"Romantic Look into the not so Romantic Past of SBI" Kuchen by Kakapo2
Kuchen Travel Guide: 19 reviews and 95 photos
Kuchen, a little town in the administrative region (Kreis) of Göppingen, on the main railway line from Stuttgart to Munich, has only one attraction worth to be mentioned. Well, until the mid 1800’s there was nothing of major interest. And the then upcoming change did not take place within the town borders. Then, between 1857 and 1868, a cotton spinning company was built – literally on the paddocks - between Kuchen and the neighbour village of Gingen. It should become Württemberg’s biggest company of its kind, named Süddeutsche Baumwoll-Industrie (South German Cotton Industry), or abbreviated: SBI. It was also spelled “esbi” – in order to the main (shirt) fabric they produced and exported worldwide, which was named “esbiline”. The bus stop was SBI and “Fabrik Kuchen”.
But it had no happy ending. In the 1970’s the firm went broke, a greedy new owner had ruined it within a short time. Parts of the historic buildings were demolished but the town of Kuchen fought successfully for the remains, and restored the outstanding workers’ estate. If you are in the region do not miss to visit this fantastic testimony of an early workers village which is a mixture of Swiss chalet style and English brickworks.
Strolling through this place is like stepping back into my childhood. I had grown up in Gingen. My father worked at SBI as the head of the wage department, he was also in charge of the workers’ estate which was rather visionary at the time it was created. The first foreign workers, called Gastarbeiter (guest workers) in the 1960’s came from Italy, then from former Yougoslavia, and finally from Turkey. As a child, I often walked or cycled to SBI to pick up my father from work. And I know a lot more details about the bankruptcy of the firm, things you cannot read in the official history, and which I cannot tell here as I want to protect my father who knew a lot of the things that ruined the enterprise, with the major shareholder and new director pulling SBI tradesmen like electricians out of SBI to embellish his private villa at the firm’s cost. I am rather sure the enterprise could still exist today, had it been managed by less greedy and more honest guys.
The photo of the Workers Cottage and Schweizerhaus at the bottom of this page has been taken by my niece Melanie Stein. She had taken it for me when I needed it for illustrating my tips and just did not have the photo. In the meantime I have been back to SBI and taken a lot more photos and also done more research. This page has been significantly extended in October 2009.
If you just pass by, you will feel like stepping back in time as well. Hidden behind a commercial centre (which is ugly and faceless, like everywhere in the world), you feel like in another world. Beautiful half-timbered houses like in Switzerland, the timber ochre and bright, and those old brick houses, all a bit smallish and cosy. It could be from a scene of an historic film, just the ladies in their long robes and the cart-pulling horses having a day off.
The enterprise had been built by a Swiss family namend Staub who had come to Württemberg in 1852. The father, Johann Heinrich Staub, had already started such a company in another neighbouring village named Altenstadt, now part of the town of Geislingen, some years earlier. They had moved to Germany due to a customs barrier imposed by the German Tariff Union, it had become impossible to export goods to Germany. After Johann Heinrich Staub’s untimely death in 1854 his two sons Emil and Arnold became heads of the Altenstadt spinning company, and already three years later Arnold started a cotton weaving mill in Kuchen and added a cotton spinning department in 1861.
At the time, Kuchen was a farming community and had a weaving mill. As already then there was a shortage of workers, they had to be hired from foreign countries like Bohemia, Bavaria (yes, this was foreign then!), England and Switzerland, which created a multicultural society, and life was not always easy. The model estate for the workers was so thoroughly planned by Arnold Staub, and was so innovative that it caused a stir in the whole of Europe. In July 1867 he received a gold medal and 10,000 Francs at the World Expo in Paris for his exemplary estate. When Emperor Napoleon III was on the way to Salzburg he stopped at Geislingen railway station and decorated Arnold Staub with the Cross of the Legion of Honours. The architects he had hired for the design of the fabric and the workers’ estate were Leonhard Zeugheer from Zürich and Georg Morlok from Stuttgart.
The workers’ estate was created around a central square and included apartments for workers and supervisors, a school, a so-called Kosthaus (fare house) which was a kind of canteen with heating devices (no microwaves then LOL) in which the workers could reheat their lunches brought from home, further a bakery and a tavern (Staubbach, named after Arnold Staub). The biggest pride was a bath and washing house with Württemberg’s first public baths, designed by architect Leonhard Zeugheer from Zürich. In 1902 another 30 apartment buildings for workers were added around the core of the historic houses and cottages.
Arnold Staub lived from 1821 until 1882. He committed suicide when the enterprise got into financial trouble. Interesting points of his entrepreneur’s life were a workers’ strike in 1872, protesting against 16 hour shifts, for higher wages and the administration of their health insurance, and a very sad event was the destruction of the spinning building in a fire in 1876. Due to the mentioned debts the enterprise was transformed into a stock company in 1881. This company included the enterprises in Kuchen, Altenstadt, Günzburg (between Ulm and Augsburg) and Waltenhofen (near Niedersonthofener See in the Allgäu region).
The beginning of the final end did not start until 90 years later. On 23 November 1972 the Adam Matheis Company (located in Eislingen, just 10km further west) bought 51 per cent of the shares, then owned by a Swiss banking group, for just 10 to 12 million marks. The SBI employed 1250 people (the peak was in 1950 with about 2000 employees) and made 58 million marks a year. Soon more than 650 employees were made redundant. In 1979 – time of an international crisis of the textile industry - the spinning department was closed. Machines were sold abroad and not replaced. Only the production of manchester and deco fabrics (curtains) went on. Once SBI had made the finest fabrics for shirts (esbiline); the manchester brand Schlafgut (sleep well) was famous as well.
The onslaught went on. Assets, properties, buildings, machines and water rights were sold. The bosses even planned to demolish the workers’ estate and replace it by apartment buildings. But luckily the archivist of the region (Kreisarchivar) and the town of Kuchen who recognised the huge historic value could prevent this act of barbarism. The town purchased the cultural monument in 1981 for 600,000 marks and adopted the charge and costs of the renovation which at the end cost about 20 million marks.
On 28 February 1983 the management filed for reorganisation, and on 29 April 1983 the bankruptcy proceedings were instituted. A lot of items including pieces of art, machines and tools, even historic fountains, disappeared mysteriously. (Do not want to speculate in whose villas those could have reappeared…) Also the SBI branches in Günzburg and Hechingen were closed down. At the end of 1985 the town of Kuchen purchased the whole area of the enterprise and its buildings, including the Gründervilla (founder’s villa), park and nursery for 7.5 million marks.
The former workers’ estate “Auf der Fabrik” was included in the reconstruction programme of the state of Baden-Württemberg. On 25 March 1987 it was registered as a cultural monument of outstanding value. The estate is a unique and very early example in the South of Germany of a social-concious housing scheme for workers, with its original character completely conserved. It shows quite outstanding aesthetic quality and is testimony of the early days of industrialisation.
In February 1988 some buildings which could not be used anymore were demolished, including the 60 metre high chimney. What remains of the former enterprise of worldwide reputation are the weaving mill, the villa, the administration building and the new laboratory.
This page is the best example that not only VT members read our VT pages. Just when I was back on site in Germany in September 2009 I received an email from a TV station in China, asking if my information about Napoleon III honouring SBI founder Arnold Staub with a gold medal of the World Expo 1876 was correct. They were doing documentaries about such historic estates. Having this wonderful historic site just two kilometres away from me and the book about SBI's history at hand, I could tell them that their information was wrong and mine was correct. After reading my page they now feel inspired to travel to Kuchen :-)
Ok, I did not get any ratings for that - but I think nobody but the old man who guides visitors through the workers estate has better information about SBI than I :-) And I cannot tell you how much I love this place. During my holiday I went there by bicycle at least a dozen times, often just cycling through it without stopping. It is so picture-perfect and romantic.
- Pros:A fantastic possibility to have a look at something innovative from 150 years agao
- Cons:Only the thoughts about the mismanagement leading to the bankruptcy
- In a nutshell:Do not miss it when you are in the region, it takes only 20 minutes
- The founding of SBI and the revolutionary creation of the model workers’ estate is forever linked with the name... more travel advice
I remember the times when there was a black slack walking track (Schwarzer Weg) along the river, bordered by plum trees,... more travel advice
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