It's a pleasant Sunday afternoon. In front of the Eisenheim Museum, a group of interested members of the public gathers. Many come from Oberhausen themselves, others have travelled from as far away as Cologne to take a closer look at the very special Eisenheim estate. Why special? All will be explained by Ingo Dämgen from the LVR Museum in a two-hour tour of the nearly 170-year-old estate.
Ruhr valley idyll
"Photos are allowed," explains Dämgen, "but we do of course ask for some discretion. People live in these houses, after all." But there is life not only inside the picture-perfect brick buildings: Children play in the little alleyways behind, women hang their washing out in the gardens. Outside the doors of the homes, tables and benches invite you for a neighbourly chat. Even a cat or two comes out to be petted. The residents of Eisenheim are used to the groups of visitors on their streets. They understand the public interest because "their estate" has an eventful history.
For miners and ironworkers
The estate's first houses were built back in 1846. By 1903, the individual houses had turned into the Eisenheim estate via several phases of construction. Eisenheim means "iron-home", so the name tells you that the estate was originally built for ironworkers: "JHH wanted to keep their workers, who mostly came from the country, at the location by making the homes attractive to them with their own garden plots and small stables to provide for their families," explains Dämgen. This was a successful strategy: Around the turn of the century, roughly 1,200 people lived on the seven-hectare site, including miners from the Osterfeld mine. "Now there are considerably fewer. The homes have of course got bigger. Before, ten people would sometimes live in a home of 60 square metres. Furthermore, many houses were damaged in the Second World War, and only some were rebuilt."
It was not at all certain that there would even be houses in the old estate today: In the early 1970s, the diggers were already moving in to tear Eisenheim down and make space for modern homes. The residents closed ranks and successfully fought back against the demolition. They founded the first workers' initiative in the Ruhr region. Dämgen: "In 1972, the estate was listed and, continuing until 1980, renovated with the residents' active support." Eisenheim now belongs to the Route of Industrial Heritage. Eisenheim Museum is an outpost of the LVR Industrial Museum in Oberhausen and offers regular tours through the extraordinary estate.