Eine Liebeserklärung an Heimatmuseen / A declaration of love to local museums

Heimatmuseen werden gern belächelt, gelten als altmodisch oder uninteressant. Mit Landes- oder Kunstmuseen können sie weder an Größe noch an Ausstellungsfläche konkurrieren. Andererseits müssen sie das auch nicht. Sie füllen die Lücken, die ihre großen Kollegen lassen, nämlich das kleine, tägliche Leben und die Menschen, die es führten – also die Basis, auf der die „großen Dinge“ überhaupt erst entstehen. Ich habe Heimatmuseen sehr zu schätzen gelernt, im Zuge meiner Ahnenforschung wie auch meiner Buchrecherchen. Gerade auf dieser Ebene sind sie unverzichtbare Quellen, denn sie kennen und dokumentieren die Örtlichkeiten und Gebräuche einer Region. Sie sind auch erheblich persönlicher: Man kommt fast zwangsläufig ins Gespräch mit den Menschen, die sie betreuen.

Einige der Heimatmuseen, die ich besucht und genossen habe:

Museum Edenkoben: Für meine Ahnenforschung eine Goldgrube. Ich war unter der Woche da und vermutlich die einzige Besucherin des Tages, was einen langen Austausch mit dem Leitenden ermöglichte.
Museum Uslar: Das Museum meiner Heimatstadt, hat oft Themenausstellungen.
West Highland Museum: In Fort William, wo ich die Wahrheit über das Glenfinnan-Monument erfuhr…
Iona Heritage Centre: Besteht aus genau einem Raum (plus Kasse/Shop), aber vollgestopft mit Infos über das Leben auf der Insel.
Rischbach-Stollen: St. Ingbert. Kein Museum in dem Sinne, sondern ein Museumsbergwerk.
Stadt- und Festungsmuseum Germersheim: Bemerkenswert groß und mir besonders wegen zweier sehr engagierter und enthusiastischer Mitarbeiter in guter Erinnerung geblieben.

Local museums are often smiled at, they are considered quaint or uninteresting. They can’t compete with state or art museums, neither in terms of square footage nor exhibits. On the other hand, they don’t have to. They fill in the gaps left by their big colleagues, the small, everyday life and the people who led it – the basis on which “big things” are created. I have come to appreciate local museums very much, in the course of both my genealogical and book research. Especially on that level they are an indispensible source, because they know and document the locales and customs of a region. They are also much more intimate: Almost invariably one finds oneself in conversation with the people who run them.

Some of the local museums I’ve visited and enjoyed:

Museum Edenkoben: A goldmine for my genealogical research. I visited during the week and was probably the only visitor that day which allowed for a long conversation with the manager.
Museum Uslar: The local museum of my home town, often features thematic exhibitions.
West Highland Museum: Where I learnt the truth about the Glenfinnan Monument…
Iona Heritage Centre: Consists of exactly one room (plus front desk/shop) but bursting with information on the life on the isle.
Rischbach-Stollen: Not a museum per se but a historical mine.
Stadt- und Festungsmuseum Germersheim: Remarkably large. I mostly remember it fondly because of two very engaged and enthusiastic employees.

Den Schalck(en) im Nacken

I’m hopelessly in love with a dead guy from the 17th/18th century. How very Diana Gabaldon.

Fittingly, it was one of her books that introduced me to said guy (as described here): Godfried Schalcken, painter, 1643-1706. Considering how poor his English Wikipedia article is in contrast to the German one (interestingly not the Dutch one), I had at first planned to expand it. But Wikipedia is terrifying, at least for new contributors, and so I chickened out. So, as not to waste all the work that went into the translation of the German article, I’m putting it up here. For footnotes and references see the German Wikipedia page.

The website of the Leiden Collection has excellent articles on Schalcken and his paintings, e. g.:

Godfried (Godefridus, Gottfried) Schalcken (*1643 in Made near Breda; †16. November 1706 in Den Haag) was one of the leading Dutch painters of the late 17th century. In the tradition of the Leiden fijnschilders, he created very illusionistic, minutely painted portraits, genre paintings, biblical and mythological histories, sporadically still lives and landscapes with staffage. His trade mark was the representation of special light effects, foremost candlelight.


Schalcken grew up in a Protestant minister’s family on both his mother’s and his father’s side in Dordrecht where his father was the rector of the Latin school. There he received his first training from Rembrandt student Samuel van Hoogstraten. When Hoogstraten left for England in 1662, Schalcken moved to Leiden. In the studio of Gerrit Dou he began to specialise in the art of the fijnschilders. At the time, these small-format, brilliantly coloured paintings fetched top prices. Probably around 1665 Schalcken returned to Dordrecht and began his career as an independent artist. Besides genre paintings Schalcken dedicated himself from the start to the profitable art of portrait painting. After Nicolaes Mae moved to Amsterdam in 1673, Schalcken advanced to leading Dordrecht portrait painter. An excellent early example of his masterly art is the pair of portraits (collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein) painted in the year of Schalcken’s wedding to Françoisia van Diemen (1661-1744) from Breda, 1679. Schalcken portraits himself in the manner of Anthonis van Dyck’s paintings in the habitus of the cultivated and dignified gentleman who self-assuredly turns to face the viewer. He presents his wife, whose glance turns away in noble reserve, in her full beauty and virtue. A late pendant is the pair of portraits from the artist’s year of death 1706 (private collection). Of the couple’s documented ten children only London-born Françoisia (1692-1757) lived to adulthood.
In the 1680s Schalcken taught several artists in Dordrecht, the most popular among them Arnold Boonen (1669-1729) and Carel de Moor (1655-1738). He also taught his sister Maria Schalcken (1645/48-1699) of whom only a few but very exquisite paintings are known, among them her self-portrait at the easel that was attributed to her brother for a long time (Naples, The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection).
To be able to get prominent portrait commissions, Schalcken joint the painters‘ guilt of Den Haag in 1691. In 1692, he moved to London. He lived in the circle of the court of William III. In England, Schalcken established himself as the master of candlelight that he would pass into art history as. Several self-portraits, among them the painting commissioned by Cosimo III de Medici for his famous self-portrait gallery in Florence, show Schalcken with a candle. The often-copied portrait of William III, too, done after a work by his English contemporary Godfrey Kneller, shows the monarch with a candlestick in his hand (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). In cooperation with mezzotint specialist John Smith several graphics after Schalcken’s works were created that added to his fame, among them his earliest self-portrait with candle of 1694 whose original is in the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland, today. In 1696, the artist returned to the Netherlands and settled in Den Haag.
Already in the 1680s he had turned to biblical and mythological history paintings. With these, Schalcken became known not only at the court of Florence but to other royal art lovers as well. Before 1700, for example, he delivered a Holy Family to King Christian V at Copenhagen. The most important patron of his later career was Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm with whose gift of honour, a medal on a gold chain, Schalcken depicted himself in his late self-portrait of 1706. However, his ties to the court were less close than those of other Düsseldorf court painters like Jan Frans van Douven or Adriaen van der Werff. Together with those two artists, Schalcken created an altar dedicated to the life of Mary that Johann Wilhelm commissioned as a gift for his wife Anna Maria in 1703. Each of the three artists created a panel of the triptych (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi) while the notable light effects in all three paintings were very likely inspired by Schalcken. A stay in Düsseldorf in 1703, during which the artists is said to have lodged in the Haus zum Goldenen Helm in Flingerstrasse, is assumed but cannot be confirmed.
Schalcken’s first biographer Arnold Houbraken (1721) summarised his successful career aptly with the words:

„He was one of the happiest Dutch painters since his works from the beginning to the end of his life were paid liberally, so that he harvested the fruits of his industry during his lifetime which only a few manage.”
Arnold Houbraken: Groot Schilderboek 1718/21, Vol. 3, p. 176


Despite a relatively long career, spanning circa 40 years, because of his minute, labour-intensive style of painting Schalcken created a relatively limited oeuvre of which about 250 remaining paintings are known today. They show a great variety, pointing to the ambition of an all-round artist as well as to a customer-friendly business acumen in the dialogue with his clients‘ wishes. Not only did Schalcken dedicate himself to widely different themes/topics. He was proficient in miniature painting as well as in life-size portraits, he painted on copper, wood and canvas. While the delicate colour application that made the brushstrokes nearly invisible was his personal speciality, Schalcken taught himself a looser, broader style during his stay in England that was useful for larger formats and possibly was due to the rising demand for his works. Besides paintings, some drawings in red chalk, chalk, ink in rare cases have survived, as well as etchings. His drawings mainly consist of portraits, so-called ricordi, that document a finished painting minutely and were probably meant to be kept in the studio as illustrative material for future customers.
Schalcken seems to have signed his works as a rule but only very seldom dated them, which makes a precise chronology of his work difficult. Dated works are known from 1667 to his year of death 1706. The earliest known and dated painting, Girl with a Bird in a Window Recess (missing, Beherman 1988, Nr. 143) shows, like an earlier interior portraying a lady at a dressing table (private collection) of which a sketch exists at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, very clearly the influence of Gerrit Dou in motif and technique. But Schalcken’s topical references can also be found in the work of Gerard ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu, Jacob Ochtervelt, Frans van Mieries sen., Pieter van Slingelandt or Caspar Netscher. Schalcken referred to various sources and cleverly updated the Old Masters so popular on the art market of his time. He himself owned a substantial collection of prints of the Italian renaissance and baroque, Utrecht Caravaggisti as well as contemporary French and Dutch prints from which he drew inspiration.
The brilliant humour in his paintings lent points of their own to popular themes like the Lady in Front of a Mirror or Toilet by Candle, Girl Reading Letter, the Rommelpot Player, Pancake Eater, brothel scenes, medical examinations, playing with a pig’s bladder etc. In original ways he took up art theoretical debates like the paragone or inspiration by love. Most sensually convincing are his illusionistic style, giving the painted objects and textures an almost haptic quality, and the smooth, gleaming surfaces combined with seductive females in intimate moments. Schalcken often allocates the role of voyeur to the viewer and utilises the mysterious atmosphere of nightly settings illuminated by flickering candlelight. These aspects, for example, illustrates Lady in Front of a Mirror (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud) who is shown during her nightly toilette, more specifically while looking for fleas. With this, the artist subtly points to the topic of amorous itching and desire, the lover’s envy of the flea living at the bosom of his beloved used in poems of the time, as well as popular ideas of the flea as Cupid or references to deflowering. At the same time, Schalcken transfers traditional rustic genre characters to an aristocratic world.
Aside from that he invented quite original motifs: The amorous game of forfeit (London, Royal Collection), a Holy Family during prayers (Copenhagen, Statens Museum) or a girl eating sugar (Naples, The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection). He also chose contemporary literary sources like the writings of Jacob Cats or the theatre (Preciosa Recognised, Dublin, National Gallery) as well as seldom depicted parables from the New Testament (Parable of the Lost Piece of Silver, New York, The Leiden Collection).
While he did portrait paintings during the whole of his career, his topical interest increasingly changed in the 1680s away from genre paintings towards historical paintings that, along with candlelight portrayals, dominate his later work.

Art historical importance and heritage

Already highly esteemed during his lifetime, Schalcken belonged to the indispensable „stars“ of 18th century collections, especially in France and Germany. His insinuating, gallant-amorous themes matched the taste of the age. Numerous successors and imitators are proof of his popularity. Among those of the best quality are Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) and Jean-Baptiste Santerre (1651-1717). Countless copies of specific works, like the so-called Dresden Pygmalion, show the widespread admiration of his art.
In spite of early criticism of Schalcken’s supposed exclusive command of candlelight special effects and the frequently quoted, disparaging anecdotes by Jacob Campo Weyerman (1677-1747) or later Horace Walpole, implying Schalcken showed disrespectful and uncouth manners towards his clients, well into the 19th century his fame surpassed that of many of his today more famous colleagues. His light atmospheres were almost proverbial, and Goethe still recognised a „Schalcken“ in a corner of his Dresden boarding house room only illuminated by a lantern. The mysterious candlelight scenes tellingly inspired Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu to his gothic novel Schalcken the Painter (1839/1851). The artist served as a reference for modern lighting design, as well.
With the change in taste that preferred the Dutch art of a Frans Hals, Rembrandt or Vermeer, considered bourgeois-democratic, to the courtly, feudalistic art of the late 16th century among which Schalcken was counted, the artist faded into obscurity.

After a first catalogue raisonné by the English art dealer John Smith in 1833 (supplement 1842), Hofstede de Groot compiled an extended catalogue in 1912. However, he counted Schalcken among the decline of Dutch painting and considered him the epigone of his teachers. In 1988, the posthumous Catalogue raisonné of Thierry Beherman’s research was published, followed by studies by Peter Hecht, Guido M. C. Jansen, Mirjam Neumeister, Sophie Schnackenburg and others. Publications and exhibitions of the Leiden fijnschilders and late 17th century art included works by Schalcken.

An exhibition in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud in Cologne and in the Dordrechts Museum in Dordrecht in 2015/16 is dedicated for the first time to a monographic presentation of the artist’s work.

Von Trollen und Ironie

Eineinhalb Jahre nach dem Fakt entdeckt, daß mir der leicht trollisch veranlagte Kommentator auf Wikipedia eine Antwort hinterlassen hat (ebenfalls um ein halbes Jahr verspätet). Natürlich werde ich seine Anmache nicht noch würdigen; don’t feed the troll und all das. Aber seine Bemerkung zu den Verlagen (er hat offenbar noch nie versucht, ein Manuskript bei einem Verlag unterzubringen) erinnerte mich daran, daß ich noch nie erwähnt habe, wie es damals ging, als ich eben dieses versuchte.
Rowohlt und Osburg hatten Interesse an dem Manuskript. Gerade über Rowohlt als Verleger hätte ich mich sehr gefreut, wegen der Verbindung, die Marta Hillers und insbesondere Kurt Marek zu diesem Verlag hatten. Aber am Ende lehnten beide Lektoren bedauernd ab, weil ihnen das Manuskript „zu akademisch“ war, mit all den Zitaten und Quellenangaben. Sie glaubten nicht, daß dieser Stil ein breiteres Publikum anspräche. Da ich ein komplettes Umschreiben des Manuskripts ablehnte, veröffentlichte ich am Ende über Books on Demand.

Es ist schon ironisch, daß mich genau diese Tatsache nun einerseits daran hindert, die Biographie als Quelle auf Wikipedia anzugeben, und andererseits Zweiflern wie dem anonymen Kommentator vermeintlich als Munition dient. Und daß das Manuskript akademischen Verlagen vermutlich als zu populärwissenschaftlich erschienen wäre. Es ist eine gute Sache, daß ich Ironie sehr zu schätzen weiß.


Oder: Was eine Google-Suche so alles enthüllt.

Wikipedias Quellen-Richtlinien leuchten mir nicht ganz ein. Stellte nun fest, daß meine englische Artikelserie zu Marta im Berlin-Tempelhof-Eintrag zitiert wurde und das offenbar den Regeln entspricht. Meine Biographie als solche, von der die Blogserie ja nur eine übersetzte Kurzfassung ist, würde den Regeln allerdings nicht entsprechen, weil sie eine On-demand-Veröffentlichung ist. Hm.

Oh, und übrigens ist die Serie auf DVD erhältlich und diente als Grundlage für den Film A Woman in Berlin. Ich sollte dringend meine Tantiemen einfordern.

Rumours, exaggerations, and misunderstandings

An episode on BBC Radio 4 that I discovered only recently dealt, among other things, with A Woman in Berlin.
It was broadcast in 2013, so I will grant that the attendants couldn’t know any better since neither my German biography of Marta Hillers nor its abridged English version existed back then. So they simply repeated the usual rumours (which, however, are very hard to kill even now). But things took a bizarre turn when they actually stated that the German government banned the book in 1959/1960.
In that spirit, I want to address a few of the most persistent falsehoods attached to A Woman in Berlin. No, the book was never banned, neither by the government nor anyone else. It was never taken off the market; it simply never saw a second print run. There was no widespread outrage about the book. There were hardly even any reviews, and most of the few that I did manage to find were positive.

Some reviewers today, mainly from the US, are claiming that Marta Hillers lived in East Berlin in the spring of 1945. That’s simply a case of not knowing the facts about the fall of Berlin. During the time covered by Marta’s narrative there was no East and West Berlin yet, no Soviet zone. The Red Army conquered Berlin as a whole, plain and simple. US and other Allied troops didn’t move in until a while afterwards – in fact, Marta wrote about it in her book! And she never lived in East Berlin. It was Tempelhof at first, later Zehlendorf, both in the American sector or zone.

Outlander: A Story in Pictures. Part 2

“John Sheridan was a good and honorable man.” – “You have come all this way just to say that?” – “Why not? You have come all this way to say less.”

In terms of characters, I became fond of Frank very quickly. It would have been so easy to write him out of the story (as I understand it happens in the books) or in the tradition of the early 1990s (from where the books come) make him a stuffy or unlikeable character. Instead, he takes his rightful place as one of the four central characters. He is strong in a quiet, understated way, spontaneous, with a fine sense of humour.
A lovely detail right at the end of Season 2 is when Roger reveals that Frank actually asked the Reverend to find out what happened to Jamie, despite his condition to Claire that she „leave the past behind“. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Perfect mirror: “Both Sides Now”

In the final episode of Season 1’s first half the producers showed on a grand scale what Outlander was all about: Mirrors and parallels and juxtapositions. The story switches continually between Claire’s 18th century and Frank’s 20th century lives, seamlessly, contrasting Claire’s carefree adventures and her newfound love with Frank’s growing despair before setting the both of them on the same course with mirroring assault scenes.

„My wife is not with another man!“

Claire’s hand merging into Frank’s.

Drinks on both sides.

Frank contemplates his and Claire’s wedding photo…

… while Claire enjoys her new marriage.

While Claire kills her attacker in self-defence and goes into shock afterwards, Frank vents weeks of bottled up desperation and doubt on his would-be muggers, nearly killing two of them. It is Reverend Wakefield’s warning of the „cup of evil“ afterwards that brings him back from the brink of darkness.

Both end up at Craigh na Dun. The scene is wonderful to watch, both emotionally and technically.

Parted by time, Claire and Frank move in the same space. The camera swings from Frank crying out his despair across the invisible axis to Claire running up the hill towards Frank, almost reaching him. The dramatic scene ends still in the same space, Claire being dragged away by British soldiers to the right and Frank walking away to the left.

It is the last we see of him for a long time, but the play with mirrors doesn’t end here. Claire is reunited not with Frank but with his 18th century doppelganger Jack where – irony of ironies – Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies reenact a classic: The good old-fashioned 1950s‘ „wife helps husband with the binding of his tie“ scene. Whoopi Goldberg did a parody of it in Corrina, Corrina.

(“Now you listen to me, Jonathan Randall…” – “Yes, dear.”)

The Power of the Old Ones: The pagan and female

I personally don’t put much stock in it, but since it’s there for all to see: The neo-paganism/mother goddess/mystical female earth connection made so popular by the likes of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Wiccans and a certain branch of feminists is also very much present in Outlander. Yes, I’m being acidic about it. I positively loathe the made-up worldview of neo-paganism. I am willing to believe its practitioners mean well, but since basically no traditions from „back then“ survive, everyone feels free to put their own fantasies into it. The old ones, I sincerely believe, knew better. And, by the way, those who think paganism (the true one) and monotheism are in competition don’t have the first clue.

But anyway: The standing stones of Craigh na Dun with their (cough, young and beautiful female, cough) druids tie directly into the earthmother belief, along with Geillis‘ neo-paganism, the idea of witches, female healers etc., which might be part of the explanation why both Claire and Gillian/Geillis – being female – are able to travel through the stones and not Jamie or Frank.

Also tied to it but based far more solidly in realism is:

Male and female spheres

Now here we have some lovely examples of both traditional and mythical spheres associated with men and women. My absolute favourites:

Frank and Reverend Wakefield (=a servant of the „male god“) in the study, a male sphere, associated with the intellect.

Claire and Mrs Graham (=a servant of the pagan gods) in the kitchen, a female sphere, the „heart“ of a house…

… and in the garden, another female sphere, with its ties to the earth and pagan earthmother traditions.

Males in the female sphere: In the kitchen, Mrs Graham reveals the powers of Craigh na Dun to Frank.

Male and female spheres in “Rent”…

… and “The Watch”.

Women on men and babies.

Rather unusual for a period drama (it’s more common in the fantasy genre): Two women in traditional male roles, on the road, as scouts, outlaws, aggressors, wielding weapons and even torturing someone.

Beware of people without friends

While it might be argued that Jack Randall and the Duke of Sandringham have something of a friendship going on, it doesn’t really come through. Good people have friends in Outlander, plain and simple.

Murtagh, the loyal samurai; friend, protector and father-figure to Jamie.

The dyad, a special kind of friendship. Angus and Rupert, Ross and Kincaid always come in pairs. The underlying theme of death in Season 2’s second half becomes more pronounced when both dyads are broken and the remaining halves form a tentative new pair.

In a way, the dyad also applies to the two sets of brothers in the series, Colum and Dougal as well as Jack and Alex. Both dyads, too, are broken by death in “The Hail Mary”, with the death of the two remaining halves only hours away. Mirrors, again; the twin/doppelganger symbolism, again.

One last thing: While I find it absolutely fascinating to discover all these intricate details, I would be remiss in not pointing out that Outlander can be enjoyed simply as a very good story, full of drama and love and epic stuff and beautiful pictures! I did that, too.