Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff

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Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff (26 June 1916 in Kamp-Lintfort, Germany 30 September 1994 in Bochum, Germany) was a German solicitor, founder of anthroposophically oriented alternative banking, the GLS Bank, reformer of the German welfare system and inspirer of the movement for Ethical banking. [1]

Kamp-Lintfort Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Kamp-Lintfort is a town in Wesel District, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located 8 kilometres north-west of Moers.

Bochum Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Bochum is the sixth largest city of the most populous German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia after Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen and Duisburg, and its 364,920 (2016) inhabitants make it the 16th largest city of Germany. On the Ruhr Heights (Ruhrhöhen) hill chain, between the rivers Ruhr to the south and Emscher to the north, it is the second largest city of Westphalia after Dortmund, and the fourth largest city of the Ruhr after Dortmund, Essen and Duisburg. It lies at the centre of the Ruhr, Germany's largest urban area, in the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, and belongs to the region of Arnsberg. It is surrounded by the cities of Herne, Castrop-Rauxel, Dortmund, Witten, Hattingen, Essen and Gelsenkirchen. Bochum is the sixth largest and one of the southernmost cities in the Low German dialect area. There are nine institutions of higher education in the city, most notably the Ruhr University Bochum, one of the ten largest universities in Germany, and the Bochum University of Applied Sciences.

GLS Bank German ethical bank

GLS Bank is a German ethical bank that was founded in 1974 as an anthroposophical initiative by Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff and Gisela Reuther. It was the first bank in Germany that operated with an ethical philosophy. According to GLS Bank, its focus is on cultural, social and ecological initiatives, initiated by people, and not anonymous interests seeking capital or maximum profit. The name stands for Gemeinschaftsbank für Leihen und Schenken which translates as Community bank for loaning and giving. With the main focus on cultural, social and environmental ventures, GLS tries to deal with challenges in the society by developing creative solutions.



Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff was the son of a miner in the German Ruhrgebiet, where he grew up. Already at an early age, through the constant unrest in this area, he developed an interest in social and political questions, but primarily also in philosophical and spiritual ideas and ideals. The concept of transubstantiation became one of his fundamental ideals, though he understood this not in its religious-ecclesiastic sense, but rather tried to realise it in social life, in financial and banking affairs, as also in agriculture and health care.

Transubstantiation Catholic doctrine that the body and blood of Jesus are present in Eucharist

Transubstantiation is, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

He studied law in Cologne, Freiburg and Berlin, where, after completing his first state examination, he was conscripted as an officer to do military service in World War II. On the Russian Front he was badly wounded by a grenade, leading to his first out-of-body experience, something that happened on further occasions during his flight on foot from Russia back to Germany.

Cologne city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and its 1 million+ (2016) inhabitants make it the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. The largest city on the Rhine, it is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

During the war, he married Ottilie Grave from Bocholt. Their first son was born in 1945, had Down syndrome and lived for only eleven months. Later, the couple had three more sons and a daughter. After the war, on completing his articles in 1948, he became a solicitor, founding and running one of the leading law firms in Bochum. He and his wife cultivated close friendships with the artists of the Bochum Art Association.

Bocholt, Germany Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Bocholt is a city in the north-west of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, part of the district Borken. It is situated 4 km south of the border with the Netherlands. Suderwick is part of Bocholt and is situated at the border annex to Dinxperlo.

Down syndrome chromosomal disease characterized by flat-looking facial features and weak muscle tone (hypotonia) in infancy and is caused by trisomy of all or a critical portion of chromosome 21 and is associated with intellectual disability

Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, and characteristic facial features. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental ability of an 8- or 9-year-old child, but this can vary widely.

In 1956, he joined the governing board of the Rudolf Steiner School Ruhrgebiet, which was looking for a legal counsellor. The school was started contrary to the ban on founding further Waldorf schools which the Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, the German Waldorf School Federation, had attempted to impose at the time. With it began the public life of anthroposophy in the Ruhrgebiet. It was to have more students than any other Waldorf school worldwide. Amongst other things, the teacher training college, Institut für Waldorfpädagogik, was one of the initiatives it generated. In order to finance this school, Barkhoff invented the “borrowing community”, a system of solidarity, where the combining of individual financial resources enabled persons of otherwise modest financial means to gain access to substantial bank loans. With this, the basis of anthroposophical banking was born. Through his work on the board of the school, he met his future anthroposophical co-workers: Gisela Reuther, Klaus Fintelmann, Klaus Dumke, Franz Schily, Ernst Neuhöfer, Lore Schäfer, Robert Zimmermann and Wilhelm Wollborn. Gisela Reuther joined her own tax consultancy with his law offices. Through this collaboration within the credit guarantee communities, the anthroposophical banks began their work.

Anthroposophy philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner

Anthroposophy is a philosophy founded by the 19th century esotericist Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience. Followers of anthroposophy aim to develop mental faculties of spiritual discovery through a mode of thought independent of sensory experience. They also aim to present their ideas in a manner verifiable by rational discourse and specifically seek a precision and clarity in studying the spiritual world mirroring that obtained by natural historians in investigations of the physical world.

The development of these instruments of funding, as well as his talent for bringing people to work together, brought him into contact with Special Needs Education, particularly close work with Karl König and the Camphill Movement as well as the Wuppertal initiatives around Siegfried Schmock.

Special education is the practice of educating students in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, and accessible settings. These interventions are designed to help individuals with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and in their community which may not be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education.

Karl König was an Austrian paediatrician who founded the Camphill Movement, an international movement of therapeutic intentional communities for those with special needs or disabilities.

Camphill Movement

The Camphill Movement is an initiative for social change based on the principles of anthroposophy. Camphill communities are residential communities and schools that provide support for the education, employment, and daily lives of adults and children with developmental disabilities, mental health problems, or other special needs.

He soon became involved in financially securing and spreading the work of biodynamic agriculture In order to save them from the destructive hereditary division they were subject to, he invented the Non-profit Agricultural Research Company (Gemeinnützigen Landbauforschungsgesellschaften) as the holding company of the farm. He tied credit worthiness to their willingness to be “more” than simply a farming business, rather striving towards the inclusion of people with special needs, child or adult education, landscape and community development. Barkhoff wanted to create instruments for new types of human communities in order to replace the ties of blood relationships that had for many centuries determined and carried agriculture. He advised Manfred Klett and his co-workers in the establishment of the Dottenfelderhof, a rural community working to a high professional and human standard. Forming a company out of the Bauck-Höfe belonging to Nicolaus Remer and Joachim Bauck of the Bauck family, that continued to work the farm, was a more traditional version. After some time, around a hundred such organisations were established.

As banking organisations the Gemeinnützige Treuhandstelle (Charitable Trustee Agency) was founded in Hamburg in 1961, the Gemeinnützige Kreditgarantie Genossenschaft (Charitable Credit Guarantee Cooperative) in 1967 and finally the GLS Gemeinschaftsbank (GLS Community Bank) in Bochum in 1974. From 1968 onwards, Rolf Kerler joined the Barkhoff/Reuther team. Meetings with the Heidenheimer Kreis (Heidenheim Circle), a group of industrialists around Hanns Voith and Peter von Siemens dedicated to cultivating the social impulses of Rudolf Steiner, led to a co-work with the industrialist Alfred Rexroth, whose substantial donations went a long way towards securing and realising the banking initiatives.

Besides his activities within the anthroposophical scene, Barkhoff began his work with the German welfare organisations during the early 60’s. In 1961 he became chairman of the Nordrhein-Westfalen branch of the Deutscher Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverbandes (German Parity Welfare Association). At the time the Association led a kind of clandestine existence behind the state Red Cross and the confessional and political associations (Caritas, Innere Mission, Arbeiterwohlfahrt). Welfare was seen to be an affair of Church and State. Free and independent welfare was permitted to exist; initiatives and foundations that arose out of individual impulses, however, were not seen to embody the image one had of a charitable society. Today the situation has changed and they are recognised. It was Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff who was the initiator and moderator of this development. Under his leadership the regional branch of the Association grew to five times its size.

This unprecedented growth in membership was due to the Welfare Association’s involvement with the movement for the emancipation of parents of children with special needs, with student the women’s rights as also various self-help groups of a more medical nature, initiatives of the unemployed and recipients of social benefits. As a member of the national executive he represented the viewpoint at the various strategy conferences that the greatest force binding together social life arises precisely through the faith in the individual human being; that an association, which has the courage to fully entertain the competing views of its members on a conceptual and spiritual basis is not weakened but grows stronger than any ties of a common world view can provide. Through Barkhoff, the Parity Welfare Association opened itself to the transforming societal energy of the 1968 movement, which gave it a sphere of activity and new challenges. He also established a new financing instrument for the Parity Welfare Association, the Parity Financial Counseling Paritätische Geldberatung.

In 1981 Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff retired from all his business involvements, continuing to serve only as speaker, impulsator and counsellor. He travelled a great deal internationally during this time, particularly to North and South America, and was regularly invited to appear in Scandinavia.


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