We had dinner in Wetzlar on the first night, Laura and I, at a cute little restaurant with a lot of doilies everywhere. We sat in a mezzanine of sorts, looking down from our little table on the other diners below, and their sumptuous-looking plates, wondering what everyone was eating and saying. When we told the waiter we were visiting from Chicago, he told us that he “made my honey-days” in Salt Lake City, with a stop in Vegas for good measure. This visit was not a honeymoon for us, but it was special nonetheless: it was our first adventure in Europe together, and my first visit to Wetzlar. I had long imagined standing in front of the Binding am Eisenmarkt, where Oskar Barnack took one of the first images with the kleine film kamera. I fantasized that I’d easily find all the places I’d seen in Gianni Rogliatti’s Leica – The First Sixty Years and in Günter Osterloh’s Leica M, both of which I’d read and re-read, time and again. Simply upon arriving in the promised land of Wetzlar, I figured, I’d automatically find – illuminated for my lens – the corn market where Barnack made some of the first Ur-Leica photos, the flooded street filled with life-jacketed passengers in canoes, a German officer using a periscope, a poor man with bushy white mustache and ragged cloak, and maybe even a distinguished gentleman sitting on the very park bench where Dr. Ernst Leitz II sat when Barnack took his picture.
A journey back to the land where it all began: my One Hundred Years of the Leica Camera Pilgrimage.
We wandered back to the hotel after dark, window-shopping the urban and pastoral stores alike. It was our first night on vacation in Europe, and we were jetlagged and confused and stumbling over the cobblestones after a couple of glasses of wine. All of these incredibly old frame buildings all look the same, I thought, I wonder of I’ll have to ask someone tomorrow where Eisenmarkt is, or if it’s on the map.
We rounded a corner and ambled down the cobblestones. I think I went ahead of Laura a bit, and was probably fussing with my camera when I looked down and found myself standing on a shiny new manhole cover imprinted with an Ur-Leica. I blinked slowly, looking again in disbelief at the Ur-Leica underneath my feet. I thought, Yep, that’s an Ur-Leica, all right. And what’s it doing here? On the ground? Under my feet? I shuffled back a step quickly, and rubbed my eyes. I looked up: This is not the place.