Station: [3] The Master Mechanic(s) Karl Widmer

The Tinkerers’ Museum not only recounts the history of a workshop, but also the story of a family, or rather of three generations of Widmers, represented by three men, all with the first name Karl.

You probably remember the oil mill that burnt down. It all began with the purchase of that site by the carpenter Karl Widmer, first of the three Karls. He was farsighted, because he not only acquired the land, but also all the old mill’s water rights. He proved equally farsighted in planning a mechanic's workshop here for his son, Karl Widmer junior, with machinery driven by hydropower. Karl the younger was a cartwright by trade, and had also trained as a mechanic during his military service. After the First World War, his son Karl Widmer, the third of that name, joined the business. He’d been born in 1901 and had learned the mechanic's trade from his father. He worked here in the shop until a ripe old age, tinkering and repairing agricultural machinery, tractors, bicycles and engines. Those three generations spanned the period of the shift from woodworking to metalworking.

People came to the "Widmer Workshop" with all their repair needs and also commissioned the machining of special parts. Thanks to its convenient location, the workshop provided a point of contact for the entire Lake Constance district. Much of the workshop equipment only exists at all due to the skills and craftsmanship of the youngest Karl Widmer. Even the old hydro-electric turbine, which is still fed by the village stream, bears the Widmer brand.

In his old age, the third generation Karl Widmer developed an inimitable trick of initially disappointing his customers when they came in with requests. He’d take a first look at the problem piece they’d brought in and suggest: "Might as well dump this in the old stream back there”. But then he would relent: "Okay then, hand it over, I’ll see what I can do.“

Karl Widmer came to work here in his workshop every day until he reached the age of 97. His spirit continues to reign. The machines seem to be waiting for him – as if he’d only just stepped out for a moment. Karl Widmer died in November 2003 at the ripe old age of 102 – five months after the museum opened.

Can you imagine that? To work in the same business all your life? To work well into old age and actually enjoy it? Without any fuss, and with a focus on what worked, Karl Widmer created a workshop with individual solutions that were always at the cutting edge technically ... and sometimes even ahead of the times.

The second-generation Karl Widmer had retired in 1961. He’d appointed his daughter Anna Thum as his heir, but on condition that the youngest Karl Widmer should be allowed to use the workshop for life. It’s still owned by the Thum family today.

All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen