Guben, in the eastern part of Brandenburg, on the present-day frontier with Poland, has been involved with textile manufactures since the middle ages. In the nineteenth century it became one of Europe’s principal centres for making felt hats, using the fine quality wool available in the region and the soft waters of the River Neisse.
In 1847 Carl Gottlieb Wilke invented the waterproof felt hat, and by the 1920s the Gubener Hutwerke was making some six million hats a year. Another company, Union-Fez-Fabrik GmbH supplied huge quantities of fezes to markets in the eastern Mediterranean.
After the Second World War the hatmakers of Guben were highly regarded in the former DDR. Ernst Honecker regularly wore hats made in Guben, and the former USSR became the principal market for the town’s products.
The scale of production has dwindled since the 1990s, but the museum, located in a three-storey former factory, provides through machines, displays of hats and photographs, evidence of a small-town industry that for some decades dominated world markets.