Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Käthe Kollwitz Museum - a Berlin gem

Käthe Kollwitz Museum - Berlin

The art of Käthe Kollwitz has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. She produced works that touched my parents on an emotional level unlike most others. Some of her work lived with them until they died. So, there was no way that I would miss a chance to visit the Käthe Kollwitz Museum on a trip to Berlin.

The Käthe Kollwitz Museum is housed in a villa built in 1867 in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin. It houses over 200 pieces by Mrs. Kollwitz and has a wonderful comprehensive display of her life’s work.

Käthe Kollwitz (nee Schmidt) was born in Königsberg, Prussia (today Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1867. Her father was a socialist and her mother’s father was a Lutheran
Self-Portait in Bronze
reverend who was expelled from the state church for being too radical. At sixteen, she moved to Berlin to attend art school. She concentrated on drawing instead of painting, and her subjects were often workers, farmers and other oppressed members of German society. In 1891 she married Karl Kollwitz, whom she had met and started dating seven years earlier when they both were students. He was now a doctor treating the poor, and, together a bought a house in a working class neighborhood.

Kollwitz found that the lives of the working class inspired her art. She found that their struggles touched her and that creating art that portrayed their lives gave her art meaning. She looked to both the personal and political aspects of their lives, something that she did not see a dividing line between.
March of the Weavers
Her first major work was a series of lithographs and etchings called “The Weavers Uprising” (1898). Here she illustrated the failed
Rebellion of Weavers in the Silisea section of Prussia. The rebellion was against the poor wages and oppression suffered by the workers in the mills. In the end, the Prussian army killed 35 workers in putting down the rebellion. Kollwitz saw their struggle as connected to lives of the workers that she lived amongst. The collection was a great success. She followed this by creating the “Peasant War” series
between 1902 and 1908. Again taking inspiration from the past, she created a series of etchings to represent the
Great Peasant’s War in Germany in the early 1500’s.

Kollowitz was a socialist. She saw workers struggles as being connected through history. And she saw inspiration in those struggles. But she was especially inspired by the plight of women. The Peasant Way series put women front an foremost, in a way that other artists had not done. Her work is the life of the poor, presented through the eyes of working class women. This was especially true as she moved into the period between the World Wars. 
Memorial Sheet for Karl Liebknect

 In 1920 Kollwitz was elected to the Prussian Academy of the Arts, the first woman to receive such an honor. However, this era also represented a time of crisis in Germany. The Weimar republic suffered from massive inflation, with the U.S. dollar going from around 15 marks at the end of WW I to literally over 4 trillion marks by November 1923. The working class of Germany was literally starving in the streets. Kollwitz used her art to create posters and fliers to call attention to this and demand that the government take steps to fix the problem. 

Never Again War

 Kollwitz was active in many socialist political causes during the 1920’s, and when the Nazi’s came to power in 1933, she was banned from exhibiting her work. In 1936, the Gestapo threatened to deport her and her husband to a concentration camp.  Karl Kollwitz died in 1940, and in 1943 Käthe moved out of Berlin for safety. Her house was destroyed in an allied bombing raid in 1943. By1945 Kollwitz was living in the town of Moritzberg, near Dresden, and that is where she died, just two weeks before V-E day.

Mother and son

 While several institutions in East Berlin supported and remembered the life and work of Mrs. Kollwitz, residents of West Berlin had tried for years to achieve official recognition. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that they achieved it. The museum is part of the “Wintergarden Ensemble” along with the Literaturhaus and Villa Greisbach Auction House. They reside together on the grounds of a villa that was slated to be torn down to make way for a new road. The Käthe Kollwitz museum opened in 1986. A large part of its collection came from Hans Pels-Leusden, a Berlin painter, who started collecting her work in 1950. Its exhibits are organized over 4 floors. The ground floor give the historical context for the life and work Käthe Kollwitz. As you move upstairs, her works are presented in chronological order on the first and second floors. Finally, the top floor is given to a recasting of a statue of Mrs. Kollwitz by artist Gustav Seitz. The original is situated in Käthe-Kollwitz-Platz in Berlin.

Käthe Kollwitz memorial by Gustav Seitz

Walking through the museum was tremendously moving. Her work is not “pretty,” but neither were the lives lived by her subjects. However, in my opinion, Kollwitz has found the beauty in their struggle. She used her art to make their struggle and suffering palpable. I always find it hard to pull my eyes away from her work. It holds me. It makes me yearn for a world their pain, and the system that causes it no longer exists.

Self-portrait at Table

Getting There:
The museum is at Fasenenstrasse 24 in Berlin. Entrance is 7 Euros for adults and free for under 18.

Take the U9 subway to Kurfurstendamm station, the U1 to Uhlandstrasse or the S3 to the Zoologisher Garten. There are also many busses in the area.

No comments:

Post a Comment