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Tick tock: The company keeping Prague ticking along


Classic clocks are part of the landscape of Prague, known as the “City of a Hundred Towers” for its centuries-old mechanical devices – including the famed Astronomical Clock in the Old Square.

Mariana Nesnidalova is the head of L Hainz, a family business that was founded in 1836, which has carved out a niche in the production and manufacture of mechanical tower clocks for town halls, churches and monuments. The company also repairs and maintains the intricate timepieces.

Hainz, which was appropriated by the communist regime that ruled the former Czechoslovakia for four decades and imprisoned her great-grandfather, grandfather and great-uncle, was returned in the 1990s to the heirs of its former owners.

Today, it produces large mechanical clocks using a unique technology that is entirely its own and dates back to the second half of the 19th century. Hainz manufactures fewer than six units each year.

One of its current projects is the maintenance of Prague’s Astronomical Clock, or “Orloj”. Built four centuries before Hainz was founded, the clock is close to the famous Charles Bridge, the city’s most visited tourist attraction.

Every hour, crowds gather to listen to the bell being rung by the figure of Death. Above the clock, the 12 apostles appear. Nesnidalova is very aware of the responsibility Hainz has in making sure the clock works properly so that day after day, admirers can continue to be fascinated by the elaborate figures, panels and dials.

Her years at Hainz have imbued her with the weight of history that the city’s clocks represent, and her enthusiasm and pride in her work have not waned with time.

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The company, whose manager and four craftsmen look after some 80 clock towers in the Czech capital, was the leading maker of chronometers from the time of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire until the Second World War.

“It is an honour. Our family has been taking care of this sight for a long time,” Nesnidalova says.

This article was amended on 17 March 2021 to change a reference to the Czech Republic to ‘the former Czechoslovakia’.



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