If you want to explain Villa Hügel to a Munich resident, maybe it’s like this: it’s the bourgeois counterpart of Neuschwanstein Castle. The industrial king of the Ruhr, Alfred Krupp, had it built between 1870 and 1873 as a residential and representative building. Rooms: 269, location: above Lake Baldeney, surrounded by a park to which he had huge mature trees transported in horse-drawn carriages; Cost: Don’t ask. But unlike King Ludwig II, who had his dream castle (start of construction: 1869) financed by the Bavarian Treasury, Krupp paid with the income he himself had earned from his legendary cast steel factories .
The SZ Kultursalon took place in the heart of the villa, the living room, in front of the fireplace. It has never heated a living room, has always been the centerpiece of the 440 square meter room, decorated with tapestries and topped with a glass vault. Since the death of Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach in 1967, Villa Hügel has been part of the charitable foundation named after Alfried. He transferred his entire fortune and that of the family business to this bank in accordance with his will. A museum is now housed in part of the villa. The private rooms, which also include the living room, are only occasionally accessible for guided tours and rare house events.
These are turbulent times for the Krupp Foundation. It recently announced that it will again examine in detail the role of its founder during the Nazi era. The Krupp name is still closely associated with the arms industry. And a few hundred kilometers as the crow flies from Germany, another war is raging. In addition, the foundation has experienced major financial difficulties in recent years because the ThyssenKrupp group, of which it is the main shareholder, did not pay any corresponding dividend.
The foundation promotes culture, science, health, education and sport. According to their own declarations, more than 150 million euros have been paid to the financing of culture alone since its creation. In 2020, all areas were supported with a total of five million euros – with zero income. This is not worrying, explained Volker Troche, who is a member of the foundation’s board of directors and who welcomed the guests of the SZ Kultursalon that evening. “There have always been years like this in the past. But our programs are often meant to give projects a boost,” he said, adding that they would only be paid out if possible. The museum curator scholarship, which Franziska Kunze also received, is part of the foundation’s core commitment and is in no way threatened.
The foundation itself is also the guardian of a special artistic treasure. She has a huge photo archive. He plays a central role in a violent dispute currently unfolding in the Ruhr area between Essen and Düsseldorf. The two cities are arguing over the creation of a new federal institute of photography – comparable to the already existing literary archives in Marburg. Volker Troche, who has worked for the Krupp Foundation for 20 years and is an art enthusiast himself, admittedly fought hard for Essen as the venue that night.
The guests who let this living room end on the terrace of the villa did not only include many museum people such as those from Folkwang, the Kunstpalast or the museums of Recklinghausen. Ursula Gather, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Krupp Foundation, who was celebrating her birthday that day, also came, accompanied by the mayor of Essen, Rudolf Jelinek, and a man in top form who had the looks like he stepped on one of the Krupp family photos. Leif Simer is an Instagram star of the vintage scene and still dresses mostly in original turn-of-the-century fashions.
A Munich gallerist and her grandmother Bertha
The busiest, albeit very quiet and reserved, guest of the evening was Carol Johnssen, who came with her son Philipp. In Munich, she is known as a gallery owner. What many people don’t know is that she spent a lot of time at Villa Hügel as a child.
She is the sister of Eckbert von Bohlen und Halbach, so Villa Hügel was her parents’ home, and unlike many other members of the Krupp family, she apparently does not dispute Alfried’s decision to donate fortune. “I have experienced so many beautiful things here,” she says. “We danced with my grandmother Bertha Menuett in the great hall. I heard the most beautiful concerts. And I saw how a huge banquet was given for Haile Selassie.”