The Fallen Girls house in Lauterbach

In 1972, Sigrid and Werner Krauss created “Haus am Kirschberg” out of an empty hotel. The project was new and unique in Germany.

This is what “Haus am Kirschberg” looked like when it was converted from a hotel into a home for mother and child. Photo: Haus am Kirschberg / Archive

Lauterbach—Strictly speaking, it was a coincidence that Sigrid and Werner Krause bought the empty “Haus am Kirschberg” in 1972. It was there, it was affordable, and it was well suited to running an innovative home intended to give single mothers and their children a temporary home, a place to live and educate Equal, life support, future prospects. Through what was a highly innovative idea at the time, which was not initially considered in good faith everywhere, an important institution in the Homeschooling and Youth Welfare Network was developed not only in Vogelsberg, but throughout the country – a path worth exploring on the occasion of 50th anniversary of the existence of the “Haus am Kirschberg” which will be seen and served as a youth care facility.

They were called “fallen girls” or “illegitimate mothers” and had no opportunities or support in West German society in the 1960s. Their daily lives – especially in the urban environment – were often characterized by hardship and dependency, with living and working situations that did not make it possible to nurture and educate their children in such a way that a viable perspective could develop for both – mother and child. Adoption or public education, i.e., home placement, was a social consensus. This was the experience of the spouses Sigrid and Werner Krause, who at that time already ran a private home for children in the Rhine-Main region. Many children cared for by single mothers were abandoned out of sheer necessity, and separated from the mother, the upbringing at home often created additional emotional problems that had an impact on the formation of early childhood. The result was that these children also could not give their children what was necessary for healthy development. This created a vicious cycle that continued for generations.

Sigrid and Werner Krauss wanted to break this vicious cycle, and we were able to raise so much money with an unusual fundraiser at the time that we were able to push “Haus am Kirschberg”. To this end, in 1967 they founded the “Help for the Abandoned Child eV” association. Donations arrived from all over Germany – a sign that many people had already recognized the plight of the young women and their children and took them seriously. However, it took five years of preparation and five years of fundraising before the idea could be implemented, which was finally done in Lauterbach.

The concept of “Haus am Kirschberg” was also developed during this time: a mother and child home where women would experience protection, security, care and support. They should feel valued and have a chance to live an independent life with their children. Bodo Kester, the old managing director of “Haus am Kirschberg” and the Krauss family companion of the Krauss family, remembers from the founding of the association, at that time still doing community service. He knows how brave this decision was: despite the high level of donations and appreciation associated with the new idea, the early years were marked by great uncertainty for operators, because the legislation has not yet established a framework for financing such an offer. The association acted as a sponsor, but the financial resources, which still come largely today from donations, were initially used after the property was purchased. The referring bodies were often youth welfare offices from cities all over Germany. Kester remembers that the fact that the house could have been kept alive at the time, despite loan commitments, operating costs and a rate of nursing care not covering the costs, was also due to everyone involved being prepared for themselves. Exploit.

With his concept, “Haus am Kirschberg” impressed the German youth welfare scene, gaining increasing popularity. Over the years, the house has also been financed on secure ground: the state recognized the need and donors were reliably on hand. “Without you and your support, we would not have made it through the first few years,” says Kester, who stresses the importance of donations for particularly good work at “Haus am Kirschberg.”

Indeed, new forms of education for women and their children can be developed in the first decade. “We have seen that women will only have the opportunity to lead independent lives if they have professional training and can participate in working life,” Bodo Kester says. Based on this idea, “Haus am Kirschberg” initially created its own training posts, and later cooperation with Vogelsberg companies was added. A printing press, sewing, and horticulture were operated under the leadership of the association, and there were training courses in management and home economics. “In those years, we were a recognized training company for up to 30 young people,” Kester sums up, but when state funding for this show stopped in 2010, it had to be stopped.

In addition to the establishment of the vocational training area, another need soon became apparent at Haus am Kirschberg: many young women were experiencing social, emotional and family problems. A support group was created for them at the end of the 1970s, which soon dispersed into another group with a therapeutic focus. Here, childless girls and young women with adolescent psychological problems received intensive educational care. For this purpose, “Haus am Kirschberg” has entered into a collaboration with the University of Marburg – a major step towards openness and communication, which the team at “Haus am Kirschberg” has propelled forward as a pioneer in the region in the years since. For the educational work at “Haus am Kirschberg” this also meant offering experiential education offerings, which should enhance the girls’ confidence in their abilities. Here, too, “Haus am Kirschberg” broke new ground – a skill that the house has owned for decades.

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