The Alte Dombach Paper Museum

On the occasion of the 3rd "The Watermark Route" meeting, Perini Journal takes us to discover a unique papermill/museum near Cologne.

Text and Photographs by Giorgio Perini

The history of the first paper mills of Bergisch Gladbach dates back to 1582. These paper mills were founded by a company headquartered in nearby Cologne and began their activities by producing printing papers destined for the many publishing houses in Cologne, for which the city was at that time famous. The Dombach paper mill, which today hosts an interesting paper museum, was the third mill to receive production certification in 1614. The most ancient portion of today's Dombach paper mill facilities was built in 1618, but extension and renovation continued through into the next centuries. In 1750 two different companies were headquartered at the mill, remaining here for the next 100 years, as the two surviving water wheels testify.

Around 1810, one of the two proprietors built a second paper mill about 200 meters east of the existing one. The mill owners and their families lived in a building adjacent to the old mill which later became today's museum. In 1834 the new and the old paper mills returned into the hands of a sole owner, becoming a large company, and many of the machines used back then are contained in this area of today's museum. In 1876 the Zanders Company bought the entire complex and transformed the old Dombach in residential quarters for the company's employees.

The old mill later became obsolete and in 1900 production here was stopped. In 1930 paper production completely stopped throughout the mill. In 1987 Zanders donated the complex to the regional association Landschaftsverband Rheinland. After much restoration work, the present day museum was inaugurated in 1999.

WE START OUR TOUR OF THE MUSEUM'S 21 ROOMS, EACH OF COURSE, CONTAINING DIFFERENT TYPES OF PAPER IN DOZENS OF SHAPES AND COLORS. But what is important is not the shape or the color, but the use of paper during these last 200 years of history. And this is actually the leitmotif of the museum itself. We start with the most simple and elementary uses, and then pass on to describe the history of writing and printing. A portion of the museum is also reserved for the origins of paper, cellulose, trees and wood processing.

Another portion allows us to understand and to actually hear modern paper machines at work inside a mill. Yet another area shows us some sections of machines used to prepare the pulp and one even contains ancient moulds used to make the watermarks. In the last rooms of this interesting museum, we find "modern" paper and the different forms of packaging that are so common to our modern lives: milk cartons, cookie boxes, CD packages, etc. The choice of the succession of rooms in this museum is very interesting. Very creative is a room furnished like an actual bathroom, where behind a plexiglass panel fixed to the wall, an incredible series of different colored toilet rolls bearing a motley collection of patterns is on show. Visitors to the museum acquire a precise knowledge of the history and of the use of paper from the very beginning up to our day. A cafeteria, museum shop and the museum offices complete the grounds. About 200 meters away there is the building where the original machines for paper production are stored, a wire, a dryer and a portion of a converting line. In front of each of these machines, a small monitor illustrates their functioning. Our tour exits at the long, narrow road that unwinds between one building and the other. Eucalyptus, pines and other trees commonly used for paper production grow along this trail. And what better ending to such an interesting tour than a quick stop at the museum's gift shop to purchase a souvenir of this ancient paper mill and museum.


The third and last seminar relative to "The Watermark Route Project" was held in Cologne, Germany, on 26, 27 and 28 April of this year. And the route has been long and interesting since that first seminar back on October 20, 2000 in Barcelona. And numerous new European partners have looked at this project with growing attention.

The leitmotif of this last appointment was: "Cooperation between Museums and the industry." Several proposals and future forms of cooperation were presented, from the most elementary ones intended as simple sponsorships to actual technical and scientific collaboration. Many have been the interventions by museum directors and technicians. Other themes treated concerned the preservation and the diffusion of the European cultural heritage, the promotion of museums and of the history of paper and paper mills in Europe. But also cultural and tourist promotion of those countries and cities that have paper museums, the development and the organization of visiting tours. The more technological promotional channels were also treated, such as the creation of web sites for these ancient paper mills. The collaboration among museum professionals and historians for the attainment of a "quality certificate" for hand-made paper and the creation of a "European Quality Label". Many were also the "new entries" at this seminar; the representatives of museums and industries from countries that were not present at the previous meetings were met with great enthusiasm by the partners of the Watermark Route. For Austria, there was Sonja Epinger of the Paper & Print Museum, for Belgium Jos de Gelas of the Herisem Papermill. For Germany, Magdalene Christ of the Stiftung ZandersPapiergeschichtliche Sammlung, Dr. Dorothea Eimert of the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum and Papiermuseum, Gregor-Andreas Geiger of the Verband Deutscher Papierfabriken and V.Christel Hess of the Landesmuseum für Tecnik un Arbeit and also Dr.Frieder Schmidt of the Papierhistorische Sammlung des Deutschen Buch. For Greece, Marino Vlessas (paper+papermaking), for Norway Eyvind Bagle of the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo, for Sweden Sunny Holm and Magdalena Tafvelin of the Tekniska Museet in Stockholm and for Switzerland Dr. Martin Kluge of the Basler Papiermühle in Basel.

This last meeting was held in part at the Alte Dombach Papiermühle Museum and in part at the Duren Paper Museum in the tranquil city of Duren. The Duren Paper Museum is located nearby and is part of the Leopold-Hoesch Museum. Since 1986 these two museums have hosted exhibitions dedicated to artists who use paper as raw material. Duren has always been considered a paper center, due to the many paper mills present in the area, but today it has also come to be known as the "paper art" city, very much appreciated in international art circles. Inside the museum, videos, giant screens and continuous films bring us back to the past, making us re-live the history, production and use of paper up to the present day.

This was surely the last appointment of prestigious project called "The Watermark Route". But it marks only the beginning of a new story, new projects, new meetings and new ideas just waiting to be told on ... "paper sheets".

Perini Journal

Login or Register to publish a comment