The time-honoured “Bergisches Land” has some of the continent’s highest levels of rainfall. As a result, the vegetation is lush and the landscape green. If a plot is left to its own devices there, it will become overrun with dense vegetation in just a short period of time. Large surfaces covered in stinging nettles and thorny bushes are not uncommon. When in the vicinity of the former home of the writer Hanns Heinen, the so-called “Black House” in the Höhscheid district of Solingen, follow a small 200 m-long track that meanders downwards behind the timber-framed Red and Black houses, whereupon you will stumble across an unusual barn made of blackened bricks with a large, overgrown square-shaped plot covered with blackberry bushes and an array of other plants next to it.
This barn was originally built for a completely different purpose. The building is actually an industrial monument that was built in the last third of the 19th century as a pump house for the drainage system of the Höhscheid lead mine. The miners were always having to deal with floods in the tunnels and decided to overcome the problem using steam-powered pumps. The mine closed for the last time at the end of the 1880s. This overgrown plot next to the brick structure is where the mine’s shaft tower once stood. A large spoil heap nearby stands as testimony to the previous intensive mining work. In was on this plot of industrial wasteland that Hanns Heinen and his wife Erna Heinen-Steinhoff decided to build a large flower garden and acquired the plot, along with the “Black House” in 1932.
Hanns Heinen was a keen gardener and found a way to balance out his intensive work as a writer and journalist in the tranquility of gardening. With great diligence and effort, he transformed the plot next to the former pump house into a large, colourful flower garden. A tall, time-honoured cherry tree with a mighty trunk and branches was the centrepiece of the garden. The space below the tree was a focal point in the life and works of Hanns Heinen, and later the artists of the colony. It was here that he conceived his rhymes and wrote his poems, and his friends gathered to listen to him reciting his works. In the summer especially, there were large garden parties held at long tables. If it rained, they would run to cover in a small gazebo right next to the barn. For a long time, it was possible to get a spectacular view over the mountainside from the garden into the depths of the Rhine Valley, with fields of wheat in the foreground and the Kohlsberg farmstead in the middle field with its distinctive church. The garden was surrounded by fields of wheat until the 1980s. From here, Hanns Heinen could observe the changes of the seasons and the toil of work in the fields. However, this was also an excellent spot to observe the local fauna.
Vegetables were grown here in the years that followed the end of the Second World War. The garden became vital to the Heinen family and to Erwin Bowien, who was the first artist to stay at the colony. The garden was, in all respects, a place for artists and is part of a long-held tradition with Monet’s garden at Giverny, albeit on a much smaller scale and without water. This garden would be an ideal addition to a possible museum trail as part of the upcoming project pertaining to the “Black House” and its eponymous artists’ colony.