Three Men and One Wagon

One day while we’re busy laying the trail, an older gentleman peeps over the wall and says “If you find something like gold, it belongs to me!” He laughs. As it turns out, his name is Mr. Düsterdieck and he was part of the team of laborers working here in 1953 when the Auehang was extended using rubble.

Talk, Mr. Düsterdieck and Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Kassel, 2012
Natascha Sadr Haghighian: What material is this slope made of?
Mr. Düsterdieck: Debris. They bombed Kassel in 1943, and afterwards the debris was cleared from the streets and unloaded here with tipper wagons.
And how do you know this?
Because I was unemployed at the time, and the unemployment agency hired us to do it. That was public relief work. So we were required to work, otherwise we would end up not getting our unemployment benefits. At the beginning we were somewhat grumbly, but afterwards, honestly, the work turned out to be fun.
We were always three men and one wagon, and any pieces of wire or iron that we saw got dug up pretty fast. Things were collected, and starting at four in the evening, the scrap dealers came and bought the stuff from us. They were actually not supposed to come before four o’clock, but they were usually already standing around by noon—not one, but ten, twenty scrap dealers who bought the metal off us.
Back then, sheet metal was worth more than iron is today. And copper could bring in 6.50 or 7.50 Deutschmarks, which was tons of money for one day’s work. Each of us went home in the evening with anywhere from forty to fifty Deutschmarks.
On top of your wages?
When was that approximately?
That was maybe two years before the first documenta.
Initially we just worked with shovels and picks and tossed the rubble manually. After that, when the distances were longer, we got tipper wagons. Railways were laid for the wagons, and then we loaded them up, worked a bit more, and then dumped them out.
Where did the debris come from?
From here in Kassel. It all came from the city.
And it was still lying around from 1943 until 1953?
Yes, and then they considered doing the horticultural show here.
How many people were you all together, more or less?
We were two companies. Our company was from Hamburg and Polier was from Wolfhammer, and down on the slope was a company from Halershausen, a nursery for plants, and [laughs] they weren’t allowed to sell anything. They said, “You can sell stuff, and we can’t . . . .” Which is why they worked as slow as they did. And we guys were up here grinding away, and why? Because it was our money!
Could you describe again more specifically all the stuff that was in the rubble?
All of it?! Sheet metal, iron, copper, brass, and we found a lot of jewelry too . . . but there was nobody buying gold back then. Up at the top of the Freiheit, there was a Jewish meeting place, and we sold it to them. There was money and cigarettes there, too. And the cigarettes were sold again to someone else, so things were going back and forth the whole time.
So apart from stone, masonry, and bricks, there was a lot of metal in the rubble.
Lots and lots and lots. Up here on the corner of Neue Galerie, where we were, we even found a wreath made of pewter. We had to watch out that they didn’t swindle us out of that piece.
How many hours a day did you work there?
From early morning until about 4:30 or 5 pm.
How long did these jobs last?
They went on for weeks. We worked from springtime until autumn. In autumn, after we were pretty much finished, came the laying out of the gardens, planting the bushes and trees.
Then soil was dumped out onto the surface?
No. It was all good soil. The old loam houses here in Kassel were often, indeed, made of loam, and there was also mortar and sand.
There were about a hundred men up here. There were fewer people down below, but there was less acreage, too.
Yes, in the early morning the wagon came up, the beer wagon, with a truckload of beer. It came every day.
Workers for the renaturalization of the Auehang with rubble from WWII for BUGA, 1955
Workers for the renaturalization of the Auehang with rubble from WWII for BUGA, 1955 Shortly before we lay the trail, Jasper sends me this picture. The caption reads "Renaturalization work at the Kassel debris heap. Construction work for the German Horticultural Show at the Auehang." It becomes clear to us that the entire slope is made of debris. Later on we find more images in the city archive and meet Mr. Düsterdieck. Volker Lange brings us rubble from Henschel's Weinberg and Mr. Boßdorf explains to us what kinds of plants are able to grow on debris.
Do you know exactly where this is?
That’s here, the Neue Galerie. And we worked all the way up to this location.
Aerial photo of the destruction in Kassel Oberneustadt after air raids, ca. 1945
Aerial photo of the destruction in Kassel Oberneustadt after air raids, ca. 1945
Here’s another view. You can see the Ehrenmal and Schöne Aussicht. And you can also see the extent of the destruction.
Yes, Schöne Aussicht was called “Beamtenlaufbahn” before that. The people from the city hall worked here a lot in earlier times, taking breaks here. They always took two or three-hour breaks.
I don’t quite understand completely—in 1943 Kassel was bombed, and the entire city was wasted. And not until 1953 did you come to carry the rubble out of the city?
Well, the bomb raids were in October of 1943, and in 1944 people began with the clean-up operations. But they didn’t have any automobiles, you see. So things progressed slowly. In the city, they had a bulldozer. And we had to clear rubble away with our own hands and lay the tracks so the wagons could be driven in. Down here, there were batteries too. They contain a lot of lead, which is why we managed to recover quite some material from there. We took everything with us: sheet metal . . . today, nobody takes big pieces of sheet metal anymore.
Right now we’re standing here on this rim where Schöne Aussicht becomes the hang [slope]. Where was this rim before? To what extent has it been enlarged through the addition of the debris?
It started here and ran straight up. Like the wall here. There wasn’t anything here. The wall wasn’t built until later.
Did you live far away from here back then?
No, in Büttenhausen. We drove up here with our bicycles. You see, the cable car from Büttenhausen to Friederichplatz ran you about 20 pfennig back then. That was a lot of money.