After the Grand Duke of Oldenburg was forced to abdicate in 1918, at the end of the First World War, the new government decided to use his old palace as a museum. I don’t know what the museum had to offer when it first opened in 1923 [well, I know now; see the comments below], but today it is called the State Museum for Art and Cultural History (Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg) and has a bit of everything, organized chronologically: “More than 800 exhibits from antiquity to the recent past show the diversity of the Oldenburger Land over the centuries,” as it says in their brochure.
What struck me about their exhibit on the Middle Ages was how generic it is — it could have been anywhere in Medieval Europe. It shows a suit of armor, two cannon balls, several helmets and a detailed sketch of a castle being stormed. The sketch presumably shows the Oldenburg Castle being overrun by the troops of the Duke of Braunschweig in the year 1261.
Since Oldenburg is in the far northwest corner of Germany, between Bremen and the Netherlands’ border, I had somehow assumed it would be a more maritime place, but in fact it is 30 km from the nearest deep-water harbor, and the Duchy of Oldenburg at that time was just as landlocked as any of the other pipsqueak duchies in Hessen or Thüringen or wherever.
The beginning of the 16th century is represented by this detailed wood carving called “The Twelve Apostles”. Actually I only count ten apostles, with beards, along with a beardless person who looks more like a woman — perhaps Mary Magdalene, bringing food and drink. Each of the apostles is holding something: a begging can, a tree trunk, a book, a battle-axe, a bishop’s staff, a sword, etc. The red-faced, guilty-looking apostle on the far right might be Judas Iscariot, holding what looks like a miniature cross.
Only one of the apostles is wearing shoes, as far as I can see. The rest are barefoot.
This velocipede, an early form of bicycle, was in use in Oldenburg in the 19th century, as was this bedraggled-looking carriage.
The symbolist artist Hugo Höppener (1868-1948), better known as “Fidus”, had no particular connection to Oldenburg, since he was born in Lübeck and lived mainly in and around Berlin. But his paintings and drawings were popular all over Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as an expression of the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movements.
Hardly anyone is still alive who remembers the hyper-inflation of the early 1920s, but the trauma lives on among German economists and politicians, who still tend to panic at the slightest sign of inflation, even in phases when inflation is not at all the problem. The display case shows paper money of that time, such as a Fifty-Million-Mark bill in the lower right-hand corner.
This 8mm film projector, along with a camera and splicer, are probably from the late 1950s. In any case, they are more sleek and modern-looking than the ones we used to have at home when I was growing up near Chicago.
Somewhere in the attic I’m sure I still have some of my old 45 rpm (=revolutions per minute) records, which were the latest thing during my childhood. The combination radio-phonograph on the right could play all three kinds of records that were common at the time: the old-fashioned 78 rpm records that our grandparents had, the newer 45s (with the large round holes in the middle) and the up-market 33 rpm long-playing records that we children usually couldn’t afford.
No exhibit on West Germany in the 1950s would be complete without a Nierentisch, a kidney-shaped table that was universally popular in those years. This is exactly the sort of living room that I remember from my first visits to Germany in the early 1960s, complete with a rotary-dial telephone, a black-and-white television and a radio full of vacuum tubes.
Probably no politician in post-war West Germany was more popular than Ludwig Erhard, at least during his tenure as Minister of Economic Affairs.
This museum text is headed: Wir sind wieder Wer — Das Wirtschaftswunder der 1950er Jahre, which means roughly: “We are again Somebody — The economic miracle of the 1950s.”
The text reads: “The currency reform of 1948 and the connection to the West prepared the way for the economic rise of the young Federal Republic. With the help of the American development program, the so-called Marshall Plan, and a policy of Social Market Economy, the goal of ‘prosperity for all’, as propagated by Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard, could become a reality.”
My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2021.
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13 thoughts on “Museum in Oldenburg Palace”
Fascinating. They started off with the Duke’s collection and a few cupboardsfull of antiquities, plus some C19 paintings. The hero of the early days (the project was first mooted in 1919) was the Frankfurt art historian and publicist Walter Müller-Wulckow (1886 – 1964, director from 1921 to 1951). He was appointed founding director. In cooperation with the “Association for Young Art”, established in 1922, the State Museum organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary art until 1933 and acquired important works from, among others, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Christian Rohlfs – and output from the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. Although Müller-Wulckow was ostracized as an art critic in the context of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in 1937, he remained in office as director of the state museum until 1951.
Wow, thanks for all these details of the museum’s early years. I had no idea that this museum was such an important force in contemporary art in the years up to 1933. It’s amazing that Müller-Wulckow was able to remain director for thirty years before, during and after the Nazi dictatorship.
Yes, his story goes against everything one might expect. He was quite unpopular as a curator in the 1920s – creating ethnographic “mood rooms” and advocating the now widespread but then incomprehensible motion that museums should be places of “education”. As to the Nazis, he seems to have been quite an effective Vicar of Bray, as witnessed by his German wiki page: “Since May 1933 he was a supporting member of the 24th SS-Standarte Oldenburg, the NSDAP. He was denied membership until 1939. He served the new regime primarily with words. Of course, his understanding of art separated him from the National Socialists. In 1937, for example, the confiscation of a total of 103 works of art considered “degenerate” was a major bloodletting for his museum. According to the legend, he is said to have hidden some works and camouflaged them through ‘inventory confusion’. After the end of the Second World War, Walter Müller-Wulckow was one of the few German museum directors who, thanks to their early commitment to modern art, were able to save themselves into the new era. After reaching the age limit Müller-Wulckow retired in March 1951. After his retirement he lived a secluded life and worked in areas that were of particular interest to him, such as furniture in northern Germany.” He’d make a good subject for an article.
My father had a Keystone movie camera (16 mm) in the 40s and the Keystone projector looked like the one pictured. I find little museums more interesting than the big ones where you can’t possibly see everything.
We had several 16 mm projectors at school, and an 8 mm projector at home. When I was stationed in Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam, in 1964/65, we had a 16 mm projector in the day room.
I like the picture of the record player – it was one of my favorite “toys” growing up in the ‘80s. I love how vinyl records are coming back, too!
Living in such a young country like the USA it still hits me hard with facts like “Oldenburg Castle being overrun by the troops of the Duke of Braunschweig in the year 1261”. So much history to explore 😀
Side note, growing up with record players, it’s shocking to see them now in a museum. My kids were mesmerized by their kindergarten teacher playing vinyl records. Big WOW factor🤩
Though I can appreciate that Germany’s very early history is important to showcase, it would be the exhibits from the 20th century that would interest me most — particularly the early part of the century through the 1960’s. I never really appreciated the era I grew up in, the 1950s – 1960s, until later in my life. Now I think it’s fascinating so I very much like the exhibits you show from that era. Nice blog!!
I know how you feel. I think a lot of us in the US just took prosperity for granted in the 25 or 30 years after the Second World War. In France, these years were called the Glorious Thirty. In Germany, they were the Economic Miracle. And in the States? I for one found it perfectly normal that my father could commute to Chicago, do a boring job there and earn enough to support the whole family and pay off the mortgage, just from his one relatively modest salary.
Fascinating person and museum.
We have some of that inflation money! Bought from a flea market in East Berlin in the mid 1980s, when it was still East Berlin 🙂 Like Sylvia I find the 20th century collection the most interesting. Some of the items in the 1950s home look similar to those we had when I was a child.
Great that you were able to buy some of that inflation money.