The German Clockwinder - the Loverman

A case for the German clockwinder? Well, German arms certainly helped with the Rising at Easter 1916, the insurrection started at the Dublin GPO, where this clock is located
••• A case for the German clockwinder? Well, German arms certainly helped with the Rising at Easter 1916, the insurrection started at the Dublin GPO, where this clock is located. © Bernd Biege 2016

Having a song about a German clockwinder plying his trade in Ireland is a bit obscure ... normally soldiers, magicians, extraordinary folk feature in folk songs. Or strange happenings. But the mundane task of winding a clock, and outsourced to of all people a foreigner in Dublin? That would not be material for a song, would it?

Ah, but it would ... because "The German Clockwinder" has far less to do with chronometers than you may think.

Actually it is about one of the most important things in many people's lives, even in Merrion Square. Sex. There, I said it ... and here it features extramarital sex, which the Irish are happy to make a big song and dance about - just see "Seven Drunken Nights" if you don't believe me.

But before we discuss this cardinal sin and sex in Ireland in general, let us see what the lyrics are actually telling us:

The German Clockwinder - Lyrics

A German clockwinder to Dublin once came,
Benjamin Fuchs was the old German's name,
And while he was winding his way 'round the land
He played on his flute, and the music was grand!
It went:

Chorus:
Toora lumma lumma toora lumma lumma toora-li-ay
Toora-li oora-li oora-li-ay
Toora lumma lumma toora lumma lumma toora-li-ay
Toora-li oora-li oora-li-ay

There was a young lady from Merrion Square
Who said that her clock was in need of repair.
Well, in came that German, and to her delight
In less than five minutes, he'd wound her up tight!


Singing:
Chorus

Well, then there they were, sitting down on the floor,
Then came a very loud knock at the door -
In came her husband, and great was his shock
To see that old German wind up his wife's clock!
He went:
Chorus

Then said her husband, "Now, my dear Mary Ann,
Don't let that old German come in here again!


Your clock's wound up tight while mine sits on the shelf -
If your old clock needs winding, I'll wind it myself!"
It goes:
Chorus

The German Clockwinder - a Hidden Meaning?

Well, obviously, a good husband should be able to wind the clocks of the house. Having said that, in Merrion Square it would be more a case of having a servant doing this job routinely, and unobtrusively. So we might understand why the man of the house is a bit miffed that his wife hired an itinerant Continental to do this job. After all, unnecessary expenses!

But that's not the point ... there obviously is a subtext here ...

So this German "played on his flute, and the music was grand". Enter Dr Freud, pointing out that the flute might well be a phallic symbol, and the music it makes would then be the whimpers of delight a lady issues when on the receiving end of his administrations. After lighting a cigar (and sometimes a cigar really just is a cigar), Dr Freud would maybe point out that the very act of "clockwinding" has a sexual connotation ... twirling a knob, twisting a key, screwing around a bit. So when the young lady has "her clock" (obviously a symbol of the female sexuality, maybe the sexual organs themselves) "wound tight" in five minutes ...

you have just witnessed a quickie.

The surprised husband's reaction on finding his wife still being "wound up" by the German, on the floor nonetheless, also gives a thing or two away. Obviously, marital intercourse has not as been as frequent (or fulfilling) as aimed at by both parties. Witness the husband's "clock sitting on the shelf", which we might as take as a cipher for his sexual organs being fairly underused, and not being "wound" at all. They are just part of the furniture, so to say.

So, yeah, "The German Clockwinder" has a hidden meaning ... wink-wink, nudge-nudge ... and the name of the itinerant might even be a giveaway, "Fuchs" is German for fox, a sly creature getting his fill by slinking around. Of course, when asked to pronounce "Fuchs", most Irish people would substitute the "c" for a "k" and go with the flow ...

Where Did "The German Clockwinder" Originate?

We don't know ... it has been around for ages, in several versions, with geographical indicators changing ... but the central theme of the German winding clocks being constant. Except that it isn't necessarily - a very similar song called "The German Musicianer" was collected in Norfolk (United Kingdom) in the 1950s, while "The German Clockmender" is a slight variation on the clock-work done as well. We could say that the basic story of a sprightly German going around and fulfilling the needs of lonely ladies is a staple in the folksongs of Britain and Ireland.

Why German?

Here's the conundrum I am always trying to crack ... us Germans are not really known as the great lovers, are we? I mean, if it was a Frenchman ("Oh-la-la, madame!"), an Italian ("Ciao, bella, cara mia ..."), or a Spaniard ("Olé!"), I'd understand. But a German clockwinder sounds about as sexy as a Polish plumber.

But then again, there is this one thought that keeps niggling at the back of my mind ... maybe it was just "Vorsprung durch Technik" that made the German clockwinder so unforgettable to the Dublin ladies. He hit the spot, so to say. Gee, whizz!