One of the largest tile-making works in the world used to be located in the Palatinate town of Jockgrim. The roofs of the Olympic Village in Berlin and St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna were produced here. And unusual things, such as the remarkable ball-shaped house, were developed in this place, as well.
It used to be stuffy and dark here—and stinking hot. 1,050 degrees Celsius, to be exact. Jörg Scherer stands in the ring kiln of former plant number 2 explaining how this 90-metre-long installation with its 46 chambers was fired with hard coal. “21,000 tiles were produced in a single run,” says the director of the Jockgrim tile-making museum, “in just 24 hours.” There were actually never any breaks at the Falzziegelwerke Carl Ludowici factory for interlocking roof tiles. Work was done 365 days a year, around the clock.
A tile needed a whole three days to cool down after firing. However, “this way, each piece is very strong, makes an immensely beautiful roof and has become famous in more and more places,” as it was written in a brochure advertising the Ludowici works at the end of the 19th century. And still, that was an understatement. The company in the small Palatinate town of Jockgrim was considered one of the largest tile-making works in the world in the course of its development. St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, the railway stations in Wiesbaden and Metz and the municipal theatre in Nuremberg were all covered with Ludowici ceramic tiles.
“Ludowici interlocking tiles stood for absolute quality in the second half of the 19th century in particular,” Jörg says about the former European market leader. At the end of the 19th century, 100,000 tiles were produced every day—some 27 million per year. The company produced material for every type of roof and with an artistic ambition. Bearing witness to this claim is a large number of decorative tiles in remarkable animal and plant shapes on display in the museum. “Many artists started out at Ludowici’s and then moved to the Staatliche Majolika Manufaktur ceramics factory in Karlsruhe,” explains Jörg, who heads the museum’s sponsoring association together with the sculptor Karl-Heinz Deutsch. The two men have established the Weg der Dächer (path of roofs), a cycling route that takes you past 30 special Ludowici roofs around Jockgrim.
The buildings of the tile-making works are characteristic of the townscape even today.
The tile-making museum is in these buildings today.
Jörg Scherer heads the museum’s sponsoring association together with the sculptor Karl-Heinz Deutsch.
The temperature in here used to be 1,050 degrees Celsius.
Every inch of the kiln was made use of.
Carl Ludowici was the founder of the tile -making works…
… that provided tiles for roofs all over the world.
And the Company had artistic aspirations, too.
Since the opening of the museum in 1996, the restored press building of the factory grounds shows visitors the company’s 100-year history by means of machines, information panels, photos, blueprints, furniture from the company headquarters and, of course, countless variations of the tiles themselves. “More and more bequests from former employees are coming in,” says Jörg. They have enriched the museum with historical old tiles, including some 748 wooden models used between 1883 and 1956—an absolute treasure for curators of monument or tilers specialising in historical buildings.
Ludowici interlocking tiles stood for absolute quality
The Ludowici family founded their first company in Ensheim an der Saar in 1857 and moved to Ludwigshafen-Maudach in search of suitable clay. The factory in Jockgrim began operation in 1883. “As an amateur archaeologist, Carl Ludowici knew the terra sigillata, the ceramics of the Romans, very well,” says Jörg, who runs a tax office in the town when he is not busy doing his voluntary work for the museum. He goes on to explain that the Romans appreciated the grey, easily malleable clay even 2,000 years ago, of which there is still plenty in the Bienwald forest today. It was said that the deposits had been exhausted when the factory was closed in 1972. “But truth be told: after the war, the company management shouldn’t have invested in old technologies but rather switch production to electric industries or oil.” And the Benz factories began to convince more and more workers to leave.
A model of Jockgrim illustrates how much Ludowici shaped the former village for decades. There had been waves of immigration to America or Africa before tile production started in 1883. “The factory turned the poor farming settlement into one of the most productive industrial villages in Germany,” says Jörg, whose grandfather had worked as a factory clerk at Ludowici’s. There were periods when every second resident of Jockgrim was employed at the tile-making works—with all associated advantages and disadvantages. Early on, the company provided services and security such as a canteen, sanitary facilities, health insurance and housing. At the same time, it kept its employees dependent. “Trains on their way to BASF in Ludwigshafen were not allowed to stop in Jockgrim—to prevent workers from leaving,” says Jörg. Ludowici operated as many as twelve branches in France, Germany and the US by 1935. A former subsidiary still exists in Lexington, US, producing Ludowici tiles.
The largest exhibit in the tile-making museum is the very production site—the ring kiln that was once six storeys high. The renowned architect Stephan Böhm converted it into the basement of the modern administrative building of the municipality and thus created an impressive new town centre. One of many inventions made by Johann Wilhelm Ludowici (1896–1983) is on display here. “He was certainly the most difficult and ambivalent leaders in the company’s history,” says Jörg. The doctor of engineering joined the NSDAP, the Nazi Party, as one of its first members as early as 1923. “The fact that almost 50 percent of the residents of Jockgrim voted for the NSDAP in the elections in March 1932 is probably down to the people’s precarious economic situation, the dependence on the tile factory and, last but not least, the influence of the factory owner himself,” as you learn from the town’s homepage.
After Hitler’s rise to power, the old mayor was “forced out of office”, the municipal council “was purged” and associations were brought into line. Johann Wilhelm Ludowici took over as head of the Reichsheimstättenamt der Deutschen Arbeiterfront (housing office of the German Labour Front) in 1933. One year later, Adolf Hitler appointed him the Reichskommissar official for housing. Ludowici launched a brick or tile for the nation in 1935—standardised and coded like his Ludowici tiles. The following year, the Olympic Village in Berlin was roofed with ceramics from his company. By 1939, the number of his employees had risen to 1,100. “There were also about 200 forced labourers from Poland and Russia in Jockgrim,” Jörg says. He co-initiated a theatre project for the 750th anniversary of the town in 2015, in the course of which 80 former employees of the Ludowici company were interviewed. But their history has not yet been reappraised. There is also nothing about the Nazi era in the museum itself. “National Socialism in Jockgrim is an era that we urgently have to come to terms with, not least in the museum.”
Johann Wilhelm Ludowici was a high-ranking National Socialist and he loved “fiddling about” with things, as Jörg says. He registered a remarkable 1,447 patents during his lifetime, from prefabricated houses to lifting ramps. He developed one of the first steel skeleton buildings in Germany in the 1950s: a multi-storey building for the drivers of the Ludowici factory made entirely of roof tiles, which still dominates the entrance to the town today. A sphere with a matte surface stands on the museum grounds, which, with its large, round windows, makes one think more of a UFO than a single-family home. The Belgian government wanted to have complete dwellings built for remote areas in the Belgian Congo, so Ludowici developed earthquake-proof buildings made of concrete with a diameter of 4.50 metres for a two-person household to live in. Photos in the museum show how the construction sails on the Thames on its way to an exhibition in London in 1959.
The museum’s sponsoring association had the steel sphere renovated in 2002 and a second concrete sphere with parts of the furniture has been preserved in Neupotz. If you search Ludowici Kugelhaus in Google, you will find the remote area of the Kuhn gravel pit. Upon a visit, you can take a leap back in time and see the former furniture through the open door of the unfortunately badly damaged residential sphere with its curved canopy, a kitchen, cupboards and sink, a combination living room/bedroom, a rounded bathtub and a compartment in the door—for the daily newspaper, milk bottle and bread roll. Anyone taking a look can still sense the flair of the 1950s. The patented housing construction from Jockgrim was probably too far ahead of its time to go into series production and yet preserves what can be considered a small marvellous idea for a home designed and manufactured in the Palatinate.
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