A story by the late Claes O. Friberg
A few years ago Q. David Bowers sent this author two large boxes stuffed with the paper remnants of his long and in-depth adventure into the world of automatic musical instruments. Amongst the yellowing papers was an undated, hand-typed nine-page manuscript on Mekanisk Musik Museum letterhead, complete with typos and numerous corrections thereof. The text, written by Claes O. Friberg, probably circa 1975, and who died in April of 1996 at the age of 51, was obviously meant to be published by the Musical Box Society, after editing and a bit of co-authorship by Dave Bowers. However, apparently this was never done.
Nonetheless, the manuscript, which in hindsight ought to be interesting to collectors today, illustrating a bit of drama from the past, has been slightly edited and is presented below. Claes, who had been in East Germany 15 or more times by the time he wrote this, adds humor to his adventures behind the Iron Curtain, telling of his early adventures—when he was just beginning his search for interesting instruments there—this being about 1972:
Claes O. Friberg, circa 1975, happily seated at a player piano in the Mekanisk Musik Museum.
There is one thing that most collectors of automatic musical instruments have in common: they are all irresistibly attracted by the unusual -- the unknown, just like an explorer in the jungle of Africa. We all know that special feeling it gives to search in dusty, previously unexplored corners of an old antique store, with the hope of finding a priceless example of a music box. Honestly, this digging in old rubbish only rarely gives any tangible results, and nowadays it is almost impossible to find anything truly sensational. I have spent the best times of my youth going through piles of piano-rolls in dirty attics in my native Denmark in the hope of finding a roll played by Jelly Roll Morton, or a ragtime selection played by Scott Joplin, but the only result that I have achieved till now are 58 copies of Maidens Prayer, 70 copies of At Dawning, 46 copies of By the Waters of Minnetonka, 53 copies of Rose Marie -- and the list could go on. I have a friend who likes to compete with me on rolls. The other day I discovered that he has 24 copies of the Duo-Art roll Medley of Plantation Songs. I discovered that I just have 18 copies of that roll, so if any one of you has some copies I would like to buy six or seven rolls featuring the Plantation Songs so I can maintain my status.
I have always wanted to own some really big orchestrions of the type that used to stand in German restaurants many years ago. So I went on some trips to Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or West-Germany as you call it in America, and visited the different gast-hauses as they call them over here in Europe. When walking into these gast-houses I had to order something in order to make a good impression on the owner of the place, and since beer is the only thing you can get in these small places I would then have to order a glass of this liquid. The conversations were always very friendly -- Germans like to talk to foreigners who speak their own language, and I have always been very good at learning languages. The result of such a conversation was that the owner had no such instrument himself, but he would refer me to a gast-haus in a nearby village where they might have some valuable information on such an instrument. All this was a very hard task. I have nothing against beer, but as I had to drive my car also this gave me some problems. Fortunately, most gast-hauses have many plants and flowers, so much of the beer disappeared in the flowerpots. I have always feared to return to these restaurants after this crime of killing their flowers, but I did not intend to harm anyone else and did this so I would not harm myself.
A number of electric pianos and smaller orchestrions indeed turned up from time to time, but it seemed as though all the large ones were nearly gone. The normal reply I got when asking about what happened to the large instrument was either: “We burned it 15 years ago,” or “There was a friendly American here who bought it. I think his name was Bowers, or something like that.”
Front view of the Mekanisk Musik Museum, circa 1975, at Vesterbrogade 150, Copenhagen, Denmark.
At that time I only had a faint idea of who this Bowers could be, but strangely enough this same person should be the one to bring new dimensions into my search for instruments. When he started the first preparations for the Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments several years ago he wrote to me and asked me a few details about some European instruments. He explained to me in a later letter the whole idea of the Encyclopedia, and I became fascinated of this project and promised to write some articles on various subjects, and help with the preparation of the book through old catalogs, technical descriptions, scales for instruments, etc., etc.
When working on my part of the project I also looked at the geographical factor and discovered that there were two main areas where instruments had been produced in Germany. One was Waldkirch, where the organ industry was flourishing and where Weber produced his orchestrions, and in the nearby town of Freiberg where Welte had its factory, and in Vöhrenbach, not very far from Waldkirch either, where Imhof and Mukle had their business. The other center of music was Leipzig, where the orchestrion and music-box manufacturers and dealers were numerous. In Leipzig there were such prominent names as Polyphon, Zimmermann (makers of Adler and Fortuna music-boxes), Kalliope, Lochmann, Monopol, Orphenion, Symphonion, Troubadour, Hupfeld, Dienst, Losche, Popper -- just to mention the most well known.
I had been in the Waldkirch area several times, but I had never been in Leipzig because that is in Der Deutsche Demokratische Republik; or East Germany as we usually call it in the Western world, and no one from our world ever goes to East Germany. However, it took me only approximately 30 seconds to decide I wanted to go to Leipzig and the surrounding areas to find information for the Encyclopedia -- and to find instruments. What a challenge -- the first instrument collector from the western world ever to put his feet on East German land -- the first one to put his hands on a large Hupfeld Helios or Pan orchestrion standing in a Leipzig restaurant.
From the moment that I decided to visit the East to the moment when I arrived there was a long waiting time. All sorts of formalities are necessary, but the arrangements worked out very well. Dave Bowers once told me that he asked the East German government about permission, but that was refused, so I was very afraid that something should go wrong. However, Denmark has a friendly relationship with DDR, so I was allowed to go. Since then, I have been there at least 15 times, and just before I arrived in U.S.A. to go on a nationwide musical tour led by Dave, I spent a week traveling to Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, and some smaller towns. I am now a good friend of the Hupfeld family and the Bacigalupo family, just to mention a few, and I have the best connections to the government. I continuously get interesting historical information out of the country, and also I have the permission of exporting instruments to other West-European countries. It was a lot of hard work to get the license for exporting instruments, and it only worked out because of the formal friendship between Denmark and East Germany. In recent times, Dave Bowers has joined me on some of these trips, and Bonnie Tekstra came along on one. We had the unusual status of being able to travel unimpeded, with visas that allowed us to go anywhere without having to state our itinerary beforehand.
I thought that it would be interesting for members of the MBS here in U.S.A. to hear about a complete different world behind the Iron Curtain, so let me explain how a typical early visit to DDR took place in the days before I obtained a universal visa, about 1973 when the Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments was a new title. A bit of dramatization has been added here just for fun, but the scenario is quite real, including my actual meeting with people once involved in the industry:
First I had to call up my travel agent in order to get hotel reservations in advance. Without these advance-reservations neither I nor any other Westerner could get visa or permission to go into the country. The travel agency then contacted an East German travel agency who contacted someone in the government, who investigated your personal facts -- your occupation, reason for visiting, and many other details. When this was done the hotels were contacted, and after a while I heard from my travel agency that the reservations were okay.
The first time I picked up my tickets I asked them to send me an invoice, just like they did for trips they arranged for me to other countries, but they insisted on getting payment right away. “We don’t know if you ever come back,” they told me, “and we have had some bad experiences.” This was indeed inspiring. Actually, it wasn’t. I smiled grimly and issued a check.
The day of the departure arrived, and I took my suitcases down in my Toyota car and headed for the ferry boat. I had arranged to drive in my own car in East Germany. Compared to other European cars my Toyota is rather large. I planned to find, buy, and take a number of music boxes back to Denmark. I carefully selected this car a few years ago, because it could accommodate two Welte Vorsetzers, a Polyphon 22-1/2” disc-changer, 10 to 12 smaller music-boxes, two barrel organs, one Ariston disc organette, three Gem Roller Organs, approximately 300 Red Welte rolls, plus some 88-note rolls and other types, and, if packed correctly, also a tracker-bar pump. Unfortunately enough, this hypothetical cargo was not what I ended up buying, of course. Finding and buying a huge Polyphon 25” disc-box with disc bin, instead of a 22-1/2” changer, was a catastrophe, and did not leave enough space for the Welte Vorsetzer. However, sometimes I had to throw a few 88-note rolls out so I could get the Vorsetzer loaded.
The ferry boat that I traveled on with my car went from Gedser, which is a harbor in the southern part of Denmark, directly to Warnemünde in East Germany. The trip takes nearly two hours according to the timetable, but it is always delayed. It transports mainly trucks and trains that are going transit from Denmark to West Germany and West Berlin, but the builder of the ship must have had an off-day when he designed it. All trucks will have to drive backwards into the boat, and the entrance is so narrow that this takes quite a bit of time to do. Therefore this East German ferryboat is always very delayed, and I plan my arrival a bit late so as to conserve time. Only once it was not, so I missed my boat and had to wait a whole day for the next one.
Onboard the ferry boat I found some offices where had to wait my turn, then report to officials in charge. This took quite some time to go through. In each small chamber there were two persons sitting. I went with my documents to one of them. In the meantime the other one was staring out into the air as though he was looking at some invisible tableaux taking place. The first guy gave me the once-over visually, then looked very carefully several times through my passport and other papers. He then made some notes and turned me and them over to the other officer. With him, I went through exactly the same thing again, while the first man was now looking out into space, perhaps seeing things invisible to me. All this went very slowly. When the second officer was finished with me he compared notes with the first. I was lucky and was directed to proceed to the next office. In each office something different happens, always with two inspectors checking each other’s findings. They call it control. I tried to content myself with looking into the air at nothing, wondering if perhaps it was an enlightening experience. I have tried it several times -- the last being when I was listening to a boring speaker at a gathering of music box collectors in England -- but I must be doing something wrong, as I have found no satisfaction. I must still have much to learn.
After I passed through all formalities I was allowed to go to the restaurant on the ship. This is really fantastic. The architect did not create much space for the trucks or on the car-deck, but when it came to the restaurant he was been enormously generous. There were at least seats for 300 to 400 persons. I paused to think that there was only room for about 25 trucks on the ship if fully packed (which was seldom the case) and not many cars. What the architect had in mind, I do not know. Perhaps each driver was to bring five or ten friends? The first time I was in this gorgeous restaurant I was in a room with perhaps six truck drivers, two train engineers, and one private person I could not put into any category -- perhaps he was a spy? -- and myself. The highlight of the menu was a cheeseburger.
Coming through the customs procedure was very exciting. A number of people have been killed when trying to escape from East Germany, and it is always a very unusual feeling to stand at a line that can be so dangerous, even though I was going in -- not out. I learned to be very afraid of making sudden moves, for the customs people watch carefully and will ask questions about what I was doing. I learned to always sit quietly in my car while looking very friendly, and, if possible, socialistic.
My passport was then taken and put through a hole that leads to an extremely secret room. Rumors says that here they have complicated devices that can detect if your passport is false, and all sorts of machines to find out about your intentions in East Germany. No one has ever been in such a room that I know of, but I have a very certain feeling that all they have are two persons of the type described earlier, each looking very carefully at the passport and holding it up against the light, while the other stares into emptiness, after which the roles are reversed, or something like that.
My passport appeared again though another hole and now it was time for what seemed to be the most serious part of customs. Earlier, I filled out a form saying how much money I brought with me in different currencies. I have a warning to everybody that goes to DDR: It is illegal to take money out of DDR, so if you arrive there with East German money in your possession, you are automatically carrying contraband goods, you are a criminal, and you will be arrested. You might have obtained the money from someone else who by mistake took out the money, but that is no excuse, so be careful. Often they will look in your wallet to see if the amount declared is right.
Next in the process, my car was thoroughly searched. They looked with mirrors under the car, and jumped up and down in the seats regardless of my protests in an effort to find hidden things. Next, they investigated the motor. Talking about motors, the population of East Germany is not used to such large cars as a Toyota, so I learned to be prepared to answer all possible questions about the technical details of my motor. I have decided, or almost decided, to print a small leaflet telling everything about my Toyota that I can give to people passing by.
Next came the investigation of my personal belongings. A typical conversation will go like this:
After more formalities the trip continued, and I drove south down to Berlin, which usually was my first stop. The roads are not very good, but still it is rather safe to drive because you will never find any heavy traffic. A small East German car cost five times as much as a big American car, and you had to send in your application for a car two or three years in advance. This reduced the traffic, and accidents only rarely happened. Most houses were without paint -- if you tried to paint the house the paint would fall off within a few months, because of the poor quality, so there was no reason for starting the painting job.
After the war some big towns were partially in ruins, and in West Germany new houses were soon built. However, in the DDR, that is, East Germany, they had a great idea. They removed the ruins, and made big squares with the names of Lenin-Square, Karl-Marx-Place. This was very popular, and much easier than just building new houses. The DDR territory was not as badly hurt as West Germany, so there are still lots of old houses where people can live, and they do.
From my viewpoint this creation of big open places in the middle of the towns was a bad thing. I tried to locate the old factories that made music boxes and other instruments, but this was nearly impossible, because the streets did not exist any more. Also the streets had many buildings missing. These were torn down and never rebuilt. Few new buildings were constructed either. Living quarters became cramped, and many mansions that in pre-war times might have accommodated one family were now divided into a half dozen or more apartments with many more people.
In Berlin I found the old Bacigalupo factory, which is still operating. Mr. Giovanni Bacigalupo was 87 years old when I visited. As I write this, he has been active until a few months ago. His sight is not very good any more, so he has stopped arranging new music on barrels, but the work shop is still repairing and hiring out organs in East Berlin. Mr. Bacigalupo has been a good friend of mine for many years, and he is one of two persons that are allowed to smoke in my car. His company Bacigalupo Söhne, the successor of Cocchi, Bacigalupo & Grafigna, was the company in the world that made the most barrel-organs. Although this can be debated, I feel that the company made the best quality barrel-organs in the world. In the MMM we have around 10 barrel-organs that all have been restored and repinned by the Bacigalupo factory during recent years. I think this is interesting because it is today actually impossible to go to a factory and say, and I am imagining Seeburg as I write this, “I bought from you in year so-and-so a KT Special orchestrion, and will you please service it or trade it in for a newer model? This happened to me in East Berlin with Mr. Bacigalupo, and it has been a most wonderful feeling.
I wished I could have done the same thing in Leipzig when I visited the Hupfeld factory. I told them that I had a model A Phonoliszt-Violina, and that I wanted to have either a Violina Orchestra Model I or II, but that I could not make up my mind whether of the two models would be the best for my purpose. I was very interested also in acquiring a 10-roll changer with remote control installed in the instrument. However no one seemed to know anything about the instruments, so I was told that these were not carried in stock any more. I thought that this was bad service, and I asked to talk to Mr. Hupfeld himself, not expecting any results. However, 10 minutes later I found myself sitting in the cafeteria together with Mr. Günther Hupfeld.
All this needs an explanation of course.
In the late 1920s, the Zimmermann brothers had much influence on the firm of Ludwig Hupfeld A.G., as they made pianos that sold well, but, in contrast, Hupfeld’s pneumatic instruments that used these pianos were in a rapidly declining market, due to amplified phonograph music and the radio being played in public places, and to other causes. A bank that had much money invested in Hupfeld forced the factory to merge with Zimmermann. When this happened Zimmermann brothers put the company founder, Ludwig Hupfeld, out of the game, and fired a large part of the staff. Among those terminated was one of the inventors of the famous Phonoliszt-Violina, Karl Gustav Hennig. The son of Ludwig Hupfeld, Günther Hupfeld, got a job at the factory as supervisor -- a position that he carried on until his death in December of last year.
Under the Zimmermanns it was decided in 1928 to sharply curtail the making of pneumatic instruments and to phase them out completely by 1930. These were hard times for the trade in Europe as well as in America. Hupfeld’s troubles were compounded by a new interchangeable metal valve unit that was now installed in many instruments, but did not function properly and caused so many difficulties that it was discontinued.
In the 1930s only normal pianos were made by Hupfeld, together with furniture, billiard tables, and toys. When the Second World War started, military goods became an important part of the business.
When the war ended in the spring of 1945, Russian troops rushed in to occupy what became East Germany. Immediately, the situation changed to that of a Communist regime. The Hupfeld family had to leave their stately mansion and move to a 2½ room apartment. They got two hours to leave the house when the Russians came, and today the old house serves as a home for children.
I met the Hupfeld family in their small apartment first time in 1971 and I have been there many times since then. Mr. Hupfeld was always happy to see me, and he gave me much valuable information. He liked to smoke and I always brought him 200 American cigarettes. When we sat down and discussed the old days he always went out into the small kitchen and opened a bottle of fine wine. He never complained about the sudden change in his life and was just happy that he still could work in the old factory. He worked until his sudden death last year and left his unmarried daughter and unmarried sister Miss Erika Hupfeld, who still lives in the apartment in Böhlitz-Ehrenberg in Leipzig.
Another interesting experience during my last trip to DDR was when I met Mr. Ernst Bruno Hennig, who is mentioned in the Encyclopedia as being co-inventor, together with his brother Karl Gustav Hennig, of the Phonoliszt-Violina. Mr. Hennig told me that in fact he was not to be given any credit for the invention of the Violina, but he of course helped his brother from time to time. Karl Hennig was an unskilled worker at the Hupfeld factory who had a very good mind for mechanics. He always came up with lots of improvements and new ideas, and around 1910 he became the leader of all the workers at the factory. It gave him lots of problems to go from being an unskilled worker to become in charge of approximately 1,000 people, and there was much jealousy around. Still he was a fantastic creator and inventor and Hupfeld owes much of its success to him. He left the Hupfeld firm in the 1910s, but then returned, where he continued to be important with technical matters.
The Zimmermann brothers did not like Karl Hennig -- in fact they did not like the pneumatic instruments and when his invention of the metal valve units showed to be a failure they fired him. Hennig then tried to sell some of his inventions, including those he still held for the Phonoliszt-Violina, to Philipps and the Aeolian Company in Germany, but they were not at all interested in any violin-playing devices. Hennig soon did not have any more money left and then sued Hupfeld, because he was holding the patent on the bow that was used by Hupfeld. By the time the lawsuit was to take place Hupfeld had manufactured its last Violina, and nothing came out of that. It is interesting to notice that most of the work in creating the Violina was done by the Bajde Brothers together with Robert Frömsdorf from Hupfeld, while Karl Hennig was responsible for the bow only.
There were three Hennig brothers: Kurt, Ernst, and Karl. Only Karl was the one that worked with the mechanical part of the instruments. Ernst Hennig was employed by Hupfeld in Dresden, where he was selling instruments -- mainly Phonolas, and Kurt Hennig was selling Hupfeld in Berlin. When I visited Ernst I heard him perform on a Hupfeld Solophonola foot-operated, and I have never heard a Phonola sound that good -- so I am sure that he must have sold many.
Karl Hennig tried to establish his own business in the beginning of the 1930s dealing in luxury articles, but this was probably the worst time to sell such things, so he went bankrupt. Then he again started to construct an instrument and he made a self-playing mouth-organ (accordion) with rolls -- in many ways similar to the organettes manufactured in the 1880s. However there was no interest and only three or four instruments were built as samples, and a small leaflet was printed. Ernst Hennig said that he had one of these that his brother made as a sample and 20 rolls, so he went up on the attic and brought the instrument down. It played very well, and I thanked him for the performance, but he then said -- oh well, you can have it. Well, I did not expect that, but asked how much I owed him. He did not want anything -- it had been such a pleasure for him to talk about the old days, and it was a gift to me. So now the Mekanisk Musik Museum owns the last instrument manufactured personally by the constructor of numerous Hupfeld devices.
Original document provided by Q. David Bowers.
Opening comments by Terry Hathaway and Q. David Bowers.
Edited by Q. David Bowers, July 4, 2010.
Courtesy of Q. David Bowers.