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Leica

The second leg of the trip

takes us to Wetzlar, on the outskirts of Frankfurt, a town where Goethe once lived, and where Leitz (later Leica) set up its first head office in 1869. The maker of cameras sold throughout the world, put down roots in this stretch of German countryside, before its almost thirty-year hiatus and move to the neighbouring town of Solms.

The second leg of the trip

In similar fashion to the new Alpine, Wetzlar’s generous son made its triumphant return in 2014, equipped with phenomenal architectural and technological plans.
At the foot of the imposing glass-and-steel building with curves reminiscent of a camera – a 27,000 sqm edifice designed by Gruber + Kleine-Kraneburg – the athletic verve of the A110 meets the romance and architecture of the legendary Leica.

Kaufmann, the son of Austrian entrepreneurs who struck it big in the paper industry, spent time as a literature teacher and political activist before reviving the brand with the red-dot logo. In 2004, a time when “Germany was considered the old man of Europe,” Kaufmann decided to diversify the family business by acquiring the Leica empire, then a Hermès holding. Restructured and revitalised, the German company joined the second digital revolution and found success with the release of the M8, the digital version of analogue rangefinder cameras.

The brand’s legendary cameras – including the first prototype of Oscar Barnack’s 35 mm -film Ur-Leica, which represented a ‘big bang’ in photography – are now on display at the museum. Leica’s latest offerings are not only impressive examples of technology but also design objects.

A perfect combination of camera-making expertise and engineering prowess, the Leica TL2 features a body crafted from an aluminium block with a lightness and fluid lines similar to those of the Alpine A110, with its chassis built entirely from the same material.

More recent models include the Leica M10, a technological marvel, and Leica’s fastest-ever professional camera – the SL – , which can take 11 pictures per second in series.

The company is dreaming up new developments in other areas, as demonstrated by its partnership with the Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei. But: “A smartphone that rivals the best cameras on the market has yet to be created,” says Kaufmann. Photographs by great names such as Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson hang on the walls at his Leitz Park art gallery, a place that the Chairman intends to serve as a beacon for an art he loves almost as much as automobiles. “The idea that smartphones are making us all photographers is a great opportunity for the industry,” he likes to say.