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Ella Kappenberg

(b. 24 March 1897 in Halle/Saale; d. 4 September 1988 in Lilienthal near Bremen)

Ella Kappenberg founded the Volkshochschule (adult education centre) in Bremerhaven in 1947 and served as its director until 1956. She was one of the few women in post-war Germany to hold a leading function in adult education.

Having studied philosophy, German and history in Munich and Jena, the daughter of a bank clerk carried out her practice teaching in Magdeburg. In 1929 she took up a teaching post at the Bremerhaven Lyzeum (secondary school for girls). In 1941, when that school was closed, she entered employment at the girls’ grammar school in Geestemünde.

During the National Socialist period, Ella Kappenberg managed to withstand pressure to join the Nazi party. She was repeatedly informed on for voicing anti-system sentiments, and escaped imminent arrest in March 1945 only because of the regime’s general state of dissolution shortly before the war’s end.

In 1947 Ella Kappenberg was appointed director of the Theodor-Storm-Schule. At the same time, the head of the schools department called upon her to found a Volkshochschule (VHS). She took on this task, investing the same energy, expertise and power of persuasion into the school’s founding as she did into its direction later on. She succeeded in recruiting teachers from near and far, and in enriching cultural life in Bremerhaven.

Ella Kappenberg played a decisive role in helping the VHS survive the currency reform and exerted a lasting influence on the programme in the initial years. During that period, the areas of literature, art, music and theatre as well as philosophy were especially prevalent at the school. By the winter semester of 1955/56 – Ella Kappenberg’s final semester – the Bremerhaven VHS had registered 40,000 course participants in the areas of general education and vocational training.

Annette Lustig