Sunday, November 21, 2010


No, I am not writing about the American politician Joe Lieberman spelled with one n but about Max Liebermann with a double n.

As usual when in Berlin I visit places with a historic relevance. One place that I had never visited before is the infamous Villa on the Wannsee where in 1942 Himmler's right-hand-man Heydrich held a Konferenz (meeting) to co-ordinate the Endlösung (final solution) for Europe's Jews. The place is way out of the city. You first take the S-Bahn to Wannsee Station and then ride the 155 Bus to the Villa on the Wannsee. The bus runs every twenty minutes and while studying the time table I read Liebermann Villa marked as a stop. I spontaneously decided to visit that place too.

The villa of the Wannseekonferenz became a memorial center only in 1992 following a long fight about its financing. It now houses an exhibition documenting how the Nazi regime, once in power, had systematically transformed the latent anti-Semitism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe into a campaign of annihilation. In presenting the Jews as the scapegoat for Germany's misery (Die Juden sind unser Unglück) six millions were hanged, shot, and gassed.

Entrance to the exhibition is free but the main iron gate to the surrounding park is locked and only opens after the girl at the counter has considered the televised visitor acceptable. On this gray November morning the visitors comprised a few old guys but mostly pupils. Their teacher had formed groups of two and attributed them to the various rooms. Now she was running from team to team giving instructions how the kids had to do Vergangenheitsbewältigung i.e. come to terms with the past of their great-grandfathers.

What would you expect. There was shouting, running around, tussling and even laughing. After an hour distracted by the kids' behaviour and feeling depressed by the exhibition I had enough. I stepped out into the park and walked back two bus stops to Liebermann's villa situated on Lake Wannsee too.

Max Liebermann (1847-1935) the Jewish-German painter born from a wealthy family built the house in 1909. He lived there during the summer months from 1914 to the end of his life. Liebermann is regarded as the father of German impressionism and while in Berlin became famous as the painter of portraits.

What Liebermann had seen from his studio on Pariser Platz
in January 1933. The new US embassy is just located across

During his life Liebermann always held strong opinions on art and politics. While watching the Nazis' brown hordes torches lit celebrating their victory in marching through the Brandenburg Gate on January 30th 1933, Liebermann is reported to have commented in his typical Berlin dialect: Ick kann jar nich soville fressen, wie ick kotzen möchte (I can't eat as much as I would like to vomit). The old man is one of my heroes!

Max standing in front of his villa
Liebermann who had become president of the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1920 and a Berlin honorary citizen in 1927 resigned from his post in 1933 just in time before the Nazis ousted him.

Reading in his living room

Flowers in Liebermann's garden. In the back his Castle on the Lake
After his death in 1935 the new rulers forced his widow Martha in 1940 to sell the house to the Reichspost, the house Max had called his Castle on the Lake and had loved so much always looking for corners with flowers for his paintings. Martha committed suicide in 1943 just being ahead of her deportation to Theresienstadt.

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