Die große Muse des Lyrikers, seine Gattin und Vertraute – Erna Heinen-Steinhoff (1898-1969): Erna Johanna Ida Heinen–Steinhoff wurde 1898 in Düsseldorf als Tochter des Studienrates und Konrektors, Herrn Wilhelm Steinhoff zur Ahse (1869 -1936), aus Haus Ahse bei Soest und Frau Maria Tümmers (1874 -1943) aus Solingen, geboren. Sie war das älteste Kind des Ehepaares und kam drei Jahre nach der Hochzeit Ihrer Eltern (1895) zur Welt. Später sollte noch eine kleinere Schwester hinzukommen.
1919 lernte sie den jungen Philologen und Schriftsteller Hanns Heinen (1895-1961) kennen und ehelichte ihn. Durch ihre außergewöhnliche Belesenheit und ihre
geistige Ausstrahlung zog sie viele schöpferische Menschen in ihren Bann und befähigte sie zu eigenen geistigen und künstlerischen Leistungen. So entstand ein literarischer und künstlerischer
Salon, den Erna Heinen-Steinhoff ein Leben lang als Salondame für geladene Gäste fortführen sollte. Die Familie zog mehrfach in Solingen um und im Dezember
1932 erwarb Hanns Heinen ein Anwesen im Solinger Stadtteil Höhscheid, dem „Schwarzen Haus“ einem historischen
Fachwerkgebäude aus dem 18. Jahrhundert.
Im Krieg wurde sie mit Ihren Töchtern, zum Schutz vor den Bombardierungen, aufs Land geschickt. Da die Familie Steinhoff Ihre Urlaube immer im Allgäu – in Pfronten verbrachte – optierte Sie für das Allgäu und wurde in eine kleine Gemeinde im Allgäu – nach „Kreuzthal-Eisenbach“ bei Isny, tief im Herzen der Adelegg, umquartiert. Anfangs nur im Sommer, ab 1943 dauerhaft. Ende 1944 sollte Hanns Heinen auch ins Kreuztal kommen. Ab 1945 kehrten die Heinens zurück nach Solingen.
In den Jahren 1945–48 durchlitt die Familie schwere Hungerjahre. Das rege kulturelle Leben wurde aber zu keiner Zeit unterbrochen. Im Hause herrschte immer ein reges Kommen und Gehen. Es wurde gemalt, gedichtet und komponiert. In den 50 Jahren konnten die Familien erste Reisen unternehmen und reisten nach Sylt und in die Schweiz.
Dr Phil. Johannes van Els came from Düsseldorf. He worked for many years as a teacher at the August-Dicke school in Solingen. Even in his youth, he came into close contact with the artists now known as “the Young Rhineland”. A close personal friend of the Heinen family, he was interested in literature and art. He and his wife were regular guests of the salon at the Black House.
Otto Franz Gmelin was a German writer and member of the poets circle of Bamberg. He was born in Karlsruhe in 1886 and died in Cologne in 1940. He was born into a family of scholars from Baden and studied philosophy and science in Karlsruhe and Heidelberg. Between 1911/12 and 1914, he travelled to Mexico, where he worked as a teacher for a German family. At the outbreak of WWI, he volunteered for military service, but was quickly discharged from the army on health grounds.
He obtained his doctorate in philosophy in Heidelberg in 1917. That same year, he found a post as a teacher at the Realgymnasium in the Wald district of Solingen. In 1918, he married Klara Ella Gmelin (née Stegmann). Due to his work as a writer, he met the young editor Hanns Heinen (1895-1961) shortly after his move to Solingen and the two would have a life-long friendship. Hanns introduced him to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s “salon”, where he became a keen visitor and befriended the painter Erwin Bowien (1899-1972). At the meetings, first at Betramsmühle and then at the Black House, Otto tried to persuade his friend Hanns Heinen finally to publish his prose works. He wrote the following to Hanns Heinen: “You are missing but one thing: vanity”. From 1936 onwards, he lived as a writer in Bensberg near Cologne. Gmelin primarily wrote historical novels and short stories. He remained friends with the Heinens and Bowien until his untimely death in 1940.
The workers’ poet and writer Mathias Ludwig Schroeder (often spelled Schröder) was born in Sulzbach near Saarbrücken in 1904 and was killed in an accident in Hilden near Solingen in 1950, where he had been living and working. Known as the “Rhenish Owlglass” because of his sense of humour, the writer was a good friend of Erwin Bowien’s, who introduced him to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s art and literary salon at the “Black House” in Solingen. He supported Bowien in his literary career in 1945 and helped him through a difficult period of his life. Mathias Ludwig Schroeder began writing in the 1930s. He penned works such as “Poets and Workers”, “Peter the Soldier Boy”, “The Girl on the Horse”, “The Confessional”, “The Laughing Hammer” and many more.
Erwin Bowien first met the Heinen family in 1927 and became a regular visitor to Erna Heinen-Steinhoff’s salon. First at
Bertramsmühle in Solingen, where he painted his first portraits of Erna and Hanns Heinen and then at the “Black House” salon. He was visited frequently by the Heinens during his exile in the
Upon his return to Germany, Erwin Bowien spent the last two years of the war in hiding with Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and her children in Kreuztal-Eisenbach in the Allgäu. He lived in the “Black House” in Solingen from 1945 onwards. From then on, he became an integral part of the family and co-organised the salons.
One of the many writers in regular attendance at the Black House salon was the famous Solingen author Max Kayser, who wrote the popular novel “Die vom Platzhof”. The story takes place just a few kilometres away from the “Black House” in the Höhscheid district of Solingen. Erna Heinen-Steinhoff and Erwin Bowien really admired Max Kayser, so much so that Bowien wrote about him in his autobiography.
The sculptor Lies Ketterer (Florentine Luise “Lies” Ketterer) visited the Heinen home regularly. Born in Berlin, she moved to her mother’s home town of Solingen in 1913. Lies Ketterer created many works for public spaces. She was fond of sculpting animals and small children. Her most famous sculptures include “Lucky Hans and the ducat donkey” outside the municipal savings bank in Solingen, her sculpture of the regional poet “Peter Witte” and the “Steltlopers” in Gouda, Netherlands.#
Ketterer was also a writer and wrote her own short stories. She was a founding member of Soroptimist International, Club Solingen, in 1968. Lies had lively exchanges with the other artists at the Black House. Lies Ketterer kept up a lively exchange with the Artists of the Black House, especially with Hanns Heinen.
Local doctor Emil Kronenberg was another of the Black House’s visitors. He was born in 1864 and followed his father’s profession, who had also practiced in Solingen. In 1897, he became a founding member and later president of the West German Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors. He joined Solingen’s Freemasons’ Lodge “zur Bergischen Freiheit” in 1909. There, he held the office of Master of the Chair between 1925 and 1927, and then honorary Chairmaster when the lodge was re-established in 1948. He was introduced to the Black House salon by his fellow mason Hanns Heinen and would attend regularly, with Erwin Bowien even painting his portrait.
Aside from his work as a doctor, Dr. Kronenberg supported various political, social and cultural causes in Solingen: for example, he posited the idea to establish an adult education centre (Volkshochschule) in the town in 1910, as well as a city library in Solingen in 1926. In addition to all these causes, Kronenberg was also an avid writer and poet. Due to his beliefs, he was expropriated by the Nazis and deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There, he was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945 and returned to his home on 28 June 1945. That same year 1945, he became a co-founder of Germany’s Free Democratic Party and led Solingen’s cultural circle from 1949. He received a visit from the German president Theodor Heuss in 1951. Dr. Emil Kronenberg died on 31st March 1954.
Like the German president Walter Scheel, Helmut Schaefer was one of Erwin Bowien’s pupils at the Schwertstrasse Gymnasium in the 1920s. So impressed by his art teacher, he felt painting was his calling and never denied his close relationship with Bowien’s work. Having become editor of the Solinger Tageblatt, where he would be chief editor for many years, he joined the Black House salon in the 1950s, becoming part of its circle of intellectuals. It was only after his retirement from active professional life that Helmut Schaeffer organised his own art exhibitions, always referring to his teacher Erwin Bowien, to whom he had also closely emulated in his artistic expression.
The Solingen-born dialect theatre playwright (Höhscheider Bühnenspiele) Hermann Schmitz was a special friend to Hanns Heinen,
Erna Heinen Steinhoff’s husband. He was born in 1902 in the same parish at the Neuenhaus farmstead, very close to the “Black House” and lived in the vicinity all his life.
The daughter of the poet, Helga Schuhmacher, wrote of her father: “... After leaving school, he had to work - like his father and brother - as a pocket knife maker in the ‘cottage’, i.e. the workshop of a scissor sharpener ...” His youth was overshadowed by the First World War. After 1933, the family faced political danger, as they had previously spent their evenings with like-minded people sorting and packing leaflets. Almost all of there acquaintances and relatives at the time were like-minded. In the evenings, they would discuss (including Hanns Heinen and his family) the victims of political persecution and later the war. There, new writings and stories were exchanged. After the war, he felt even more dedicated to the theatre and playwriting. At the age of 18, he had already founded a theatre association together with other young people from the Höhscheider workers' sports. This would later become known as the Höhsdheider Bühnenspiele. Theatre was his passion.
From its very beginning until 1963, Hermann Schmitz was the director of the troupe. They mainly performed comedies and operettas, as they wanted to avoid shallower forms of entertainment. Hermann Schmitz was at his happiest when people were being entertained and forced to reflect on what they were watching. Not only did he run the shows, he usually even took part on stage. Hermann Schmitz, who was a lover of the German classics, Brecht and Tucholsky, probably got the impulse to write plays himself from the dialect play “The Neighbours” by Max Kayser. Kayser was the chief of the steel factory on Friedrichsstrasse where Hermann Schmitz worked, and the Bühnenspiele did several productions of the play. His literary works made him so well known that in 1958, a postcard “to the author of the comedy Ferdinand Graf von Pilghausen, Mr Hermann Schmidt, Solingen” reached his address. Public attitudes to dialects slowly began to change after the war. It was now thought of as a real loss if people weren’t speaking their native tongue, and speaking “Plattdeutsch” (Low German) was no longer seen as a sign of being uneducated. His wish not only to perform on the small stages in the Höhscheid-Widderter area but before a larger audience came true...”