Coming from a family of Alsatian farmers established since the middle of the 17th century in Walfrange, in the south-east of the country, Peter Ehlinger opened a café in the nearby village of Dalheim in the early 19th century. One way to generate additional income when the potato crop was barely enough to feed his large family.
One of his grandchildren, Joseph, went a step further in the early 20th century, buying a house with a 5-hectare orchard producing enough fruit to distil and market spirits to neighbouring coffee shops.
At the same time farmer, arborist, distiller or “Foërmann” (that is to say transporter), he died accidentally in 1919, aged 77 years. His grandson Robert, then aged 16, took over as head of the farm and the family distillery.
The difficult times in the aftermath of the First World War and the ups and downs of life as a local distiller proved too much for Robert. He chose, in 1923, to join his brother-in-law, Adolphe Krieps, who was beginning to taste considerable success with his coal and transportation business.
This was the beginning of a flourishing period in which activities were diversifying (transport, construction materials, sand extraction from the Moselle in a quarry they bought in Wasserbillig, customs agents with warehousing, removals and other services), supported by the purchase of a first rudimentary vehicle and the arrival of new partners in the Ehlinger family, reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of former rural activities (including the café) in the business.
However, the 1929 crash put everything in question and over the years, the precarious economic situation continued, to the point that the three partners decided, in December 1939, to dissolve the company and split their activities. Robert Ehlinger and his brother Auguste then created the company Arelux, active just in the sale of coal.
Once again, times quickly became hard, especially after the Second World War. Sales of coal declined in favour of fuel oil and in 1958, Arelux found itself in a very difficult financial situation. At the age of 60, Robert Ehlinger had to start from scratch again and ended up buying a 5,000-litre tanker so as not to lose his last customers, who were purchasingfuel oil.
By transforming a carefully cultivated garden into a fuel storage depot with a capacity of 120,000 litres, the Robert Ehlinger & Fils’ company, then run by Marcel, the son, took off again and built partnerships with wholesalers of petroleum products delivering diesel at competitive prices from Antwerp.
A first petrol station was opened in 1960. Others quickly followed, at the same time as the company installed thousands of barrels and tanks all over the country, in private homes, with craftmen, on farms … In some villages in the Oesling and on the Moselle, there was not a single house that was not supplied by the company.
In 1965, the company commercialised 100,000 tons, representing 8.5% of the national market, and counting some 8,000 customers. That year, the oil business was sold to what would become the Elf group, while the small residual coal clientele was sold to H. Schuler. The money from these sales was invested in real estate.
Eight years later, while the first tensions were felt on the oil markets, the Elf group was using more and more often external carriers for fuel deliveries. This was what pushed Marcel Ehlinger to leave the group and create Intralux Transports, specialised in the transport of petroleum products. In a few years, it became the appointed supplier of almost all the oil companies present in Luxembourg.
The petrol and diesel price gap between Luxembourg and neighbouring countries, which was steadily increasing, was driving up the sale of fuel at service stations, pushing Intralux Transports to the top of the Benelux carriers specialised in these petroleum products, with more than 200 drivers on the pay roll. Its volume increased further thanks to the takeover of several competing companies that abandoned their activity.
But over the years, again, market conditions became difficult and competition increasingly severe, which pushed Marcel Ehlinger to withdraw from the sector while there was still time This happened in 1998, the proceeds of the saleagain being reinvested in bricks, especially in the real estate business. An activity that quickly also enjoyed an extraordinary boom, with help from Martine, the daughter of Marcel.
A few years earlier, she bought the company H. Schuler and in 2008, it was decided to rename the group “Schuler Group”. It was the beginning of a new adventure, which included innovative projects, such as the “Solarwind” building, one of the first passive buildings of this size. It also managed some 125,000 m² of space for 300 tenants in a portfolio of around sixty buildings.
Find more details and anecdotes on the history of the Ehlinger family in the book “Histoires de Familles“, published by Maison Moderne in collaboration with Banque de Luxembourg: a book that tells the saga of 10 families of entrepreneurs and, through it, paints an original portrait of Luxembourg .