Heading towards future –
Alfred Rexroth’s legacy
Cultural origins: Alfred Rexroth’s legacy Just like an inheritance, a legacy should not be understood only in material terms. Rather, it also encompasses intellectual and cultural aspects. The term “heritage” is ideal, as it covers the meanings of cultural inheritance and memorial. Entrepreneur Alfred Rexroth brought together all of these threads in his legacy – the material, cultural, and the spiritual. After all, in the course of their life Rexroth and his wife actually invested all of their assets in Bochum-based working relationships connected with the founding of GLS Treuhand and GLS Bank, as well as Neuguss-Verwaltungsgesellschaft, and in this process they created a crucial material foundation for their work – which continues to this day. But beyond that basis the couple also established an approach of understanding enterprise as a cultural responsibility.
Back in the early 1960s, entrepreneur Alfred Rexroth engaged with the question of what societal responsibility arises from industrial productivity. This consideration of how industrial and creative processes collaborate led not only to Rexroth’s entrepreneurial activity in steel casting, but also his artistic endeavours in this area and the creation of many very special sculptures*. Together with his brother, Rexroth owned a steel-processing company in Lohr am Main. He also became personally acquainted with Rudolf Steiner and sought out opportunities to transfer threefolding aspects into practical life, as well as developing associative work methods. Within the Heidenheimer Kreis (Heidenheim Circle), a working group of anthroposophical entrepreneurs, he voiced his concerns with immense passion, but was dissatisfied by the (lack of) practical results. In search of a more responsive ear, he turned to Bochum-based relationships connected with Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff. The fact that the Ruhr region proved fertile ground for anthroposophy-based entrepreneurism appears paradoxical at first: heavy industry was not merely evident here; the region was known for “the sound of iron and steel, and the smell of air heavy with gases and smoke.”** But perhaps it was exactly the barren nature of this ground – conditions in which ivory towers cannot grow but where instead the basic needs of life influence thought and consequently action – which attracted Rexroth so much.
Alfred Rexroth penned the following personal commitment for this type of collaboration on 28 August 1969: The objective of “work [entrepreneurial collaboration] is to create and develop new business forms which respond to the needs of the time and which, through mutual dependence and enrichment, will benefit the whole of society.” This philosophy is founded on the idea that the purpose of economic activity is to “find a balance between company objectives, the interests of workers, and the good of society as a whole.” Here we can see a definition for the common good before the term even existed.
The Rexroths specified that after their deaths, Neuguss Verwaltungsgesellschaft should be the sole heir and that the entirety of their assets should be donated to Treuhandstelle Bochum (known today as GLS Treuhand e. V.) With the truest purpose of a bequest then, this represents the transformation of material assets to serve the common good.
*“If casting as art is difficult to learn because it incorporates irrational elements, the cast material itself as an objet d’art is in turn the result of varying forces which influence the artistic idea through the casting method, the flow of metal, and the output elements which give the object form. Styropor masks are not cut by Rexroth but shaped by a separate tool, mainly involving heated wires.” (from the exhibition catalogue, Alfred Rexroth Sculptures in the Westfalen-Blatt Art Studio). These sculptures embody the experimental world of art, while also functioning as a bridge between industrial and creative processes.
**From: Peter Busse, Es stapft und dröhnt mit dumpfem Ton – 100 Jahre Anthroposophie in Bochum [The dull sound of pounding hammers and roaring engines – 100 years of anthroposophy in Bochum]