Monday, August 7, 2017

Grandpa Lange's Life in Essen

Gustav Lange (1888-1963), better known to at least his younger grandchildren as "Grandpa Lange," left Porozove in 1906, the year after his father died. I always heard he went to Germany to work, sending money home to his mother as well as saving to immigrate to Canada. I really don't know if he planned to immigrate when he left home. His uncle, Gustav Ludwig, who was his age and had been raised by his sister, Caroline (Ludwig) Lange, my great grandmother, after their mother died in late 1888, immigrated to Winnipeg in 1910. So Grandpa Lange may have decided to join his uncle in Winnipeg after receiving a letter from him describing life in Canada.

Lately I have been re-examining all the records and personal papers I have for Grandpa and realized I never transcribed or translated his German work permit.

Gustav likely made his way from Porozove[1] fifteen kilometers northeast to Rivne, where there was a rail station. We don't know through which cities he had to pass or where he changed trains but eventually he made his way to Essen, in the Ruhr Valley. Essen had been at the center of the industrialization of the German Empire and was home to the Krupp family's vast weapons dynasty. It was also home to steel factories and coal mines.

While in Essen, Grandpa had his photograph taken at Beckmann's photography studio.

Gustav Lange circa 1906-1911; personal collection

His clothing was very typical for a man in the first decade of the 20th century -- a "middle-class men's suit" instead of frock coats of the previous century, a vest and tie or bow tie. The shirts were often pastel in color and the collars were detachable because they required more frequent cleaning. Collars could also be replaced if ruined.

In Essen Grandpa obtained a work permit, which included his place of birth and employer. It appeared a new work permit was required each year. Below is his permit for 1911, the last year he was in Essen.

Grandpa Lange's German work permit; personal collection

Gültig für das Jahr 1911
Valid for the year 1911
No. 686273

Abfiertigungsstelle Essen a. d. R.
Check-out point Essen [initials not translated]
der Deutschen Feldarbeiter-Zentralstelle zu Berlin
The German Field Workers' Center in Berlin

Workers Identity Card
ausgestellt auf Grund des Ministerialrlasses
Issued by the Ministerial
vom 21. Dezember 1907 -- IIb 5675
of 21 December 1907 [remainder not translated]

Vor- und Zuname Gustav Lange
First and Last Name Gustav Lange
aus Samosck
from Samosck
Kries Lutzk Heimatland Russland
District Lutzke Homeland Russia
Arbeitgeber Rh. Westf. Elektrizitatwerk
Employer Rheinish-Westfalisches Electric Plant
Place of Work Essen
Kreis, Provinz
Bundesstaat Essen Ruhr Rheinland
District, County
[not translated] Essen, Ruhr, Rhineland

Diese Legitimationkarte ist bei polizeilichen An- und Abmeldungen und bei jedem Weschsel der Arbeitsstelle vorzulegen.
This card is to be presented in the case of police log-in / log-out (?) and every change of the working place.

Die Polizeiverwaltung
The Police

The Rheinish-Westfälisches Elektrizitätwerk was founded in 1898 in Essen. The company's first power station began operating in 1900. The local municipalities owned the majority of the company's stock shares.

The RWE power station in Essen, circa 1905; courtesy of RWE

I don't know where Grandpa lived while in Essen or how he spent his leisure time, but at the turn of the century, Germany's economy was the most dynamic in Europe. The years from 1895 to 1907 witnessed a doubling of the number of workers engaged in machine building, from slightly more than a half a million to well over a million. People continued to migrate from eastern provinces to the growing and multiplying factories in Berlin and the Ruhr Valley. Health insurance was provided to German workers in 1883 and the Workers Protection Act of 1891 banned work on Sundays and limited the work day to 11 hours. So Grandpa Lange had some leisure time to spend. Was he a member of band, playing his trumpet?

The Lange family had converted from Lutheran to German Baptist by the time Grandpa left home. Where was his church and where did he live? Surprisingly, according to an article by John S. Conway and Kyle Jantzen, "German Baptists were among those small groups of free churches which had to struggle throughout the 19th century to gain a foothold in Germany against the intolerant pressures of the established Lutheran church. By the 20th century they were conditionally recognized but remained on the edges of society. They sought to encourage the ideal life of true believers, separated from the rest of sinful society and politics. Hence, abstention from all worldly associations was coupled with the demand for freedom from all state interference in church life." Those beliefs seem noble to me but somewhat impractical to live by for a working-class factory worker like Grandpa. As an alien worker in Germany, his life interacted with the state on a regular basis.

Did he pay attention to politics as do some of his grandchildren today? Mom remembered he closely monitored the diplomatic maneuvers by European countries prior to World War II. At the time Grandpa lived in Essen, the empire's authoritarian political system was marked by paralysis. Encyclopedia Britannica described the political situation as:

"With each election, the increasingly urban electorate returned Social Democrats in growing numbers. By 1890 the Social Democrats (who had adopted a Marxist program of revolution at their Erfurt congress in 1891) received more votes than any other party. By 1912 they had more voters supporting them than the next two largest parties combined...Many contemporary observers thought that a major crisis was looming between the recalcitrant elites and the increasing number of Germans who desired political emancipation..."

Some time in the summer of 1911, Gustav traveled to Liverpool, England, where he boarded the White Star Line's RMS Teutonic on 12 August, and immigrated to Canada.

[1] Porozove is located in the Rivne raion of the Rivne oblast, Ukraine. At the time Gustav Lange lived there it was part of the Russian Empire. After the Polish-Soviet War in 1920-21, it became part of Poland. After World War II, part of Ukraine.

Another Ludwig Breakthrough: Finding Uncle Gustav


  1. I too have a photo taken at Beckmann's photography studio in Essen-Ruhr or Dortmund, germany.

    Can I ask how you were able to obtain his German work permit.

    Thank you.

    Tom Sadauskas

    1. The work permit was among his papers when he died and my Mom gave it to me.