Only the Remains of a Staircase
Volker Lange advises us during the process of laying the trail on the Auehang. He says we’ll need additional material to keep the trail from collapsing beneath us. He would be able to dump some material in front of the slope for our use, rubble that he anyway needs to get rid of, debris from the Villa Henschel on the Weinberg, a neighboring section of the park.
- Natascha Sadr Haghighian: Mr. Lange, last autumn, when we began laying the trail on the Auehang, we needed extra rubble to brace the hillside, because otherwise the trail would have perhaps slid down the hill. At that time, you made extra debris available to us. Can you briefly say where it came from and how it became available all of a sudden.
- Volker Lange: Well, the debris came from the Weinberg here. The Weinberg is a historical place in Kassel, a heritage-protected garden and park site whose history is full of changes. The Weinberg itself was mentioned as a town for the first time in the fifteenth century, as the village of Weingarten. After that people began making first attempts at wine cultivation, and then the story gets more and more fascinating. The land was owned for the first time, the owners being princes. In the seventeenth century the first terracing was carried out here on the southern slope, after which the princes sold the land, and Bürgergärten [public park] were established. Then—and actually this is what still characterizes the Weinberg to this day—the whole plot was bought up by the Henschel family.
- When was that?
- Around 1900/1902. Around 1905 there were still two beer gardens at the top of the Weinberg. They were quite popular with Kassel residents. But they were closed when the Henschel family bought the entire plot.
An essential characteristic of the Weinberg plot are these big subconstruction arches that reach over to Frankfurter Strasse. They’re huge concrete constructions, among the first concrete constructions of this type that were made here in Kassel, built in 1905. They had become necessary to enable terracing of the area in the upper part of the Henschel Garden, and to create space for Haus Henschel, or the Henschel House: the ancestral seat of the family. Then around 1905/06 the house was built.
- There’s a Haus Henschel and a Villa Henschel, right? The Haus Henschel was torn down, and the Villa Henschel was destroyed in the war.
- Exactly. The Villa Henschel was completely destroyed in 1945 in a bomb raid. Today you can only discern leftovers from some stairs that led into the garden, which also had a really ostentatious fountain. The Haus Henschel was actually torn down by the Henschel family themselves, allegedly because the taxes back then were so high.
- What happened with the remains of the Villa Henschel after the war?
- In the 50s the grounds were made accessible to the public as part of the 1955 BUGA. However, this applied first and foremost to the upper area of the so-called Henschel Garten. The lower area, the actual Weinberg slope—that actually fell into a deep sleep like Snow White, because developing it was just extremely hard. There was no interest in the Bürgergärten anymore either. It became dormant, disused, the grounds became overgrown. Wild growth climbed, ivy climbed into trees; and the greenhouse, also one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in Kassel, became more and more delapidated.
- Was it still owned by the Henschel family then? Who became responsible for the Weinberg?
- The city bought the grounds in the 50s. From then on, both the lower Weinberg slope and the Henschel Garden up above were owned by the city of Kassel.
- And now you supplied us with debris from that site, debris of the Villa Henschel . . . . Is the deep sleep over now? Or how did you happen to be clearing out this debris?
- So the deep sleep ended in 2005 when the city’s environment and garden agency began to clear out the Weinberg plot. At that time people realized that it’s a very significant heritage-protected garden layout, and we wanted to safeguard these quite distinctive retaining walls, the systems of stairways and old arches, the pergolas, the turrets. And so we started exposing the terraces, mostly in the southern area. At that time we just had to clear aside the rubble, the trash, the refuse, which was from several centuries, actually. That was made possible by an initiative that involved unemloyed people, who did a lot of manual labor on these hardly accessible terraces and moved all this material.
A lot of very old, authentic building material was uncovered along the way, stuff we reused to build stairs and walls. But of course there was also rubble that accumulated, stuff we couldn’t find any use for whatsoever.
- You reused debris for parts of the reconstruction?
- Exactly. We reused the debris, using sandstone stair blocks, adding sandstone to walls, reproducing sandstone wall cappings . . . pretty much everything that could be used in one way or another was used. And in a way, this is a tradition particular to this location, because you find materials here from totally different eras. And it simply has to do with the fact that building materials were really quite expensive in the old days, highly valued. And because of the difficult topography, people repeatedly used what they found.
That’s what makes this spot so fascinating: a mixture of different eras can be found in the material.
- I had a conversation with one of the workers who helped heap up the mountain of rubble on the Auehang back then in 1951, and he told me how they actually earned extra money by finding and removing all the valuable materials and selling them directly to scrap dealers who were waiting right there on site. Now here, the debris has been in repose, unlike other sites in the city. Is it possible to describe what kinds of material or what sort of debris it was?
- There was quite a lot of metal, steel . . . basically evidence of the Henschel family. Steel was a popular construction material back then. We found a lot of flower bed edgings made out of band steel, band iron. Some of those we found at their original locations. We put new steel edgings in these places too.
But there was also a lot of plumbing, steel pipes, water pipes; there were trellises for the climbing plants on the retaining walls; there were bannister pieces . . . many of the authentic bannisters are still found at the site. Also, we’ve decided that we don’t want to make it, let’s say, “glitzy”, to restore it all, but that much of it should stay just as rusty as it looks now, to stay right in the same spot it’s in now so that this place doesn’t lose its authenticity.
- Could you give a short description of which kinds of debris have made their way to our trail on the Auehang. What sort of material was it?
- Lots and lots of bricks. But also cobblestones, sandstone, basalt paving stones. Some of it was lime-marl debris. The Weinberg is actually a limestone hill, and limestone can be seen cropping out in some places. And then some of it was, let’s say, “natural stone” that was brought here as landscaping stone by the Henschel family. Those stones have big holes and dents.
- And the the material, the debris was just lying around in the open? I saw some furrows in the ground, almost like graves, that were full of debris.
- Well, because of all the totally different construction activities here, material has gotten churned up and thrown into disarray, above all by the construction of Hochstrasse in the 80s. Back then masses of debris were dumped down the slope, so to speak. And that debris just intermingled with paths, with fences, or with old walls made of natural stone. For that reason, the materials have completely different origins. We’ve tried again and again to salvage it all. Everything that could be utilized was sorted so that we could reuse as much material as possible here on site.
And the material that we brought to the trail on the Auehang originates primarily from the upper area of the Weinberg. In other words, it’s quite probable that a lot of the material was part of the original Villa Henschel that was destroyed in the war.