HVG Germany: Hopfen

"Profiteers, Monopolists, Hop Communists!"
History of the Hop Processing Cooperative (HVG) from 1953-2003
By Dr. Christoph Pinzl / German Hop Museum Wolnzach


Cooperatives are a child of the 19th century. In their wake industrialisation and a free market economy unleashed radical social changes. On the plains the well-ordered structures of the village communities increasingly disappeared. Thus peasants who for centuries had worked to feed themselves gradually found themselves independent farmers. Production and earnings were now set by the "market". The new "agricultural entrepreneurs" now had to come to terms with its lack of transparency and its volatility. The cooperative idea tried to pick up the individual farmers in a new collective principle. By granting reasonable loans (Raiffeisen), creating reasonable shopping facilities for agricultural requirements (BayWa) or by joint marketing for agricultural products the idea was to make the members less dependent on market happenings and merchants' goodwill.
Nowhere in the agricultural sphere did the free play of forces on supply and demand develop more unbridled than in hop-growing. As long as the "hop roulette" - promisedhuge profits - at least theoretically - the characteristic up and down in hop prices was gladly put up with. However towards the end of the 19th century when the prices less frequently reached high levels, it was not long before the new kind of cooperative idea also caught on in hop-growing. In 1896 Simon Eisenmann, a vicar in Abens, founded the first hop-marketing cooperative in the Hallertau. Others followed such as the "Bavarian Central Hop-Marketing Cooperative" or the "Hop Bank AG" in Wolnzach. All of them without exception quickly disappeared from the screen after several more or less successful years. Ultimately the reasons were always the same: Firstly, the cooperative solidarity principle was inevitably a thorn in the side of the mighty hop-merchants which is why they boycotted the cooperatives as best as they could. Secondly, it was often the fault of their own members: as in their opinion the cooperatives should only come into action when the hop prices landed at rock bottom. Consequently in good times the solidarity was quickly forgotten and the usual price speculation flourished again in all its splendour. It took a huge hop market crisis as at the end of the 1920s before notice was widely taken of the cooperative idea for the first time in hop-growing. At the initiative of the later President of the German Hop Growers' Association, Franz Edler von Koch, the "German Hop Trafficking Company" was founded In 1930 with its head office in Nuremberg, abbreviated DHVG. Its field of work was above all to be in market simplifying measures i.e. in buying up unmarketable hops in order to maintain the prices. However the "Support" - I.e. the DHVG's honourable nickname among the hop growers - could not act freely for very long. For with the rise of the National Socialists to power in 1933 the DHVG was incorporated in the German Food Law and turned into the "Enforcement Agency of the German Brewing Industry in the German Food Law". Koch withdrew. Out of the mutual benefit association of hop growers there was a central association in which also hop merchants and brewers were now organised.
This commingling was the main reason why the DHVG could not operate very much longer following the collapse of the "1000-year Reich". Only after nerve-racking arguments during court proceedings in 1952 was it converted back to the cooperative agency purely for hop-growers. However a year later when the hop market suddenly collapsed, this also meant the end of the DHVG. It had to declare bankruptcy.