As you know, I am truly a cement-hugging, subway-loving urban gal. However, when my dear friend B strongly recommended that I visit the Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee to see the current exhibit and *even went so far as to give me the expensive slick and glossy brochure,* I felt a strong compulsion to overcome my aversion to nature and venture into that green and leafy southwestern suburb to explore a new (to me) region of Berlin.
Wannsee, near Potsdam, is one of the western-most suburbs of Berlin and the lake there is actually two connected bodies of water, forming one of the largest natural swimming areas in all of Europe. It became very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and now sports an astonishing range of summer time attractions. You may recall the name also in connection to one of the more difficult days of Berlin history, that of the location of the 1942 conference which saw discussion of the Final Solution. As with so many things in this part of the world, the gentle summer playground complete with sail boats, wide sandy beaches filled with laughing children, and specially designated nude bathing zones, rubs shoulders with the darker echos of the past. Here’s a shot of the lake on this cherubic July afternoon:
Today, thanks to B as you know, I was on a mission to explore a particular spot on that lake, the summer house of Max Liebermann, one of Berlin’s foremost Impressionist painters. This edifice, a lovely building in and of itself with an extensive gardens and open to the public year-round, has changing exhibits of the artist’s work, and at the moment is featuring a joint presentation with another Impressionist artist worthy of note, Lesser Ury. This exhibit focuses on their works which showcase the energy of Berlin in the early decades of the 20th century, and I’ll give you an example in a moment. But first, I wanted to share the gentle loveliness of this particular venue. Here’s a shot of the house itself, designed by Liebermann himself and built around 1910 for his summer escapes:
It’s a very pleasant place indeed and I could see lots of people sitting quietly about, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying a little nosh and even having a little snooze. But being the Type A character that I am, these activities didn’t pass much muster with me, and I found myself quickly focusing on some of the odder aspects of the Villa, which included the calves (yes, calves) of this particular visitor:
Ahem. Max Liebermann (1847-1935) grew up in a well-to-do Jewish banking family in Berlin whose digs were located just next to the Brandenburg Gate in Pariser Platz overlooking the Tiergarten. For those of you unfamiliar with Berlin, this is basically Beacon Hill, Bel Air, and Potomac, Maryland all rolled up into one. While he was an Impressionist painter about which you can read elsewhere, he also reminded me of Ludwig Pollack, the subject of one of my posts in February, the Jewish archeologist in Rome. Both of these men grew up as wealthy and privileged secular Europeans, had enormously successful careers, but saw at the end of their lives the near total destruction of all they held dear. It gives one pause. But before one reaches for the bottle, let me continue the story. Here’s a shot of Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate late in Liebermann’s era, some time before the Second World War, a vestige of another lost world:
…and a verrrry interesting shot of Liebermann and his wife Martha in that lovely apartment (and here I challenge the marriage counselors among us to unpack this photo):
Liebermann painted a great deal in and around Berlin, but not simply the statues and monuments which were being built literally as he lived there. Rather, he and Ury, among others of a less traditional artistic bent, were fascinated by and tried to record the dynamism of the evolving city during the decades of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They focused on moments and movements, in some cases in the evening hours, rather than on people or places, examples of which you see here. I am charmed by their focus on night and light:
The exhibit I came to see in the Villa was rather small, but very powerful, and I will now follow Liebermann’s work much more carefully.
Since too much time in the sun and fresh air makes me itchy, it wasn’t long before I headed back into the belly of the beast. But it was such a lovely day that I decided to take a little longer to get home by walking down the Landwehrkanal from Tiergarten to my flat.
The site of city fortifications as early as the end of the 15th century, the Landwehrkanal was realized as part of a watery transportation network in Berlin between 1845 and 1850. One of the darker parts of its history includes the dumping of many people into its murky depths, including the Polish activist Rosa Luxemburg in 1919, allegedly not dredged out for six months or so. But today, its bucolic vistas invite loads of hikers and bikers as well as a steady stream of river boaters. I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on the calendar for the next time T is in town:
Happily, one of our favorite restaurants, Schnitzelei, is situated just exactly on the way home, and today I dipped in for a little refreshment. Here’s a shot of the view from my table out toward the canal as I waited for my lunch to arrive. Please note the gender equality meme…okay, it’s subtle, but hint hint…the father (on the right) is feeding the baby:
…and here’s a house specialty, the “German Tapas” plate, delivered just before I started gnawing on the table. I’m having (from left) stuffed cabbage, plums wrapped in bacon, and a groats and parsley salad. Oh, and a lovely unfiltered craft beer. Life could be worse.
Cheers, dears, and until next time, thanks for riding around on my shoulder.