Bauhaus Industrial Design Is At Home In Dessau

When I thought “Bauhaus,” industrial furniture and geometric forms in primary colors came to mind. Now, when I think “Bauhaus,” I recall a red chicken coop that doubles as a bench.Bauhaus chicken coop, Dessau

All are products of a school of design that an architect named Walter Gropius founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919. Today, the Bauhaus is regarded as the most important, influential art school of the 20th century.

Artists and designers joined Gropius in teaching a multidisciplinary curriculum that emphasized craftsmanship and industrial production. Courses in painting, architecture, textiles, typography, printing, photography, theater design, film, photography, furniture and weaving prepared students to become competent craftsmen who not only knew how to create harmonious design with creativity and technical skills, but also could bring about societal changes by improving the quality of life.

The Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Germany in 1925, where Gropius and his partners focused on making marketable products that were ready for mass production. They also created some memorable buildings in this industrial city.

With its interlocking cubic forms, reinforced concrete frame, dramatic glass curtain walls and floating balconies, the Bauhaus’s main building — the Prellerhaus — became the icon of Classical Modernism. Dark window frames and brightly colored ceilings provide contrast to the building’s light, neutral tones.

Prellerhaus, Bauhaus, Germany

In 1932, the Bauhaus left Dessau for Berlin, where it closed the next year. The Prellerhaus in Dessau suffered heavy bomb damage toward the end of World War II. It was repaired, then restored in 1976 after it was designated a protected monument in 1974. Today, you can tour several rooms in the building, including a student bedroom with a balcony that provides a picturesque view of Dessau…

Student room, Prellerhaus, Bauhaus, Dessau

Gropius’s office, with its original flooring, cherry desk and burlap wallcovering to produce better, echoless sound…Walter Gropius office, Bauhaus, Dessau

and the former carpentry workshop, now a shop that sells Bauhaus-inspired gifts.

Bauhaus gift shop, Dessau

One of the most famous features of the Prellerhaus is its staircase. Roy Lichtenstein modeled his Bauhaus Stairway of 1988 on a painting of the same name by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer, which was, in turn, based on T. Lux Feininger’s photo of Bauhaus weaving students on the steps of the staircase.

Staircase, Bauhaus, Dessau

It’s also known for its factory-style windows with clever opening and closing mechanics, a feature of industrial design.

Bauhaus, Dessau

Minutes away from the Prellerhaus are the Meisterhaüser (Master’s Houses). Gropius designed these two-family homes in 1926 for himself and his fellow Bauhaus masters: Lyonel Feininger; Georg Muche; Oskar Schlemmer; Wassily Kandinsky; Paul Klee; and Lázló Moholy-Nagy.

Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

Gropius used simple construction elements to create simple, functional homes that conveyed both the personalities of the artists and the ideal of modern housing at the time. Each half of the house shares the same floor plan, mirrored and rotated 90 degrees. On the third floor, the western section features two additional rooms.

Nestled among a picturesque setting of tall pine trees, the houses are painted in light tones, while the window frames, undersides of balconies and downspouts are painted in darker colors.Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

Vertical rows of windows on the sides of the buildings provide lighting for the stairways…

Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

while the large glass windows of the studios — fitted with opening and closing mechanisms similar to those at the Prellerhaus — provide an uninterrupted view of the street.Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

Terraces and balconies with rails made from tubular steel gas pipes from factories are on the sides of the buildings that face away from the street.

Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

All of the houses had picture rails, so that their inhabitants could change and sell the artwork that they created. Fitted cupboards were placed between the kitchen service area and the dining room, as well as between the bedroom and the studio.

Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

The Meisterhaüser also contain examples of the Wassily Chair, the classic mass-produced chair which Marcel Breuer designed while he was the head of the Bauhaus’s cabinet-making workshop. Inspired by the strength of his bicycle’s frame and handlebar, Breuer was the first to use tubular steel in creating furniture. Double-twisted cotton fabric or leather straps are pulled taut on the reverse side with the use of springs to make the back and seat of the chair. The Meisterhaüser are also furnished with examples of the club chair and stacking chair designed by Breuer.

Wassily chair, Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

The Feininger/Moholy-Nagy house is also the home of the Kurt-Weill-Centre, a museum, library and future archive documenting the life and work of Kurt Weill, the German composer best known for his Threepenny Opera who was born in Dessau. A Kurt Weill Fest will take place in Dessau from February 27 through March 15, 2015. 

Bust of Kurt Weill, Meisterhaüser, Bauhaus, Dessau

To read more about the Bauhaus, see Bauhaus, 1911-1933: Weimar-Dessau-Berlin, by Michael Siebenbrodt; Bauhaus: Art as Life, by Catherine Ince and Lydia Yee; and Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop, by Sigrid Weltge-Wortmann.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Germany, History, Travel | Leave a comment

Bach, Mendelssohn and the Gewandhaus Make Eastern Germany a Classical Destination

Johann Sebastian Bach may have brought me to eastern Germany, but after an afternoon at Felix Mendelssohn’s home and an evening of musical fireworks at the legendary Gewandhaus, I left realizing that the region is an incredible “Classical Destination.”

In Bach’s birthplace of Eisenach, the Bach House is a wonderful museum that presents artifacts from the composer’s life and times. I saw Bach’s spectacles, which he wore when he was treated for cataracts, and learned more about his wife, Anna Magdalena, who loved yellow carnations and trained her linnet bird to sing.

Bach's spectacles, Bach Haus, Eisenach

I lounged in bubble chairs suspended from the ceiling and listened to Bach’s music while reading informational sheets about his life.

Bach House, Eisenach

And I was treated to a short concert of musical selections performed on instruments from Bach’s day, including two house organs, a spinet, a clavichord and a harpsichord.

Bach House, Eisenach

In Weimar, I walked by the site of the home where Bach lived as he developed his virtuosity as an organist while he was employed as a court chamber musician.  Then, I visited St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where Bach worked as choirmaster of the famous St. Thomas Boys Choir for 27 years, and where he is buried.

Bach's burial place, St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

A statue of Bach in front of the church was made after the only portrait for which he sat.

Bach statue, St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Across St. Thomas Square, the Bach Museum displays an organ console at which Bach played in 1743, original Bach manuscripts, a double bass that was part of his orchestra, and an iron chest that locked with 11 bolts and adorned with Bach’s distinctive cypher, proving it is the only surviving furniture from his household.  It also has a great selection of Bach-related gifts.

Bach smoker in the Bach Museum gift shop, Leipzig

Bach isn’t the only composer who inspires pilgrimages to music-loving Leipzig. Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara Wieck; Edvard Grieg; Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler are among the composers and musicians who made Leipzig their home. Leipzig’s Notenspur music trail wends its way past the places where these world-famous composers and musicians lived and worked.

I chose to spend an afternoon at the home of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, where the composer and his family lived from 1845 to his death in 1847 at the age of 38.

The living room features original furniture and paintings owned by Mendelssohn. In the study, Mendelssohn composed his Elijah Oratorio and chamber music such as the Second Piano Trio, Opus 66 at the writing desk in the room. Watercolors he painted during his journeys, including those he painted in Switzerland during his last summer, hang on the walls.Mendelssohn House, Leipzig

Several unique touches throughout the museum inspire visitors to learn more about Mendelssohn. Browse through books about the composer and listen to performances of his compositions in the reference library. Attend a Sunday concert in the music salon, just like those Mendelssohn hosted. Test your conducting skills by leading a 3D “Effektorium” orchestra — with LED technology and loudspeakers representing modern or historic instruments — in a performance of Mendelssohn’s choir or orchestral compositions.  

Mendelssohn House, Leipzig

Clever displays convey interesting information about the composer and his time. The former kitchen provides information about Mendelssohn’s journeys throughout Europe. Showcases in the Mendelssohn children’s rooms are fashioned to resemble the functional, naturally beautiful Biedermeier furniture that was popular during Mendelssohn’s day. Another room includes a “paternoster” showcase that displays and provides commentary about a variety of objects and documents associated with his life.

Paternoster showcase, Mendelssohn House

Visitors also learn about Mendelssohn’s work as conductor of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra. The world-famous orchestra traces its roots to 1479, when town pipers began providing musical accompaniment for the city’s festive occasions, theatrical presentations and church services. By 1743, a concert orchestra was formed and well-off Leipzig citizens were charged annual dues to pay the musicians. These musical performances became so popular that a hall was needed to house the orchestra. An unoccupied attic loft in the Gewandhaus, or garment house of the clothmakers’ guild, became the orchestra’s first concert hall in 1781. In the years that followed, the concert hall in the Gewandhaus was the setting for a concert by Mozart, as well as the world premieres of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, Schumann’s symphonies, Schubert’s Great C major Symphony, Wagner’s Meistersinger Prelude, and Brahms’ Violin Concerto.

Despite being reconstructed several times to accommodate growing audiences, the concert hall in the Gewandhaus became too small. A new Gewandhaus was built and opened on the edge of town in 1884, helping to establish a new neighborhood and musical district. Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Richard Strauss conducted their own works there. The building burned down during an air raid in February 1944. For the next 30 years, concerts were held in performance halls and movie theaters. In 1977, work began on a new concert hall facing the city’s new opera house. In 1981, the second New Gewandhaus was opened as the first and only new concert building built under the GDR regime. Kurt Masur, Gewandhauskapellmeister from 1970 until 1996, was instrumental to the project’s success.Gewandhaus interior, LeipzigThe Gewandhaus’s longtime mottoRes severa est verum gaudium (“true pleasure is a serious business,” from the Roman author, Seneca) — still hovers over the stage.

Performance hall, Gewandhaus, Leipzig

So it was a special treat to spend an evening in the New Gewandhaus to attend “Mendelssohn the Discoverer,” a historical concert by the Bach Orchestra of the Gewandhaus Leipzig as part of Tribute to a Genius: Leipzig’s 10-day Mendelssohn Festival. Christian Funke, the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s concertmaster, led his fellow musicians through Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestra Suite in D Major (BWV 1068) in an arrangement by Mendelssohn. Funke’s son, violist Matthias, joined them for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra in E-flat Major (KV 364/KV 320d). Best of all, Mathias Müller, the talented first drummer for the Gewandhaus Orchestra, was the featured soloist for Johann Christoph Graupner’s Sinfonia in F and Georg Friedrich Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351). For the duration of the concert, most of the musicians stood as they performed.

Mathias Müller after performing at the Gewandhaus

For more on Bach, see Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, by James R. Gaines; Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, by John Eliot Gardiner; Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life in Pictures and Documents, by Hans Conrad Fischer, and Johann Sebastian Bach, a circa-1998 video production that Fischer produced. Eisenach and Leipzig are included in Classical Destinations: An Armchair Guide to Classical Music, by Matt Wills, Paul Burrows and Wendy McDougall, as well as in the accompanying DVD hosted by Simon Callow and featuring violinist Niki Vasilakis.

To read more about the Biedermeier period, check out Biedermeier 1815-1835: Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Fashion, by Georg Himmelheber; and Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity, by Hans Ottomeyer, Klaus Albrecht Schröder, and Laurie Winters.

Posted in Germany, History, Music, Travel | Leave a comment

Wörlitz Ist Jetzt Unendlich Schön

At Wörlitz, you’ll hear German being spoken, but you’ll swear that you’re in the midst of one of Capability Brown’s English landscapes, where undulating grass, serpentine lakes and ha-has frame a glorious country home.

Leopold III, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau, loved the natural English landscapes that he saw during his grand tour of Europe so much that he made them the focal point of his summer home. Built in 1764 and improved upon until about 1800, Wörlitz is a magnificent German country estate where an elegant Neoclassical palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens, sprawling lawns and strutting peacocks.

Wörlitz, Germany

Wörlitz became a sought-after destination of leading figures of the day, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “Hier ist jetzt unendlich schön” (“Here it is now infinitely beautiful”), Goethe wrote after his visit to the lakes, canals and groves of this lovely place in 1778.

Inside, the prince’s home features a trompe l’oeil dome and original furnishings, including Chippendale chairs, Wedgwood pottery, harpsichords, Canaletto paintings and commissioned copies of famous works like Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

Wörlitz, Germany

The elegant library is furnished with Classical busts and portraits of leading figures like William Shakespeare, John Milton and Peter the Great.

Wörlitz, Germany

Have an alfresco lunch in the Wörlitz cafe, then treat yourself to a “so-called delight” – a 45-minute gondola ride in the Wörlitzer See. As a hardy sailor rows, sweep past swans swimming around poplar-lined islands and pass under a series of bridges.

Wörlitz, Germany

Behold picturesque vistas of a Neoclassical temple that served as a musical pavilion, a Gothic garden house, a grotto, an Italian villa, an artificial volcano modeled on Mt. Vesuvius, a synagogue modeled on the Vesta Temple in Rome, a pantheon filled with a collection of antique sculptures, and a golden urn that marks the final resting place of the prince’s infant son. During some evenings in the summer season, Classical music concerts are held on the Wörlitzer See, during which the audience is afloat in gondolas.

Wörlitz, Germany

Your visit might be so memorable that you might even decide to submit your photo and a tip for making the most of your Wörlitz visit to your local newspaper’s travel section.

On a gondola ride in Wörlitz, Germany

For more on Wörlitz, read For the Friends of Nature and Art: The Garden Kingdom of Prince Franz von Anhalt-Dessau in the Age of Enlightenment, with essays by Ursula Bode, Michael Stürmer and Thomas Weiss; Infinitely Beautiful: The Garden Realm of Dessau Wörlitz, edited by Wolfgang Savelsberg and Uwe Quilitzsch; and Time to Travel-Travel in Time to Germany’s Finest Stately Homes, Gardens, Castles, Abbeys and Roman Remains: Official Joint Guide of the Heritage Administrations Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin-Brandenburg, Dessau-Wörlitz, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Gardens, Germany, History, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment

In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Weimar Home, You Can Find So Much That Is Good

As soon as 24-year-old Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, it became an instant best-seller. The epistolary novel about a sensitive young man who takes his own life as a result of a love triangle led to a Werther Fever of young men dressed in blue jackets and yellow vests who honored their hero through musical compositions, paintings and decorative art objects.

One avid reader of this emotional Sturm und Drang work was Carl August, Duke of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach. In 1775, the duke invited the sudden celebrity to join his court in Weimar, Germany. The opportunity would prove to be a beneficial one. “Where else can you find so much that is good in a place that is so small?,” Goethe later reflected about Weimar.

Goethe moved into a little garden house in the city’s Park an der Ilm. Designed to recall a romantic English landscape, the park includes a Classical Roman house built for Duke Carl August, Gothic ruins, an underground space in which to store beer, and even a patch of land that Goethe designed.

Goethe's Garden House, Weimar

In 1782, Goethe left his Gartenhaus, moved to a Baroque house on Weimar’s Frauenplan, and stayed there for almost 50 years until his death in 1832. Here, the celebrated writer and statesman explored his diverse interests, including biology, physics, mineralogy, botany, astronomy and art.Goethe House, Weimar

During World War II, Goethe’s possessions in the house were removed for safekeeping. The building was seriously damaged by bombing in 1945, but was restored and is open for tours.

Goethe designed a staircase that he would never tire of walking up and down. Ascend the shallow stairs like those he admired from ancient Greece and Rome and come upon the greeting Goethe chose to welcome his guests.

Goethe House, Weimar

Goethe was so fascinated by colors that he developed a theory based on how colors and color combinations affect the human mood. He recommended ways color could be practically applied, from the color of clothes to be worn on particular occasions to the color that various rooms should have. For example, Goethe received his visitors in the Yellow Room, in which he intended to create a cheerful, lively atmosphere. The Festive Hall was painted bluish-grey, making it elegant and uplifting. His study and bedroom were painted a calming green.

The main rooms in the front of the house were official spaces that Goethe used for meetings and receptions. For example, concerts took place in Juno’s Room, so named for an immense plaster cast of a 4th century B.C.E. marble bust which Goethe placed there in 1828.Goethe House, WeimarGoethe’s private rooms are at the back of the house. His study — where he wrote much of his poetry, autobiographical work and treatises related to art and science — is furnished just as he left it. Simple, functional furniture, a cushion on the table on which he rested his arm when he read for a long period of time, and no pictures on the walls — just instructions to his gardener tacked to the window frame — express his workstyle. Many of these objects are captured in an 1831 oil painting of Goethe in his study with Johann August Friedrich John, his secretary, which has hung in Weimar’s Anna Amalia Library since 1840. Beside the study is the library, which includes more than 5,000 books, and a room filled with showcases that display the minerals he collected and classified. In Goethe’s bedroom, you can see the pine chair on which he was sitting when he died.

Goethe’s home was a showplace for his collections, which he precisely arranged and displayed. Plaster casts of ancient sculptures, drawings from Pompeiian frescoes, Gothic stained glass, copies of works by Raphael and Titian, Italian majolica and landscape sketches by English artists are some examples of his varied collecting interests. Specially designed cabinet drawers contain the thousands of drawings that he organized and cataloged.Goethe House, Weimar

Next door to the Goethe House, the Goethe National Museum features a seven-room exhibition that explains Goethe’s life and work through objects like his “Carrick” wool and velvet travel coat from 1815.

Goethe’s fans who make the pilgrimage to Weimar also track down the oldest surviving ginkgo tree in the city, planted across from the Anna Amalia Library in 1820. The ginkgo tree was a prized possession in the English-inspired landscapes that were so popular during Goethe’s day.Gingko tree, Weimar

Goethe was so taken by the tree and the shape of its leaf that it inspired his poem, Ginkgo Biloba, which he published in 1819.

Gingko Biloba bookmark, Anna Amalia Library, Weimar

Continue your Goethe pilgrimage with a visit to Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig, one of the best-known restaurants in the world since its establishment in the 16th century. Goethe incorporated Auerbachs Keller in his most famous work, Faust.   The restaurant includes rooms adorned with representations of the German legend in which a dissatisfied scholar makes a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for knowledge and worldly pleasures.  This depiction of Faust and the Devil was carved from a single tree trunk.

Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig


Posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Germany, History, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment

Duchess Anna Amalia’s Library Is One Of The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

In 1756, a 17-year old named Anna Amalia came to Weimar, Germany to marry Ernst August II, Duke of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach. When her husband died two years later, she became the regent of the small German state until her eldest son, Carl August, came of age.

In the years that followed, Anna Amalia made Weimar an intellectual center. Her love of theater, music and literature led her to invite poets, painters and musicians to join her for readings from the latest literary works, scientific discussions, musical performances and plays. In 1761, she transformed a Renaissance palace called Grüne Schöbchen (Little Green Castle) into a library.Anna Amalia LibraryBy 1797, Carl August had come of age and appointed his friend, the German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, to be its librarian. Goethe reorganized the library and increased its collection from 50,000 to 132,000 volumes of history, art, and literature. His handwritten notices to borrowers who returned books late can still be seen today.

Over time, the library’s collection came to emphasize Thuringian history and German classical literature. Today, it is a specialized research library for German studies, with an emphasis on German literature from the Enlightenment until Late Romanticism. The collection also includes medieval books, incunabula, flyers from the Reformation, historical maps, globes and the world’s largest collection about the historical figure, Faust. It holds musical scores from Mozart, Haydn and Gluck, and part of the personal libraries of Friedrich Schiller, Franz Liszt and Friedrich Nietzsche.

The library’s three-story Rococo hall rivals the magnificence of its collection.

Anna Amalia Library

An oval in the middle of the room is marked by 12 columns, with simple pine bookshelves painted light blue and decorated with gold leaf between them. A hallway around the outside of the columns provides access to the books from all sides of the middle and outside shelves. More books are housed in other galleries.

Anna Amalia Library

Above an elegant parquet floor hovers the ceiling, which is decorated with a painting titled Genius of Fame, stucco shells and the initials of Anna Amalia and her sons, Carl August and Ferdinand Constantin.Anna Amalia LibraryA bust of Anna Amalia stands in front of a portrait of Duke Carl August that he commissioned in 1805.Anna Amalia Library

In 1826, Duke Carl August purchased this bust of Friedrich Schiller, the German poet and playwright, that was sculpted in 1805.

Bust of Friedrich Schiller, Anna Amalia Library

A well-known oil painting depicts Goethe in the study of his Weimar home, dictating to his secretary, Johann August Friedrich John. This painting from 1834 has been displayed in the Rococo Hall since 1840. Some of the objects depicted in the painting are still visible in the study, which can be seen on a tour of Goethe’s home.

Painting of Goethe and his secretary in his study, Anna Amalia Library

This colossal bust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with a verse by Schiller inscribed underneath it was sculpted in 1831. It was unveiled in the Rococo Hall as a gift to the poet that year.Bust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Anna Amalia Library

The library and its historic collection were severely threatened on September 2, 2004, when smoldering, defective electrical wiring in the second gallery of the Rococo Hall ignited a massive fire. It was brought under control in less than two hours, but it took another 67 hours before the last hot spots in books and wooden elements were extinguished. The fire destroyed the upper two stories of the building, 37 works of art, and 50,000 volumes, most of which dated from the 17th and 18th centuries. An additional 62,000 volumes were severely damaged.

The damaged books were sorted into three categories: 37,000 books had covers damaged by fire and extinguishing water; 25,000 book remnants were recovered from containers of fire debris; and 56,000 books and graphics were contaminated by soot, smoke, wood protection agents and pesticides.

The items were cared for by cleaning, freezing, vacuum freeze-drying and reconditioning them in Weimar and at the Center for Book Maintenance in Leipzig.

The project presented all sorts of restoration challenges. Using a facing method to secure fragile book spines that a Swedish book conservator developed, fleece was temporarily adhered to and subsequently removed from the surface. Some damaged parchment book spines were restored in a three-part inlay mending technique using Japanese tissues. Missing pieces on the paper covers of over 10,000 books were replaced with hand-made, long-term stable papers in various shades of brown and grey. Supplemental paper was mounted underneath the damaged paper cover on the book’s spine, joints and corners. Glazed calico covers that became brittle as a result of the fire’s extreme temperatures, so they were reinforced from below with supplemental fabric.

From the Restoration After the Fire exhibition, Anna Amalia Library

After the fire, 85 percent of the building was restored and 15 percent of it was replaced. The library reopened on October 24, 2007 for the 200th anniversary of Anna Amalia’s death, but conservation of its damaged books and manuscripts continues. By 2015, all restorative and conservation measures for all damaged covers and contaminated books are expected to be complete.

Restoration After the Fire: Rescuing the Books of the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek is an exhibition at the library that offers insights into the planning and implementation of dealing with the consequences of the fire and the technical methods of conserving the books. To read more, see the accompanying German-language catalogue, Restaurieren nach dem Brand: Die Rettung der Bücher der Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, by Jürgen Weber and Ulrike Hähner.

Hilfe! für Anna Amalia is a 2004 compact disc that was produced to benefit the reconstruction of the library. It includes performances of works by Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Ludwig Krebs and Mauro Giuliani.  On the cover, you can see the extent of the fire damage in the Rococo Hall.

Hilfe! für Anna Amalia

Find a chapter on the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek in The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, with photographs by Guillaume de Laubier, text by Jacques Bosser and a foreword by James H. Billington, translated from the French by Laurel Hirsch. For more on the library, click here.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Germany, History, Libraries, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment

See Hundreds of Antlers and A Million Feathers at Schloss Moritzburg

After years of anticipation, I finally stood at the end of an allée of horse chestnut trees and beheld Schloss Moritzburg.Schloss Moritzburg

Duke Moritz of Saxony built this hunting lodge on an artificial island in a marshy region just north of Dresden, Germany in 1542. Augustus the Strong improved upon it in the 1720s, creating a distinctive square building with four cylindrical towers that is surrounded by a park, a pheasant farm, and a hunting ground.

Before I began my walk to the island, I admired two milestone columns dating from 1730 that are marked with the Saxon coat of arms. The columns give destination distances from Moritzburg that are based on travel by horse-drawn carriages.

Milestone column, Schloss Moritzburg

When I reached Moritzburg, I climbed a few flights of steps and took in amazing, impressive sights. Chinese lacquered furniture, silver furniture styled after that at Versailles, porcelain from Japan and Meissen, and original leather wallhangings that were either painted, covered with silver leaf, embossed, or chased with hot metal dies.

Paintings of hunting parties at Moritzburg record details of spectacular affairs where guests took boat rides on the surrounding lake, played cards, ate ice cream, watched fireworks displays and parades of Moors and exotic animals, and shot animals that were either tethered or enclosed so they could not get away.

Moritzburg is known for its outstanding collection of hunting trophies that line the walls of several rooms. Gilded or carved wooden representations of deer heads are topped by antlers from elk, moose from northern Europe, reindeer, and a giant stag from the Ice Age that Tsar Peter I gave as a present when he visited in 1698. In Diana’s Hall, also known as the Monstrosity Room, I counted 39 pairs of antlers that were misshapen by diseases or injuries. The dining room has 71 trophies, between 270 and 400 years old, which were either purchased or acquired as presents. Among them is the heaviest set of red deer antlers in the world, weighing over 40 pounds and spanning over six feet.

The most extraordinary sight at Moritzburg may be the Feather Room.

In 1720, Augustus the Strong saw an advertisement in a Parisian magazine for a featherbed made by Monsieur Le Normand, a Frenchman living in London. To make this unique piece of decorative art, over one million peacock, pheasant, guinea hen and duck feathers were dyed and knotted on a core thread at set intervals. This created a soft, fluffy surface of feathers that was cut to form patterns and coated with glue to create overlaps like roofing tiles.Guidebook to the Feather Room, Schloss Moritzburg

Augustus the Strong bought the featherbed for his Japanese Palace in Dresden, but he removed the canopy and used the curtains as decorative textile panels for the room where the bed was installed. He also intended to display over 900 pieces of porcelain in his feather room, but limited the furnishings to lacquered tables and a grandfather clock.

In 1830, the feather room was taken to Moritzburg, where it remained on view until 1972. From 1982 to 2003, it was restored to correct damage from unfiltered light and pest infestation on the wood paneling. Each of the feathers was housed in a nitrogen chamber for four weeks to protect against pest infestation. Then, they were cleaned in a special water bath, dried separately using tweezers and a strong stream of cold air, and then were combed and fastened with threads to a loom. The results of the award-winning conservation project are on display again in a separate exhibition area at Moritzburg.

Posted in Art, Germany, History, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment

Dresden’s Restored Green Vaults Display Thousands of Stunning Treasures

Ask residents of Dresden, Germany what they think about this world-famous city and they will likely tell you that it is getting more beautiful every day.

Dresden is known for its picturesque setting along the Elbe River, its sumptuous architecture and its magnificent art treasures. In recent years, it has become the setting for several reconstruction projects resulting from significant damage it suffered when it was bombed during the night of February 13-14, 1945.

The most recognizable symbol of those efforts is the Frauenkirche. Built between 1723 and 1743, the Baroque church collapsed during the bombing. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the church was rebuilt with over €100 million of donations received from all over the world. Its distinctively shaped stone dome was rebuilt, and thousands of original pieces of sandstone were salvaged from the rubble. The stones were numbered, tested electronically for reusability, stored on steel shelves next to the ruin, and finally were restored to their original positions in the rebuilt church.

Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, 1997

Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, 1997

The Frauenkirche has been open for services, organ concerts and sightseeing tours since 2005.  My dad and I enjoyed seeing the finished Frauenkirche, both inside and out.

In front of the Frauenkirche, Dresden

Another extensive restoration and partial reconstruction project recently took place at the Dresden Royal Palace, the official residence of the rulers of Saxony that also suffered severe bombing damage. Finally being able to see the palace’s famous Historic Green Vault and New Green Vault is why I returned to Dresden.

Dresden Royal Palace

Dresden Royal Palace

Augustus the Strong was an insatiable collector of porcelain, statues, paintings, prints, drawings, etchings, jewelry, clocks, scientific instruments, coins, medals, weapons and objets d’art. Expanding on the items that his predecessors had acquired and displayed in the palace’s Kunstkammer since the 16th century, the legendary Saxon ruler collected even more rare, precious and unusual pieces that reflected not only his personal tastes, but also the achievements of his realm.

The magnificent collection was stored in a lavish treasure chamber known as the Historic Green Vault, so named because the capitals and bases of its columns were painted a distinctive shade of green that was the Saxon national color.

Courtyard, Dresden Royal Palace

Courtyard, Dresden Royal Palace

Storing the Green Vault’s treasures in Switzerland during the war enabled them to remain intact, but the eight rooms they once called home did not fare so well. Five were damaged during the bombing; three were completely destroyed. In recent years, the rooms of the Historic Green Vault were either reconstructed or restored, and they are open again for tours.

In order to protect the precious objects in the Historic Green Vault, a restricted number of visitors pass through a secured set of double doors. Admission to the museum is regulated by timed-entry tickets.

When I entered the first room, I could see why. Objects are grouped by type, arranged the way Augustus the Strong chose. They are displayed without showcases, either on marble-topped, carved wooden tables or on open shelves in front of mirrored walls that optically multiply them. The rooms are decorated and arranged to look more spectacular than the next.

Amber pieces and ivory vessels created on a specially designed turning lathe are presented against walls paneled with 12 kinds of polished Italian marble. Silver and gold objects are displayed against vermilion, green-lacquered and mirrored walls. Bronze statues and monuments are featured in an oak-paneled room. Jewels glimmer against black velvet in a room walled with gilded mirrors. The Hall of Precious Objects contains incredible vessels made of etched rock crystal, seashells, coconuts and ostrich eggs. Limoges enamel boxes are arranged on ornate tables along the walls.

The New Green Vault contains more than 1,000 unique objects considered to be the most famous items in the collection. Showcases fitted with anti-glare glass and state-of-the-art lighting help visitors examine every detail of these works of art. They include a clock with a rock crystal ball that rolled down a turned ivory column in exactly one minute, with automatons that produce musical sounds; a hat clasp with the 41-carat “Dresden Green” diamond; a cherry stone carved with 185 faces; Martin Luther’s cornelian signet ring; and a statue of a Moor carved from pear wood, adorned with jewelry and carrying a tray with an emerald lump studded with large and small emeralds.

enaissance and Baroque Treasury Art: The Green Vault in Dresden, by Dirk SyndramThat’s just the beginning. An ivory frigate with billowing sails and 50 tiny figures climbing in a rigging made of golden threads is equipped with cannons and anchors, and rests on a statue of Neptune, also carved from ivory. A silver and coral drinking vessel in the shape of a woman’s figure represents Daphne, who was saved from being pursued by Apollo by being changed into a laurel tree. A decorative basin made from chalcedony, gold, silver, ivory, diamonds, pearls and enamel depicts the goddess Diana’s bath, complete with a tiny bar resembling soap.

A solid gold and enamel coffee set rises on several levels like a pyramid, with 45 differently patterned vessels that resemble porcelain. It took the court jeweler four years to make, and Augustus the Strong 10 years to pay for it. Another incredible piece is Royal Household on the Birthday of Grand Mogul Aureng-Zeb, a 55-inch-wide stage with over 130 figures made of gold, silver, enamel, over 5,000 precious stones and pearls, and lacquer painting. Considered to be the primary work of European jewelry art from the Baroque period, it took the Saxon court jeweler eight years to finish it.

Small sculptures of a knife-grinder and a potter were made from ivory, enameled gold, pearls and precious stones; a clockwork mechanism turns the potter’s wheel. A one-eyed beggar on a peg leg and a Dutch ice skater are examples of over 50 mounted miniature statuettes whose designs were determined by the shape of a large, irregular pearl.

For more about the Green Vaults, read The Green Vault: An Introduction, by the State Art Collections in Dresden; The Dream of A King: Dresden’s Green Vault, edited by Dirk Syndram and Claudia Brink; and Gems of the Green Vault in Dresden and Renaissance and Baroque Treasury Art: The Green Vault in Dresden, both by Dirk Syndram; and “Dresden’s Stunning ‘Green Vaults,’” an article by Kay Lawrence in the June/July 2014 issue of German Life. To read more about Dresden’s art treasures, see The Glory of Baroque Dresden: The State Art Collections Dresden and The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting.

Posted in Art, Germany, History, Travel | Leave a comment