Arnold Staub – the Man behind the Workers’ Estate
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The founding of SBI and the revolutionary creation of the model workers’ estate is forever linked with the name Arnold Staub.
Staub was born in Switzerland in 1821 into a textiles producing family. Still he earned further qualifications in this area of expertise, and by marrying into leading families of the textiles business, he got into a great position and also got the capital to found his own enterprise.
Having started in his father’s business in neighbouring Altenstadt, he started a cotton weaving mill in Kuchen in 1857, together with his brother-in-law, Theodor Ziegler, and a man named Adolf Rieter, and added a cotton spinning department in 1861. (More detailed info about this part of the history in my intro.)
The creation of the workers’ estate was partly based on his view of workers as the lowest class of society, and he tried to control and rule into their lives entirely. However, he also felt his responsibility towards them.
Arnold Staub also founded the Industry and Stock Exchange in Stuttgart in 1960, and from 1870 he was the president of the association of South Germany’s Cotton Entrepreneurs.
Although his visionary ideas and their realization caused a stir in Europe, not everything went smoothly in his entrepreneurial life. The shortage of cotton during the American civil war lead to the first losses the company suffered. Things turned sour when workers went on strike in 1872, protesting against 16 hour shifts, for higher wages and the administration of their health insurance. The next years of crisis were 1873/74. In 1876 the spinning building was destroyed in a fire, and the loss of production caused real financial trouble, the amount of debt rose dramatically, and it was only a matter of time when Staub would lose his life’s work.
Due to rising debts the enterprise was transformed into a stock company in 1881 and named Süddeutsche Baumwoll-Industrie = SBI, the name it kept until the liquidation. After the transformation Arnold Straub retreated to the spinning mill in Altenstadt which he had purchased when his brother went broke with it. When this company also got into financial trouble, he could not get over what he considered as a shameful event and loss of face. He committed suicide in 1882.
The Süddeutsche Baumwoll-Industrie AG Kuchen took over the company in Altenstadt in 1883. Emil Waibel senior became director. He incorporated his weaving mill in Günzburg and the spinning mill in Waltenhofen into the company.
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The new Life of the Spinning Mill
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This renovated building is quite beautiful but the huge and mostly empty carpark in front of it gives it a kind of sad look.
At the best of times 25,340 spindles were running in the spinning mill.
Since the closure of SBI the building has had a variety of purposes. At the moment it is used as an outlet store of several brands (Marken-Lagerverkauf), including sports wear.
At the western side there is an entrance to a plant nursery.
At the eastern side (Spindelstraße) you see the most attractive part of the spinning mill, including a small fortress-like tower.
You get there by leaving the workers’ estate at Gasthaus Staubbach, and head to the right.
Spindelstraße (Spindle Street) reminds of the spinning mill. To the right of it (east, towards Kuchen) was the weaving mill. Those buildings have been demolished and replaced by modern multi-storey apartment buildings. It is an incredibly quiet area.
Another street here is Weberallee (Weavers’ Avenue).
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Little Gardens of Happy Days
Favorite thing: I remember the times when there was a black slack walking track (Schwarzer Weg) along the river, bordered by plum trees, leading to a plot of small gardens (Kleingärten) near the weir (Gingener Filswehr). The land of those gardens belonged to SBI who leased it to their employees. My parents also had a garden (Ländle = “small land”) there where they planted vegetables and flowers. We played in the grass and the mini forest of deciduous trees between the gardens and the river where the gardeners fetched water in cans and buckets for watering their gardens, and I remember that a lot of violets – purple, burgundy and white – grew there, and I always picked them and made little bunches. From there the track continued along the fence of the park, the villa, and the administration building. The latter has been pulled down.
Fondest memory: When I cycled on this track lately it was like stepping back in time. Although the track has been sealed, and the start/end in Gingen has been lost to industrial development, parts of it looked as if time had stood still. The gardens have been transformed into typical German Kleingärten (small gardens), fenced by hedges or proper fences, with lawns and BBQ facilities, some even with little huts. The gardens have become bigger, and as a consequence, there are less owners. Then everybody had a piece of land which was entirely used for plantations, not for leisure, and there were no fences. Then we walked there or took the bicycle, now the garden owners get there by car.
The area between the track and the river looked like 40 and more years ago. There was still this narrow downhill path to the river where the people walked with their watering cans, fetching water in the Fils which was and is very calm there, as just a short way further down part of the water is stopped by the weir. I had just thought the descent was a bit steeper and longer then ;-) There were still those trees we had run around a thousand times. I dreamed of the times when we were happy without mobile phones, computers and ipods, when children did not need to go on a diet because we played in the outdoors. Surely I had my mobile phone in my backpack, just for the case… Well, perhaps to say I would be late for dinner because I had to check out so many places of my past, forage my way through the undergrowth to get a better view of the weir and the riverbank, squeeze my nose against the fence around the turbine keeper’s house, watch the weir work. Every place is so full of memories and history here, you just have to keep your eyes wide open.
More photos in one of the travelogues.
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