Monday, 6 February 2012

Tollé Architects, visiting a great practice in Verden, Germany

Whilst Fritz-Dieter Tollé Architektur reads like a recommendation in German (Tollé looks like the German exclamation for Great!) it does happen to be apt, as I found out on my current visit to meet up with the next generation, Sandra and Leif Tollé on mutual business.

To get to Verden, I left home at five in the morning after the first really disruptive snowfall of 2012. Fortunately, both trains and planes at Stansted were unaffected (Heathrow had cancelled over half its flights the previous day!) and I arrived in a sunny but arctic Hannover (minus 7 to minus 10 degC!), a chill that bit through even the thickest clothing.

The company itself (see http://www.arch-tolle.de/) is located in the cathedral city of Verden an der Aller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verden_an_der_Aller).

Sandra  Tollé, CEO for the recently opened Duesseldorf branch of the company,
first introduced me to her father, Fritz-Dieter Tollé, on a tour before we had our meeting. He had built up the family owned and run company from scratch 30 years ago into the thriving practice with over 55 employees to date. The company has a broad experience and impressive portfolio in city planning, industrial projects and restoration of historical buildings.

Their current building was created by sympathetically fusing a tobacco factory with a former large stabling block wih a central atrium and stairwell. The spacious interiors over several floors were tastefully decorated in large modern paintings, the occasional architectural model and a lovely display of old survey instruments.

One striking feature was the polite and friendly greetings by any of the staff who passed us by or who we met on the tour, an atmosphere that was borne out by the low staff turnover, with many being longstanding employees.

A constructive business meeting exploring mutual interests and opportunities with Sandra followed before we finished for the day and I explored the city.

Twinned with another historic city, Warwick, Verden has a picturesque pedestrianized and quaintly cobbled city centre, dominated by the romanic (pre-gothic) cathedral at one end and a Rathaus with a lovely 15 bell hourly chime at the other, which plays a familiar German lullaby (Der Mond ist aufgegangen - The moon has risen).

Walking around the city centre, Leif Tollé, Sandra's husband, revealed a deep knowledge of the city history. This included a famous massacre of 4500 heathen Saxons by Charlemagne. It also used to have a wall built right through the middle of the city to separate the secular hoi polloi from the elevated bishopric, resulting in a lucrative toll on churchgoers on Sundays; a situation only alleviated when the town was unified when taken over by the Swedish crown.

I felt quite at home in a city that was situated in an equally flat countryside to the Fens, doubly so when it turned out that there was a long tradition of links to England through the Hanoverians PLUS  a love of horses, reminiscent of Cambridge's neighbouring towns of Newmarket and Huntingdon.

I'm looking forward to another set of interesting meetings here tomorrow.

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