It was just chance, but the day that my friend Christian and I were traveling from Dusseldorf to Bad Liebenstein, was also the Open Day for the new Leitz-Park in Wetzlar. This is now the new home/main factory for Leica Camera AG.
When I was in London last month, I got an e-mail that Open Day was happening. I checked the calendar and couldn’t believe that it was the same day that I was going to be in that part of Germany. I’ve always wanted to visit Wetzlar, the historic home of Leica.
Leica is one of those iconic brands. I’ve been a Leica M system owner since 2005 and shooting with the M is my favorite kind of photography. I’ve been a long time member of the International Leica Society (LHSA) and am an overall fan. I In recent years, following a restructuring, the camera company has seen a resurgence under new ownership and leadership. I enjoyed seeing precision machining, lens grinding, and assembly all under one roof.
The new plant in Wetzlar is a shrine to that resurgence. It is nearly all white, which was interesting. It would be hard to keep Horst Engineering clean if our floors, walls, and ceilings were bright white. We give a lot of tours, but then again, they aren’t a key to our image in the marketplace. Leica has worked hard to cultivate its brand and during the resurgence has focused on its luxury status. That has alienated some purists, but arguably, it has kept the German company alive in an era dominated by Japanese technology and Chinese production.
The Open Day was crowded, which was a bummer, but we still enjoyed ourselves. We did a loop of the factory and then popped into the jam-packed store. In the crowded lobby, I spotted Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, the Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board, and a part-owner of the company. He had a new Leica T slung around his neck and I was wearing my M. I introduced myself and we chatted a bit about my visit. He hassled me about my iPhone photo and made the point that it was not a camera, but rather it was a “device.” I agreed and congratulated him on the success and then we were off. I’ll have to return to Wetzlar when I have more time to look around and when there are fewer people to look around.