Twelve hours work in suffocating factory rooms followed by a meagre dinner in a house belonging to the company, and maybe a chat over the garden fence with the neighbour before going to bed. This was more or less the typical pattern of everyday life in the north German Wool Combing and Worsted Spinning Mill in Delmenhorst. The huge industrial site covering more than 25 hectares of land was one of the largest of its type in Europe and for decades it was a self-enclosed world. The factory owner’s word was law: twine and spinning frames dictated the rhythm of life. But now the noise of work has died. A new suburb has grown up on the abandoned site, consisting of listed buildings and modern living quarters, offices and leisure facilities. At the centre is the Nordwolle Factory Museum housed in the ornamented red brick building of the old turbine house which used to be the central power station of the works. In the adjacent row of sheds visitors can follow the process of turning raw wool into yarn – some of this on working machines – and learn about the history of the many women and men who more or less fell unprepared into the maw of this immense factory town.
The inhabitants of Delmenhorst called them wool-mice. They were referring to the girls and young women from Silesia, Galicia and Bohemia whose skilful hands worked the folding machines and twining frames. Their daily wage was 1.50 Marks. Their male colleagues in the spinning mill earned a little more. In 1884 Christian Lahusen, a textile manufacturer from Bremen set up the North German Wool Combing and Worsted Spinning Mill in the town of Delmenhorst. The firm, which quickly became known as “Nordwolle” (lit: North Wool) all over Germany, was situated directly next to the railway line to Bremen where the wool which had been bought in from all over the world arrived by ship. Within two generations the family business had expanded to a major concern which, for a time, turned out a quarter of all the rough yarn made in the world and employed up to 4,500 workers in Delmenhorst alone. Most of them came from Eastern Europe. Between 1885 and 1905 the population of Delmenhorst tripled as a result of the huge wave of immigration. This resulted in a chronic lack of housing and wretched social conditions, notoriously as "Delmenhorst conditions". For this reason workers’ housing estates expanded constantly on the “Nordwolle” site. The factory became a town within a town with cooperative stores, canteens and baths, a hospital, a kindergarten and a library. The workers’ security was paid for by their dependence on the factory owners who now controlled almost every aspect of their lives. The Lahusen era came to an end in 1931: mismanagement and the slump in the world economy drove the firm into bankruptcy. It continued to existing in a radically smaller form until 1981. Since then the inhabitants of Delmenhorst have slowly turned “Nordwolle” into a modern metropolitan suburb thanks to planned extensions to existing factory buildings and a careful process of re-usage. The Nordwolle Factory Museum opened its doors in 1996. One year later this was followed by the Municipal Museum in the “Lichtstation”, the first engine room of the disused textile works. The self-enclosed factory town has long been an open suburb in which 4,000 people are now living and working.
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Tuesday to Friday and Sunday 10am-5pm
closed Monday and Saturday