Bergisch Cottage Workshops

Into the future with hydraulic power

There was always more than enough water in the Bergisch Triangle. The Wupper and its tributaries ensured that industrialisation began here earlier than in other places on the Continent. Waterwheels drove hammers, grinding stones and bellows in the blacksmiths’ forges. Hammers and cottage workshops – the locals call them “Kotten” – lined the banks of the river like pearls on a chain. Nowadays visitors can find traces of the past everywhere along the valleys. Some of the “Kotten” have been so well preserved that they can yield information on the life and work of the times. Others are still manufacturing products today.

Work in the cottage workshops was hard. Inside it was cold, wet and draughty and the blacksmiths’ lungs were exposed to abrasive dust. Their wives were often on the road all day bringing the finished goods to town along steep delivery routes. Water levels often made the difference between success and failure. Periods of drought, prolonged ice or floods could destroy a family’s existence in no time at all. 

Cottage workshops began to decline in importance from the middle of the 19th century when steam engines and later electric motors made production independent of hydraulic power. Now factories were set up on the hills and on the edge of towns.