Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee

Dr. Martin Faass

Director

Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee

Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee Colomierstr. 3, 14109 Berlin

www.liebermann-villa.de

European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award


The Restoration of the Liebermann Villa on Wannsee and its Conversion into a Museum

Max Liebermann had a summer house built by the lake Wannsee in 1909 that he proudly called his "lakeside castle". After spending nearly every summer for forty years in Holland, his "artistic home", he found the necessary peace and quiet and many of the key motifs for his later work at this secluded getaway far from the hustle and bustle of the city. There Liebermann regularly spent the summer months from 1914 until his death in 1935, and he completed more than 200 paintings in the 7,000 msup2; garden, which was designed following his own ideas.

By virtue of his body of work and his political commitment as an artist, Max Liebermann is considered one of the most important German painters from the period around 1900. The descendent of one of Berlin's wealthiest Jewish families, he opposed the stuffy academicism prevalent in the German Empire of his youth, and as co-founder and president of the Berlin Secession, he helped transforming the capital from a provincial artistic backwater to a vibrant centre of the arts. Liebermann became honorary citizen of Berlin in 1927 and was appointed honorary president of the Academy of the Arts in 1932.

Liebermann commissioned the architect Paul Otto Baumgarten to design his summer house, which is built in a neo-classical style. Alfred Lichtwark, the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle and an enthusiastic proponent of the reform movement in garden design, helped to plan the garden. Liebermann and Lichtwark created an arrangement of different "garden spaces" on the property: a cottage garden with lush shrubs; a fruit and vegetable garden; a flower terrace; three hedge gardens - which deserve to be mentioned as a landscaping highlight - and a large expanse of lawn extending down to the lakefront. Thus Liebermann created a striking combination of neo-classical architecture and landscape - a verdant Arcadia in the south of Berlin.

This unique ensemble was used for various purposes in the following sixty years after the artist's death, in the course of which it was extensively modified and partially destroyed. This period began with an injustice: the Nazis forced Liebermann's widow Martha (1857-1943) to sell the property to the national postal system in 1940. After the war, the estate was returned to the heirs, who did not want to come back to Germany and then sold it to the state of Berlin. From 1945 to 1969 it housed the men's surgical ward of Wannsee hospital. In 1972 it was leased to a diving club. In 1995, after a long struggle, the Max Liebermann Society Berlin succeeded in getting the ensemble protected under the Monument Preservation Act and designated for use as a museum.

When the Max Liebermann Society took over the property in 2002, the house and garden were in deplorable condition. The main building had been turned into a clubhouse, with club rooms on the ground floor and a large function room on the first floor, furnished with red plastic chairs. The garden, however, was in a more deplorable state, with only the elevated linden hedge, a chestnut tree and a few sections of hornbeam hedges surviving. Where gracefully-proportioned gardens laid out with an artist's eye once delighted the beholder, there was now little more than an unstructured lawn, a car park and a few wild spruce trees.

Between 2002 and 2006, the Liebermann Villa was restored and converted for the use as a museum. The garden was reconstructed on the basis of paintings and old photographs. Saving this listed ensemble would not have been possible without the generous support and donations from private persons and various foundations.

A driving force behind the effort and the key to its success was the commitment and dedication of the many members of the Max Liebermann Society who volunteered their time and lent a hand in refurbishing the building and gardens. Thanks to their active support, it was possible to open the museum on April 29, 2006. The assistance of volunteers was not only vital to the restoration effort; it is equally important for the all-day work of the museum, which does not receive any public funds. Over 130 volunteers are currently involved in the Liebermann Villa, helping out as cashiers, in the bookshop, in the garden and with office work. Because the volunteers put their heart into what they do and take such personal pride in "their" museum, visitors feel truly welcome, as if they are truly Max Liebermann's guests. It is this private touch that gives the museum its special charm.

The building and gardens have now been restored to their former splendour, and the villa is open to the public as a museum. In addition to a permanent exhibition focusing on Liebermann's life and featuring his paintings, there are also special exhibitions illuminating various aspects of Liebermann's art and the art of his contemporaries. The exhibitions focus on the works Liebermann painted at Wannsee, offering visitors the unique opportunity to whatch these pieces in direct proximity to the motifs they were inspired by, and to experience this historical Gesamtkunstwerk of paintings, architecture and garden design. The cafeacute; on the terrace affords a lovely view of the garden and lake, making it the perfect place to take a breather and enjoy the unique ambience of Liebermann's "lakeside castle".

Max Liebermann had a summer house built by the lake Wannsee in 1909 that he proudly called his "lakeside castle". After spending nearly every summer for forty years in Holland, his "artistic home", he found the necessary peace and quiet and many of the key motifs for his later work at this secluded getaway far from the hustle and bustle of the city. There Liebermann regularly spent the summer months from 1914 until his death in 1935, and he completed more than 200 paintings in the 7,000 msup2; garden, which was designed following his own ideas.

By virtue of his body of work and his political commitment as an artist, Max Liebermann is considered one of the most important German painters from the period around 1900. The descendent of one of Berlin's wealthiest Jewish families, he opposed the stuffy academicism prevalent in the German Empire of his youth, and as co-founder and president of the Berlin Secession, he helped transforming the capital from a provincial artistic backwater to a vibrant centre of the arts. Liebermann became honorary citizen of Berlin in 1927 and was appointed honorary president of the Academy of the Arts in 1932.

Liebermann commissioned the architect Paul Otto Baumgarten to design his summer house, which is built in a neo-classical style. Alfred Lichtwark, the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle and an enthusiastic proponent of the reform movement in garden design, helped to plan the garden. Liebermann and Lichtwark created an arrangement of different "garden spaces" on the property: a cottage garden with lush shrubs; a fruit and vegetable garden; a flower terrace; three hedge gardens - which deserve to be mentioned as a landscaping highlight - and a large expanse of lawn extending down to the lakefront. Thus Liebermann created a striking combination of neo-classical architecture and landscape - a verdant Arcadia in the south of Berlin.

This unique ensemble was used for various purposes in the following sixty years after the artist's death, in the course of which it was extensively modified and partially destroyed. This period began with an injustice: the Nazis forced Liebermann's widow Martha (1857-1943) to sell the property to the national postal system in 1940. After the war, the estate was returned to the heirs, who did not want to come back to Germany and then sold it to the state of Berlin. From 1945 to 1969 it housed the men's surgical ward of Wannsee hospital. In 1972 it was leased to a diving club. In 1995, after a long struggle, the Max Liebermann Society Berlin succeeded in getting the ensemble protected under the Monument Preservation Act and designated for use as a museum.

When the Max Liebermann Society took over the property in 2002, the house and garden were in deplorable condition. The main building had been turned into a clubhouse, with club rooms on the ground floor and a large function room on the first floor, furnished with red plastic chairs. The garden, however, was in a more deplorable state, with only the elevated linden hedge, a chestnut tree and a few sections of hornbeam hedges surviving. Where gracefully-proportioned gardens laid out with an artist's eye once delighted the beholder, there was now little more than an unstructured lawn, a car park and a few wild spruce trees.

Between 2002 and 2006, the Liebermann Villa was restored and converted for the use as a museum. The garden was reconstructed on the basis of paintings and old photographs. Saving this listed ensemble would not have been possible without the generous support and donations from private persons and various foundations.

A driving force behind the effort and the key to its success was the commitment and dedication of the many members of the Max Liebermann Society who volunteered their time and lent a hand in refurbishing the building and gardens. Thanks to their active support, it was possible to open the museum on April 29, 2006. The assistance of volunteers was not only vital to the restoration effort; it is equally important for the all-day work of the museum, which does not receive any public funds. Over 130 volunteers are currently involved in the Liebermann Villa, helping out as cashiers, in the bookshop, in the garden and with office work. Because the volunteers put their heart into what they do and take such personal pride in "their" museum, visitors feel truly welcome, as if they are truly Max Liebermann's guests. It is this private touch that gives the museum its special charm.

The building and gardens have now been restored to their former splendour, and the villa is open to the public as a museum. In addition to a permanent exhibition focusing on Liebermann's life and featuring his paintings, there are also special exhibitions illuminating various aspects of Liebermann's art and the art of his contemporaries. The exhibitions focus on the works Liebermann painted at Wannsee, offering visitors the unique opportunity to whatch these pieces in direct proximity to the motifs they were inspired by, and to experience this historical Gesamtkunstwerk of paintings, architecture and garden design. The cafeacute; on the terrace affords a lovely view of the garden and lake, making it the perfect place to take a breather and enjoy the unique ambience of Liebermann's "lakeside castle".