What comes to mind when you think of Solingen? Knives and scissors, of course. “Made in Solingen” is synonymous worldwide with sharp blades that are still produced locally in numerous factories. In the German Knife Museum, which has made its home in the baroque monastery buildings in the Solingen suburb of Gräfrath, there is an exhibition about the history of cutting – from Stone Age knives to designer cutlery. But Gräfrath is not only about sharp edges, it is also about visionary lighting. We therefore leave edged weapons and cutlery to the side and turn our gaze to the highest point in the town.
The Gräfrath Water Tower stands at 276 m above sea level with a view over the Bergisches Land. Built in 1904, it provided the region’s drinking water supply for about 80 years. In the 1980s, the tower lost its function and was in danger of falling into disrepair. Fortunately, the internationally renowned lighting designer Johannes Dinnebier (1927-2021) became enthusiastic about the tower in its prominent location. His crazy vision: Where water was once stored, a light dome should shine. His design model was the glass dome of the Dresden Academy of Art, designed by the architect Constantin Lipsius at the end of the 19th century and which still helps to define the skyline of Dresden.
Since 1999, industrial tradition has met high-tech in Gräfrath – and today we meet Daniel Klages, who, together with his wife Jule Dinnebier, is leading the lighthouse idea into the future. Together we climb the 100 steps to the glass-domed hall.
Wow, what a view!
Yes, that’s how all the guests feel when they climb the spiral staircase through the increasingly narrow tower shaft: They begin to smile in amazement. I, too, am always thrilled by how big and bright it is up here. A special moment.
Where did you get the crazy idea to turn a water tower into a light tower?
My father-in-law Johannes Dinnebier was a visionary who liked to get excited and inspired by things. He wanted to save the tower but had no specific idea of what it could become. Instead of the water bowl, the storage vessel in the head of the tower, he had a folded glass dome erected. When my wife and I took over the project, we made the tower usable for workshops and concerts in 2009. And of course, the tower is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting technology and serves our company Dinnebier Licht GmbH as a unique showroom for our own brand of designer lights “Licht im Raum”.
The room concept demands a lot of flexibility from its users. Do you give your clients advance warning?
Yes, I tell everyone planning a workshop or presentation here to be creative. A tower like this demands a great deal from its users because of the structural and climatic specifications. But those who embark on this adventure are rewarded with a place where special ideas emerge, which offers exciting spaces for the exchange of ideas and promotes creativity. All those who have already worked here confirm this.
Can I visit the tower without attending a workshop?
There are regular volunteer guided tours that always sell out quickly. We curate a cultural programme in addition to renting out the venue and this is very well received by the guests. And of course some use it to simply take a look at the Light Tower from the inside.
And why is Solingen definitely worth a visit?
The city of Solingen is not necessarily blessed with tourist highlights. And yet: Solingen is a very green city. It lies scenically in the valley of the Wupper river and it is not far from Düsseldorf, Wuppertal and to Cologne on the Rhine. Solingen is a good example of a city in transition with a rich industrial tradition. And when you are here, the German Knife Museum is a must. After all, a piece of Solingen can be found in almost every cutlery drawer.
Daniel Klages and his wife Jule Dinnebier have been running Dinnebier Licht GmbH for many years, a lighting design company with its own lighting collection and production, taking on international design commissions for public and private buildings. Together they manage the Light Tower and open it up for workshops, events and civil weddings.
The Lichtturm Solingen [Solingen Light Tower] can be used for conferences, meetings and product presentations. There are four levels in the 17-metre-high tower shaft, which are reached via a steel spiral staircase. The glass domed hall offers space for up to 30 people. On the levels below are a lounge and a kitchen. The Light Tower can also be rented for civil weddings.
Also from a technical point of view, the Light Tower is a lighthouse project: All levels are equipped with handmade lights from the company’s own “Light in Space” collection – of course “Made in Solingen”. Together with the Vaillant company from the neighbouring town of Remscheid, a pilot project was started 15 years ago and the Light Tower was the first commercial building in the region to be equipped with a geothermal heat pump.
Text/Interview: Anke Frey, June 2023
Photos: Udo Kowalski, Ben Klages, Marc Zimmermann, Dirk Krüll