It burnt down twice and was twice rebuilt – larger and more beautiful than before. There is still speculation over whether this was fate or a modern “torch job”. Most importantly, traces of very different building styles remain: Carolingian elements in the crypt, Romanesque arch windows and the restored medieval cloister in clear late Gothic style from c. 1100.
Then between 1750 and 1800 the baroque palace – our main building – came into being. The prince-abbot sent a clear message in absolutist style: as an expression of lordly power he built himself a residence that was as tall as the church. Clearly he had no further desire to subordinate himself!
But even his days were numbered. Soon after completion of the gatehouse – in rococo style, with a faun mask over the main gate (Bild ) sticking out its tongue at the world – something dramatic occurred: secularisation.
That was the end of the abbey. By order of Napoleon, all of the monks had to leave the cloister in 1803.
From abbey to prison
Fortunately the French already had new plans. While abbey buildings were completely demolished elsewhere, ours was spared – to be rebuilt as a prison.
When the Prussians succeeded the French in Werden – Napoleon was defeated – a jail like this one suited them well. They kept it and added to it. The Prussian wing (Preußenflügel), a functional building from the 19th century, came into existence. The former farm administration buildings were leased to three textile factories. That’s how the first Werden textile manufacturing came about – in what is now our refectory (Mensa) and the Theatre and Physical Theatre rooms. The new auditorium (Neue Aula) served as a warehouse.
From 1811 to 1928 the factory that had been closed (there were originally two Prussian wings) was used as a prison,” for both sexes” until 1839. Up to 700 prisoners had to do carving, tailoring, cobbling and metalwork here.
During the Second World War the now empty and badly worn premises served the navy as a naval trade school. The building sustained severe bomb damage. Then it passed into our hands.
Folkwang moves in within the venerable walls
In 1946 the Folkwangschule moved into the abbey. Classes had been held in Friedrichstrasse until that point.
The students brought new life within the old walls, studying “Music, dance und speech” here. The “Folkwang Werkkunstschule” followed from 1948. The entire design section – from photography, sculpture and stage design to industrial design, graphic art and many other disciplines – now had their studios and rooms together under one roof with the other Folkwang arts. (Foto mit Jooss; Kurt Jooss with his dance company in the 1950s; Folkwang Hochchschule Dance Archive; Photographs from the studios) Gradually renovations were carried out. In the 1980s in particular, the old substance of the building would be reconstructed with alterations. (Fotos)
Only the prison chapel still remains from the time when the building was a jail – now our Pina Bausch Theatre (formerly known as Alte Aula).
Since 2003 the entire Folkwang Abbey building complex has been undergoing an ongoing construction and renovation process, which is expected to continue until 2012. At the same time, an exclusive new library building is being built on the Werden campus, which will provide space for the Ruhr Region Music Library. Expected completion: 2010.
Maiken-Ilke Groß / September 2008