Helios (electrical engineering company)

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Helios AG
legal form Corporation
founding 1882
resolution 1904 Takeover by AEG.
1930 Factory closure
Reason for dissolution liquidation
Seat Cologne - Ehrenfeld , Germany
Number of employees 2300
Branch Electrical engineering

Former workshop of Helios AG with lighthouse in Cologne-Ehrenfeld

The Helios AG for electric light and telegraph plant was founded in 1882, companies from the pioneering days of Electrical Engineering . The company headquarters and production site was the then industrial city of Ehrenfeld , which was incorporated into Cologne in 1888 . By implementing numerous inventions for the first time, Helios AG made a significant contribution to the electrification of industry, transport technology and public space throughout Europe . Nevertheless, economic difficulties led to the takeover by the Berliner Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft ( AEG ), which liquidated the company from 1905 .

The former administration building Helioshaus , the former production halls and the former company emblem , a 44 meter high lighthouse for experiments and demonstrations, then went through an eventful history and today form one of the best preserved industrial monuments in Cologne. The  lighthouse called Heliosturm was no longer maintained after Helios AG went out. In 1996 it received a new lamp house as part of a reconstruction . The tower, which never had a function as a navigation mark , has since shone again with a weak permanent light over Ehrenfeld as a landmark and reminder of a lost industry.

History of the Helioswerke

In 1870 the company for electric light and telegraph construction Barthel Berghausen und Cie was founded in the then still independent industrial town of Ehrenfeld . From this, Helios AG emerged on July 31, 1884. The factory location at Venloer Strasse No. 387-389 was also chosen because of its proximity to the horse-drawn railway line to Cologne and the Ehrenfeld train station on the Cologne-Aachen railway line .

The Helioswerk, named after the Greek god of the sun , was one of the most innovative companies of its kind around the turn of the century. Complete power plants were produced with the then new alternating current system, which were put into operation across Europe. In doing so, Helios used a business model that had already been successfully practiced by AEG : Electricity companies to be founded were offered a stake if they committed to accepting Helios AG's systems and machines. The products exported to Europe and the world also included generators , transformers , incandescent lamps and lighting technology for public spaces. The product range also included the construction of beacons and towers. So Helios equipped the systems on Borkum ( small lighthouse Borkum ), Sylt ( Kampen ), Wangerooge and the lights of the Weser estuary, as well as the sea signal technology of the Kiel Canal .

The Helioswerke also built and equipped electric trams that were sold throughout Germany and Europe. There was a test circuit for these vehicles on the premises of the plant, which - depending on requirements - could be operated with alternating or direct current . In 1891 the company was represented with a booth at the historically significant International Electrotechnical Exhibition .

After the turn of the century, a waning demand and the loss-making acquisition of the Berliner Bank für electrical industry in 1899 meant that Helios AG finally became a restructuring case: Siemens and AEG joined the company in 1904, but from 1905 onwards the liquidation of the Operate company. The gates of the plant were finally closed with the end of liquidation in 1930.

The company, with up to 2000 employees, has set up 23 power plants and six tram networks in Germany alone. It had a decisive influence on the development of power plant technology as well as on the electrification of public lighting and traffic technology.

Motor vehicle production

In 1903 Helios acquired from the motor truck factory Rudolf Hagen & Cie. GmbH from Cologne the patents and manufacturing facilities for passenger cars . A model with a two-cylinder engine and 10 hp and two models with a four-cylinder engine and 20 and 40 hp were produced. In addition, trucks and electric buses were created . Motor vehicle production ended in 1906.


Lighthouse with base building, on the left the old workshop

Today's lighthouse replaced a first, less representative test and demonstration system for beacons three years after the factory went into operation. Its 12 meter high base building, built in the historicist style, has a square floor plan and was placed at the north-western corner of the large workshop. Originally it had a large label with the company name "Helios Elektricitäts Akt. Ges." . The actual red brick tower stands on top of it. It is round and tapers towards the top. The shaft carries a platform projecting on consoles, on which an experimental beacon was located until the Second World War. In 1996, the lamp house was restored with an iron / glass construction based on the original and equipped with glare-free permanent lighting, but without any optics. An iron point serves as a lightning rod . In today's street layout, the tower is on Heliosstrasse, which borders the former Helios site to the northwest. The tower stands since 1986 under monument protection .

It can be assumed that the Ehrenfeld lighthouse was designed as an eye-catcher and landmark of Helios AG in addition to its technical function. The construction and equipping of lighthouses and fires was a branch of the Helios AG. The red sand , Borkum , Kampen and Wangerooge beacons were implemented with their technology . The entire sea signal technology for the Kiel Canal , consisting of 20 beacons, also came from Cologne-Ehrenfeld. The tower still lives up to the idea of ​​a landmark - it impressively reminds the Ehrenfelder of the time of the 19th century, when the suburb of that time was shaped by large industrial companies.

In addition to the Moritzburg lighthouse and the New Lindau lighthouse , the Heliosturm is one of the few inland lighthouses in Germany. A function for inland navigation on the Rhine six kilometers away , which is often jokingly attributed to the tower, cannot be proven.

The Heliosturm is not open to the public. Since 2001 it has been equipped with an antenna system once a year by radio amateurs as part of the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend . Under the international lighthouse designation FED-107 and the call sign DE0011, the tower is then connected to over 300 participating beacons around the world. In January 2008 the Cologne artists Till Nachtmann and Stefan Silies showed their light installation “Gespinsterturm” in the light house of the Heliosturm.

Administration building

The administration building of Helios AG at Venloer Straße 389 is largely preserved in its original condition. The representative building with its arched brick facade gives an idea that international business partners once came and went here. Particularly striking is the classical style staircase with cast-iron staircases and railings that are decorated with floral elements. The stairwell forms the center of the building - all levels and wings branch off from its surrounding galleries. It is spanned by a roof made of glass and steel through which light can penetrate. As a concession to the present day, a glass elevator was installed in one corner. In addition to the ground floor, the administration building has three and a half floors. This contained the departments for the construction of power plants and railways, liaison offices for external branches as well as the cash desk and rooms for the management of the company.

The exterior of the building still bears the letters Helioshaus and Cölner Industrie Werke . This GmbH had already taken over ownership of the factory premises in 1907 and rented it out to various companies. Today, numerous medical practices and a pharmacy are housed in the building. It is occasionally used as a location for film and television productions.


View into the first assembly hall of the Helios plant. In the background the company's first steam engine, coupled with one of the oldest alternating current machines. Anchors are wrapped in the foreground . At the top right is a gallery of light bulbs that were used to test the machines. The electric DC crane is supplied with an overhead line .

The first Helios AG workshop in 1882 comprised only a few buildings, the long side of which later formed the transverse front of the factory hall built in the following years. It was the birthplace of numerous world novelties in the field of electrical engineering . These initially made it possible to supply the factory with light and drive energy, so that they also served as test setups, production equipment and the technological basis for the actual products of Helios AG. The following were used and in some cases developed in-house:

  • the world's first slow-running dynamo machines,
  • the first alternating current generators
  • the first transformers manufactured in Germany,
  • a development and demonstration system for the technology of parallel connection for AC operation in lighting systems.

The workshop also had Europe's first electric crane. It was operated with a DC motor.

The right half of the main nave of the large workshop

The large assembly hall, completed in 1885, had a multi-aisle construction. The main nave was divided into two large main halls. There were separate areas for the assembly of large machines, sheet metal processing, armature winding , a turning shop with a drilling bench, a joinery, mechanical workshops as well as a separate power station with two large Helios three-phase machines, each with an output of 250  hp . An in-house foundry made it possible to manufacture smaller iron castings as well as all brass and gunmetal requirements in-house. Above the aisles there were larger rooms for the large-scale production of electrical components and apparatus, including a dedicated workshop for the assembly of control panels.

During and after the liquidation of Helios AG, parts of the building were rented to other companies, for example automobiles and their engines were built and repaired.


In 1911 the automobile and aviation pioneer Arthur Delfosse took over the Helios works to have engines and the small Helios car manufactured there. But in 1927 his company had to close. The enthusiastic cycling fan then decided to convert the large machine hall into an event hall with a cycling track. Delfosse rented this Rhineland hall for 120,000 Reichsmarks to Sporthallen-Betriebs GmbH. He used the money to cover the interest on a mortgage he had taken out for the renovation.

On October 10, 1928, the Rheinlandhalle was opened with the event "Colorful cuts through Cologne's sport". At that time there were imposing entrance buildings facing the Gürtelstrasse , which no longer exist today. A few weeks later, on November 2nd, the starting signal for the first Cologne six-day race followed . The Cologne local heroes Gottfried Hürtgen and Viktor Rausch won , and Willi Ostermann wrote: "That was a spurt, that was a feeling, long live frenzy, long live Hürtgen!" The 166.66 meter long cycle race track itself was built by Clemens Schürmann . The Cologne cyclist Albert Richter celebrated great successes in the Rheinlandhalle. A memorial plaque on the building now commemorates the athlete who died in Nazi custody under unexplained circumstances.

In addition to weekly cycling races, other sporting events and carnival meetings were held in the hall. There were high-class boxing matches, for example with the ring heroes Hein Müller, Hein Domgörgen or Jupp Besselmann and artistic riding shows with Cilly Feindt or large music events. Due to its size, which is unique in Cologne, it also served as a location for propaganda and election campaign events of the NSDAP . This is where Adolf Hitler made his first appearance in Cologne on August 18, 1930 in front of 10,000 spectators on the occasion of the upcoming Reichstag election.

Because of the high rent, however, the tenants changed several times; only the six-day race turned in a profit. Therefore, it hit the tenants of the hall all the harder that in 1934 new rules for six-day races came into force, after which interest in them came to a standstill. Shortly after the seizure of power, the name of the Rheinlandhalle was changed to “Adolf-Hitler-Halle”, but this name change was reversed in autumn 1933. During the war, the Rheinlandhalle was badly damaged and the cycle track itself was completely destroyed. After the war there was a "motor vehicle depot" for the German Federal Railroad.

Smaller workshop, which has since been demolished, was used as a shop for Italian groceries until 2014

First German supermarket

On September 26, 1957, the entrepreneur Herbert Eklöh opened the first supermarket in Germany on 2,000 square meters in the Rheinlandhalle , also referred to in some sources as the first supermarket in Europe . In the first year he had a turnover of 9.2 million DM with this business idea  and opened a total of 24 supermarkets in a very short time, which he sold in 1958 to a consortium of department store groups Karstadt , Hertie , Kaufhof and Horten . The supermarket in the Rhineland Hall was taken over by the Cologne consumer cooperative , which operated its supermarkets under the name "Co op" from 1967 after the establishment of the Federation of German Consumer Cooperatives (BdK) and became part of the new co op AG in 1972 .

The building complex was later used to house additional supermarkets, hardware stores and small businesses. In the meantime, modernized and given a new glass roof, the Rheinlandhalle now houses two furniture stores, a bicycle market and a fitness center.

Rheinlandhalle and Heliosturm are part of the Ehrenfeld history trail . A board was attached to the hall as its station 32.

Current condition

Rheinlandhalle in 2016
Prepared excavation for the construction of the school, April 2019

The area of ​​the former Helioswerke is now framed by the Ehrenfeldgürtel, Vogelsanger Straße, Heliosstraße and Venloer Straße. In addition to the Helioshaus and the Rhineland Hall with the Heliosturm, there are buildings of different ages on the property, in which small businesses, retailers, studios, workshops and craft businesses are housed. Among them is the studio complex Design Quartier Ehrenfeld on Heliosstrasse, which is funded by the EU , the state and the city . and the seat of the Concerto Köln orchestra . As part of temporary use, the premises and buildings are used from Heliosstraße by a cocktail bar and a club with outdoor catering. On the Ehrenfeldgürtel, next to a fallow area , there is a modern branch of a fast food chain, followed by a single-storey mattress market and a large parking lot for visitors to the Rheinlandhalle. The area is partially polluted with pollutants .

Street food festival on the Helios site in May 2018

From 2008 the site was owned by a joint real estate company of the Bauwens group of companies and Mfi Management für Immobilien AG. The latter is the operator of many shopping malls , including the Köln-Arcaden in Köln-Kalk . The owners had announced that they wanted to build a covered shopping center on the site, incorporating the industrial architecture. While the project was being discussed controversially in local politics, a citizens' initiative was founded , which campaigns for the preservation of the grown mixture of cultural and commercial use in the old buildings as well as for the maintenance of public access to the site.

In the summer of 2012, the “workshop phase” of a procedure for public participation concluded with joint recommendations that spoke out against converting the area into a shopping center. According to this, the site is to have a small-scale structure consisting of studios, living space, owner-managed retail, cultural facilities and projects, restaurants and public spaces . The construction of two inclusive schools is also to be included as a project of the University of Cologne . In January 2013, the property owner PE Ehrenfeldgürtel GmbH , in which the Bauwens Group holds a stake, became aware of specific plans that the buildings of an Italian delicatessen trade and the Ehrenfeld Design Quarter should be demolished. The demolition and renovation of the polluted floors began in February 2014. The Underground music club was initially retained, but in 2017 also had to give way to the planned Inclusive University Schools (IUS).


  • Electricitäts-Aktiengesellschaft Köln-Ehrenfeld (ed.): Memento of a visit to Helios . Luhn, Barmen approx. 1901.3
  • Ernst Bouhs: Cologne sports hall. An illustrated book . Cologne 1967.
  • Johannes Maubach: On the trail of the old Ehrenfeld industry . Self-published, Cologne 2005
  • Werner Schäfke: Helios. A lighthouse for Ehrenfeld . Emons, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-89705-875-0 .
  • Harald H. Linz, Halwart Schrader : The International Automobile Encyclopedia . United Soft Media Verlag, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-8032-9876-8 (for motor vehicle production).
  • Walter Buschmann : Helios Electricitäts-Aktiengesellschaft in Cologne-Ehrenfeld , in: Preservation of monuments in the Rhineland, Volume 30, No. 3, 3rd quarter of 2013, Rhineland Regional Council ; Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Rhineland, ISSN  0177-2619 .

Web links

Commons : Helioswerke  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Kölner Geschichtsverein, Jahrbuch , Volume 73, 2002, p. 60
  2. List of participants 2014 on illw.net, online ( memento from February 14, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on January 29, 2015
  3. ^ A b Corina Kolbe: Germany's first supermarket: And then everyone rushed to the goods. In: Spiegel Online . September 26, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2017 .
  4. supermarket . In: Die Zeit , No. 25/1957, p. 10
  5. ^ Alfred Bosbach: 25 years of consumer cooperative work for consumers - 25 years of consumer cooperative work for consumers Chronicle of Konsumgenossenschaft Köln eGmbH . ISBN 978-3-8334-6681-6 ( kaufmann-stiftung.de [PDF]).
  6. Project website online , accessed on September 17, 2010
  7. Heribert Rösgen: Helios 37: New club in Ehrenfeld also wants to organize concerts and readings . In: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger . ( ksta.de [accessed on May 7, 2018]).
  8. Stadtrevue Verlag GmbH, info@stadtrevue.de: stadtrevue.de ★ Stackable. Retrieved May 7, 2018 .
  9. At the limit of pain - a shopping mall in Ehrenfeld? In: StadtRevue 9/2010, online ( Memento from May 9, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on December 16, 2012
  10. Market hall on the Helios site in: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger , August 3, 2010, online ( memento from September 17, 2010 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on September 16, 2010
  11. Plans for the Helios site met with protest ; www.koeln.de on September 16, 2010, online , accessed on September 16, 2010
  12. Result of workshop discussion, online (PDF) accessed on August 3, 2012
  13. 268 million for new schools , Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from March 25, 2014
  14. Underground cooperates with Bauwens , Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger online on January 23, 2013, ksta.de , accessed on January 23, 2013
  15. Excavators will soon be rolling onto the Helios site, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from January 29, 2015, page 30

Coordinates: 50 ° 57 '3.6 "  N , 6 ° 54" 50.4 "  E

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on March 4, 2006 .