Mayday is a public holiday in Germany and like most public holidays and Sundays retail life slows almost to a halt and it all seems a bit old fashioned compared to the 24/7 shopping fuelled frenzied lifestyles (and endless sales) which seem the norm in the UK. Except, even here in Germany there are those who will be online shopping and not out and about like me on my bike.
Our Mayday ride was a now familiar gravel/tarmac spin with additionally sections of gravel trails and the Kopfsteinpflaster Carrousel ridden in ‘reverse’ (which was epic) and importantly a stop at the historic Spinnerei Gartetal (wool mill) for coffee, cakes and food offered up by our friend Uschi.
The water powered mill began its working life as a flour mill in 1596 before turning to paper in 1651. This period includes the Thirty Years War that devastated the German speaking lands of Central Europe between 1618 and 1648 including Goettingen, all triggered by a Catholic push back against the Reformation. ‘Germany’ would take generations to recover.
Having survived tumultuous years the mill owner’s response to the Industrial Revolution emanating from Britain and Belgium early in the 19th century was to further mechanise Gartetal to spin wool in 1847 and it was supplied with product from the local flocks of sheep that grazed upon the open pasture lands of the deforested Hainberg.
The industrial Revolution in Germany followed a similar pattern as elsewhere. Local, regional and national economies were transformed, with traditional crafts deskilled and many life practices were washed away. Unemployment rose and people left the farmlands to migrate to the cities/towns often to live and work in appalling conditions. Agricultural economies suffered from being uncompetitive against other producers and this forced a further mass emigration from German rural communities beyond the emerging cities as some two million people sought a new life across the World.
Despite the good supply of locally sourced wool the mills (or Spinnerei) in Goettingen became unprofitable because of cheaper imports (cotton etc. from the USA and Russia in particular, plus the UK) and by the mid-19th century the previous pasture lands were being reforested.
Most mills in the area had ceased to function by World War One but the Spinnerei Gartetal e.V. survived until 1967. Ultimately it wasn’t able to compete on equal terms with bigger factory mills who could exploit a better economy of scale and advantage.
The landscape of so many post-industrial countries including Germany are littered with closed and abandoned relics of an age that set the World afire when iron was pummelled into use by mankind. The Spinnerei Gartetal is a great survivor of that period.
What we cannot see today are the people who depended on the mill for their livelihoods and survival. We have to close our eyes and imagine the machines whirling at great speed creating a cacophony of noise. The air would have been thick with dust whipped up into vortexes by flying shuttles and spinning machines, then there was the smell of people and machinery relentlessly straining. It would have been an extremely dangerous environment and there are records of deaths and injuries at the Spinnerei Gartetal. This was a time when safety, health and general workers (and their families) rights and needs were generally subsumed by the striving for profit and condoned by an indifferent ruling class. Just as much as the Spinnerei Gartetal was not able to keep pace with ever greater mechanisation and the greater scale of modern factories, it would also have been prone to the exploitative practices of its competitors to undercut it.
In addition to travelling some cool trails this was a bike ride where my interest in industrial history was peaked as well, so much better than shopping on the High Street or online. I like old fashioned (make Sunday special again in the UK) and I also enjoyed that so many people were out on their bikes with plenty of young children feeling able to pedal the cycle paths (which actually go places).
Uschi’s café – Spinnerei is open each Sunday from May 1 (and public holidays) into the Summer between 1pm and 6pm.