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A Short History of Witten

A Short History of Witten

Public records first mention Witten as a place name in 1214. However, there is also evidence going back to the year 851 for Herbede, which was to be incorporated into Witten in 1975. Awarded its own municipal rights in 1825, Witten has belonged to the Ennepe-Ruhr District since that local government reorganisation in the 1970s.

Strangers to Witten find it difficult to believe that this green town on the banks of the Ruhr also ranks as the „cradle of Ruhr industry“. Legend has it that, one day, a long time ago, a swineherd became fascinated by stones glowing in his campfire down Muttental way (Mutten Valley).

Yes, he had discovered coal, the economic significance of which was to make Witten a hub of the Ruhr mining industry by the mid 19th century. Today, Witten is a town full of contrast — topographically a little uneven, perhaps, but all the more interesting for it.

A medium-sized town which gives you a sense of the woodland countryside leading to the Bergische Land or the Sauerland but which also lies in the immediate vicinity of big cities such as Dortmund and Bochum. Either way, Witten with just under 100,000 inhabitants is the largest town in the Ennepe-Ruhr District.

Sightseeing attractions are …
Hohenstein Park with deer and boar enclosures, pets corner, sunbathing lawns, playing fields, nature trail and viewing tower high above the River Ruhr. The old hotel is currently under reconstruction, by the way. Lake Kemnade for boat trips, yacht & pedal boat hire, beach bar, places to eat and a swimming centre with open-air pool. Zeche Nachtigall (or Nightingale Colliery) and the Muttental Mining Trail (with a mine you can go down) combine as one anchor-point along the Industrial Heritage Route.

The Märkische Museum houses a unique collection of 20th century German paintings and graphic art. Plus a hoisting gear museum and other museums featuring the early history of mining in the Ruhr.

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A Short History of Barking and Dagenham

A Short History of Barking and Dagenham

The history of how Barking & Dagenham came to be settled can be traced back to the Stone Age. Also, both towns are on record as the very earliest Anglo-Saxon settlements in the County of Essex.

However, the area as a whole first become known under the Normans in the 11th century – when William the Conqueror set up quarters in Barking Abbey until the Tower in London was ready to move into. Founded in 666, Barking Abbey was the largest and one of the first Benedictine nunneries in Britannia.

But as a result of the persecution of the Catholic Church by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the nuns were expelled and the cloisters destroyed.

Agriculture played an important role in this part of today’s Greater London. The extensive landholdings in Barking were mainly used for cattle and sheep rearing whereas the Dagenham area was divided into smallholdings, the fertile soil ideal for mixed farming based on wheat, fruit, vegetables and potatoes.

From the 14th century through to the second half of the 19th century, fishing was the main trading activity. Plentiful catches from Barking Bay even supplied the market in London. It was also here that ships belonging to the Royal Fleet were repaired and maintained. The fishing business finally went into decline as the rapid development of the railways made access to East Coast seaports quicker.

The foundations for industrialisation in the area were made in 1887 when entrepreneur Samuel Williams began to convert the Dagenham waterfront into a major harbour complex. Also, between 1929 and 1931, the Ford Motor Company built production facilities there, a plant that as late as 1994 still employed a workforce of 9,000.

Today, since a series of rationalisation schemes and production outsourcing (globalisation), the Ford works here have lost their significance. Yet despite the job losses in large-scale industry, the population n Barking & Dagenham continues to grow. Incidentally, although the density of the population is more compact – at least compared to Witten – most of the inhabitants still live in terraced houses. None of the other 32 boroughs in Greater London have so many small houses.

Photos: Old Dagenham, impressions of Barking

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The Witten Time Capsule

The Witten Time Capsule


The group of travellers from Barking & Dagenham who came to visit Witten in 1999 had an unusual present in their luggage: a time capsule. The English section of the Barking & Dagenham / Witten Club were thus exporting a very British tradition to the Ruhr. Rather like the metal tubes that are placed in the foundation stores of larger buildings in Germany, these capsules contain contemporary artefacts such as recent coins or the newspapers of the day. Not that they remain hidden in the wall for an unspecified number of years until somebody accidentally stumbles on them. No, their reappearance is carefully scheduled, often for a hundred years later.In this case, the metal tube that Len Collins, the President of the Club’s English section, presented for safekeeping to Klaus Lohmann, the then Mayor of Witten, and Rolf Ostermann, the President of the Club’s German section, will not disappear behind brick and mortar but be kept in a display cabinet at Witten Town Hall for everyone to see. The case has three locks with Messrs Collins, Lohmann and Ostermann each in possession of one key.

Those locks are to stay shut until 2029 – i.e. fifty years after the signing of the Twinning Agreement between Witten and Dagenham. The capsule will be reopened and, after the contents have been updated, sealed for another half century.

For the time being, Barking & Dagenham have contributed seven photos of significant twinning events to the capsule plus a club membership card, a street map, a city video and various coins and newspapers. For its part, Witten has also contributed a city video, a panorama photo taken by Davide Bentivoglio from the top of the Helena Tower in tribute to a picture dating from 1885, a piece of coal from the former mining territory of Mutten Valley and a photo of the capsule being handed over.

In October 2000, the Witten section repaid the compliment with a time capsule for Barking & Dagenham (see photo). The actual design of the capsule also has a symbolic effect. Shaped like a bulb, it recalls the Onion Festival, now Witten’s foremost traditional fair but originally a commercial market in its own right. The Witten artist Lutz Quambusch used sheet copper for the design. Other contents chosen by the club’s „archivists“ and scheduled for a Wiedersehen in thirty years time included: a documentary about Witten filmed in 2000, Arthur Durrant’s history of the twinning scheme and the City of Witten’s website copied onto a CD.

Photo: Time capsule presentation in Barking & Dagenham in 2000



Several members of the Barking & Dagenham Club in Witten meet once a month to brush up their English. For over three years now, eight to ten Witteners (whose school English goes back a good few years!) come together for an English Conversation Circle – both regulars and new recruits.

Initially, the Circle tried to meet in pubs or cafés. But various interruptions, not to mention the noise level, soon led to a rethink. The solution was easy: the meetings now take place in rotation at members‘ homes. The date is fixed for the third Friday in the month unless vacations or public holidays require a new schedule.

To check on details of the next meeting, phone Erich Bremm on 02302 48300.

Flea Market

Flea Market

Since 1998, the „twin-town flea market“ has taken place every year in the car park of the Ostermann Furniture Store, the twofold aim being to raise cash for the Twinning Fund and to provide the societies linked to Witten’s other twin towns with the opportunity to show what they do.

Each society can decide for itself whether to donate any proceeds to the Twinning Fund or simply boost their own finances.

A host of other clubs and institutions – schools, sports associations clubs, animal welfare groups and theatres (such as the independent Ruhrbühne) – regularly take part. An additional attraction comes in the form of commercial market stalls whose rent for the day also goes into the Twinning Fund.

Thus it is that every year there’s a whole lot to do, see and enjoy. Jumble and bric à brac of all kinds, a choice of new products and an appetising range of culinary delights positively invite you to take a stroll round and have a closer look. There’s also some music or sport show entertainment.

Partnerschaftsflohmarkt 2017:

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Visits from Barking to Witten

Visits from Barking to Witten

Every two years, alternating with trips from Witten to England, groups from Barking & Dagenham reciprocate and visit Witten.

The Club does it utmost to put on a varied programme for its guests from the UK. In the past, for example, we have arranged visits to any number of Witten’s sightseeing attractions – e.g. Nightingale Colliery, Hardenstein Castle ruins, Lechner Hof (a sculpture yard), Hohenstein Park and a „voyage“ on the River Ruhr courtesy off MS Schwalbe.

But there are lots to see and do in the surrounding area as well. We have taken our friends from Barking & Dagenham to other interesting places such as Düsseldorf, Wuppertal, Herdecke and Soest; visited the Botanical Gardens in Bochum; and travelled to Lake Baldeney and Villa Hügel in Essen. Not surprisingly, an outing to a brewery never seems to go amiss – the Fiege or Warstein breweries in the vicinity, for example.

Another programme item that always goes down a treat are the evening get-togethers in the Lucas Centre, the Ratskeller or in the clubhouse of the Witten Anglers‘ Association.

Schwalbefahrt and Altes Schleusenwärterhaus 2007:

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Trips to Barking & Dagenham

Trips to Barking & Dagenham

Every two years, the Witten section of the club organises a trip to Barking & Dagenham, with the offer open to non-members as well.

We usually travel by coach or mini-bus (which then remains available for use in England) to our twin town where our English friends always look after us exceptionally well. The wide and varied programme includes excursions into the surrounding area and to London or social get-togethers in the evening, also thoughtfully arranged.

Then there is the „off-programme“ free time, giving the visitors from Witten a chance to learn more about the Barking & Dagenham are and its people on a more informal basis.

Accommodation is in a local hotel or at Butler Court, the municipality’s official guesthouse with its comfortable double rooms, a common room and a kitchen in which the famous English breakfast is served.

Civic Trip to Barking and Dagenham (London), 12.-16.10.2016:

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Executive Committee

Executive Committee

The Club also has a binational steering group to which the following belong: Co-President Klaus Lohmann and Birgit Legel-Wood. According to the Club’s constitution, the Witten members of this group are honorary lifetime members of the Executive Committee.

Current committee members:

Rolf Ostermann

Vice President
Erich Bremm

Klaus Lohmann

General Manager
Werner Weis

Gisela Ocken

Deputy Treasurer
Sonja Leidemann

Committee member
Jannis Saelzer

Committee member
Julian Pier

Committee member
Uli Kuhnhenn

Susanne Träris

Barking & Dagenham /Witten-Club - Logo

About us

Coat of arms of Witten and Barking & Dagenham

About us

The Barking & Dagenham and Witten twinning arrangement is one of the oldest existing contacts between a German town and an English town. For two generations, however, municipal „foreign policy“ was left to town hall officers, sports clubs, schools, choirs and other groups.

It was only in 1995 that the Barking & Dagenham / Witten Club was founded on the German side. The English side had already set things into motion by setting up their branch of the international society a few years previously.

An exhibition dedicated to the many encounters that have taken place between groups from the two towns was one of the Club’s initial activities. Our first „Citizens Trip“ was announced as early as 1996.

The reciprocal visits swiftly established themselves. But it wasn’t just the committee officers and politicians that set off to foreign parts; it was ordinary members and other citizens. The minutes of the committee meetings confirm that, in addition to the trips, many other contacts and arrangements were made.

At a joint meeting of the Executive Committee on 15 March 1996, for example, it was decided to forge a link between the Barking & Dagenham Disabled Angling Club and the Witten Angling Club. The committee also proposed that a tree symbolising the partnership be planted in both Dagenham and Witten. The Club has taken part at the Town Twinning Jumble Sale („flea market“) from the very start. We have also attempted on several occasions to recreate in Witten a Speaker’s Corner based on the Hyde Park model … perhaps not with the greatest of success!

Members of the fire brigade and the police force have paid us a few athletic visits, sometimes by bike or sometimes just to take part at an event in Witten. We have also looked after various political party delegations and the Redbridge Football Club during their visits to this part of the world.

If a full English-language course for the Witten members could only maintain momentum for two years, the English Conversation Circle (which was initiated at the same time) has been meeting for five years.


Barking & Dagenham Witten Club e.V.
Fredi-Ostermann-Straße 1
58454 Witten