Not everyone gets the chance to work in a castle. Lucky me! I worked for MANN + HUMMEL as an installer and production manager at their ‘Warth Castle’ site from 1968 to 1990. It really was a very special place to work – despite of all its structural and technical idiosyncrasies – and above all it had a real familial atmosphere.

The assembly of oil filter cartridges at Warth Castle began in autumn 1953, starting out with ten employees. Production was initially housed in a barn on a temporary basis, before moving to the East Wing of the castle in summer 1955. By November 1956 monthly production had risen to 30,000 oil filter cartridges and the number of staff to 24 employees. To begin with, the assembly of the cartridges was largely performed by hand: the paper bellows were glued to basic plates, which were then loaded by hand into a drying cabinet to cure the glue. The finished filters were packed into crates and shipped off to Ludwigsburg. A second shift was established in January 1960, by which time the total number of employees working at Warth Castle had grown to 56.

A young man living just 200 metres from the castle

Of course, I only heard the story of these early years from others, as I first came to the filter plant in November 1968. All the same, as a teenager I was fascinated by the site. I lived in the town of Steinberg in the shadow of the castle, located just 200 metres away. At the time, our village had as few as 500 inhabitants and the area was exceptionally poor. Most families had just one or two cows, sometimes a goat. The women worked in the fields, while the men were often away working on masonry or carpentry jobs, which were frequently a long way from home. We all knew Adolf Mann, the owner of Warth castle, by sight. He would often ride through the fields on horseback, asking the women whether they would not be happier working in his filter plant. The farmerswere not amused about that, of course, but there was little they could do about it.

I started my time at the castle as an installer. This meant that I was responsible for calibrating the machines as well as carrying out minor repairs and other tasks. At the time I arrived, production processes had just been optimised: film-gluing turntables, curing ovens and conveyor belts all came into use, which increased productivity. New procedures followed too: for instance, filter jackets were no longer glued, instead they were stitched together using industrial sewing machines and paper bellows were sealed together using metal strips.

“The stinking castle women”

Up until 1968, filter paper was still impregnated on site at Warth Castle and the material used produced a revolting odour. There were extraction systems, but these merely expelled the stench from the building. When the weather was bad, the smell would spread throughout the entire village. This smell was also deposited on the clothes, hair and skin of the women who worked on the assembly lines, earning them the impossible-to-shake title: “the stinking castle women”. I got the impression, though, that they were all prepared to put up with it. They had a job and were not badly rewarded for it considering the climate at the time. Plus, MANN+HUMMEL was always very active on a social level, offering a company health insurance fund and making pension contributions, which was totally unheard of at the time.

Small batches and plenty of manual labour

In the years that followed, the number of employees rose to 60, with production in dual shift operation churning out 300,000 cartridges. Though processes underwent constant modernisation, a great deal of the work was still done by hand. For this reason, we mainly worked with small batches of 50 to 100 pieces – larger series of 30,000 pieces were at that time something of a rarity.

We men had to help out in all departments, whether cows were calving on the farm, or with various care-taking duties such as heating ovens or clearing snow. When our female colleagues were ill, as an installer either I or the shift manager had to work on the conveyor belt. This was not such a bad thing, as it meant getting a good handle on the individual roles. This was very helpful later as it helped me to better assess the work carried out by the women.

In 1987, I took over as production manager at Warth Castle. In 1990, all of our ‘manpower’ (admittedly, the majority were women) moved over to Marklkofen. The move had been on the cards for some time – whenever there was a new building built in Marklkofen, it was always “Warth will be moving here”. But up until that point it had never happened, as the Mann family wanted to keep the production site at Warth Castle for as long as possible. It was possibly the upcoming reorganisation of the MANN+HUMMEL group, which came into effect on 1/1/1992, that proved decisive. Many employees – particularly those who were close to retirement – were apprehensive before the move, which took place during the company holiday in 1990: I certainly had a lot of meetings during that time. But it took just quarter of a year before everyone was happily settled and enjoying the benefits of the new workplace.