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Käthe Kollwitz

· Käthe Kollwitz: Die Toten mahnen uns (II) · Käthe Kollwitz: Die Toten mahnen uns (I)

Käthe Kollwitz: Die Toten mahnen uns (II)

K ä t h e   K o l l w i t z

D i e   T o t e n   m a h n e n   u n s

( I I )   B  i  l  d  e  r

Denkmal Karl Liebknecht

 Denkmal Ernst Thalmann

Käthe Kollwitz

Die Toten mahnen uns (II) Bilder

Photos: Anton K. Berlin

fleursdumal.nl magazine – magazine for art & literature

More in: *War Poetry Archive, Anton K. Photos & Observations, Käthe Kollwitz


Käthe Kollwitz: Die Toten mahnen uns (I)


K ä t h e   K o l l w i t z

Die Toten Mahnen uns

Berlin

The street names still reflect old DDR times, before the demolishment of the wall in 1989. The Karl-Liebknecht-Straße runs alongside the Alexanderplatz and connects Prenzlauer Berg to the Museuminsel and Unter den Linden. At the Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz, a few hundred meters to the north, a monument to Herbert Baum and a memorial plaque to Ernst Thälmann commemorate the resistance of the communists against fascism and against the wars that overshadowed life in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. The rise of a working class who lived in miserable conditions dominated social discussions in the early 1900’s. In 1914 a complex combination of imperialism, militarism and strong nationalistic feelings led to the First World War which eventually involved 75 percent of the world’s population and took the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians. After the war the political situation in Germany remained unstable. The Treaty of Versailles declared Germany responsible for the war, it redefined its territory and Germany was forced to pay enormous war reparations. This treaty caused great bitterness in Germany and was a source of inspiration for both left and right extremism. It eventually led to the rise of fascism and the Second World War. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, founders of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschland (KPD), were killed in 1919 by Freikorpsen, right extremist remainders of the German army. Herbert Baum and his resistance group were killed by the Gestapo in 1942 and Ernst Thälmann, Hitlers political opponent during the elections of 1932, was executed in Buchenwald in August 1944, on direct orders from Hitler.

 

Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Schmidt was born in Königsberg in 1867 in a family of social democrats that were sensitive to the changes that were taking place in society. Her talent for art was recognised and stimulated by her father. She received lessons in drawing in a private art school in Berlin. Under the influence of her teacher Stauffer-Bern and the work of Max Klinger she decided to focus on black and white drawing, etching and lithography. She married Karl Kollwitz, a friend of the family, in 1891. Karl had decided to dedicate his live to the poor working class and started a doctor’s practice in Prenzlauer Berg in a street that is now called the Käthe-Kollwitz-Straße. They had 2 sons, Hans and Peter. Käthe was deeply moved by the social misery she was confronted with in her husbands practice and the life of the working class became a dominant theme in her work. It was Gerhard Hauptman’s play ‘die Weber’ that inspired her to her first successful series of etchings called ‘Ein Weberaufstand’. Another successful series was ‘Bauernkrieg” for which she received the prestigious ‘Villa Romana’ price. At the age of 50 Käthe had become famous throughout Germany and to the occasion of her birthday, exhibitions of her work were held in Berlin, Bremen and Königsberg.

In October 1914 her son Peter was killed in the trenches of Flanders. To his memory Käthe designed a monument which took her almost 18 years to complete. In Diksmuide-Vladslo, in a landscape covered by hundreds of war cemeteries, her ‘Grieving Parents’ impressively expresses the poignant grief and helplessness of parents who have lost a child. The death of her son had a great impact on her work and war and death became the dominant themes. When Karl Liebknecht was killed in 1919 his family asked Käthe to make a drawing to his memory. In a charcoal drawing she depicts the worker’s farewell to Liebknecht. A final version in woodcut was made 2 years later. Sieben Holzschitte zur Krieg were made in 1920/1923 and her famous poster Nie Wieder Krieg, a consignment by the International Labours Union, in 1924. She was not the only artist that stood up against war but while the artistic protests of for instance George Grosz, Otto Dix or Frans Masereel were primarily aimed at the horrors of the battlefield or the political climate, Käthe Kollwitz’s concern was with the human suffering of those who were left behind.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, she and her husband signed an urgent appeal to unite the working class and to the formation of a front against Hitler. The SPD and KPD were forbidden by the Nazis and Käthe was removed from her position at the Berlin Art Academy where she was heading the Masterclass of Graphics. Exhibitions of her work were forbidden. Karl was also temporarily disallowed to exercise his practice and their financial situation became precarious until his ban was relieved due to a shortage of skilled physicians. Karl Kollwitz, after a life dedicated to the health of the poor, died in July 1940.

After Karl’s death Käthe suffered from depression and her physical condition was rapidly declining. The house in Berlin where she and Karl had been living since 1891 was bombed in 1943 and Käthe was evacuated to Nordhausen and later to Moritzburg. A few days before the end of the Second World War, in April 1945, Käthe Kollwitz died. She was buried in the family grave in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde at the same cemetery where a memorial monument pays tribute to the socialist heroes Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg and Ernst Thälmann.


A mission

Käthe’s importance as an artist cannot be overvalued. Her authentic, expressive depictions of human misery, resulting from the exploitation of human labour, from fascism and war, are timeless, genuine and moving. She was not a politician but an artist with a vocation who found a way to make art that goes straight to the heart.

When you are in Berlin be sure to visit ‘Die Neue Wache’, a building designed by Christian Schinkel, which since the 1960-s is a monument against war and fascism. In the centre of the building, right beneath a circular opening in the ceiling, Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother and Child is an arresting plea for vigilance against mentalities and attitudes that may again lead to fascism and war.

References:

Ilse Kleberger: Kathe Kollwitz, Eine Biographie

Venues

Neue Wache – Unter den Linden near the Museuminsel

Kathe Kollwitzmuseum Berlin – Fasanenstrasse 24

 Käthe Kollwitz: Die Toten mahnen uns – part I

 Photos & text:  Anton K. Berlin

 Find also on fleursdumal.nl magazine:

 Nie Wieder: Wache gegen Faschismus

   and                         

 Historia Belgica: Alles voor Vlaanderen

fleursdumal.nl magazine – magazine for art & literature

 to be continued

More in: *War Poetry Archive, Anton K. Photos & Observations, Käthe Kollwitz, Sculpture


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