For many Germans, Essen’s best-known son is Heinz Rühmann (1902–94), Germany’s greatest screen comic, whose extraordinary film career spanned the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, Cold War and post-reunification eras and whose best-loved film – the school comedy Die Feuerzangenbowle – still enjoys Rocky Horror-style cult status more than sixty years after it was first shown. For the rest of the world, however, the city’s name is synonymous with that of the Krupp family, the powerful steel-to-armaments dynasty whose rise mirrored the city’s own ascent to industrial greatness during the nineteenth century, and whose commercial genius and questionable political judgement accurately reflect the experience of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century.

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