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Deutsche Schule - German School
Hillbrow, Johannesburg, Gauteng

William LECK: Architect



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26°11'30.29" S 28°02'49.02" E Alt: 1784m

Mrs Mathilde Rolfe laid the foundation stone on 4 April 1897. The school occupied the entire site, namely the block bounded by Twist, Kapteijn, Hol [later Edith Cavell] and Ockerse streets. The church was built on the Southern side of Ockerse Street. The Gymnasium was built in 1898. In the 1920s that section of Ockerse Street was closed to traffic and divided up between school and church; the former getting one third and the latter two thirds of its width. The buildings were sold when the school moved to new premises in Parktown in 1969. In 1976/77 a large building was constructed with Kindergarten, apartments for the old age home (located in Richmond), theatre (Hillbrow Theatre) and office space for the German Consulate.

Information supplied by Konrad Voges.

Note: strictly speaking, the location where the Old German School stood falls within the boundaries of the original township of Johannesburg [established in October 1886] and was known as Hospital Hill.

The suburb of Hillbrow [which gives the area under discussion its name these days] was opened up in about 1895 and comprises in the main the Northern tip, from van der Merwe Street upwards, of the original Farm Rantjeslaagte.

The German School in Johannesburg traces its roots to the year 1890 when the German missionary Hermann Kuschke, famed for having established the German-Evangelical Congregation of Johannesburg in 1888, started teaching some children at the mission station in Marshall Street.

By the year 1895 the call for a proper school had grown so strong, that a school committee had been formed which undertook to petition the government, then the Zuid-Afrikaansche-Republiek, for some stands to build a school and a church on. This was granted on October the seventeenth 1895. The area comprising the twelve stands between Kapteijn, Twist, Ockerse and Hol [later Edith Cavell] streets. After the stands - to build school and church on - had been secured in 1895. A concerted effort was made to raise the necessary funds. And when two years later the building was to be erected, the school committee was enlarged [presumably to ensnare certain persons with certain abilities to serve the cause]. One of these new members was K. F(riedrich) Wolff. Sufficient funds had been collected by 1897 to start building operations on the site – namely the first phase of the school and the parsonage. The architects responsible for the projects being W. LECK and J. KROLL respectively.

Fig 1: The invitation card to the laying of the foundation stone of the school on the fourth of April 1897 pictures an artist's impression of the new school which was eventually to hold eight classrooms. The first phase of construction, however, comprised six of them.

Fig 2: The site plan of the project.

The plan of the school in the Southwestern corner of the site (Fig 2) shows that in the first building phase only six classrooms were to be provided. At the bottom two vertical dotted lines indicate the position of the two further classrooms to be built at a later stage.

[One cannot help wondering by the size of the plan of the parsonage, also double storeyed, whether it has been shown to scale when compared to the size of the school.]

Fig 3: This then is the view of the original school building. Photo taken from the principal's report for the year 1898.

Fig 4: This is a Northerly aspect of the combined site of the German School and the German Lutheran Church situated in Hospital Hill. Photo taken some time between 1961 and 1968.

To the upper right the school building proper is shown as it looked in the end. The Southern wing was added in 1913. It turned out to be double the size as first planned. Not only did it contain the two missing classrooms, but a science laboratory was added too.

This extension was made possible by and named after the famed randlord Sir Julius Wernher who died in 1912 and had left £1000 to the school in his will.

Little is known these days about the fact that this hard fought for and fabulous school building didn't even house any German school children for more than half of it's existence – to be exact: 42 years!

During the first world war the German population of Johannesburg was under much duress – though the school did function well at first. The situation came to a head when in 1915 there occurred at the school the famous "flag incidence". Closure of the school as an institution by the authorities was the result.

The school committee, however, was able to let the school building to the Hospital Hill Primary School.

When after the war the school reopened, instead of reclaiming the building the school committee turned some facilities of the Turnhalle into classrooms. When after a considerable span of time the Hospital Hill Primary School moved into their own premises the building in turn was let to the fledgling Afrikaanse Meisies Hoër Skool, and after them to the Afrikaanse Hoër Handelsskool.

The rationale behind this curious arrangement was that the rental income was so good that they let the tenants stay and rather built extensions to the Turnhalle for the ever increasing numbers of own pupils. When the Handelsskool left in 1957 the space reclaimed in the old building was most welcome.

(Konrad Voges - 2013)


The Turnhalle - referred to as Gym/Hall in illustrations (Fig 5) was built during 1898/99.

To the left is the library, to the right the staff room, - both in time converted to classrooms.

The centenary publication of the school states that the hall was built under the direction of Messrs. K. F. Wolff and J. Ritter. The latter at that time was an elder in the German Church and was connected to the building industry. And the former? Could he have been the architect?

P.S. In that hall our wedding reception was held 59 years ago. (KV - 2013)

See also a history and old photographs of the school on their website

Related buildings:
Friedenskirche - German Lutheran Church
Deutsche Friedenskirche, Parsonage - first
Deutsche Friedenskirche, Parsonage - second

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.