I hadn’t realized before, but it was disrespectful of me to post pictures of the village without asking everyone. I hadn’t thought about it because siedlungs are listed on the Ruhr Tourism page as points of interest, so I assumed it was ok, but luckily I have this derpy painting I made of my boyfriend walking his dogs in the village to illustrate my point. I also have a draft blog post saved up where I visit a few different siedlungs, but I’ll be sure to replace them with drawings as well.
Now known as one of Europe’s greenest cities, as well as home to the headquarters of the Emschergenossenschaft (water management board for the Emscher River overseeing the Emscher-landscapepark 2020 and Emscher-reconversion), Essen and the Ruhrgebiet as a whole was once the industrial heart of Germany before becoming a primarily service and information based economy. While the Ruhregebiet area has faced a strenuous period of economic downturn after the fall of the coal and steel sector, in recent years it has been given a facelift of sorts through major projects such as the IBA Emscher park, Industrial Heritage Route, and Emscher Landscape Park 2020. In fact, Essen was recently named the European Green Capital, and accepted the title of European Capital of Culture (for the whole Ruhrgebiet). It also one of Germany’s energy capitols, and is home to the very first Aldi discount store. It is where I will be staying this month.
Since landing in Dusseldorf I have been staying at the Settlement Altenhof II in Essen, a village built in the early 1900s by the Krupp family and a point along ‘Theme Route 5: City of Essen’ on the Industrial Heritage Route. It is also a short distance from the Alfried Krupp Hospital, which was (re-)built over the original Settlement Altenhof I in the 1970s. The Krupp dynasty was known for steel, artillery, ammunition, and armaments production, and was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century when the settlements were built. Controversial for its association with wars (as well as forced labor during WWII), the Krupp company also forwarded workers rights and welfare programs and exceeded those of national legal requirements. Similar to the strong company culture and benefits developed by corporate leaders today such as Google and Facebook, Krupp (which is still pretty large) developed many strategies to create a sense of Heimat and belonging to the company in order to attract (and more importantly, to retain) workers. These efforts are now memorialized by the remaining artifacts of the workers settlements such as Altenhof II.
Much of the Krupp company’s expansion took place during the industrial era, and they are primarily noted for steel production. Their 3-ring logo represents the seamless forged and rolled railway ties developed and patented by Alfred Krupp. While industrial activity transformed rural areas into the urban societies we know today, it is also associated with a host of ill conditions including disease, overcrowding, land subsidence (due to mining), air and water pollution, and more. The creation of health care programs and workers housing settlements, as well as disability and retirement programs, helped to balance some of these effects. Towards the late 1800s and early 1900s, after Alfred’s son Friedrich took over the company, greater focus was given towards educational and recreational opportunities including a workers casino surrounding by a large garden, a free library (for employees), scholarship funds, and a ‘basic wage’ policy set at a level that workers would not be enticed to work elsewhere. The Krupp rationale for these benefits was two-fold, one for believing in the return provided by healthy workers to the company, and two for the protection of secrets during a period of fierce individualism and inter-company competition. Alfred Krupp is known to have said, “Our secrets are our capital, and the capital is squandered as soon as they are known elsewhere.” (McCreary)
Secret keeping was an important driver of work organization within the company as well, with screens set up to cut-off views to certain processes, and processes themselves cut up amongst workers so that few would understand the overall methods of production. In order to protect the company, Alfred Krupp desired to ‘chain’ the workers through their own desire and self-interest. In addition to monetary benefits, one such way of doing this was to raise employee sense of status and belonging. Rather than laborers, they were Kruppians, and even had special hats to set them apart during leisure time (p.47 of McCreary but could not find a picture of these special hats unfortunately). A sense of harmony was sought after amongst the community, and controversial topics were kept out of libraries such as religious and philosophical works, and schools were kept non-denominational (non-religious). Workers housing settlements and culture helped to create a more cohesive sense of company belonging and pride. Like the Altenhof settlements, there are many workers’ housing villages scattered throughout the Ruhrgebiet built adjacent to their associated factories so workers would be close to their place of work. The A (ltenhof) II was developed not only for functionality, but also aesthetics, modeled after the English Garden City style. A II also notably housed primarily elderly people, those with disabilities, and people living on their own, who could live there for free. This was especially revolutionary at the time.
Many worker’s colonies such as the Altenhof are now preserved for the sense of ‘Heimat’ they evoke. Heimat, roughly translating to home, refers to the relationship between a people and their territory. When I first heard the term, I believed it to be similar to a ‘sense of place’, but the word heimat has no exact english translation and more specifically references the concept of a home-land (as in the german homeland) and also bears associations with German Romanticism and sometimes Nationalism. Heimat is linked with concepts of nativity, drawing upon metaphors in which homes can be found almost as if they were growing up out of the soil.(Bolz). I’ve also seen the word on large billboards advertising cookies.
Sketch with little garden plots in front of houses with characteristic roofs.
The search for the ‘ideal German home’ is linked in part with the English garden city movement, which was a method of urban planning developed by Ebenezer Howard to create a blend of city and country landscapes that would combat the poor housing conditions that occurred as a result of rapid urban growth. During the early 1900s, there was a great housing shortage due to the onset of industrialization and resulting increase in population, as well as a need for workers to easily be able to get to and from the factories or mining areas. But more than simple practicality, ideal homes brought art to the lives of the working class, and were instrumental in establishing a sense of civic pride. Garden City style housing typically featured single family detached or semi-detached buildings with individual green plots in self contained communities which were then surrounding by greenbelts/park rings. These were situated apart from the inner city, but connected by railway and major transportation lines. This arrangement was considered a healthier way of living and is where our modern day suburbs draw their roots from.
During this time, Krupp housing sought to espouse the image of the Romantic garden city-style settlement. The company is referenced for its roles both in helping to form the image of ideal German housing as well as generating a sense of national pride during war times (Bolz). Altenhof II is built into the side of a hill and characterized by features such as gable roofs, bay windows, and brightly colored wooden shutters (many with tiny hearts carved into them). Built after Altenhof I (which is mostly gone now but I will mention again in a later post only on siedlungs), it is seperated from the first village by the Krupp Waldpark or Forestpark. Both of the Altenhof settlements, along with the more famous Krupp settlement Margarethenhöhe, were distinctly different from the previous grid pattern multi-story tenements built prior to the 1890s. Because of this, they were also extensively publicized in Besucherpolitik or official tours given to important people such as the Kaiser.
However, settlements such as Altenhof have sometimes faced criticism after their construction for what may be considered ‘paste-on romanticism’ with ‘imported foreign elements’ (Bolz). Other Krupp examples such as the Dahlhauser-Heide in Bochum which showcases less architectural ornamentation and was not the focus of Besucherpolitik have sometimes been used as examples more emblematic of a Ruhr vernacular. However, despite how the ideals change, the Altenhof still represents an important period in the development of the ideal home and has very nice shutters.
Social Welfare and Business: The Krupp Welfare Program, 1860-1914, Eugene C. McCreary: https://www-jstor-org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stable/3112013?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
Constructing “Heimat” in the Ruhr Valley: Krupp Housing and the Search for the Ideal German Home 1914-1931, Cedric Bolz: https://www-jstor-org.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/stable/41303654?seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents
The original Aldi was known as the Albrecht Grocery store, ran by the mother of current Aldi store owners Karl Jr. and Theo Albrecht for the baker Karl Albrecht, back when products were still gotten for customers by the store owners rather than self selected to bring to a cashier. The original store opened in 1913 in a small suburb of Essen and can still be found in business today on HuesStrase under the name of Aldi Nord. When the brothers took over the store in 1946, they created a name for themselves as a cheap food source, avoiding advertising and brand names, keeping stores sizes/stock small, and regularly purging items that don’t sell. Aldi also runs efficiently; for example today, rather opening boxes and putting individual products on shelves, employees are instructed only to open boxes and place the entire items on the shelves. By the 1950s the brothers owned 13 stores in the Ruhr Valley and soon shortened the name Albrecht Discount to Aldi.
Aldi represents the no-frill shopping experience that developed in post-war Germany, with a focus on non-perishable and nondescript food products. The company split in 1966 into Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud (dividing line is between Essen with the headquarters of Aldi Nord and Mulheim with headquarters of Aldi Sud), over a dispute on whether or not the stores should sell cigarettes. The Aldi equator runs from the Rhine via the Mulheim an der Ruhr. Today, Aldi has over 10,000 stores in 20 countries. In the states, Aldi’s are run through Aldi Sud, and the popular Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi Nord. Much of the Aldi expansion in the US market happened after 2008, with the brothers seeing an opportunity to attract frugal shoppers during the economic crisis. In fact, many Aldi products are even cheaper than even Walmart’s.