Saturday, March 13, 2010

History of a Village on the Hills

My grandfather Adolph Knura was born in Bottrop, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Nordrhein-Westfalen borders the Netherlands and Bottrop is right in the middle of the highly industrial Rurh-area. My grandfather was born in 1914 and left Bottrop in 1932, and although he returned there numerous times to visit his family, he never lived there again.

Although my grandfather’s stay in Bottrop was short, the history of Bottrop, which means ‘Village on the Hills’, is everything but short. Bottrop was first mentioned, as Borgthorpe, in 1092 as being part of the assets of a monastery. In 1423 Bottrop received the right to hold markets, a very valuable right at the time. The first time Bottrop shows up on a map is in 1573, the name in use by then is Bortdorpe. The current name of Bottrop is seen on documents for the first time in 1630.

In 1856 a mine is opened in nearby Essen, which is the start of the industrial era in Bottrop. Mining would continue to play an important part of life in Bottrop until well into the 20th century. I know for a fact that Adolph Knura’s father, Bergmann Josef Knura, was a miner. Because of work opportunities opening up, there is an immigration wave in 1880 to Bottrop. The industrial era also shows up in advances like electric lights, first seen in Bottrop in 1896, and a tram that runs from the Horsemarket to Essen, which rides for the first time in 1899.

On 1 July 1914, on the dawn of World War I, my grandfather Adolph Knura is born. Four years later, in 1918, the war is over. Bottrop as a community mourns the loss of 1678 soldiers who lost their lives in this war. A scant year later in 1919, Bottrop finally gets city rights, which they had been trying to get since 1905.

In 1923 the city is occupied by Belgian and French troop for two years. As of yet, I have been unable to find out exactly why this was and if it was just Bottrop that was affected or if the surrounding towns, or even a larger area, was also occupied.

In 1930 one of the mines in Bottrop closes. Two years later, my grandfather Adolph Knura leaves Bottrop, where he leaves his parents and several siblings. Considering that a year later, in 1933, the Nazi’s hoist the swastika flag at city hall as their first public appearance in Bottrop, he might have gotten away from there just in time. Local parties are put aside, as is the major.

In 1940, World War II starts showing its effects on Bottrop. The newspaper is shut down and the bronze clocks of the churches in Bottrop are melted down for the war effort. In 1942 a wing of the Maria Hospital is hit by a landmine. The hospital is severely damaged. The Althoff Mall is destroyed by a bomb in March of 1943. Aerial attacks do heavy damage in Bottrop in 1944. Especially the neighborhood Ruhröl is heavily hit, about seventy percent of the residential buildings there are destroyed. On 30 March 1945 Americans occupy Bottrop. I don’t know exactly when they leave, but considering that there are elections in 1946, I expect the Americans are gone by then.

In the years after the war, rebuilding is a big theme. The Althoff Mall that was completely destroyed reopens in 1951. And in 1954 the first carnival parade is held since the war. In that same year, the last of the destroyed buildings is completely broken down.

Economically, Bottrop is very dependent on the coal mines in the years after the war. In 1955, half of the working people in Bottrop make their livelihoods directly or indirectly from the mines. It’s also in 1955 that the first bus starts riding in Bottrop, it’s the beginning of the end for the tram lines. In 1958 a new coal mine is opened nearby.

Bottrop and the neighboring Kirchhellen form the new city Bottrop in 1976. In December of that same year, the last tram in Bottrop stops it’s service. In 1981 the largest coal processing plant of Europe is opened in Bottrop. In 1987 Pope John Paul II visits Bottrop. In 1996 the biggest sportstadion of Bottrop, the Dieter-Renz- Halle, burns down to the ground.

In the first decade of this century, Bottrop has started large renovations to modernize the city. Neither my grandfather, nor any of his siblings, as far as I know, were alive to see this. For them, Bottrop would always be the city that lived of the mines.

German wikipedia page about Bottrop

This post was written for the 27th edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy.


  1. What marvelous historical facts. you have done a lot of research.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I must admit though, most of the research was done by others and I used their compiled data about Bottrop to write this piece.

  3. I read your history of Bottrop with interest -- then with the wonder of google maps at my fingertips I was even more surprised. The area around Dusinberg and Dusseldorf, which does not appear to be that far from Bottrop, was an area of which my great grandparents spoke. Periodically I poke around for a genealogical trail, but then I don't have much to go on -- or much knowledge about the area. I thank you for such an interesting history of the area -- and for nudging my belated work in that area.

  4. What a conincidence! And thanks for stopping by.

  5. Very interesting and well done! My daughter lives in the Netherlands now, in 'tHarde near Zwolle, so I will be watching your blog with interest. Thank you for visiting my blog.