Three years ago, I found two of the three houses in Wuppertal where Heinrich the cellist and Maria lived between 1919 and 1960. The one I was still missing forms a somewhat unfortunate historical hinge between the two and it took me a visit to the city archives to pin down its location.
The story as we knew it so far is that in 1931, Heinrich was put in charge of looking after the city-owned pawnshop, which entailed moving into a flat on the first floor of the same building. In early 1933, there was a minor scandal in that some items went missing from the site, and Heinrich launched an official investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation found that it was his wife Maria who had helped herself to some of these. An expert for the court diagnosed an underlying psychiatric problem for which she got some help, while Heinrich ended up in another office job in the administration of corporate tax matters.
I was hoping to find newspaper reports or official documents on the scandal and its resolution but had no luck with that. However, I did find the address of the pawnshop, and with that I could confirm dates when Heinrich was recorded as living in that building, and the names of the people in the position before and after him.
The archive has a very thin and patchy file on press clippings relating to the city’s pawnshops. The clippings were mostly about the social issues attached to pawnshops, such as poverty, risk of bankruptcy, etc. (The reason why cities engaged with this kind of business at all was that it was seen as a social good to keep people in need safe from predatory lenders.) No mention of the scandal I was looking for. I learned that both Barmen and Elberfeld had one of their own – they only merged in a new location in February 1940. Elberfeld’s shop is the one we’re after and it has a longer history going back to 1821. It started out in a slaughterhouse in Brausenwerth, and in 1888 it moved to the house in Obergrünewalder Straße 21, which was also the address when Heinrich and Maria moved in to live above the shop.
The address books available on microfiche (!) have a very handy section where you can find things by address and see who owns the building, what it is used for, and/or who lives there. In the 1930 edition for Elberfeld, we find Heinrich still at the old address, Schleswiger Str. 45, listed as a Stadtobersekretär, on the third floor. In 1932, has disappeared from this address but no new tenant has shown up for the flat as yet.
Under Obergrünewalder Straße 21, however, we find, eureka, the “Städtische Leihanstalt” – no wonder I couldn’t find it before, I wouldn’t have thought of giving it that name! Heinrich is listed as resident on the first floor, still Stadtobersekretär. His predecessor in the flat and presumably in the job, was listed in the 1930 edition as Otto Drees, Leihhausverwalter.
According to my previous information, they moved to Gronaustraße 35 in June 1933. However, the address book Barmen 1934 still lists this street as Königsstraße. It was renamed some time after the 1929 merger because Elberfeld also had a street with that name (see below). In Königsstraße 35 he is listed on the first floor as a Reisender (travelling salesman) which seems to suggest that he was suspended from his position in the city administration for some time while the investigation was ongoing. Not sure if he actually worked as a travelling salesman or whether this was just a euphemism for unemployed?
The first united addressbook for Wuppertal, dated 1935, has the new street name Gronaustraße and lists Heinrich as Stadtinspektor, which is two pay grades above his previous classification as Obersekretär. His successor in the pawnshop is named as Karl Schwabe, Stadtass.
Further files I consulted contained a detailed description of how the pawnshop worked – the staff members included three permanent helpers, a clerk responsible for the till, an apprentice and two magazine workers, so a total of eight people. Elsewhere, there is also a mention of experts for the valuation of specific groups of items. Heinrich is named in a document dated 1.12.1931. After that, however, the file goes dark and the next document dates from 1937.
After leaving the archive, I took the Schwebebahn to the Luisenviertel to find the old pawnshop and was very pleased to find that not only it survived but also it is in the very heart of the Luisenviertel which at least today is an extremely attractive neighbourhood with lots of restaurants. I think it is this building on the corner, shown below, which today goes as Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 38, as the building to its left on the Obergrünewalder Str. is number 19 and the next buildings on the other side of the corner plots are number 24 (confusingly) and 25. Which would fit my theory that the two corner plots were reassigned to Friedrich Ebert Str. but were previously known as Obergrünewalder Str. 21 and 23. Incidentally, today’s Friedrich Ebert Str., the main axis of Luisenviertel parallel to Luisenstr., was historically the Königstraße of Elberfeld, so in 1933 Heinrich moved from the corner of one Königstraße to the other.
Anyhow, I am adopting this lovely building here, prove me wrong:
This is the front towards Obergrünewalder Straße (with parts of number 19 on the left) with a shop selling Wuppertal merch (note the Schwebebahn-inspired murals below the windows!):
And this is the Friedrich Ebert side of things with an estate agent: