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05 Industrial peat cutting

5.3.2 A forced labour referral

Forced labour in the bog

In both World Wars people (mostly prisoners of war), were deported from their native countries and forced to work in the bog.

Every season several hundred people were forced to labour in bleak terrain under the threat of violence. From dawn to dusk they cut out peat for private companies. Their life in the damp barracks of the labour camps was characterised by inadequate rations and hygiene, harassment, sickness and death.

5.4.0 Peat products  

From the aquarium to toothpaste

Peat is a raw material that can be used in many ways. It became more available from the 1830s when peat cutting was increasingly mechanised. Inventors and scholars would make tests to see how it could be used. Sometimes their experiments and studies resulted in curious products. A Peat Institute was set up in Hanover in 1911 and it gradually amassed a considerable collection. Some of this can be seen here.

Until it was closed in the 1970s the Peat Institute did research into areas of bogland before peat cutting began, as well as into peat and peat products.

5.4.1 Garden earth in a glass case

All over the place

Every year amateur gardeners in Germany use 2,500,000 m³ of peat for potting soil. In this way gigantic amounts of peat disappear into our garden plots and burial grounds.

But peat is only suitable as potting soil when it is mixed with lime and fertiliser. It is particularly popular because it is free of parasites and seeds.

5.4.2 A record in a glass case

Record

Karl Wahl from Mindelheim/Memmingen invented this record in 1953. No one knows exactly what it consists of. However it does contain peat, and was intended to be an alternative to shellac records. His experiment never went into serial production. This is a magnet record as used in the DIMAFON made by the Assman company. In the 1950s it was used to record things like phone calls.

5.4.3 Cosmetic products in a glass case

Cosmetic products

Peat for internal and external uses: a drinking cure with a promise of well-being.

5.4.4 Briquettes in a glass case

Peat briquettes

Since time immemorial people have used peat as a fuel. Around the turn of the 20th century engineers began extensive experiments with making bricks and heating materials. They predicted that the raw material would have a bright future in homes and factories. But it was unable to survive the competition from brown and black coal.

These briquettes come from Quickborn and Papenburg. They were made in the 1950s.

5.4.5 Cosmetic products in a glass case

Cosmetic products

Nowadays the addition of peat in every conceivable cosmetic product seems curious. Mud baths have established themselves because they are said to enhance people’s circulation.

5.4.6 Fibres and textiles in a glass case

Textiles made of wool grass

Experiments to make textiles from wool grass fibres mainly took place during the First World War. The fibres were spun and woven into material. But even in times of need the final product was scratchy and did not survive for long.

5.4.7 Writing paper in a glass case

Writing paper

Peat fibres for making paper were rarely successful. That said, there were a huge number of studies to see if it could be used to make paper and cardboard. As early as 1895 Karl Geige from Düsseldorf registered the first patent for making chemically pure fibres from peat. These were meant to be processed further into paper, cardboard and tissues.

5.4.8 Aquarium filters in a glass case

Peat fibres for aquarium filters

In use for domestic pets: peat fibres clean the water in aquariums. They help prevent the growth of algae and lower the pH value as well as the nitrogen content.