Berlin – There is something fascinating about museum archives: They store valuable exhibits, art treasures and rare donations. Not everything can be presented in exhibitions, which is a shame. That is why the Berliner Zeitung asked more than a dozen museums: What are your secret treasures? Which exhibits has Berlin not seen yet? Not everyone answered, not everyone was able to. Charlottenburg Palace, for example, has no hidden treasures at all, as press spokesman Frank Kallensee writes: “The exhibits that are in Charlottenburg can also be seen – at least in pandemic-free times.”
Read and see what the other major Berlin museums have selected for you and what there is to tell about them. Today the archivists of the Märkisches Museum, the Jewish Museum, the GDR Museum and the German Historical Museum report. In the second part, which will appear tomorrow, you can read everything about the secret treasures of the Letter Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Musical Instrument Museum and the topography of terror.
In 1928, nine inconspicuous little wooden boxes came to the Märkisches Museum – the forerunner of today’s Berlin City Museum. This contained all the pictures that the art writer and publisher Oscar Bolle (1825-1929), who had meanwhile fallen ill, had created for his projection evenings “Märkische Lectures”. They were bought by the Märkisches Museum with financial help from the magistrate, because even then they were viewed as a treasure that needs to be saved and preserved for the city of Berlin.
The fantastically beautiful images take us to the cultural landscape of the Mark Brandenburg 100 years ago. So they come from a time when color photography was not yet invented and the color had to be laboriously applied to the black and white glass slides with a fine brush. Oscar Bolle therefore also called his projection evenings “Picturesque walks through the Mark Brandenburg”. In these lectures since 1905, Bolle brought his Berlin audience closer to the beauties and history of the Margraviate of Brandenburg – in the tradition of Theodor Fontane and his wanderings through the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
The hand-colored glass pictures have never been exhibited or published since they were purchased in 1928. So today you are an absolute rediscovery, a (still) unrecovered treasure. Bolle himself had only used the slides for lectures. Initially, they could not be shown in the museum, because there was still no digitization and no technology with which they could be permanently integrated as a projection in an exhibition.
The pictures were damaged by war, relocation and leaky roofs at the Märkisches Museum in the post-war period and were increasingly being forgotten. Now they have to be restored before they can be effective again and shine in all their beauty. In 2017 Oscar Bolle’s lecture manuscripts were transcribed and since 2020 the first 300 of the 900 slides still preserved today have been restored and digitized with financial support from the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation. One of the many treasures of the Stadtmuseum Berlin is now visible again after almost 100 years of slumber.
Ines Hahn, curator for photography at the Stadtmuseum Berlin
In May of this year, the almost 100-year-old Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, gave the Jewish Museum Berlin three traditional blouses. She and her younger sister wore the blouses as children in Berlin and are shown in a painting that has been in the museum’s collection since 1996. It comes from the Berlin painter Sabine Lepsius, who was known for her portraits of children. In 1932 she received the commission for a double portrait of the two daughters of Beate and Franz Hahn – the painting was made in the family home in Steinstücke, Berlin-Zehlendorf.
Franz Hahn had brought the hand-embroidered blouses to his daughters Cornelia and Charlotte shortly before from a business trip from Romania. The painting and blouses were taken with them by the Hahn family when they fled Germany in 1939. The founder and her family are happy that they are now in good hands in the museum and in the right place. And for us it is of course a fantastic stroke of luck that these historical objects are coming together again here in Berlin after decades.
None of the blouses are on display yet, and the painting, which was on view in our permanent exhibition for a long time, is currently in the depot. Soon, however, you will be able to find them together digitally on our website, with in-depth information on their history.
Leonore Maier, collection curator, Jewish Museum Berlin
A first step towards democracy – the round table: On December 7, 1989 something completely unimaginable happened in the GDR: representatives of the SED government, the bloc parties and opposition members met for the first time at the invitation of the Evangelical Churches at the “Central Round Table” in Berlin together to work out the transition to a new form of government in the GDR. A total of 16 meetings were held up to March 12, 1990. Numerous innovations and resolutions were passed and a new draft of the constitution was developed. In addition to the end of the SED rule, topics such as free elections to the People’s Chamber, women’s or health policy and the dissolution of the Office for National Security were discussed. “Round tables” were formed not only in Berlin, but also in other districts of the GDR.
Since 2015, the GDR Museum has housed an ensemble of the “Central Round Table”, which was actually square, from Schönhausen Palace in Pankow. The velvet-covered chairs, which were produced in 1989, and the table are still in very good condition thanks to our restorers. The task of the GDR Museum is to continue to save the objects from decay in order to preserve a piece of contemporary history for posterity.
The furniture is exciting for our museum because in terms of aesthetics it is not only typical of its time, but also associated with a special expressiveness, because the public dialogue between the SED and the opposition was an absolute sensation. They therefore represent a first attempt at democratizing the GDR and are reminiscent of the thoughts and values of that time. We would like to keep these insights into history for future generations.
To ensure that the wooden chairs and the table remain in good condition, they are stored under conservation conditions and as constant a temperature as possible in the depot of the GDR Museum, as high humidity and high temperatures promote degradation processes and irreversibly damage objects.
Sabrina Heckert, Research Associate, Collection, GDR Museum
German Historical Museum (DHM)
Big works on small stages: In the previous century, paper theater was a popular entertainment medium. Jakob Ferdinand Schreiber’s publishing house in Esslingen near Stuttgart was the market leader and at the same time a synonym for children’s theater. The German Historical Museum has had a large inventory of paper theater decorations, figures and text books from around 1900 in its everyday culture collection since 1989. Individual pieces of these will be shown again and again in exhibitions, including from April 6, 2022 in the exhibition “Richard Wagner and the German feeling”.
Mainly fairy tales were on the program. But “serious material” such as dramas and operas were also adapted for the small stage: “Tannhäuser”, for example, turned into a magical fairy tale in five acts in the adaptation for the paper and children’s theater. The performances lasted around three quarters of an hour, sensationally fast for a Wagner opera, and a good amount of time to keep children (and adults) in their chairs. It was also recommended to perform the pieces in pairs, if possible, one of whom reads the roles of the piece and the other lets the characters step up and down and takes over the sound and light direction.
For special effects such as thunder and lightning or Bengali fire, there were practical tips in every text booklet. Incidentally, the paper backdrops and decorations sold by JF Schreiber and other publishers could often be used for several pieces. The backdrop decoration “mountain region” shown here could be used for “Tannhäuser”, but also for “Wilhelm Tell” or “Im Weiße Rößl”. This was not only practicable and cost-saving in terms of production and use, but also downright sustainable in today’s sense.
Dr. Sabine Witt, Head of the Everyday Culture Collection, German Historical Museum