Oh, what a wonderful time it was!
Living in a central location? Until only recently, that meant the lowest standard of housing in the case of the ›Grabenhäusle‹. The first municipal resident buildings in Ulm have long since been renovated and are a popular photo motif.
They are a specific feature of Ulm, the so-called ›Grabenhäusle‹. During a two-stage process in 1610 and 1633, they were built in rows on the old town wall for the city soldiers, and from there looked out onto ditches belonging to the fortification. This is where they get their name since in German ›Graben‹ means ditch. Former soldiers and military widows constituted the main group of buyers when the small houses were privatised following the end of the imperial city era.
The urban poor increasingly used them as a place to gather. Those who could afford it expanded into owner self-help. Of course, this was often without permission and attracted the attention of the authorities in many cases. There were only communal toilets that had to be shared with up to 40 people from twelve cottages. At times, two families lived in one housing unit, with one unit consisting of only one corridor kitchen and two bedrooms. Until 100 years ago, it was also common practice to sublease to bed lodgers.
Poverty also became the subject of ridicule. In common parlance, these illustrious inhabitants were once dubbed ›Grabaleis‹, in other words ›Grabenläuse‹ (ditch louse).
The situation has changed completely. Now owned by the municipal housing company UWS, the 35 surviving houses were modernised in the 1980s and brought up to contemporary standards. One row ravaged by the war was even completely rebuilt in 1977. Some of the soldiers´ houses have been inhabited by the same families over several generations.
Yet the houses were romanticised at a much earlier date. A city portrait dating from 1940 used them as a motif for ›picturesque, romantic old town pictures‹. It is quite possible that today´s viewers consider them to be ciphers of the ›good old days‹.
Seelengraben, Frauengraben, Neuer Graben