»From the forging press back to the stove«
Women’s work in the Ruhr area – lecture and film programme
Gender roles in Wilhelmine Germany were clearly defined – especially in the heavy industrialised region of the Ruhr. Only the constraints of a large-scale war economy would lead to concessions being made. In other words, women were required as labour for defence industry production. During the Second World War too, men would encounter women colleagues at the workplace. This was all documented in the films made at that time, as was the clear desire during the post-1945 economic boom to go back to the old roles – a woman’s place being behind the (high-tech) stove.
The First World War marked a dramatic turning point for the nascent German film industry. Mobilisation in August 1914 cut it off from its main partners and film suppliers, particularly those in France. The result was a concerted expansion of German production capacity – also to satisfy the newly discovered possibilities of film as a medium of propaganda at home and abroad. In this context and obeisant to patriotism as well as economic interests, films and film series about the German defence industry in the Ruhr were made with no expense spared – especially for Friedrich Krupp in Essen and the Gutehoffnungshütte Ironworks in Oberhausen. Series such as Aus des Reiches Waffenschmiede (From the Armoury of the Reich) and Aufnahmen bei Friedrich Krupp, Essen (On Location at Krupp) were both developed in 1917.
Of these productions, a film also made in 1917 has survived and it features shell manufacture in Sterkrade. The production company behind this work, the German Photograph Society (DLG), played an important part in the war-caused reorganisation of the German film industry. It was set up by German corporations, above all the heavy industry of the Rhineland, to encourage their economic goals in neutral or friendly countries abroad. Indeed, its foundation in November 1916 was mainly at the initiative of Alfred Hugenberg, a Krupp director.
Surviving only incompletely, the film Granatenherstellung im Werk Sterkrade (Shell Manufacture at Sterkrade Plant) was part of a larger-scale DLG production about the Oberhausen-based Gutehoffnungshütte in the penultimate year of the war. It shows, quite naturally and at the centre of things, a constellation that was the first for any film made in the Ruhr, namely, women and men working side by side on the weighty presses churning out the shells.
In the Second World War as well, if contrary to the Nazi ideology of the mother, the situation required that the male workers withdrawn to fight be replaced by women on the »Home Front«. A short film here shows women working on the Bochum-Gelsenkirchen trams.
With the economic recovery of West Germany in the early 1950s and, at the same time, a return to the pre-war model of the family as male breadwinner + housewife/mother, the private household as such was discovered as a market for home electrical appliances. The electrification campaigns run by the power utilities propagated less work and more (leisure) time. The influence of the Allied victors, especially the United States, in improving the standard of living was obvious. It was in this period that refrigerators, washing machines and electric cookers were to become an integral part of a household’s basic equipment.
The Kinemathek in the Ruhr, an archive founded in 1988 by Paul Hofmann, builds on the results of The Ruhr in Film Retrospective held at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in 1978. Its mission is to compile the fullestpossible documentation of Ruhr-related film productions, to preserve historical motion pictures of the region as documents of its eventful history and, in so doing, to prevent its loss of identity.
Film programme Ruhr Local: Ruhr and Work, Two Sides of the Same Coin
In association with Kinemathek in the Ruhr