In the Christmas woodshop


This year, our Christmas card features a Nativity scene. It was on display for many years at the Werkstatt für Menschen mit Behinderung (WfbM), a workshop for people with disabilities, in Duisburg Neudorf. This is also where it was produced.

The considerable size of the WfbM workshop does not become clear until you approach the site not far from the MSV Duisburg football stadium. “We have more than 1,000 employees at the production sites in Duisburg,” explains Jutta Lütke-Vestert, head of the workshop in Neudorf, as she leads us to the Nativity scene that is already waiting to be collected. After we viewed the Nativity scene, Ms Lütke-Vestert invites us on a tour of the workshop: “Our production facility comprises a woodworking shop, restoration and industrial assembly,” she explains. “Just like any other workshop.” In the woodshop, two women are working on antique wooden chairs whose seats need to be rewoven. “This is a very special skill that demands a great deal of aptitude and concentration. Only a few people know how to create the different weaving patterns,” says Ms Reiff, team leader in assembly. She knows her employees very well – including their strengths and weaknesses…

Only a happy employee is a good employee

“Some employees are physically weak but are very skilled at assembling small parts, for example for industrial assembly. For others, delicate work doesn’t suit them at all. They prefer to work with large machinery like the kind used in the woodshop, or they work outside the workshop, for example tending the Duisburg Landscape Park and green spaces.” So in the WfbM there is a task for everyone that he or she can both master and enjoy. To identify and develop the employees’ talents, school-leavers and future employees first complete an internship: In small groups, they go around the different work areas in the workshop, often discovering their own interest and abilities for the first time. “The employees are really absorbed in their work,” says Lütke-Vestert. You can tell: When we visit the various different working groups, we are given a warm welcome. Some employees proudly demonstrate their skill in industrial assembly to us. Reiff explains: “Of course, we want to make the work as agreeable as possible for the employees. So we make sure that people who get on well work together at a table, while those who don’t particularly like each other do not have to come into contact at work.” The concept seems to work: Quality products are manufactured in very high quantities per day in some cases – and without any stress.

A unique piece

The Nativity scene was likewise produced without any stress by six employees together with Ms Reiff. It is a truly unique piece. Joseph and Mary, the Three Wise Men, the Baby Jesus and even a camel were lovingly sawed, sanded down and painted by hand using different types of wood. For many years, the figures were used as Christmas decorations in the workshop itself. The employees were proud to hand over their Nativity scene. It has now been placed in the inner gateway of our foyer, where it creates a contemplative atmosphere during Advent. “We are glad that the Nativity scene has found a nice place at Haniel. I’m already looking forward to building a new one for the workshop,” says Ms Reiff.


The workshop in Duisburg was set up in 1973 by the partners the City of Duisburg, Lebenshilfe für Menschen mit geistiger Behinderung e.V. (an association for people with mental disabilities) and Verein für Körper- und Mehrfachbehinderte Duisburg e.V. (an association for people with physical and multiple disabilities in Duisburg).
It started operations in 1975. Since then, the workshop has stood for good cooperation with small trade and industry. It demonstrates day after day that people with disabilities are also capable of performing high-quality work. The workshop started with just under 100 jobs for people with disabilities. It now employs more than 1,000 people at four production sites in the part of Duisburg on the right bank of the River Rhine. In addition, WfbM runs the café/restaurant “Der kleine Prinz”, the shopping gallery “Ars Vivendi”, and the café “Ziegenpeter am Rheinpark”.

Here you can gain an impression of the WfbM employees’ productivity and the variety of products they make.