The history of the Folkwang

“Folkwang” has been a cultural brand name for a long time now, far beyond Germany’s borders. For 90 years it has stood for music, theatre, dance, design, and scholarship, for the interconnection of the arts, for interdisciplinary teaching, learning and producing. Today’s Folkwang University of the Arts was founded in 1927 by the opera director Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg, the stage designer Hein Heckroth and the choreographer Kurt Joos. At that time it bore the name “Folkwang School of Music, Dance and Speech”. In Essen it happened to encounter the “National School of Trade and Applied Arts”, which had already existed since 1911. This would later become the “Folkwang School of Design“ and is now part of the Folkwang University of the Arts.

But the Folkwang’s roots go a long way further back than 1927. They reach at least as far as the birth of Karl Ernst Osthaus – the region’s great cultural mediator, patron of the arts and museum founder – in 1874.

“The most important question in life cannot be solved without the involvement of art”

“Folkwang is the union of all the arts and all artistic education”

“Change through culture – culture through change”

Karl Ernst Osthaus

What happened beforehand:

c. 799

_Founding of the settlement at Werden and the Benedictine Abbey by St Ludger.

c. 900

_Appearance of Musica enchiriadis in the Essen-Werden Abbey.

The treatise “Musica enchiriadis” is the earliest notation of western polyphony and the basis for all later polyphony in Europe. It is regarded as an exemplar for parallel organum, which is  already present in this document. The oldest manuscript of the treatise, Fragment K3:H3 – also known as the “Düsseldorf Fragment” – was found in the Abbey of Essen-Werden and is now held in the University and State Library in Düsseldorf. The composer or initiator of the missing original document, the master copy for the Düsseldorf Fragment, is thought to have been Abbott Hoger of Werden († 906), who was also the originator of Manuscript K3:H3 (with omissions of a large section of text from the master document).

(source: Dieter Torkewitz, “Das älteste Dokument zur Entstehung der abendländischen Mehrstimmigkeit: eine Handschrift aus Werden an der Ruhr: das ‘Düsseldorfer Fragment’” [The oldest document on the emergence of western polyphony: a manuscript from Werden an der Ruhr; the “Dusseldorf Fragment”]. In Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft [Supplements to the Musicology Archive] Vol. 44. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1999).


_Construction of the baroque palace – the present-day main building of the Folkwang – on the foundation walls of the old Benedictine Abbey.


_Use of the former Benedictine Abbey as a prison.


_Hon. Dr Karl Ernst Osthaus – museum founder, patron of the arts and cultural mediator – born in Hagen on 15 April.


_Opening of the national/city Trades School in Essen, offering mechanical engineering, building and decorative painting. Becomes ”Essen Nationally Accredited School of Trades and Applied Arts“ in 1911, with further professional courses for modellers, plasterers, chasers and graphic designers. Director: Government-approved architect Prof. Alfred Fischer.


_Osthaus opens the Folkwang Museum (now the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum) in Hagen. He takes the term “Folkwang” from Norse mythology; Folkwang is to be a meeting place for townspeople of all classes.

The term "Folkwang":

Folkwang is the “hall of the people” (the hall of Freya, Germanic goddess of beauty and love), borrowed from the Edda (Norse myths). The Folkwang (Old Norse: Folkvangar – “hall of the people, people’s meadow”) is also called Folkvang or Volkvang: one of the palaces of the gods in Asgard and the abode of the goddess Freyja or Freya (North Germanic “goddess of lovers and fertility” or “goddess of beauty, love and the arts in Valhalla”).

“Volkwang is the ninth: there Freyja has the power
to arrange the seats in the hall.
Every day she chooses half from the battlefield,
Odin has the other half.“

(Edda, ‘Grimnismal’ [The Lay of Grimnir], strophe 14)


_As a reaction to the November Revolution (end of the monarchy) and changes in society, K. E. Osthaus advocates the establishment of the Folkwang schools. In the sense of unity of all the arts and all artistic education, music, drama and gymnastics are to be incorporated.

Fusion of the arts:

K. E. Osthaus formulated his goals for an artistic education:

“Within the desire for a synergy of all the arts into one unified act, the essential thing is not to make students deeply knowledgeable and professionally competent, but rather to make them creative. Therefore Folkwang schools must not only transmit specialist knowledge, but also educate young people in terms of their own personal qualities and skills."


_A year after Osthaus’ early death (25th March 1921, in Meran) his heirs sell the Folkwang Museum’s entire collection to the city of Essen for 15 million Reichsmark (after the city of Hagen declined the offer).


_Kurt Jooss, Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg, Hein Heckroth, Rudolf von Laban, Hermann Erpf and Vilma Mönkeberg set up the “Westphalia Academy of Movement, Language and Music“ in Münster, which remains there until all of the key figures involved in the Folkwang move to Essen (1927). A predecessor of the Folkwang School in terms of content.

The Folkwang schools from their founding to the present day


_Founding of the “Folkwang School of Music, Dance and Speech” by opera director Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg and choreographer Kurt Jooss with support from the Lord Mayor of Essen, Dr. Franz Bracht. School building at 34 Friedrichstrasse in Essen.

Definition "Folkwang":

The origin of the name “Folkwang” is in Norse mythology. Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874-1921), an art collector and patron of the arts in Hagen, borrowed it from the poetic Edda as the name for his museum in Hagen in 1902. Folkwang was the hall of Freya, the Germanic goddess of love and beauty, and it was to be a meeting place for all citizens of every station – a meeting of art and beauty that was meant to be not only decorative but educational for the people as well. The name was adopted in 1927 by opera director Rudolf Schulz-Dornburg (director), choreographer Kurt Jooss (head of the dance department), Hein Heckroth (director of the stage design class), Karl Tidten (head of the Speech department), Hermann Erpf (composer, head of the Music department and director) and Max Fiedler (city music director and director) for their founding of the Folkwang School of Music, Dance and Speech(Folkwangschule für Musik, Tanz und Sprechen) in Essen. In 1928 the existing school of design also acquired the name. From that time onward, “Folkwang” has stood for the idea of the union of the arts (see also “1920”).


_Establishment of the Church Music department.

_Founding of the Folkwang Dance Theatre Studio (Folkwang-Tanztheater-Studio).


_ The Rhythmics department is created by Elfriede Feudel.
_Practical Music Pedagogy courses with Fritz Jöde.


_The worldwide economic crisis leads to a temporary closure of the School of Music, Dance and Speech.
_1. _ “The Green Table” by Kurt Jooss presented by “Folkwang Tanzbühne” takes 1st prize for Choreography at the International Choreography Awards in Paris.


_Name change: Folkwang School of Design becomes “Folkwang Trades School”; suspension of Director Fischer and dismissal of some of the best teachers of modern art, incl. Max Burchartz (Bauhaus associate, specialist classes for commercial graphics and photography).


_ Folkwang School of Music, Dance and Speech renamed “Reich Vocational School of Music”.
_In a dramatic cloak and dagger operation, Kurt Jooss escapes to England with most of his ensemble.
_School of Design is renamed “Folkwang School for Master Craftsmen”.


_Takeover of the “Reich Vocational School of Music” by the city of Essen; new student fees secure finances.


_ Folkwang School renamed “State Music School for the Ruhr Region”.
_Anton Hardörfer (choral direction) becomes president.


_ Folkwang School renamed “State Music School for the Ruhr Region”.
_Anton Hardörfer (choral direction) becomes president.


_Reopening of the design branch as “Folkwang Industrial Art School” under the management of Prof. Hermann Schardt. Design now shares a location with the other Folkwang art faculties at the Benedictine abbey in Essen-Werden; de facto, two separate schools simply share a refectory here..


_Official opening of the auditorium (Prussian Wing, now the “Old Auditorium”).
_Upon his return from exile, Kurt Jooss resumes his position as director of the dance department.

Quotation from Jooss:

“The central experience in new dance is formed by the experience of inherent connections between physical gestures and indeed any external movement that reflects the internal, an emotion … As dancers and choreographers we are challenged to find genuine, meaningful gestures or movements to reflect a specific content and use these in new compositions, while practicing rigorous self-criticism and uncompromising discipline. This brief opens up a narrow path, an unforgiving route towards the intrinsic, the essence of meaning.“

Kurt Jooss, in “Thoughts on Questions of Style in Dance”, Essen 1957.

_Revival of Ludwig Weber’s play “The Birth of Christ” for actors, singers and dancers by Kurt Jooss with the participation of all departments and all Folkwang disciplines.


_Founding of the Folkwang Dance Theatre as the city’s official ballet company in line with the 1929 model.
_Foundation of the Society of Friends and Sponsors of the Folkwang Schools (Gesellschaft der Freunde und Förderer der Folkwangschulen, GFFF) to support students of the Folkwang University for Music, Dance and Speech and the Folkwang School of Design in cases of particular talent and need. Board members of the society: Dr. Hans Broche (1950-1963), Prof. Dr. Herbert Schelberger (1963-1973), Dr. Christoph Brecht (1973-1987), Otto Sollböhmer (1987-1995), and Dr. Friedrich Janssen (since 1995-2010), Henning R. Deters (since July 4th, 2010).


_General Music Director Prof. Heinz Dressel becomes president.
_Reorganisation of the school structure: Renaming to “Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance”.
_Expansion of the department Speech to an acting academy.
_Leadership of the conducting class, the orchestra and the opera department falls to Prof. Heinz Dressel.


_Prof. Günter Roth takes on the opera department.
_Pina Bausch (dance) and Werner Sindemann (voice) are the first recipients of the GFFF Folkwang Award. The first award winner for photography is Guido Mangold in 1960.


_The photography faculty is created under the leadership of Prof. Otto Steinert at Folkwang School of Design.
_Prof. Werner Kraut takes over the leadership of the acting department.
_Founding of the Institute for Commercial Advertising.
_Start of the summer academies for Contemporary Artistic Creation.


_Founding of the “Folkwang Dance Studio” (Folkwang Tanzstudio, FTS).


_”Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance“ upgraded to the level of a university by cabinet resolution of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia: “Folkwang Hochschule for Music, Theatre, Dance – Essen” (Folkwang University of Music, Theatre, Dance - Essen).


_Creation of a Pantomime class within the degree course Acting under the leadership of Prof. Günter Titt.


_BBC TV recording of “The Green Table”.

_Prof. Kurt Jooss receives the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. 

_Contribution of the faculty of Design for the German Pavilion at the Expo World Exhibition in Montreal.


_Folkwang University is taken over by the State of NRW.


_Folkwang School of Design aspires to the status of university as well. All Folkwang disciplines campaign for a common structure and equal status.


_Director of the Dance institute: Prof. Hans Züllig.


_Creation of the teaching degree courses for music under the leadership of Prof. Heinz W. Höhnen.
_Director of the Studio for New Music:  Prof. Wolfgang Hufschmidt.


_Founding of the Electronic Studio (now ‘icem’).


_Separation of the Folkwang School of Design from the other Folkwang disciplines. Despite numerous protests, the faculty for Design is integrated into the newly formed University Essen, Faculty 4 after an intermediary stop (1971) at the University Essen. The degree courses Industrial Design, Communication Design and the teaching degree course Music are taken over by the state NRW.

_Centralisation of the Folkwang University, Duisburg Institute and the vocational departments of the Essen and Duisburg conservatoria.


_Prof. Werner Krotzinger becomes president of Folkwang University.

_The music collection owned by Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, comprising around 7000 records and tapes, is gifted to the university by Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach.


_International Folkwang master classes at Villa Hügel with Professors Hermann Baumann, Saschko Gawriloff, Detlef Kraus, Rita Streich, Paul Tortelier, Gerd Zacher, Paul Badura-Skoda and Janos Starker.


_Industrial Design concentrates its activities in Essen. The degree courses Industrial Design Dortmund, Krefeld and Cologne become more prolific in conjunction with the Essen offering. As a result, the faculty gets access to better equipment and personnel.

_For the first time, graduates in Industrial Design and Communication Design can earn a university-level degree.


_Introduction of a GFFF scholarship for highly gifted students.


_Occupation of the old auditorium “Alte Aula” by students and lecturers; non-stop-concert to prevent its demolition.
_Completion and official opening of the new auditorium “Neue Aula”.
_Passing of the Art Colleges Act of the State of NRW; art universities achieve legal parity with technical universities and gain autonomy in management.
_The Duisburg Institute becomes Faculty 4 of Folkwang University.
_Introduction of the degree courses Musical and Jazz.


_“ex machina“, 1st International Festival for Computer Music and Media Art.


_The degree course Dance under the direction of Prof. Lutz Förster, wins the German Critics award.


_Integration of the Westphalia Acting School Bochum as the new degree course Acting, Bochum.


_Following comprehensive reform at Folkwang University, Duisburg becomes its official third campus alongside Essen and Bochum; the location focuses on the courses Early Music, Chamber Music, and Piano.


_Official opening of the small concert hall “Kleiner Konzertsaal” in Duisburg.
_Inauguration of the “Weiße Mühle” building in Essen-Werden, the new home of the degree course Musical.


_Dortmund becomes the fourth campus of Folkwang University. The orchestral centre “Orchesterzentrum NRW" is under construction here, a joint facility for the four NRW music universities; the new building, right next to the concert hall in the city centre, celebrates its grand opening in 2009.


_Folkwang University turns 80.
_After 35 years, the faculty of Design finally returns home to Folkwang University from the University of Duisburg-Essen. The Industrial Design and Communication Design courses are taken over on 1 October, with personnel and budgetary resources following on 1 January 2008.


_In March of this year, the new Art Colleges Act of NRW comes into force for all degree courses at Folkwang University.
_The independent study course Photography (BA) is introduced for the winter semester 08/09.
_All courses of study receive a new modular structure.


_Official opening of the newly constructed orchestral centre “Orchesterzentrum NRW” in Dortmund in April.
_The foundation stone for the new library building is laid in September.
_Folkwang University, Mercator Foundation and the Palestinian Al-Kasaba Theatre in Ramallah celebrate the official opening of their joint venture Drama Academy Ramallah on October 1st.
_In October, the ‘Alte Aula’ building is renamed  ‘Pina Bausch Theater’ in memory of Pina Bausch, a Folkwang personality of many years.
_The Wuppertal Communication Design department is relocated to Folkwang University on November 1st.


_As of January 1st, the SANAA Building becomes a Folkwang facility. The move establishes a permanent residence for the university on the grounds of the World Heritage site.
_In April, Folkwang is renamed Folkwang University of the Arts.
_The motto of the European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010, with which Folkwang University is associated by way of numerous productions, is the brain child of Karl Ernst Osthaus: “Change through culture – culture through change”
_The East Wing, completely renovated following the fire in 2008, reopens in the summer semester. 37 renovated teaching spaces are ready for use.


_The Institute for Contemporary Dance (ICD) becomes operational on October 1st.


_The new "Civic Foundation in Support of Folkwang University of the Arts" is presented in January.
_The new Folkwang Library is inaugurated on Campus Warden in September 2012; the new building was made possible thanks to the support of Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and the Halbach Foundation. As a result, Folkwang now possesses one of the largest musicological collections in Germany More information


_On 2nd October, some 200 invited guests from the fields of politics, academia, culture and industry came on the occasion of the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new Design Faculty building at the Folkwang Zollverein Campus.


_The Folkwang University of the Arts turns 90.
_Official opening of the Quartier Nord at the Welterbe Zollverein campus on 26 October 2017. At the start of the 2017/18 WS, the Design faculty moves into the new Quartier Nord building, spanning an area of nearly 19,000 sq m. This sees the Folkwang University of the Arts commence its educational programme at its second Essen campus, with courses in photography, communication design, industrial design, art and design studies, and all associated workshops, ateliers and laboratories. The SANAA Building, which is visible from Quartier Nord, also continues to be used by the Folkwang University of the Arts.


_8 May sees the opening of folkwang junior, the Folkwang University of the Arts’ institute for developing young artistic talent, under the patronage of violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann.


_On 11 May, the Alfried Krupp School Lab of the Arts starts up operations in the SANAA Building at the Welterbe Zollverein campus. The unique model project for developing young artistic talent is an initiative run by the Folkwang University of the Arts, and is made possible by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation.

Maiken-Ilke Groß / April 2023