Thursday, 21 February 2013

The House on the Hill

On a hillside promontory, overlooking the Baldeneysee on the southern outskirts of Essen stands a house on a hill.  It's rolling park-like gardens and wooded glades give it a very rural and peaceful air - you wouldn't know you were in the (in)famous German industrial heartland of the Ruhrgebiet - nor would you suspect you were standing at the front door of the former seat of one of Germany's great industrial families - the Krupps.

So it came to be that yesterday I was standing there - with about 25 other ladies (mainly Americans but with a couple of subversive Brits thrown in to liven the mix!) - waiting for our guided tour of Villa Hügel (literally the Hill Villa).  It had been arranged by the American Women's Club of Düsseldorf and I had been invited along by a friend who was involved in arranging the excursion.
The back of Villa Hügel showing the main house on the left, a corner of the 'little house' on the right and a linking building with arched windows in the centre.

Now I had seen Villa Hügel from the lake below whilst boating around it with the In-Law's last summer, and had passed through it's (very own) railway station en route to Essen centre.  I'd seen books about it and watched a historical drama about the Krupps which featured the house - so I knew a bit about it before going.  I'm also a veteran of the National Trust in the UK - so have a bit of experience of the odd country house (or three) and not to forget I'm a complete expert on all matters upstairs/downstairs having seen Downton Abbey - so I was most definitely prepared for the visit.

Grand Hall with domed glass ceiling
Villa Hügel didn't disappoint - although it's not like it was in it's heyday of course due to continued modernisation over the years, but there was still an air of grandeur, some fabulous chandeliers and tapestries and a sense of awe at the scale of the house.  It was built in about 1873 by Alfreid Krupp - he designed it himself and used a large proportion of Krupp produced materials to build it (a steel frame for example and a steel staircase) - he was apparently paranoid of the house burning down and so wanted to use as little flammable material as possible....
Room in the 'Linking Building'
Dining Room in main house
As befit one of the leading industrialists of his time, Krupp's seat was impressive - some 269 rooms consisting of over 8000sqm of usable floor space - a pretty impressive house by all measures.  It was a very extensive estate and at it's peak there were over 700 staff manning the house, gardens, home farm etc.  Villa Hügel also paid host to a constant stream of important visitors - all of whom had the red carpet treatment in an attempt to further the Krupp business.  These included various Emperors (of Germany and abroad), Kings, Statesmen and so on - not all of them were enthusiastically received however, Hitler being one of these - whilst Krupp needed the work from the war effort - and Hitler needed Krupp's steel there was a big social divide - one which the Lady of the House was not willing to cross.

Villa Hügel remained the family seat until the end of WWII when it was appropriated by the Allies used in that capacity until it was returned to Krupp in the early 1950s.  It was however not used as a family house again.  It was opened to the public for use as a cultural centre - and still houses exhibitions today.  It is also home to the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung (Krupp Foundation) a not-for-profit organisation who were passed the Alfried Krupp's estate on his death.

It is a beautiful house and well worth a visit if you are in Essen.  The grounds are beautifully kept and there are apparently lots of things to look at / explore within them - unfortunately, we didn't have time for that yesterday - so another visit is most definitely called for!

(Thanks to Kettwigefrau for the pictures)

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