany alone cannot boast of its glockenspiels. The City of Kitchener, and K-W Oktoberfest Inc. specifically, took delivery of a 23-bell carillon from Holland in 1976. The bronze bells, which were made by Eijsbouts, became part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Glockenspiel located in downtown Kitchener. A German-Canadian icon, the Glockenspiel was a unique and dynamic symbol of the authentic traditions of Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival and of our community’s rich, German heritage. It was a structure situated 20 feet off the ground and attached to what was then the Canada Permanent Trust building, adjacent to Speakers’ Corner. It featured a complex, animatronic show depicting Grimm’s fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The presentation included three sliding stages, seven animated dwarfs and the three main character figures. The 23-bell carillon was programmed to play the music of the story, made popular by Walt Disney. The show was timed to play once a day during the year and hourly during Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. The bells were also programmed to chime on the half-hour, signalling the time of day.
In 2009, the new owners of the former Canada Permanent Trust building required K-W Oktoberfest Inc. to relocate the unit away from their premises while, at the same time, the City of Kitchener was redesigning the parkette. The City, in co-operation with K-W Oktoberfest Inc., removed and stored the Glockenspiel with the intention of resurrecting this community icon at a later date.
Well, resurrection time has come! After six years in storage, and months of refurbishment by a Cincinnati, Ohio firm, the refurbished Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Glockenspiel was unveiled in September of 2015.
The resurrection was a significant project, which incorporates modern technology. Where the former Glockenspiel would play only one song, the new unit has the ability to play a series of different songs. The new showpiece once again graces Speakers’ Corner, but this time it is mounted on a four metre-high, free-standing superstructure, newly built by local contracting firm and Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest partner Melloul-Blamey. It features a refurbishment of the 23 bells, a new enclosure and façade, a computerized control system, sound baffling, electrical service, landscaping and a maintenance program.
The City of Kitchener and Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest are thrilled about the return of a long time piece of Oktoberfest tradition. It is unique in North America, attracting visitors and the local community alike. The Glockenspiel presents its animated show frequently during the months of September and October each year and performs on a regular schedule throughout the year. Programmed seasonal music and lighting ensures audience interest and makes this a destination for the entire family.
Information Courtesy of Bob Foster