THINGS are pretty somber on these pages these days, so perhaps now is a time for some serious thinking about a lighter subject.
The subject is Baltimore's need for a glockenspiel. Don't laugh. It's the one major tourist attraction that almost every major European city and some minor ones have that our city still doesn't possess.
All over Europe, tourists stand for hours watching colorful figures march around a tower, ring gongs, drink wine and perform some task indigenous to the history of the area, every hour on the hour.
Real old-fashioned glockenspiels are animated, elaborate clocks in which the hours are announced by music and always by figures in motion in dramatic display. Their charm is timeless. Their fascination extends to all ages.
Think of the glockenspiel as a tourist mover, expanding the area from the Inner Harbor up North Charles Street; over toward the Brokerage (where more visitor traffic is certainly needed), or even up to the campus of the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
What colorful figures could we put on display every hour on the hour in Baltimore? We could have Mayor Schmoke chasing Governor Schaefer -- or Governor Schaefer chasing Mayor Schmoke -- or the taxpayers chasing both of them -- and we FTC don't have to limit our imagination to politicians.
To my knowledge, Louisville is the only U.S. city that has a modern glockenspiel. In Louisville it resembles -- what else? -- the finish line of a racetrack. Famous figures from Davy Crockett to jazz musicians circle the track every hour on the hour. Visitors and local citizenry often bet on which figure will end up on the finish line on the hour.
There's no question that glockenspiels attract tourists, so the question is where a Baltimore glockenspiel would do the most good. My original thought was Hopkins Plaza, where it would pull from a wide area. However, last month I received a mailing from the Maryland Institute College of Art seeking to raise funds to repair the famous old clock on Mount Royal Station. It's a fine old tower with a medieval look, now part of the institute's campus. It's the perfect place for a glockenspiel.
Famous teachers from the institute could move around on the hour -- Grace Hartigan, Joe Sheppard, Eugene Leake. In fact, a design competition could be run among the students.
Someday a Maryland Institute glockenspiel may be listed (wherever they list glockenspiels) along with the famous Ankar glockenspiel in Vienna, or the one on Munich's old town hall, or maybe even the drinking burgermeister looking down on the town square of medieval Rothenburg.
Dan J. Loden writes from Baltimore.