The History and Tradition of the Cloth Makers in Göttingen

/The History and Tradition of the Cloth Makers in Göttingen

The History and Tradition of the Cloth Makers in Göttingen

In Göttingen, the image of the city changed particularly strongly in the 19th century. The development outside the wall increased steadily, starting with the observatory for Carl Friedrich Gauß and factories to the west and northwest of the city. The wall was broken through in two places so that the area in front of it could be built on: Theater, Königliches Gymnasium (today: Max-Planck-Gymnasium) and finally the East Quarter expanded the urban area.
The Hainberg was systematically reforested under Lord Mayor Georg Merkel and the Göttingen Forest gradually took the place of the open pastures. The bourgeoisie gratefully accepted the new local recreational opportunities, which also offered views of the city “from above”.
The beautification association founded in 1876 on the initiative of the citizens with the active help of the mayor made the development of the newly wooded Hainberg its business. It took care of the planting of certain trees and bushes, the creation and maintenance of walking paths, the setting up of benches, the construction of shelters. At the beginning of the 20th century the association tried to increase the attractiveness for hikers by enclosing and designing watercourses and springs and in this way to create small oases of relaxation. The respective designation was borrowed from the local topography, the appearance of the landscape and the local traditions. This is how the Schäferbrunnen, the Reinsrinne, the Lichte Meer, the Eselstieg and the Tuchmacherborn came into being.
With the choice of the name Tuchmacherborn the memory of the city’s most important trade for centuries should be kept alive – a branch of industry that in its classic handicraft structure in the course of the 19th century the industrial transformation with its mechanization and the change of the job description from craftsmen to factory workers fell victim to. Maintaining the „oasis of calm and relaxation“ created more than a hundred years ago in the vicinity of Göttingen is still what the beautification association sees as its concern and task.
Therefore, a short review of the Göttingen cloth making should be offered here, the historical importance which the Beautification Association wanted to keep alive in the memory and awareness of the Göttingen population by choosing the name “Tuchmacherborn”.

From the beginnings of a village until the early 14th century Göttingen developed into a city in the legal sense. The classic definition of city is market, wall and municipal law. A city is therefore a delimited special area, within the walls the city law applies, outside the land law. In this respect the difference between urban law and land law is central, this difference is common to all cities, as is the division of labor in the economy. The concrete constitutional and economic structures, however, can differ significantly.

In the country the estate or farming industry tries to be self-sufficient. Everything that is needed is produced as possible and / or traded on a small scale. The city, on the other hand, designed the aforementioned division of labor very early on. Specialized trades develop very quickly. First of all, as a rule, those who are responsible for the basic provision of the population: the butchers, the bakers, the shoemakers, the tanners. These oldest trades, also because they have a fundamental function in the city’s economic system, are the first to obtain privileges, guild privilege, usually from the city lord – a nobleman, a prince, a sovereign or, particularly prominent, from the king. With these privileges they gradually begin to expand their area of ​​interest, which extends to the city and the economic routes in which the city is integrated, at the expense of the nominal rights of the city lords or sovereigns. From this self-organization of the various guilds and the balancing of interests through negotiation processes, the council was formed from the early 13th century as a municipal representative body for the citizens, i.e. for what takes place in this legal area within the city walls, with the claim to represent the interests of the whole urban population. This development of history explains why the oldest guilds are usually represented on the council.
In Göttingen, for example, one can see from around 1230 that there is a permanent administration: there is a council, a town hall and the central collection of the sources important for the beginning of the city (in today’s town archive).
Certain families or trades dominate within the early councils. In West Germany and North Germany, these are usually merchants or merchants‘ consortia, especially those who conduct long-distance trade. This is also the backing of the Hanseatic League, which from the 13th and especially in the 14th and 15th centuries stretched from Flanders far into the Baltic States.
In Göttingen the merchants from around 1400 for the rest of the Middle Ages are even the only ones who provide the council. In Göttingen the merchants from around 1400 for the rest of the Middle Ages are even the only ones who provide the council. This is possible because there are no elections. Instead, if a Ratsherr dies, his successor is co-opted from the group of merchants who have permanently stabilized and expanded their network through marriage and trade relations.

Medieval Göttingen was mainly characterized by the canvas and cloth trade, which was aimed at export. Linen from Göttingen has been exported to England and Holland, Göttingen woolen cloth to the north-eastern Hanseatic region and also to Holland. The markets of Erfurt and Frankfurt am Main are sales points for Göttingen linen and woolen cloth. The importance of this trade also explains the dominant political and social position of the merchants.
According to the economic structure, Göttingen belonged to the Hanseatic League of Towns (1351-1572) for 220 years, kept close contact with Braunschweig as the dominant power in the Saxon Hanseatic quarter and participated in political alliances with Lower Saxony and Thuringian cities.
The long-distance trade merchant who travels the Hanseatic region from England and Flanders via Sweden to Novgorod in Russia in order to sell Göttingen cloths, especially quality-tested woolen cloths, and who often takes considerable risks for life and limb, is primarily dependent on the quality of the cloths manufactured here depending on. The woolen weavers and cloth makers, who are united under the protection of the council to form the woolen weavers‘ guild, produce the most important export articles of medieval Göttingen, and of course they know that too.

In keeping with the medieval custom that many businesses settle together in the city, the woolen weavers and cloth makers also have their own settlement on the Neustadt on the Leine Canal. Here you will find the water for washing and dyeing, here the noisy clatter of the numerous looms does not disturb the citizens of the city. Their parish is that of the Marienkirche, which was built and maintained by the Teutonic Order, and with which they visibly identify. When this church was renovated in the first half of the 14th century and expanded into a three-aisled Gothic hall church, the wool weavers participated and the drapery of the Neustadt participated to finance this construction. The eastern keystone of the vault branches shows off a widespread tool of wool processing, the so-called technical arch, which is used here analogously to a seal or coat of arms. It is used for fiber preparation in yarn production, so it is a handicraft instrument of central importance. The coat of arms stone in the church vault, which shows this tool, represents the guild of wool weavers and draperies self-confidently and recognizable for everyone.

The council has ensured in the interest of the Göttingen merchants that the woolen weavers and the drapery did not export and sell their goods on foreign markets; rather, they are forced to sell it to the merchant guild in Göttingen.
The woolen cloth and blankets are subject to strict quality control to the Council which was composed over the Middle Ages only from long-distance trade merchants. Only those bales which after checking receive the council’s lead seal with the Göttingen “G”, may be exported as Göttingen cloth. Obviously, that didn’t always work.
At the Lübeck Hanseatic Day in 1423 violent complaints were made about the poor quality of the Göttingen cloths. The council warned against continuing to sell such inferior materials, “There have been many complaints from the Hanseatic cities about cloths that are produced in your city that the individual bales are much too short, so that the honorable merchants who transport them to Russia are prosecuted there and in other areas and have to accept considerable losses. We therefore warn you that in future your cloths will again have the length and dimensions as they have been established since ancient times. Otherwise the trade in your cloths in the Hanseatic League will be banned and they will be confiscated.”
The clear admonition seems to have been effective because it did not have to be repeated. In general, however, the interplay between woolen weavers and cloth makers worked as producers, the council as the control body, and the Göttingen long-distance trade merchants as traders and exporters. The cloth seals with the Göttingen “G” were archaeologically proven in England, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Baltic States and Russia. In this interplay between the woolen weavers and cloth makers guild and the council, it was economically lucrative to be a member of this Göttingen guild. Between 1476 and 1530 alone, i.e. within 54 years, 159 wool weavers moved to Göttingen. While their guild still comprised 41 members in 1504, around 25 years later there were already 170 and in 1550 more than 300 members.
This influx came mainly from Westphalia and the Netherlands, beginning with the recruitment of a draper from Deventer in 1476. The Göttingen council promised itself through this recruitment the knowledge of new techniques and manufacturing methods for the production of particularly fine and particularly colorful fabrics; these specialists were known as drapeniere (from the French „le drap“ = the fabric, the sheet) or „new wool weavers“.

The Reformation program, announced by Martin Luther and his followers since 1517, found different reception in Göttingen: while the economically and socially dominant group of merchants who determined the council policy were reserved about the new doctrine, it was mainly the craftsmen who turned to it quickly, too. Luther’s translation of the Bible was passed around – initially secretly – mainly to wool weavers and cloth makers, one of the largest and most important guilds for the urban economy. For them, their struggle for participation in the city regiment was combined with the disputes over the renewal of the church. As in most northern German cities the introduction of the Reformation in Göttingen in 1529 also had the characteristics of a social revolution.
In addition to the long-distance trade merchants representatives of the guilds now sat on the council. Thus the cloth makers were represented in the council in the years 1524, 1525 and 1528 by their elder Werner von Esebeck.
Like the other medium-sized and large cities in the Guelph lands, which converted to Protestant teaching at an early stage, Göttingen also joined the union of the Protestant princes and cities, the Schmalkaldic League. But when the imperial contingent under Emperor Charles V had decisively defeated the Protestant party in the battle of Mühlberg on the Elbe in 1547, Göttingen, like the other members of the Schmalkaldic League, had to participate in the heavy penances imposed by the emperor. A ransom of 10,000 Rhenish guilders (for 1 guilder you got 4 hundredweight of grain) was imposed on the city, which had been in debt for decades. The city had to bear this economic burden for further decades.
Only towards the end of the 16th century did an upward trend gradually begin again. But this was temporarily stopped by two devastating plague epidemics in 1597 and 1611. More than one third of the population fell victim to the plague. Accordingly, economic life initially declined and the export trade in wool and linen production collapsed. The Thirty Years‘ War (1618-1648) brought a stronger slump than the waves of plague. Through various direct acts of war – siege, bombardment, looting – arose in the first ten years of the war damage of more than 100,000 thalers, as the city council found in 1629. The burden of billing money and so-called contributions, that is, armaments money compulsorily raised by the various parties, was even greater. Until 1632 Göttingen had to raise over 400,000 thalers. The resulting interest obligations alone amounted to 25,000 thalers. The magnitude of these numbers becomes clear when one considers that the total regular city tax revenue in 1629 was around 2300 thalers per year, i.e. almost a tenth of the interest.
The city seemed economically paralyzed for decades and unable to escape the hopeless situation on its own. The economic powerlessness turned into a political one. The city had no opposition to the sovereign’s access to the privileges that had been in the hands of the city for around three hundred years.
In 1665 minting rights, money exchange, customs and the magistrate’s court (mayor’s office) came back into the hands of the prince. In 1690 the council election regulations were abolished, the council as the governing body and representative of the citizenship was in future determined by the government in Hanover, the city only had the right to make proposals. The once prosperous and proud Hanseatic city had lost its economic room for maneuver.
In 1702 Hanover issued building regulations to remove the ruins and abandoned farmsteads that had existed since the Thirty Years‘ War. An inventory showed that more than 350 houses within the Wall were derelict or dilapidated. Then began a relatively extensive construction activity.
At the same time the government systematically set up new businesses, which resulted in numerous new jobs for the population as well as slowly increasing prosperity. Within 30 years, from 1700 to the founding phase of the university from 1730 upwards, the population grew rapidly, from around 3500 to over 8500 residents. More than two hundred houses were built during this time. The loss of the old urban freedoms and the increased influence of the princely government turned out to be a necessary prerequisite for the gradual upswing in economic and social conditions.
Not only the structural condition of the city, but also the commercial development, including the economic structures, received substantial and lasting support from the government. All of these measures have been under the auspices of the planned state university since the early 1730s.
A particularly expensive measure by the government to promote the Göttingen economy was the textile industry. On the one hand, it was possible to build on the earlier tradition of cloth production, on the other hand, a new demand that had arisen was to be met. The electoral government employed mercantilist-oriented entrepreneurs, they were protected by government protection regulations, had to buy raw materials, had to guarantee regular wage payments and were responsible for the constant quality of the cloths. In return, they received extensive acceptance guarantees for equipping the electoral army. Under these conditions a few cloth manufacturers emerged, of which that of Johann Heinrich Grätzel became the largest and by far the most economically successful.
Grätzel (1736-1820) had moved from Dresden and initially set up a manufacturing facility based on the publishing system in close cooperation with the Cloth Makers‘ Guild. In the publishing system production takes place decentrally in home work and sales are regulated centrally. The publisher is responsible for the procurement of raw materials and often also takes over the procurement of the means of production: spinning wheels or looms. Secured by state privileges and state loans it has a monopoly on purchasing the finished wool and linen fabrics and markets them centrally.
The raw materials for the woolen cloth initially came largely from the surrounding area. The area of ​​today’s Göttingen Forest and the Hainberg formed a widely open pasture and bush landscape and was farmed with sheep and goats. With the expansion of the Grätzel manufactory Eichsfeld and finally England and the Netherlands were added as raw material suppliers.
The spinners‘ working day was usually 16 hours, and child labor was widely the norm. In order to combat unemployment and street begging Pastor Wagemann founded an industrial school in Göttingen in 1785 to teach worsted spinning, in which up to 300 impoverished or orphaned children were cared for, brought up and trained. This industrial school was significantly located at the Marienkirche in Neustadt, the traditional drapery quarter.
The unusually great success of the Grätzel manufactory depended on the one hand on the consistent quality of the fabrics and cloths, on the other hand on the development of new sales channels aimed at expansion. Grätzel was present at the big trade fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt with cheap cloths made in different colors. He opened up trade connections to Italy. It is true that he also entertained in Göttingen a shop with cheap everyday fabrics for the urban and rural population, but apart from that it had quickly outgrown the needs of the Göttingen market. As the largest employer in the city, he was already employing more than a hundred yarn and wool spinners around 1740 and a few thousand ten years later, mainly abroad, i.e. on the neighboring Eichsfeld whose sovereign was the Archbishop of Mainz. In 1784 the Archbishop of Mainz and Elector Johann Friedrich von Ostein appointed Grätzel Mainz’s “First Commercienrat” because he had provided Eichsfeld and his subjects with “food and utility” through his wool spinning mills. He also had extensive warehouses ready at the annual trade fairs in Mainz, thus the reputation of the royal seat of Mainz contributed significantly.
The Göttingen Cloth Makers‘ Guild was to a certain extent bound up with Grätzel’s manufactory in critical loyalty. There was a necessary cooperation because, on the one hand, the yarns delivered here from abroad for further processing should also meet the quality standard of Göttingen’s craftsmanship and, on the other hand, the local prices should not be undercut. It was no coincidence that in the same year 1784 the Göttingen city and sovereign, the Hanoverian Elector Georg August as King George II of England, also honored Grätzel on the occasion of his visit to the new state university that bore his name. He appointed Grätzel „Ober-Commercien-Comissarius“, an even higher title than that conferred by the Archbishop of Mainz. The princes practically haggled over the Göttingen cloth producer, one wanted to lure him away from the Mainz Eichsfeld, the other to keep him in the Electorate of Guelph.
Grätzel’s economic success is also evident in his other undertakings and in social and charitable engagement. He built the stately residential building, which we know as Grätzelhaus, on the avenue, today’s Goetheallee, and built two more houses on the same street as production facilities and apartments. There were other spacious production facilities to the west of the city in Grone. And Grätzel was one of the first members and sponsors of the Göttingen Freemason Lodge, which had the first communal hospital built in Göttingen mainly from its own resources. Gottlieb August Richter, the most famous surgeon at the university at the time, who was also one of the leading Freemasons in our city, took over the management. When Johann Heinrich Grätzel died in 1820 at the age of 78, his factory employed several thousand wool spinners on the Eichsfeld alone.
Less than a generation later the emerging industrial age began to have an impact on the structures and organization of the textile industry through increasing mechanization of wool processing and, within a short period of time, initially led to a significant decline in employment.
In terms of supraregional and supraregional economic importance the company founded by Hermann Levin in 1846 became the actual successor to the Grätzel company. 26 years after Johann Heinrich Grätzel’s death Grätzel Manufaktur was able to build a stately cloth factory in Grone, one of the most modern in Europe. At first they still worked with hand looms, but soon switched to mechanical weaving with the help of steam engines and the power of the Grone’s water power. About a generation after the factory was founded, the Levin company had over 400 workers and 250 women workers. The draper as a craftsman had become a factory worker.
The factories soon included the so-called Levin Park, which is still known today as a break and quiet zone for the workers. In the naming of the adjacent streets Levinstrasse and Grätzelstrasse, as in the name of the Tuchmacherborn, the tradition of the Göttingen cloth makers and the unstoppable change of the live original guild handicrafts to the cloth factory with its hundreds of workers lives on in the memory and consciousness of the Göttingen population.

Autumn 2020

Author: Professor Dr. Peter Aufgebauer

Interpreter: Dr. Joachim Weiss

2021-01-11T06:38:52+01:00