October 16, 2014 by bbutler1969
Eastern Germany is filled with fascinating history, beautiful music and tasty food, but it’s also the place where you can see some terrific Special Collections-related sights.
Marvel at the organizational talents of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German statesman and writer, at his Weimar home. The historic house museum still contains his collections, which he precisely arranged and proudly displayed. Plaster casts of ancient sculptures, drawings from Pompeiian frescoes, Gothic stained glass, copies of works by Raphael and Titian, Italian majolica and landscape sketches by English artists are some examples of Goethe’s varied collecting interests. Specially designed cabinet drawers contain the thousands of drawings that he organized and cataloged.
The empty shelves in this room in Dessau will soon be filled with an archival collection related to Kurt Weill, the German composer best known for his Threepenny Opera who was born in Dessau. The Kurt-Weill-Centre also includes a museum and library related to the Dessau native’s life and work.
You’ll also see some clever, state-of-the-art museum displays in eastern Germany.
The Leipzig house where Felix Mendelssohn lived from 1845 until his death in 1847 is now a museum that conveys interesting information about the composer. A larger-than-life dishtowel and plates showing the dates of and scenes from Mendelssohn’s journeys throughout Europe hang on the walls of the home’s former kitchen. In the middle of the room, a showcase resembling a mile marker houses an original watercolor that Mendelssohn painted during his travels.
Showcases in the Mendelssohn children’s rooms are fashioned to resemble the functional, naturally beautiful Biedermeier furniture that was popular during Mendelssohn’s day. Open the drawers and doors of this piece and you’ll find interesting archival documents and objects; then punch a corresponding number into your audio guide and learn more about them.
Another room includes a “paternoster” showcase that displays and provides commentary about a variety of objects and documents associated with Mendelssohn’s life. The shelves slowly travel up and down, displaying precious objects like a Biedermeier candy dish, porcelain coffee cups, family portraits, books and letters.
Touch the screen of built-in iPads to find out the stories behind the objects.
The rulers of Saxony were insatiable collectors who displayed their treasures in eight lavish rooms in their Dresden palace known as the Historic Green Vault. Storing the Green Vault’s treasures in Switzerland during the war enabled them to remain intact, but the rooms did not fare so well. Five were damaged during the bombing; three were completely destroyed. In recent years, the rooms of the Historic Green Vault were either reconstructed or restored, and they are open for tours.
In order to protect the precious objects in the Historic Green Vault, a restricted number of visitors pass through a secured set of double doors. Admission to the museum is regulated by timed-entry tickets.
Objects are grouped by type, arranged in their original order. They are displayed without showcases, either on marble-topped, carved wooden tables or on open shelves in front of mirrored walls that optically multiply them.
Amber pieces and ivory vessels created on a specially designed turning lathe are presented against walls paneled with 12 kinds of polished Italian marble. Silver and gold objects are displayed against vermilion, green-lacquered and mirrored walls. Bronze statues and monuments are featured in an oak-paneled room. Jewels glimmer against black velvet in a room walled with gilded mirrors. The Hall of Precious Objects contains incredible vessels made of etched rock crystal, seashells, coconuts and ostrich eggs. Limoges enamel boxes are arranged on ornate tables along the walls.
The New Green Vault contains more than 1,000 unique objects considered to be the most famous items in the collection. Showcases fitted with anti-glare glass and state-of-the-art lighting help visitors examine every detail of works of art like the 41-carat “Dresden Green” diamond and a cherry stone carved with 185 faces.
Some special collections have hit hard times and deserve extra-special attention.
The three-story Rococo hall of the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar attracts visitors to this research library specializing in German literature from the Enlightenment until Late Romanticism. Its collection also includes medieval books, incunabula, flyers from the Reformation, historical maps, globes and the world’s largest collection about the historical figure, Faust. The library also holds musical scores from Mozart, Haydn and Gluck, and part of the personal libraries of Friedrich Schiller, Franz Liszt and Friedrich Nietzsche.
On September 2, 2004, the library and its historic collection were severely threatened when smoldering, defective electrical wiring in the second gallery of the Rococo Hall ignited a massive fire. The fire destroyed the upper two stories of the building, 37 works of art, and 50,000 volumes, most of which dated from the 17th and 18th centuries. An additional 62,000 volumes were severely damaged. The damaged books were cared for with cleaning, freezing, vacuum freeze-drying and reconditioning in Weimar and at the Center for Book Maintenance in Leipzig.
Restoration After the Fire: Rescuing the Books of the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, an exhibition at the library, offers insights into how the library dealt with the consequences of the fire and the technical methods of conserving the books. To read more, see the accompanying German-language catalogue, Restaurieren nach dem Brand: Die Rettung der Bücher der Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, by Jürgen Weber and Ulrike Hähner.
At Schloss Moritzburg, a hunting lodge that Duke Moritz of Saxony built north of Dresden, Germany in 1542, you’ll be taken aback by its special collection of hunting trophies that line its walls. Gilded or carved wooden representations of deer heads are topped by antlers from elk, moose from northern Europe, reindeer, and a giant stag from the Ice Age that Tsar Peter I gave as a present when he visited in 1698. Dozens more pairs of antlers were misshapen by diseases or injuries. Still more trophies are between 270 and 400 years old, including the heaviest set of red deer antlers in the world, weighing over 40 pounds and spanning over six feet.
But the most extraordinary sight at Moritzburg may be the Feather Room. In 1720, Saxon ruler Augustus the Strong saw an advertisement in a Parisian magazine for a bed made of over one million peacock, pheasant, guinea hen and duck feathers. The feathers were dyed and knotted on a core thread at set intervals, creating a soft, fluffy surface of feathers that was cut to form patterns and coated with glue to create overlaps like roofing tiles. Augustus the Strong removed the canopy and used the curtains as decorative textile panels.
From 1982 to 2003, the feather bed was restored to correct damage from unfiltered light and pest infestation on the wood paneling. Each of the feathers was housed in a nitrogen chamber for four weeks to protect against pest infestation. Then, they were cleaned in a special water bath, dried separately using tweezers and a strong stream of cold air, and then were combed and fastened with threads to a loom. The results of the award-winning conservation project are on display again in a separate exhibition area at Moritzburg.
If you look carefully, you can also find evidence of conservation under way at Wörlitz, the elegant 18th-century Neoclassical summer home of Leopold III, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau. The Gothic Garden House originally contained many of the duke’s collections, including hundreds of wax replicas of the varieties of fruits known at the time, while the library contains some of his collection of thousands of gemstones engraved with Neoclassical motifs. Faux-marble treatments and ceiling frescoes have the tell-tale signs of a paint restoration project.