Will the Bilk Horse’s Head Survive?

It’s local history time! Which is easy, when you live in Bilk, a neighborhood in Düsseldorf which is actually older than Düsseldorf itself: Bilk was first mentioned as ‘Villa Bilici in a document from February 14, 799.

But now to more recent history. If you walk down the street where I live, you will notice something fairly odd: a horse’s head:

Horsehead General view

As you can see, the building has a sign for “paper processing” and a few names and very old telephone numbers. But the most striking feature is the horse’s head. I attached my camera to a long pole to get some close-ups of it:

Horsehead Brunnenstr. 27 rightHorsehead Brunnenstr. 27 left

Did people look at me strangely while I was holding a 3-meter pole with a camera attached to it? Nope. This is Düsseldorf, a town which is lousy with artists and photographers, both amateur and professional. You can’t swing a dead cat here without someone taking a picture of it.

The story behind the horse’s head is told in the latest issue of the local magazine devoted to the history of the neighborhood, the Bilker Sternwarte (g, pdf).

The building, which is now Brunnenstr. 27, was constructed in 1888/1889 by Jakob Torney, a construction foreman and developer. The building was later acquired by one Anton Schmalscheidt in the late 1890s, who installed stalls for ten horses on the ground floor, and ran a carriage business from the house. (The house is known as the Schmalscheidt house). This is probably when the horse’s head you see above you was made. We don’t know who made it.

The main client of the carriage business was the Julius Schulte and Sons paper factory founded in 1886, which still exists (g) and lends its fragrant aroma to the neighborhood every summer. They used horses to transport their paper to a nearby train station, until the paper factory finally bought a tractor for this purpose.

Unfortunately, plans are now afoot by Holatec, a business which currently owns the building and operates from it. They want to tear it down and make it into student apartments. Local politicians filed a petition to have the building designated a historical landmark, but the petition was denied on December 5, 2017. The local landmark commission found the building did not have enough historical value. There have been demonstrations (g) by local residents who want to preserve the building. They stood outside it, making “clop-clop” noises with coconut halves.

The local Green party representative for District 3 of the city said (g): “We are very much interested in allowing people to continue to live in Brunnenstraße 27. We also expressly support the idea of student apartments here. But why does the entire building need to be torn down, instead of integrating the new construction into the existing building? For many residents of Bilk, this will mean the disappearance of a piece of their neighborhood which makes it a great place to live.”

Will the horse’s head building be saved? Stay tuned — I will keep you informed of every twist and turn in this utterly fascinating (by German local-history standards) story.

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