Museum Review: Max Liebermann Villa Museum visit on June 3rd, 2020
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View from the front vegetable garden sitting on a bench
On a lovely day in June with 26-degree sunny weather, I set out to visit the Max Liebermann Villa. The museum, which opened in 2006 and was the first to celebrate the life and works of Germany's most famous modern Impressionistic painter, is set in the idyllic suburb of Wannsee right on the lake. A stone's throw away from the horror mansion known for the Wannsee Conference where the Nazi's answered the 'Final Question to the Jewish Question' and set about to exterminate the entire race systematically.
Liebermann was born in Berlin in 1947 in a home directly beside the Brandenburg Gate, which has now become the Max Liebermann Haus. After studying law and philosophy, he later turned to painting. Liebermann became well known for his portraits, including those of Albert Einstein and Paul von Hindenburg, the famous Prussian general who became president of Germany during the Weimar Republic and appointed Hitler Chancellor in 1933. He was a leading figure in the German impressionistic movement and painted portraits, around 200, of his garden, which dominated his later works. The garden was at his summer villa on lake Wannsee where he bought the last waterfront land available in 1909 and referred to it as his 'little castle by the lake.'
The rose garden at the back of the house
Liebermann was very active in the Berlin artistic milieux and served as the first president of the Berlin Secession, followed by the president of The Prussian Academy of Arts. In 1927 he became an honorary citizen of Berlin and was famous during a time when print magazines were starting. Thus, he was widely sketched and photographed throughout his life.
As a Jewish man, he was at the heart of Jewish persecution throughout his life, culminating in his forced removal as president of the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. He died in his sleep in 1935 and was buried at the Schönhauser Allee Jewish Cemetery. His wife Martha refused to leave Germany during the Nazi's rise to power even though her daughter emigrated to the United States in 1938 soon after Kristallnacht. When she finally decided to leave in 1941, it was too late as she was penniless because the Nazis had forced her to sell the summer villa to the Nazi party with the proceeds being seized and not handed over to her. All other assets were also ceased by the Nazi's, and she had no chance to escape. In 1943, the Nazis came to take the 85-year-old widow to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and while being allowed to gather her things, she swallowed enough sleeping pills to commit suicide. She was found immediately by the Nazi officer and brought in a coma to the Jewish Hospital, where she died five days later. There is a Stopelsteine for her in front of their former home at the Brandenburg Gate.
Inside view of one room of main floor looking out at the people sitting at the outside cafe.
The villa past into the Nazi's possession and was converted into after a hospital after the war. In 1952 it was given back to Liebermann's daughter, who continued to rent it out to the Hospital. It eventually passed down to his granddaughter, who then sold it to the Berlin Senat, who then, in turn, leased it to a diving club. In 1995 The Max Liebermann Society was created to preserve his legacy and create a museum for his life and works. The Foundation fought for the right to use the villa as a museum, and in 2006 they succeeded in opening Germany's first museum in his honour. With extensive renovations to return the house and garden to the condition they were in when Liebermann lived there, they succeeded in creating an idyllic haven from the bustle of city life, in the same vane as Liebermann had envisioned when he bought the plot of land in 1909.
As soon as you get off the S-Bahn at Wannsee, you can feel all of your troubles subside. This suburb of Berlin is famous for the municipal Lake Wannsee beach, hiking paths and the Kronprinzessinnenweg, which makes for a nice bike ride out of the city. The affluent town of Wannsee is very picturesque. As you leave the main street, you see mansions and mini-castles dominate the landscape. The villa begins with a small garden shed that serves as a gift shop and ticket entry. Exiting the garden shed, you enter the large vegetable garden with paths to walk around and admire the many different fruits and veggies growing. Benches are fitted around the grounds to sit, relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
View of the back of the house
The house has two floors open to the public. Most info boards are in English and German, although only about half of it goes into great detail in English. Some areas, such as Liebermann's life and works are well translated, but most boards detailing the renovations of the home and the gardens are only in German. The first floor contains a tiny cafe that sells drinks with cakes and quiches and leads out to the back terrace where you can sit for hours drinking coffee and enjoying the views over the lake. The first floor also contains most of the information about his life and works. The second floor is where most of his artworks are on display in what used to be his studio. Two rooms are showing various works mostly of garden paintings painted in his actual garden below. The other three rooms consist of rotating exhibitions which, when I was there, featured the 25th anniversary of the founding of The Society. Unfortunately, they were all in German, and I felt they were very repetitive, almost like they were trying to fill the villa's ample space. I wasn't a big fan of this exhibition, as I felt it was redundant and hope that future temporary exhibitions will be more exciting and informative.
Other than the actual paintings of Liebermann's, the highlight is the backyard, which leads out onto Lake Wansee. The cafe leads onto a terrace with the option to stroll amongst the grounds and down to the waterfront. There is a beautiful rose garden to the left side leading down to a gazebo and pier where you can walk out onto the water. They have set up benches along the grounds, and when I was there, many people were relaxing on the pier reading books and enjoying the Berlin summer, which finally arrived this week. Further down the waterfront, there are more benches and movable chairs where people can look out over the lake and watch the world go by.
Benches on the pier on Lake Wannsee to sit and read or reflect
Going to this museum made my soul happy. Not only to learn about the life and works of Max Liebermann but also to enjoy my time away from the big city, just as Max Liebermann wanted when he bought the property 100 years ago. The Foundation has done a marvellous job of recreating this feeling while showcasing his works and keeping his memory alive.
Summer (April-September) Daily except Tuesdays 10-18:00
Open on Public Holidays
Daily except Tuesdays 11-17:00
Open on Public Holidays
Address: Liebermann Villa on Lake Wannsee
Colomierstr. 3, 14109 Berlin
+49 30 805 85 900
Admission: Adults 10€
Free entry for children under 18, school classes and ICOM members
Groups of more than 8 people 8€ per person.
Multimedia guides 3€ in English and various other languages. (Not during Corona)
Guided tours also available (not during Corona)
Lockers: available as well as umbrellas to walk around the gardens
View to the other side of Lake Wannsee where there is a yacht club
Artichokes growing in the front Vegetable garden
Paths to stroll along the back garden
The view from the cafe terrace to the lake