Constructing Heimat in the Ruhr Valley: assessing the historical significance of Krupp company housing from its origins through the National Socialist era, 1855-1941




Bolz, Cedric

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As the central pillar of the Krupp steel firm’s much-publicized company welfare initiatives, employee housing has played a vital role in shaping Krupp’s corporate identity from 1855 to the present. The central objective of this dissertation is to examine and critically assess primary and secondary sources written about Krupp housing in order to determine its historical meaning and impact. Previous historical writings on Krupp have predominantly overlooked the fact that at the conclusion of World War One, Essen’s Friedrich Krupp A G was not only Germany’s largest steel producer and leading armaments manufacturer, but with over 12,000 units constructed also the nation’s largest private sector provider of housing. While Krupp’s integral involvement in the German war effort and the brutality of trench warfare would contribute to transforming its international reputation from the “Armoury of the German Empire” to “Merchants of Death”, domestic Heimatkultur [native culture] publications were heralding the company’s housing initiatives as blueprints for planning the post-war communities of returning soldiers. It is the fascinating dualism of the firm’s reputation as both agents of mass destruction and apparent social welfare innovator that provides the central impetus for this study. This dissertation examines the social, economic, political and cultural forces that combined to define the historical significance of Krupp housing activities. Of particular interest in this regard was the role Germany’s largest industrial complex played in promoting cultural perceptions about German housing. More specifically, it depicts how Krupp’s extensive housing activities and marketing strategies influenced the early development of the German Kleinsiedlung form during a period (1892-1941) that spanned the Wilhelmine, Weimar and National Socialist years. This study thus contributes another chapter to the growing scholarly literature on the history of the German Kleinsiedlung that Tilman Harlander has fittingly described as a ''spezifisch deutsche Geschichte” [specifically German story]. Within this story Krupp’s company housing legacy represented a Sonderweg [a distinct path]. After having analyzed and thoroughly contextualized the wide range of historical writings on Krupp housing, I conclude that by 1918, three Krupp housing projects in particular — the Altenhof, Margarethenhöhe, and Heimaterde — represented highly influential and equally controversial working models of urban planning and social engineering. The most pronounced historical impact of Krupp’s housing was that it was not only portrayed but also interpreted as a very bold, large-scale intervention into alleviating the housing crisis long before this problem was directly addressed by the German state after World War One. Krupp not only possessed the initiative, but more importantly, the financial means to transform theory into practice. In particular for reformers of the political right, Krupp’s Sonderstellung [distinct status] in the German political economy, combined with the absence of labour militancy in the nation’s most heavily industrialized city, proved highly inspirational for their urban planning ideas. Between the final years of the Weimar Republic and the outbreak of the Second World War, this impact would reach unprecedented heights. When noted National Socialist idealogue Gottfried Feder published his blueprint for the ideal new cities of the Third Reich in Die Neue Stadt: Versuch der Begründung einer neuen Stadtplanlmnst aus der sozialen Struktur der Bevölkerung [The New City: An attempt at founding a new planning artform out of the social structure of the population] (1939), he cited Krupp’s Margarethenhöhe and Heimaterde as „vorbildlich praktische Beispiele" [exemplary practical examples] of „musterhaften Groβsiedlunger” [model large settlements].



Housing, Germany, Housing policy, Ruhr Valley