It is unusual for a builder to justify the dismissal of his responsible architect with his need for sleep. But that is exactly what the industrial magnate Alfred Krupp did in December 1970. In an angry letter he told Eduard Schwarz, who was in charge of the construction work on the Villa Hügel at the time: “Anyone who wants to sleep or have fun in cities should do as quickly as possible so that he get away.” On December 23, the ground under the south-west corner of the new building had dropped by 20 centimeters. Schwarz, who was not the first site manager whom Krupp saw off, had dared to travel to Berlin for the family Christmas at that time.
This is just one episode in the eventful history of the origins of Villa Hügel, the former seat of the Krupp family in Essen’s Bredeney district. The “garden house”, the Krupp headquarters in the middle of the factory premises in the city, had become too loud and dirty in 1870. This is how the steel patriarch sketched a villa that was pounded out of the sometimes giving way soil on a hill in the south of the city. Externally a neoclassical box with 269 rooms and 8100 square meters of living space, it was structurally one of the most modern houses of its time, built on a steel framework, equipped with modern conveniences: there was running hot water, which made Kaiser Wilhelm II particularly comfortable as a guest found a ventilation system (although prone to failure), a hydraulic lift.
On January 10, 1873, the Krupps moved in. The Villa Hügel was a utilitarian representative building, family seat and corporate headquarters at the same time. Here Alfred Krupp received royalty and customers from all over the world with whom he did business. A good six decades later, Adolf Hitler would also be in Eat who, as is well known, wanted the German youth to be as hard as Krupp steel. Everything about this house is gigantic, from the 16 meter high entrance hall with family portraits, down to the kitchen with industrial dimensions, rows of ovens, huge ladles and pans, all the way up to the cast-iron, all-glass roof gallery that lets in natural light through a glass, arched Coffered ceiling sends to the upper hall.
Martin Kippenberger published the book “Forgotten Furnishing Problems in Villa Hügel”.
There, in the Krupps’ former “living room” with its tapestries and wall paneling, the 150th anniversary of the Villa Hügel will be celebrated this Friday in the presence of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It is the prelude to an anniversary year that will be celebrated with installations, concerts and film screenings. The last Krupp to live here was Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. After American troops arrested him in April 1945, they confiscated the then 150 hectare property. It was the seat of the Allied Coal Control Commission for seven years.
When the Krupp family got it back in 1952, Alfried no longer wanted to live here. He made Villa Hügel available to the general public. In his will, he decreed “to convert the company into a corporation via a foundation, which is intended to be an expression of the tradition of the House of Krupp committed to the common good”. With his death in 1967, his entire fortune was transferred to the non-profit Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation he founded.
Despite its eventful history, which was also burdened by the Nazi involvement of the Krupps, the Villa Hügel is an important identification point for Essen. Since the Second World War, it has developed into one of the most important and characterful exhibition and event locations in the Ruhr area. In 1984, the manager and Krupp chief representative Berthold Beitz founded the “Culture Foundation Ruhr” with headquarters in the villa. It was intended to “give new impetus to cultural life in the Ruhr area”.
Since the facility had been scattered in all directions during Allied use, there was a lot of empty space to use after it was removed. There was already a Dior fashion show here in 1953. The Folkwang Museum, which is closely linked to the foundation, has repeatedly shown parts of its collection here. In particular, the exhibitions of modern works in the context of the aesthetics of the imperial era became a source of inspiration and a source of friction for artists such as Martin Kippenberger, who often visited the villa as a child and published a book in 1996 entitled “Forgotten Furnishing Problems in Villa Hügel”. The anniversary year 2023 now offers the opportunity to face the challenges of this unique building in a new way.