Stadt(t)raum Oscar Peterson Avenue


July 2020. A view of the barracks area before the excavators and cranes chased away the poor bees. Photo: MPS Studio e.V.

The MPS studio has been located on Richthofenstrasse for decades. Right next door, SABA in Villingen has written glorious industrial history. But where there is light, there is also shadow: During National Socialism, the Volksempfänger (People’s Receiver) was also built here, as well as armaments that were used in German tanks, among other things. Forced laborers were used for this purpose. After the war, the goddess SABA then quickly rose again from the ashes and helped shape the economic miracle. And without SABA there would be no MPS (Musikproduktion Schwarzwald). After the years of marching music, jazz rang out from the famous MPS studio in Richthofenstraße, often played by people with not only white skin. And this a few years after the surrender of the Nazi regime. Much is possible!

Graffiti on a defunct SABA building, July 2021. The two gentlemen depicted could be Oscar Peterson on the left, and probably HGBS (Hans-Georg Brunner-Schwer, the founder of MPS) on the right. Photo: MPS Studio e.V.

Today, only a few buildings of what was once the most important employer in the town of Villingen remain. The logo that was iconically emblazoned on the main building, a Villingen landmark, it was simply dismantled. An ensemble of buildings that had provided work, cohesion and identity for many people and their families was lost.

The SABA logo before it was taken off the roof. Photo: MPS-Studio.e.V.

Next door on the former barracks site, construction has been going on non-stop for two years. Here, not far from the building that is also home to the MPS studio, investor properties are being built in contemporary white to gray. Again, workers from mostly other countries are working on the site, living in containers. Folkloric music echoes over the weekend. The contemporary architecture will provide space for many new people and families. Modern buildings combine with historic walls. A large new neighborhood is being built at lightning speed.

It is known that a forced labor camp was also operated in the immediate vicinity of the site in order to maintain wartime production, including at SABA. Now the “Von Richthofenpark” residential area is being built where Wehrmacht units were also lined up and prepared for their deployment. On the website of “DBA Deutsche Bauwert” one reads: “The buildings are grouped around an attractive green square with a high quality of stay. The harmonious architecture and tasteful building features provide the perfect environment for people who know exactly what they want – a place of well-being in perfect harmony with its surroundings.”

The barracks area on Richthofenstrasse, the “Von Richthofenpark”, the view is now obstructed by the row houses of another construction company. Photo: MPS Studio e.V.,

The barracks were named after the famous fighter pilot back in the 1920s. Richthofen? That’s right, it was the daring Manfred von Richthofen, the “Diable Rouge”, the “Red Baron”, the aviator with the funny biplanes from the “Fathers of the Clothes” movies, who took down enemy planes from the sky in rows during the First World War, who, as he himself said, “went man-hunting”. But of course with decency. He did not simply fire into the aircraft engines, no, a passionate German fighter pilot with soldier’s honor like Richthofen killed more heroically, namely in a jerk directly into the heart! At the age of 25, already outwardly marked by the ongoing desire to hunt, he was shot down in aerial combat by an Australian adversary. A few years later, the Nazis around Hermann Göring and the eager man with strong bad breath from Braunau knew how to exploit the name Richthofen in a really professional way.

Numerous barracks were named after Richthofen, and many streets in Germany are also named after him. According to Wikipedia, Berlin Tempelhof, Detmold, Augsburg, Bremen, Günzburg, Landau, Kiel and others. Villingen is not even mentioned, nor is it known that Richthofen ever visited Villingen. Parts of the municipal council voted against the initiated renaming and demilitarization of the street name, also because some residents and companies did not want to support the whole thing. You hear arguments that new business cards and letterheads cost money. After the end of the war, what expensive sacrifice did all the residents and companies of the renamed Hermann Göring and Adolf Hitler Streets in Germany have to make?

Dreams are dreams? The future Oscar Peterson Avenue. Photo: MPS Studio e.V.

After 1945, the buildings were then occupied by the French army until the end of the Cold War and named after French generals by the liberators. Thus the Richthofen and Boelke barracks then became the Lyautey and Welfert barracks. There was a French cinema, even a French supermarket, it smelled of baguettes, maybe there was petanque on the barracks grounds – and if you had good connections, the carton of Gitanes cigarettes, the bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape or the Pernod could be bought for a ridiculous price. Maybe even the chansons of Serge Gainsbourg were heard in the barracks or danced to Dalida over a glass of red wine?

So the real estate ensemble was recently christened “Von Richthofenpark” by Deutsche Bauwert? No, this is not a joke! Were these just resourceful marketing specialists without any flair, or was there more to it than that? Oh, that’s right, noble names can still be used to inspire people in this country and, it seems, to sell real estate. Many years ago, the CSU politician Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (civil name: Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Buhl-Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg) noticed that enthusiasm was a problem when he was allowed to become Minister of Economics without ever having run a company. According to surveys, at the beginning of the protracted affair, about 70% of the population believed that he had falsified his doctoral thesis. After all, it was that Bavarian shining light, the rakish guy in the AC/DC T-shirt, the one with the gelled Falko hairdo! In the end, status symbols and outward appearances were of no use and the scientific community put an end to the spook and the tough discussions of turning a blind eye with an open letter.

The only constant thing is change (Heraclitus). This building was also once on the SABA site. It is reminiscent of the pictorial motifs of Ed Hopper. Photo: MPS Studio e.V.

So what do we want to dream about? Instead of naming the street after a bloodthirsty pilot who was shot down over 100 years ago, Richthofenstraße could be made into “Oscar-Peterson-Allee”, “Albert-Mangelsdorff-Straße” or – named after the great sound engineer from the MPS studio – “Rolf-Donner-Chaussee”! Of course, one could also dedicate a street to the founder Hans-Georg Brunner-Schwer, but that would require printing extra-long business cards, not to mention the oversized street signs. All right, so our suggestion would be “Oscar Peterson Avenue”! A street is dedicated to one of the world’s best pianists, who regularly came to Villingen for unique piano recordings, where a world-famous studio is located. Now that would be something! A society must also be measured by the way it names its streets.

For those neighbors with concerns about the extra cost of new business cards or letterhead, a crowdfunding campaign could be launched-and perhaps Flyeralarm could be enlisted as a major sponsor. Where there is a will….

Dream again!

He felt at home here in Villingen: the Canadian star pianist Oscar Peterson in the Brunner-Schwer house in 1964. Good acoustics and good food. Photo: German Hasenfratz. © MPS-Studio.e.V.