More than 80 million people currently live in Germany. A big part of all inhabitants lives in one of many big cities: the so-called ‘Großstädte’, cities with 100.000 inhabitants or more. Many of those cities have a long history that goes back for multiple centuries, such as the capital of Berlin, the Bavarian cities, or those that were part of the Hanseatic League. However, one of the more famous cities in Germany does not have a long history, nor has it a historic city center. The city of Wolfsburg, located close to Braunschweig and Hannover, and currently famous for its car production plants and football team, isn’t even one hundred years old. This article focuses on the unusual history of the city, including the ambitious “Koller-Plan” and the important role of the Volkswagen car company.
Long before the actual city of Wolfsburg was founded, people lived in small villages in the current southeast Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). At that time, current Germany consisted of a wide range of small kingdoms, duchies, et cetera. The current Wolfsburg area used to be under influence of many different rulers, for example, the Duke of Magdeburg and Prussia. Eventually, in 1871, the German empire was founded, which is known as the starting point for the development of modern-day Germany. After the German empire and the Weimar Republic, the right-wing NSDAP party took control over the country in 1933, marking the start of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler became the country’s leader’ and ruled Germany until his death at the end of the Second World War in 1945.
During the 1930s, the decade when Hitler tried to redevelop the German economy and reinstate the country as an influential nation in western Europe, many big industrial projects were set up to create jobs and build a modern infrastructure. Ferdinand Porsche, who later became famous for his sports car brand) worked on the idea of building an affordable car for the general public. However, while his idea was turned down by many German car companies during the 1920s, he eventually received the order from Hitler to realize his ambitious plan. The first prototypes for this project were built in 1936, which eventually led to the foundation of the Volkswagen car company in 1938. The prototypes led to the final design of the car, which is currently known as the Volkswagen Beetle and is one of the most famous and iconic cars in history.
Hitler ordered to produce 800.000 Volkswagens each year, which meant that huge investments in infrastructure had to be done to create the factory. A central and easily reachable location in the southeastern region of Lower Saxony, pretty much at the heart of the country, was chosen. The location had to be easily reachable because people who bought a Volkswagen would have to pick up the car by themselves. To meet the aims of the ambitious project, many thousands of workers would be needed. Hitler’s solution to facilitate this was ambitious yet simple: create a planned city, specifically meant for people who worked at the Volkswagen factory.
The initial name of the newly found city was “Stadt des KdF-Wagens bei Fallersleben”: the city of the Volkswagen company near Fallersleben. During the initial years of Volkswagen, the company was named KdF-Wagens and the car that was produced was called “Kraft-durch-Freude” (KdF), meaning “strength through joy”. The German-Austrian architect Peter Koller was appointed to design the city, while Albert Speer was appointed as the urban development supervisor. The “Koller-Plan”, which Koller already designed in 1933, consisted of different scenarios regarding the number of inhabitants, varying from 30.000 to 400.000 people. The housing areas would be located directly opposite the factory plants. At the center of the city, the “Klieversberg” was planned: a collection of cultural and political buildings that suited the ideas propagated by the NSDAP. Following these ideas, that Hitler applied to his policies, the city would not have any churches or other buildings related to any religion. The different housing areas were planned to be constructed in circles around the Klieversberg. Buildings had to be relatively high near the Klieversberg while being much lower near the city’s edges. The roads entering the city were designed to process huge amounts of traffic, some of them becoming up to one hundred meters wide.
Because the construction of the properties didn’t start until 1938, the city didn’t grow to huge numbers: in 1942, only 3.000 properties were constructed. The plan was abandoned after two years of war; only one-tenth of the total plan was actually constructed. The city would not grow any further until after the Second World War. In May 1945, near the end of the Second World War, the city was renamed back to Wolfsburg. Since the Volkswagen factories were primarily used for army industries, a collapse of the local industrial economy needed to be prevented. This was done by intervention and funding coordinated by the British government. New expansion plans for the city were already designed in 1948 to make a population growth to 30.000 people possible. Later on, Peter Koller designed even bigger plans for up to 80.000 people. The construction of the new parts of the city took several decades and included the compaction of already existing housing areas.
Wolfsburg experienced a steady population growth, partly thanks to people coming from other countries (primarily from Italy) to work at the growing Volkswagen factory plants. The people of Italian descent remain a major minority in Wolfsburg. Meanwhile, in 1951, the first church of Wolfsburg was founded because the new capitalist government did not forbid the practice of religion. The population grew from 25 thousand during the early 1950s to more than 120 thousand just 25 years later. Volkswagen, meanwhile, produced its millionth car in 1955, thus became one of the most important companies for the economy in southeastern Lower Saxony, especially for the city of Wolfsburg itself. The different phases of urban development are explained at various places in the city, making sure that local inhabitants don’t forget and visitors don’t miss the interesting, yet somewhat unusual development of Wolfsburg.