The History Woman's Blog

A Museum full of Statues

Posted in exhibitions, History by thehistorywoman on October 2, 2020

 

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Lenin’s head.

As a country that has seen empire, Nazi dictatorship, two world wars, division and reunification, Germany has a lot of experience with unwanted monuments and statues. Some of them are now kept in the former provisions depot on the grounds of the Spandau Citadel in Berlin where you can see, among others, statues of Prussian monarchs, a church bell with a swastika its embarrassed post-war owners were unable to remove, and the famous head of Lenin.*

This giant head lying on its side as if it had rolled off the block on the scaffold belonged to a giant statue of the Russian revolutionary and Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov unveiled in 1970 at Leninplatz, the present Platz der Vereinten Nationen, in the eastern Berlin district of Friedrichshain. The statue was destroyed in the early 1990s after German reunification because the then mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, would not tolerate symbols of a ‘dictatorship in which people were persecuted and murdered’. The parts of the statue were buried in a forest in the south-eastern part of Berlin. However, the head was recovered in 2015 when it found its way into the museum in Spandau, where it is now part of the ‘Unveiled’ exhibition.

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The ‘Hitler bell’.

The church bell has its own inglorious history. Known as one of several ‘Hitler bells’, this bronze bell with Nazi symbolism was made in 1934 – one year after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power – for the evangelical parish church of Wichern-Radeland in Berlin’s Spandau district.

Only in 1962, however, did a new pastor point to the untenable situation that ‘the bell which is calling (the faithful) to the service should still carry the symbols of Third Reich ideology’. It was decided to remove the swastika from the bell, but attempts to do so failed. Some 55 years later, in 2017, the bell was finally silenced for good and another two years later removed to the Citadel. (more…)

Experiencing museums in times of crisis

Posted in exhibitions, History, museums, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on June 13, 2020

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The little house in Buckow where Brecht and Weigel spent their summers. 

Now that the lockdown is easing in many parts of Germany I thought it would be a good idea to visit a few museums. It was definitely nice to be out and about again  despite the ongoing pandemic, but following social distancing rules in smaller local museums was clearly not easy.

My first trip took me to the Brecht-Weigel-Haus in Buckow close to Berlin, where the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and his actress wife and long-term collaborator Helene Weigel (1900-1971) spent their summers from 1952.

The little house by the lake Schermützelsee is a beautiful and quiet place which looks ideal for writing, relaxing and meeting friends. It is very bright and cosy and surrounded by a lovely garden overlooking the lake. Alas, due to the social distancing rules, only two people were allowed into any room at a time, which did not work too well.

Especially the first room after the reception was way too small to cope with even small groups of visitors. The little room contained much of the biographical information on Brecht and Weigel as well as reproductions of original documents from the 1950s, some of them dealing with the East German uprising of 1953, which took some time to read. We could have spent at least an hour in there, but felt we had to move on quickly to let other visitors in.

The second and main room of the house, a large and airy living room was much better, partly because you could walk around and look at the furniture and pictures without colliding with anyone. But there was little information to contextualise what you were seeing. Much of the fun of the visit consisted in imagining how Brecht, Weigel and their friends were sitting on the odd collection of chairs around the big central table smoking, drinking and debating. (more…)

Meeting Jacob Boehme in Dresden

Posted in exhibitions, History, Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century by thehistorywoman on October 21, 2017

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Pieter van Gunst, Bildnis Jacob Böhme, 1686/1715, engraving, Kupferstich-Kabinett 
© SKD

I had a few days off work and went on a spontaneous trip to Dresden for some quiet writing time. Naturally, once I got there I spent more time wandering around the city and enjoying the sights in the last rays of the autumn sun than actually writing, and so I stumbled upon this little gem: an exhibition on the German mystical philosopher Jacob Boehme (1575-1624).

I was initially surprised to find a tribute to Boehme in Dresden. But, of course, he spent most of his life some 100 kilometres east of the city, first at Alt Seidenberg where he was born and at Seidenberg where he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and later in the town of Goerlitz where he set up shop in the 1590s.

The ‘fanatical cobbler’ from Goerlitz

Boehme was a remarkable man. He rose from humble beginnings to becoming one of the most important German thinkers. His first and principal work, Aurora, the 1612 manuscript of which is currently on display at the Palace Chapel in Dresden set out his view of the world. According to Boehme, the unfinished tract was the product of a divine inspiration going back to around 1600 when the young shoemaker contemplated on a ray of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish which revealed to him the relationship between God and man and the mysteries of the universe. Copies of the manuscript circulated among his friends and acquaintances and finally fell into the hands of the chief pastor of Goerlitz, Gregor Richter, who confiscated the work, considered it heretical and got the local council to issue a writing ban on Boehme.

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‘ALL IN ALL. The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme’ , exhibition at the Palace Chapel in Dresden, Royal Palace. © SKD, Foto: Oliver Killig

Its author subsequently came to be known as the ‘fanatical cobbler’ from Goerlitz. The humble shoemaker had clearly risen above his station, and the authorities tried to keep him under control. However, Boehme resumed his writing in 1618 on the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, which he considered as a sign of the dark powers of evil at work in the world, and outlined his ideas in On the Three Principles of Divine Being. He was to write another thirty-odd works before his death in 1624 dealing with a large number of subjects from readings of the Old Testament to disputes within the Protestant community.

Boheme’s work was well received at the court in Dresden

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The manuscript of Jacob Böhme’s first work, ‘Aurora’ of 1612 at the Palace Chapel in Dresden.
© SKD, Foto: Oliver Killig

Only one of his works, The Way to Christ (1624), was published during his lifetime. Yet, his other writings circulated in manuscript among his followers and Boehme managed to establish a considerable reputation during his lifetime and beyond. In the year of his death, he travelled to Dresden and reported in a letter that his Way to Christ was well received at the Elector of Saxony’s court. Nevertheless, the publication of his book caused controversy and he had to defend himself before the local authorities. He only walked free because he was able to prove that while he might have been the author of this work, he had not been responsible for its publication.

The current exhibition at Dresden engages both with Boehme’s life and work and with the broader context of his time. It is structured around key concepts of his writings, such as nature, darkness, creation, cosmos, rebirth, light and freedom, and it displays both manuscripts and editions of his works as well as later engagements with his thought by artists and thinkers. Alas, it is a very small exhibition. But it comes with excellent accompanying materials, including an exhibition catalogue (on which this blog post is based) and a collection of scholarly essays in English and German well worthwhile reading.

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All in All – The Conceptual World of the Mystical Philosopher Jacob Böhme, 26 August to 19 November 2017. Palace Chapel of the Dresden Royal Palace.