The Villa Hügel: family residence and place of remembrance

Encompassing 269 rooms and 8,100 square metres of living and usable space, and surrounded by a 28 hectare park: The Villa Hügel is much more than an imposing entrepreneur’s residence – it is a symbol of the Age of Industrialisation in Germany.

Upon the death of his father, Friedrich (1787–1826), Alfred Krupp (1812–1887) took over initial responsibility for the Fried. Krupp steel works at the age of 14 – with enormous success. Over the following decades, he expanded the firm until it had become one of the most important industrial enterprises of the nineteenth century. It was also according to his plans that the Villa Hügel was constructed between 1870 and 1873, as a residence and refuge for his family, but also as a worthy setting for representation, receptions and celebrations. It was a place for family life – but at the same time it hosted emperors and kings, business leaders from around the world, politicians and heads of state from many nations, as well as scientists and artists.

Design and construction


The construction of the Villa Hügel and its park was a matter dear to Alfred Krupp’s heart for the last twenty years of his life. Based on his own sketches and designs, a building was constructed that was primarily intended to meet functional criteria – as was the owner’s wish. Krupp believed that the formal design of the residence should take second place to practical considerations. He set down the overall concept – a residence and guest house with a connecting tract – in initial sketches as early as 1864; however, he only focused intensively on the building project beginning in 1869. Despite the advice of numerous skilled professionals that he should commission a good architect to freely develop an overall plan, Alfred Krupp wanted to design the Villa Hügel solely according to his own notions of ‘comfort and convenience’.

one of the first idea sketches by Alfred Krupp, around 1865

FAH 2 D 15 Blatt 42

Villa Hügel under construction, 18. Oktober 1871

In January 1873, Alfred Krupp moved into the new residence with his wife, Bertha, and his son and heir, Friedrich Alfred. His contemporaries described the house as simple and plainly furnished. For its time, however, it contained some revolutionary innovations: What is not immediately apparent from the outside is the meticulous care and enormous personal commitment with which Krupp planned and developed the entire complex – and above all, the complicated building technology. One example is the heating and ventilation system – which, however, did not function well enough to make year-round living in the house tolerable until years after the family had moved in and following repeated upgrades. Apropos heating system: Alfred Krupp initially named his property ‘Bredeneyer Gut’ (‘Bredeney Manor’), but the name ‘Villa Hügel’ was already being used in a book of ‘Instruction für die Bedienung der Heizungs- und Ventilations-Einrichtungen in der Villa Hügel des Herrn A. Krupp’ (‘Instructions for the Use of Heating and Ventilation Facilities in Mr. A. Krupp’s Villa Hügel’) dated 1872/73.

The Villa through the generations


The next generation: Beginning in 1888, Friedrich Alfred (1854–1902) and Margarethe Krupp (1854–1931) redesigned the interior of the residence to be much more splendid and comfortable. With their two daughters, Bertha and Barbara, born in 1886 and 1887, respectively, a young family now lived in the Villa. They converted the house into a private living area and official function rooms according to their needs. For the family’s use as well as for their many guests, tennis courts, stables and riding facilities, reading rooms and playrooms were added – and even a building for socialising accommodating a bowling alley and library.

Upper Hall with view to the northern organ gallery, 1889

Friedrich Alfred and Margarethe Krupp laid the foundation for an art collection and an extraordinary collection of Flemish tapestries dating from the period between 1500 and 1760.

Decoration and ornamentation: Another renovation of the Villa followed around 1900 – for more living space and more comfort. In addition to the installation of mezzanines for additional rooms, the cladding of the interior with wood panelling is worth mentioning. In the Lower Hall, stucco ornament in the Art Nouveau style was added to the ceiling and the iron columns. The iron staircase was replaced with a wooden stairway featuring carved, interlaced motifs in the style of the Renaissance. On the west side, a separate apartment, known as the ‘bower’, was built for the two adolescent daughters, Bertha und Barbara, comprising a large shared living room with adjoining bedrooms and toilets, a bathroom and a walk-in closet as well as two guest apartments with Art Nouveau decor.

Life at the Villa Hügel was busier with this second generation of inhabitants. This is also evidenced by the sharply increasing number of servants. While in 1876 the owner managed with just 66 employees, in 1902 his son employed 570 people to manage the property. At the beginning of the First World War, his granddaughter Bertha had 648 people working in her service.

the main staircase with fireplace and seating area, around 1900


At the age of just 16, Bertha became the heiress to the international company following her father’s early death in 1902. Four years later, she married the diplomat Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach and became the head of the household at the Villa Hügel. With their seven children, the young couple brought new life into the Villa and the park, but they also made different demands on the residence’s usage and design. The company was yielding excellent profits at that time, allowing Bertha und Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach to commission the most extensive renovations to date. They called on Emperor Wilhelm II’s court architect, renowned art historians and the very best artisan firms for advice, planning, and execution of the work. Thus, between 1913 and 1916, the Villa Hügel took on the appearance that has been maintained up to the present day – with its sheltered driveways, the elaborate interior design of the Upper and Lower Halls as well as a picture gallery. In the Upper Hall, the wall decor was designed to match the newly acquired Flemish tapestry series ‘The Seven Liberal Arts’.

dining room seating area, around 1916

northern salon with view into the study, n. d.

The Villa reflected the German Empire’s prevailing notion of sumptuous living in its ideal form. Nevertheless, the Krupp family remained true to its maxims of a down-to-earth lifestyle and strict child-rearing. Hospitality remained the defining element of the house, which hosted a nearly constant stream of private and business guests from Germany and abroad – especially up until 1914.

garden hall in Louis XIV style with the tapestry sequence "Scenes of the Acts of the Apostles"


The Villa Hügel weathered the economic and political crises of the next three decades nearly unchanged. Structural changes and new acquisitions nevertheless receded into the background during this period: The firm’s economic position was too poor; the times were too uncertain. In 1943 Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach took over the Fried. Krupp AG company as sole proprietor. He was to be the last member of the family to live in the Villa. In April 1945, the advancing American forces arrested the owner, seized the entire property, and made it the seat of the Allied Coal Control Commission. The Villa was not returned to the family until July 1952.

portrait of the Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach family, George Harcourt, 1930/1931

After 1952

The Villa Hügel would never again serve the family as a residence. After the Allies departed, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and his mother, Bertha, made the house available to the general public, particularly for use in the promotion of art, science, and culture. The first major art exhibition was held here as early as 1953, and further internationally recognised exhibitions followed. In 1984 Berthold Beitz founded the Kulturstiftung Ruhr (Ruhr Cultural Foundation) with its headquarters at the Villa and the mission to ‘bring new momentum to the cultural life of the Ruhr region’. The Kulturstiftung Ruhr continues the tradition of major exhibitions at the Villa Hügel to this day.

The Krupp Historical Archive is based in the Guest House. As the oldest business archive in Germany, it comprises an extensive array of documents and outstanding collections of historical industrial photographs and films. In addition, the Guest House also contains a permanent exhibition devoted to the history of the Krupp dynasty and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung.

The Krupp Historical Archive