The story begins with “House Number 1”. This is what archaeologists called the remains they found in 2003 during excavations in what is now the museum’s inner courtyard: it is one of the oldest houses in Ravensburg. Built around 1050, it belonged to a small, growing settlement in the shadow of Ravensburg Castle on the Veitsberg. The Guelphs, one of the most influential noble families in Swabia, built a central seat of power here from the middle of the 11th century. Below the castle they laid the foundations for the development of the town of the same name. Located on an important trade route, the settlement attracted craftsmen and merchants. Ravensburg had a market as early as 1152, and became a free imperial city in 1274.
The fragments of the stone plinth have been relocated to the exhibition area. Also on display are leather remnants and parts found in the clay soil around the house, as well as an awl made of bone. The finds prove that the building, which was constructed to a high quality, housed the workshop of a leather craftsman.
In this early period, finds and material remains are the only sources; there are no written records. Therefore, nothing is known about the name, the origin, the family or other members of the household.
As co-founders of the “Große Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft”, or Great Ravensburg Trading Company, the Humpis family left its mark on the history of the imperial city of Ravensburg in the late Middle Ages.
For around 150 years the Große Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft was one of the most successful late medieval European merchant wholesalers from around 1380 until its dissolution in 1530. Its best-selling exports were Upper Swabian linen and fustian, a mixed fabric comprising linen and cotton. In addition, the company traded in goods and spices from the Orient and the Mediterranean, but also from the Baltic states, through its 13 suboffices throughout Europe.
The spacious parlour, with its vaulted ceiling and wall panelling in black wood and its representative bay window, was the main living room of Hans Humpis and his wife Ursula.
It also contained the only tiled stove in the entire building. This is where they conducted correspondence, received guests and ate their meals, which were prepared in the kitchen next door.
As a merchant, Hans Humpis contributed to the economic success of the trading company, and as a city councillor who was elected to the office of mayor for six one-year terms between 1479 and 1500, he helped shape the politics of the city.
In 1484, during Hans Humpis’ lifetime, the first systematic witch hunt in Germany took place, triggered by the sermons of the Dominican monk Heinrich Kramer, known as Institoris, the author of the "Hexenhammer" (“Witch’s Hammer”). In the resulting trials, many Ravensburg women were prosecuted before the municipal court. Two of them, Anna von Mindelheim and Agnes Baderin, were sentenced to death by the city council.
It is unknown whether Hans Humpis believed in the effect of harmful magic and the actual power of the women suspected of being witches. But his will and numerous charitable donations show that he was concerned about the salvation of his soul and wanted to be remembered by the city community even after his death.
The Wucherer family of tanners takes you back to Ravensburg in the 18th century. The period was characterised by religious parity and tolerance, as well as increasing attempts by the authorities to impose regulations, embodied in 400 so-called “police ordinances” issued by the city council. Stagnation in some trades and emerging entrepreneurship in others led to breaks and changes in the self-image of the guild-organised society, but also to new social and intra-familial conflicts.
Maria Magdalena Wucherer, née Keckin, the daughter of a master tailor, was a good match as the heiress to the house on Marktstraße 45. In 1716 she married a tanner, who established an alum tannery in the building. After his death in 1747, Maria Magdalena Wucherer continued the business and passed it in to her younger son Johannes in 1756. In 1754 she obtained permission from the council for the older son, Melchior, to practise the bark tanning trade. She divided the building between the two sons. And that’s where the trouble began... The audio guide of the tour tells you how the disputes between the sons developed, and how different circumstances could be within just one house. One of the pits used by the bark tanner Melchior Wucherer was discovered during archaeological investigations of the quarter’s inner courtyard. It has been rebuilt in the attic of Marktstraße 45.
Crafts and trade have been the pillar of the city’s economy since the Middle Ages. Textile production and processing was an important craft in Ravensburg over the centuries. Textiles and textile production played a part in the upswing of regional and long-distant trade, especially due to their importance as export goods, and also in the emergence of textile processing factories and industrial companies on the threshold of the modern age.
The 19th century brought profound political and social upheavals, for example with mediatisation and the revolution of 1848/49. In the 1830s, industrialisation began in Ravensburg, by now an administrative city in Württemberg, with the first mechanised spinning mills and weaving mills, which picked up speed with the completion of the Ulm-Ravensburg-Friedrichshafen railway line in 1850. Following the dissolution of the guilds and societies, the 19th century also became a century in which associations flourished in Ravensburg.
The Humpisstuben innkeeper and brewer Gottfried Rösch represents the age of industrialisation. His pub at Marktstraße 47, which opened in 1842, had a restaurant and beer hall on the ground floor and a dining room and meeting place for the city’s dignitaries upstairs.
The works of the Ravensburg lithographer Josef Bayer are an important source for the mid-19th century. He also provided the best-known depiction of the so-called Ravensburg Hütekindermarkt. This practice of using children as seasonal labourers in the agricultural sector of Upper Swabia, which increasingly was viewed critically in bourgeois circles in the 19th century, sheds light on the social inequalities in society: factory workers, day labourers, servants, migrant workers – and vagrants – and the upwardly mobile, status-conscious citizens.
The museum continues to grow, in both digital and analogue form – Ravensburg in the 20th and 21st centuries
In the entrance area of the museum, an overview of Ravensburg's history in the 20th century is presented by means of 16 selected exhibits and a film station.
This era is expanded constantly with temporary exhibitions. Some topics have already been developed that are still waiting to be integrated into the permanent exhibition, such as on the First World War in 2014/15 or – in 2018/19 – on the so-called guest workers who came to Ravensburg in the 1960s and 70s. In 2021, an exhibition will be dedicated to National Socialism and the exclusion and persecution of Ravensburg's Sinti.