Genealogic research is always a complicated endeavour. Often it is quite impossible to trace ones bloodlines past previous five or six generations, everything before that becomes a blur, a more or less educated guess. But even the information one manages to obtain often contains unexpected surprises. We consider ourselves to be pure Latvians, Germans, Poles, but then we suddenly discover that some of our ancestors actually have an Estonian, Swedish, French or Russian origin.
And who knows what surprises a 500 or 1000 years old history would hold, if we would be able to unearth it?
We now tend to think that the world is now getting smaller and smaller, as both technology and societal values makes us more mobile than we have ever been. But maybe the world – or at least Europe – has never been very big to begin with, and we are much more closely related to each other than we think and would sometimes like to admit?
If it is difficult to establish a clear historic identity on a personal level, then for nations it is quite impossible.
Would it be possible to distil a pure original essence of a national culture? I very much doubt it.
Culture has never recognised any borders, and as a result our national cultural heritage is but a patchwork of various cultural influences, hailing from all over the Europe, reflecting the trends and values of the times and often morphing into local variations. For example, Rundale palace has a significant place in Latvian cultural heritage as the most precious late baroque building in Latvia. However it can also be considered a part of German heritage, as it tells the story of its German masters, von Biron family, including duchess Dorothea, and thus creating invisible ties with the Burg Posterstein (and in a sense making it a part also of Latvian cultural heritage). Moreover, it can be said that Rundale Palace is also a part of Italian and Russian cultural heritage, as Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, architect of the Rundale Palace, is an Italian (born in Paris) and most of his works are built in Russia.
Europe for me is first of all a shared cultural space
Thus Europe for me is first of all a shared cultural space – rich in its diversity, characterised by hundreds of different local flavours and colours, but based on the same fundamental values and traditions. Therefore we shouldn’t, for example, attribute Rundale to just Latvian or just German cultural heritage – it is truly a part of European cultural heritage. After all, it would not exist if Italians would not invent baroque in the first place. Culture is what makes us Europeans. European cultural bonds go back for hundreds and hundreds of years, shaping our attitudes and values, allowing us to recognise ourselves in the mirrors of other cultures. Culture is what stays with us when all the petty political squabbles have ended and been forgotten. Culture is what allows me to proudly say “I am a European”.
In 1815, after the disastrous Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna brought decades of peace and stability to Europe. By comparison, this can also be said of the European unification, the political change in 1989 and the overcoming of European division after World War II. After the euphoria of the 1990s, when Europe stood for growth and stability in the eyes of many citizens, the situation changed at the latest with the 2007-08 financial crisis. Today it seems, that under the influence of terror, refugee crisis and populism, scepticism towards Europe prevails. To make matters worse, many equate the European project with crusted bureaucratic EU structures. At the last day of this year’s #MuseumWeek with the subject #differenceMW we want to write about different views on Europe, today and back then – and about a very experimental exhibition project.
Visions are needed to give Europe an identity for its citizens and the ability to act in the world, because we are living in Europe and have to get along with each other, whether we like it or not.
Towards the end of the last century, the Balkan wars demonstrated vividly, how quickly peace can be lost inside a union or a single country.
So everyone should contribute to politics, economics, art, culture. Only when dialogue takes place with respect for other opinions can future-oriented solutions be found. Communication needs proximity and proximity has to be promoted. The salon had this human proximity and holds the potential to achieve it today. Let’s pick up the salon culture actively and transport it into here and now.
Anna Dorothea of Courland – a confident European woman
Between 1795 and 1821 relationships had been established over European borders in the small Thuringian villages of Löbichau and Tannenfeld. Two centuries ago, the beautiful and educated Duchess Anna Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821) headed a famous salon and, together with her daughters, establishing a network of contacts into the highest political circles of Europe. Amongst others, her network partners included Tsar Alexander I. (1777-1825), Friedrich Wilhelm III. (1770-1840), Talleyrand (1754-1838) and Metternich (1773-1859). The network reached from Löbichau out to St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Vienna, to Russia, Poland, France, Italy and Denmark.
This salon of encounter and exchange was one of the most famous of its kind at the beginning of the 19th century. In this salons, often led by a lady, contacts were made and political decisions were initiated – accompanied by music, theater and tea, salons were one of very view possibilities for women to participate in society. Countless letters document this time. If people like Anna Dorothea of Courland would have had the possibilities of today’s social media, they certainly would have been among the “influencers” of their time.
The exhibiton is designed as a laboratory. Based on the historic salon culture around 1800, it is supposed to create a relation to the present time and current political situation. As the poet Jean Paul acknowledged, everyone in the salon of the Duchess of Courland was free to express his opinion as long as it was presented in a courteous manner.
Similarly, visitors of the #SalonEuropa Laboratory will be given the opportunity to express their thoughts on Europe today, both in analog and digital form. A screen in the exhibition and the exhibition’s website display different opinions on Europe in videos, commentaries and blog posts. Comments can be entered directly in the exhibition and will be visible on the Internet after approval. We aim to bring together as many opinions as possible on the website, which in this way are visible in the exhibition.
We are looking for opinions and photos of Europe for the exhibition!
Pictures and photographs of European places and cities around 1800 and today (in Latvia, Poland, Austria and France) will connect the exhibition to the There and Now. On a work table plans for a centre of historic salon culture at Posterstein Castle will be shown. Several events will accompany the ehibition.
We are looking for photos of European places today and people who express their opinion on the question “Europe means for me …?”, which would be represented in the exhibition in one form or another.Feel free to contact us on the social networks, by mail or in person.
By Klaus Hofmann, translation: Franziska Engemann / Museum Burg Posterstein
In march 2018 the Museum Posterstein Castle opened a special part in its permanent exhibition. The Topic was the minister Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel (1744-1824). This remarkable man was a friend oft he Duchess Anna Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821) and regular guest at her castles in Löbichau and Tannenfeld. With today’s subject #natureMW during the international #MuseumWeek 2018 we want to present Hans Wilhelm von Thümmels gardens.
As head of goverment Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel was one oft he most famous persons in the Altenburg part of the duchy Saxony-Gotha-Altenburg. And a minister close to nature. As a confidant of the Gotha Dukes, he represented the duchy as a diplomat in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Denmark. He initiated the geodetic surveying of the duchy and left behind a comprehensive landscape heritage. But often it did not last.
His harmony with nature can be guessed not only at his extraordinary and beautiful tomb: the 1000-year-old oak in Nöbdenitz. It can be guessed at his horticultural heritage: for example Thümmel’s private English garden with a palace in Altenburg, his manors in Nöbdenitz and Untschen, the “Polish cottage” in Münsa, or the palace garden in Altenburg.
These gardens were not only seen as places of recreation and entertainment in the countryside, but also as educational establishment: as gardens of the Enlightenment.
Thümmel’s private English garden in Altenburg
At the beginning of the 19th century, the garden of Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel was considered as one of the most important sights of Altenburg. In its final extension, the long park ground was enclosed by a wall with seven gates. At the highest point of the site, with the best view of Altenburg, Thümmel had a villa built in 1788 in the style of Italian classicism.
The park had artificial grottoes, streams and ponds. Small pleasure houses in different styles as well as the so-called “Kachelhaus” – or “Turkish Pavilion” – were integrated into the concept. The well-known artist Adrian Zingg captured the beauty of the Thümmel garden for eternity in his pictures.
As Thümmels legacy the garden did not last long. Several decades after his death in 1824 the garden had been greatly reduced by Thümmels heirs by selling several areas. Today, only the preserved central building of the palace reminds of its former glory.
The palace garden in Altenburg
In addition to the design of his private garden in Altenburg Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel was also involved in the transformation of the palace park Altenburg from baroque to landscaped grounds.According to reports of the Altenburger Chronicler Christian Friedrich Schadewitz (1779-1847), the chamber president Thümmel had already 1784/86 removed yew tree figures as well as the hedged. The open spaces were laid out with grass and a new orangery was placed on it. Around 1800, the first tulip trees were planted and formed the foundation for today’s English Park of Altenburg Castle.
Nöbdenitz manor – Thümmels old-age residence
Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel came into the possession of the manors Nöbdenitz and Untschen by marriage.Especially the park around the estate Nöbdenitz with its romantic hermitage met with universal approval. In 1782, Thümmel’s father-in-law and predecessor in office, Johann von Rothkirch und Trach (1710-1782), had the old Nöbdenitz castle renovated and a new mansion built, as well as a mausoleum as family grave. Thümmel chose this peaceful place as his old-age residence.
For sailing on the pond of Nöbdenitz manor
Nöbdenitz is very close to the castles Löbichau and Tannenfeld, in which the duchess Anna Dorothea of Courland invited guests to her well-known salon. But also visits by the Duchess and her guests in Nöbdenitz at Thümmels house were usual events. Here they met to sail on the large pond of the manor and took walks to the 1000-year-old oak, which Thümmel had chosen as his future grave.
The surrounding park extended east of the 1782 built “New Manor House” whose perron led down to the garden. A little brook – the “millrace” – flowed through the park. Figures or rondels had been placed at partings of the way. From the main way three bridges led over the millrace into the landscape on the south side, which was enclosed by a wood. A hermitage had been built next to the weir at the millrace. It was a popular motif in the gardens of the Enlightenment. The hermitage was a quiet place of contemplation amidst nature, a place where one be able to communicate with oneself, nature and God. This hermitage in Nöbdenitz was also pictured by the engraver Zingg. The building itself doesn’t exist anymore.
A “Chinese bathhouse” and a “Polish cottage”
Also the redesign of Untschen manor including the establishment of a bathhouse in the Chinese style or the creation of the destination “Polish cottage” in Münsa were realized under Thümmels direction. But he was not the only one who appreciated and promoted the local garden art. The much-admired duchess Anna Dorothea of Courland, also belonged to this circle.
Tannenfeld – pleasure garden in the English style
Contemporaneous with the building of Tannenfeld Castle also the development of Tannenfeld park started under the direction of the Duchess of Courland. The new building, with a beautiful view to Posterstein Castle, was embedded in the new landscape park. At the time of Anna Dorothea of Courland Tannenfeld was about half an hour away from Löbichau.
If the visitors turned from the main road between Ronneburg and Schmölln to Tannenfeld, they passed a small gatehouse and through an alley lined with Italian poplars they came to park and castle. Sandy paths led the walkers past groups of trees or shrubs and sentimental-romantic memorial stones. One stone was bearing the inscription “Peterswiese” and reminded of the 1800 deceased husband of Dorothea of Courland. A narrow stream flowed through the meadow and ended in a pond. On an island in the pond there was the so-called “Hermitage”, a grotto formed of rocks.
An exhibition about Tannenfeld Castle in the summer – #SalonEuropa
Four artists from Germany, France and Poland – Petra Herrmann (installation art) and Jana Borath (photography) from Thuringia/Germany, Marta Pabian (installation art) from Poland and Verok Gnos (painting) from France – continue the tradition of the salon with this artistic dialogue. In the summer of 2018 the castle and park at Tannenfeld will be entering a new era. With their Project the four Artists want to resuscitate and reference this European Idea that was so current under the care of Anna Dorothea, and through their works articulate their respective viewpoints on the European House.
By Franziska Engemann, Christiane Nienhold und Marlene Hofmann, translation: Franziska Engemann, Matthias Huberti / Museum Burg Posterstein
On the first day of this year’s international #MuseumWeek women take centre stage. The Hashtag #WomenMW leads us to Löbichau Castle and Tannenfeld Castle near Posterstein. Between 1795 and 1821 there was a living salon in both castles. The hostess was the beautiful duchess Anna Dorothea of Kurland (1761–1821), one of the most impressive salonniéres of her time. But also among her guests in Löbichau, important women can be found – like Emilie von Binzer.
With the 18th century Parisian salons, where members of the court, scholars and artists met, a culture emerged during the Enlightenment, spreading throughout Europe. At the end of the 18th century Löbichau Castle became such a center of intellectual and cultural life in Germany. The salon of the Duchess of Courland was one of the most famous of its kind at the beginning of the 19th century.
How a box came from the estate of Emilie von Binzer to Posterstein Castle
In 2014 the Museum Posterstein Castle – promoted by financial resources of the Free State of Thuringia and from Bürgerstiftung Altenburger Land – could purchase a unique collection of portrait drawings. The 47 watercolored drawings date back to 1819/20 and represent the guests in the salon of the Duchess of Courland as mythical creatures. The unique pieces were stored in a box made of dark green colored half leather.
The authors of these amusing portraits are the painter Ernst Welker and probably also his pupil Emilie von Binzer, née von Gerschau (see picture above, which has the signature “Emilie del”). Emilie was a foster daughter of the Duchess Wilhelmine of Sagan, the eldest daughter of Dorothea of Courland. The drawing of the caricatures is described by Binzer in her memoir “Three Summers in Löbichau” („Drei Sommer in Löbichau“). One can imagine the drawing teacher aged 35 and his pupil at the tender age of 19 spending a summer on the idyllic country estate Löbichau and Tannenfeld and throw a humorous glance at the famous and lesser-known guests in the salon of the Duchess of Courland. The salon visitors are pictured as mythical creatures, mostly in animal form or as an object with a human portrait head. It’s a moot question whether the persons knew about the existence of these drawings. The authors of the caricatures did not spare themselves: Emilie is depicted as an asparagus, Welker as an oyster.
Her famous aunt introduced her to the world of salons
The writer Emilie Henriette Adelheid von Binzer (1801-1891), née von Gerschau, was born in Berlin. She lived with her aunt Wilhelmine of Sagan and two other foster daugters. Her father Peter von Gerschau is said to have been an illegitimate son of the Duke of Courland. He served as Russian Consul General in Copenhagen. Duchess Wilhelmine introduced her to the salon life and so the young girl met famous personalities, such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Tsar Alexander, Windischgrätz, Wellington, Blücher and Schwarzenberg.
In 1819/20 Emilie stayed in Löbichau und Tannenfeld together with Wilhelmine of Sagan and her teacher Ernst Welker. More than 50 years later, she wrote her memoir “Three summers in Löbichau” („Drei Sommer in Löbichau“), in which she individually characterizes the people portrayed by Welker.
In Löbichau Emilie met among others the poet Jean Paul, Families Körner and Feuerbach, Carl August Böttiger, Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, Christoph August Tiedge and Elisa von der Recke. Here she also became acquainted with her future husband: the Burschenschaftler (member of a student fraternity) August Daniel von Binzer. They married in 1822 in Sagan Castle. By using the pseudonym „Ernst Ritter“ Emilie von Binzer published a collection of novellas entitled „Mohnkörner“ („poppy grains“). In particular, people and experiences of the time of the Congress of Vienna influenced her literary work. She formed a close friendship with Adalbert Stifter and Franz Grillparzer.
The collection Welker at the open cultural data hackathon „Coding da Vinci“
In 2015 the Museum Posterstein Castle showed the collection of caricatures drawn by Ernst Welker for the first time within the framework of a special exhibition. Afterwards, the pictures were integrated to a touchscreen in the museum’s permanent exhibition. Since 2018 they are digitized and accessible via platform “Museums in Thuringia”. For the cultural hackathon Coding Da Vinci East the leaves are now to find in high resolution and with CC-BY-SA license also on Wikimedia Commons.
In context of the hackathon some of the 140 participants – including designers, programmers and students of various disciplines – work with the data of the Museum Posterstein Castle. For the next nine weeks they’ll spend their free time to create modern playful applications by using the playful historical drawings. We will support them with professional information and we are very excited about the results, which will be presented on the 16th of June!
The projects can be followed in the Coding da Vinci Hackdash. There is even still the opportunity to join the project.
by Marlene Hofmann, translation: Franziska Engemann / Museum Burg Posterstein
MuseumWeek: we want to put travelling around 1800 in focus. Travel was undertaken on very different occasions. Scholars traveled to carry out their researches, to multiply and exchange knowledge. Young aristocrats were sent on “Cavalier’s Tours”, so that they could acquire the foundation of their training for the later court service at the foreign courts with the highest reputation. Travel to the Baths in Pyrmont or Karlsbad boomed. Artists flocked into the pulsating centers of European culture. A classic travel destination was Rome.
The focus on antiquity and the classical educational idea brought about a whole new travel culture – the educational journey. At first a privilege of the nobility, it became cultivated by the bourgeoisie. Those staying home could read the travelers’ experiences in their travel tales and journals. Landscapes, habits, culture and art were described therein as well as travel itself, political daily business or martial events. A whole industry of publishing houses was concerned with the publication of travel reports.
Traveling at this time also meant hassle and abstinence of comfort. The roads were unsafe, in bad condition, dirty and even in large cities not always lit. Beds in the inns were infested with bugs. The horse-drawn carriages, poorly cushioned and ice cold in the winter, rocked and shook the passengers and brought little in comfort.
Sometimes insuperable obstacles forced the passengers to get out of the carriage
In France, Napoleon had straight avenues built, and good road connections were also reported from England. But in Germany most roads were unstable and poorly developed. There was often talk of axle breaks in the wagons, and it was not unlikely that the constant repairs to infrastructure and equipment were to generate good revenue for the local craftsmen.
Tolls and passport checks at the border stations cost time and money or even delayed the journey. Accordingly, trips took time, and it is said the distance from Berlin to Rome would have taken about two months to travel.
St. Petersburg – Paris – Vienna – Carlsbad: The Duchess of Courland was always on the move
Near the end of the 18th century, Castle Löbichau, along with the Tannenfeld Castle, developed into a center of intellectual and cultural life in Germany, just two kilometers from Posterstein. The Musenhof der Herzogin von Kurland of the Duchess of Courland, Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821), in Löbichau was one of the most famous of its kind. The well-educated noblewoman drew important impulses from her first-class relations with the highest social circles in Europe and the associated network, and from her stays in famous salons of Berlin and Paris, as well as in the fashionable Carlsbad. She was acquainted with several important statesmen of her time.
Since the estates in Löbichau and Tannenfeld were conveniently located between the German cultural centers of the time, Anna Dorothea of Kurland transformed them into a meeting place for the European elite by inviting artists, philosophers and leading politicians of her time. The most famous guest may well have been Czar Alexander I. of Russia (1777-1825).
Löbichau centrally located in Germany
The Duchess had chosen her estates not without reason. The two castles touched important routes of her time – strategically favorable, halfway between Berlin and Carlsbad, between Dresden and Erfurt and close to the intellectual centers of this time: Weimar and Jena. The nearby Ronneburg was still a health resort in the lifetime of the Duchess and thus a popular destination.
The travel experiences, at that time still in coaches, completely differed from the ones we make today. Nature, landscape and even the streets were perceived differently. A well-developed infrastructure enhanced the well-being of travelers. Breeches and bumps on the other hand could turn the trip into a seemingly endless odyssey.
The minister and the road construction
The roads in the Altenburger part of the duchy of Saxony-Gotha and Altenburg were easily navigable thanks to the efforts of the minister Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel (1744-1824). Writer Lili Parthey (1800-1829), sister of philologist Gustav Parthey (1798-1872), reported on the nature of routes at this time. She spent time with her brother and her parents at the Musehof of the Duchess Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821) in Löbichau and can also be counted among the guests of the Thümmel family on their estate in Nöbdenitz. In her diary she wrote:
“Donnerstag, den 18. [7. 1816], war, obgleich die Welt untergehen sollte, das Wetter sehr schön. Ganz früh um 7 ging es fort; unsere Reise ging ziemlich schnell und sehr glücklich. Das Altenburgische Gebiet ist ein ganz wunderhübsches Ländchen, mit herrlichen Wegen und Aussichten. Die Verbesserungen der Landstraße und Wege sind vorzüglich Herrn von Thümmel zu danken. Wir empfanden diese Wohlthat doppelt nach den wahren Mordwegen von Leipzig bis Krona. […] Um 7 waren wir in Löbichau, dem Ziel unserer Bestimmung angekommen. Es ist ein reizender Aufenthalt.“
During one of her trips to Carlsbad Anna Dorothea of Courland met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was just one of many encounters with poets, thinkers, politicians and well-known personalities of society. The Duchess had some formal encounters with Goethe in 1808, 1810, 1812 and 1820. In 1820 the poet even followed an invitation to Löbichau. On the 29th and 30th of September he spends cheerful hours and describes the castle of the duchess as a “well-located house of joy”. After this visit, he went on to Altenburg.
On the way from Schleiz to Gera on May 30., 1816:
“Von früh halb 4 – bis 8 Uhr Abends sind wir auf eine strecke von 7 u. eine halbe Meile gefahren die Wege sind überaus schlecht. Ich bin viel zu fuße gegangen u. wäre so nach Auma gelangt hätte der Wagen mich nicht daran behindert.”
The Duchess of Courland traveled much herself, and with pleasure. Paris, St. Petersburg or Vienna, Kurland, Switzerland or Italy – she was always drawn back to Löbichau. Thus is the case with her last journey in 1821. In May 1821 she finally set out from Paris, with her health in a bad condition at this time. The change from Paris to Löbichau is supposed to ease her suffering. On 30 June 1821 the Duchess’ two daughters, Pauline and Johanna, leave. The mother describes this day as “a day of great mourning”. She will not see her daughters again.
On Aug. 20, Anna Dorothea of Courland dies in her castle in Löbichau.
The daughters are already in Switzerland at this time. It’s not until May 9, 1822 that Johanna returned to Löbichau.
For the Duchess’ funeral on August 29, 1821, 7000 guests arrived.
By Leon Walter & Franziska Engemann / Museum Burg Posterstein; translation: M. Huberti
Day 1 of #MuseumWeek 2017 from June 19th to June 25th: We have prepared a new blog post each day. Today’s hashtag is #foodMW. Leon, who did an internship at Museum Burg Posterstein, was interested in medieval food culture:
When thinking of the Middle Ages and food, many people picture knights dining at kingly laid tables as well as the starving farmer sitting in his deteriorating house. But which of these images comes closer to the truth? How did people in medieval times actually eat?
As a matter of fact, a whole new food culture of its own developed in medieval Europe. Contrasting the culinary arts of late antiquity, which had heavily influenced the early medieval cuisine, the chefs in western Europe almost completely renewed their seasoning arsenal. Weeds and spices, such as nutmeg and clove, first entered medicine, and later found their way into the kitchen. Up until the 13th century new rites and traditions of consumption developed in a slow, barely interrupted process. Though „Lucullian“ paralleles as well as equivalences to Byzantium and the Arabian world are to be found, Western Europe brought forth a very own and specific food culture.
But attitude towards food was not the only thing to change. There were also differences in positioning between ancient and medieval times. Roman banquets were often taken in lying down. Accordingly, the served food came in small and handy portions. The medieval man however sat upright. The cutting of food, especially of meat, became an intricate part of dining, and such an honorable chore at a feast was the privilege of the „Steward“.
Between „fat“ and „meager“ days
Medieval Christian man discerned, dependent of Christian year, between „fat“ and „meager“ days. At least one out of three days a Christian was to make do with fish and vegetables. On fast days (as before Easter) dairy, eggs, meat and other forms of animal fat must not be eaten. Exceptions were made for pregnant women, the poor, the sick, the old and children. Fish was not considered meat and thus often served as a replacement. The abundance of food on „fat“ days, which were the holidays, was all the more.
The gorgeously feathered pheasant served as an adornment at every knight’s table
The medieval diet heavily depended on social status. This does not necessarily mean that peasants starved while lords feasted. Crop failures indeed brought upon famines, yet in years of good harvest such troubles were far away. Grain was the basic source of nutrition, mostly made to bread and brought to courts an manors. With bread came meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, fat, cheese and wine. Besides that, grain was also gladly taken in the form of porridge or beer.
Roots and weeds growing on or near the ground were considered rough and rural. Precious fruit grew on trees. The higher it hang, the higher it was considered. This does not mean that the consumption of vegetables was limited to the world of farming. Especially town citizens appreciated soups and stews and build gardens around and within the cities.
The last centuries of the Middle Ages saw a rise in meat intake. Cattle breeding and hunting brought various sorts of delicacies. Poultry was regarded classier than pork, and the gorgeously feathered pheasant served as an adornment at every knight’s table. The knights of Posterstein were most likely no exception.
So, food in medieval times depended on several factors: social status, religion, season. Knight’s did not exclusively eat meat, and farmers didn’t necessarily starve. Quite the contrary, a new and own food culture developed.
By Leon Walter and Franziska Engemann/ Museum Burg Posterstein
The last day of #MuseumWeek 2016 on Twitter is dedicated to LOVE and we guess the motto of the day is not only about all the Twitter hearts given to favorite tweets in this week. That’s why we want to present one of our favorite research subjects: European salon culture around 1800, which is involving a lot of love stories, too.
Not the first thing to think of when talking about a medievial castle. But only a view kilometres away from the regional history museum Burg Posterstein a popular salon hostess had her summer residence: Anna Dorothea of Courland (1761–1821) in the castle of Löbichau. Born in today’s Latvia the rich Duchess had wide connections to Europe’s high society.
That’s why Napoleon’s death mask is one of the first things to see, when you enter the salon culture exhibition in Posterstein. First enthousiastic about him, the Duchess of Courland became much more opposed against Napoleon during the time. She cultivated a livelong friendship to the French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (1754–1834). Tsar Alexander I. (1777-1825) visited her 1808 in Löbichau and conveyed the marriage of her youngest daughter Dorothée (1793–1862) to Talleyrand’s nephew. At the Congress of Vienna Dorothee de Dino-Talleyrand accompanied Talleyrand and after his death she became his sole heir.
Bertel Thorvaldsen: Wilhelmine Benigna Biron, 1818, Originalmodel. Gips. 58 cm; Thorvaldsens Museum, Inv.-Nr.: A312[/caption]Anna Dorothea of Courlands oldest daughter Wilhelmine von Sagan (1781–1839) gained great influence an the congress as well, as she led a popular salon in Schenkenstraße in Vienna. From 1813 to 1815 she had a passonate relationship with Clemens von Metternich (1773–1859), the leader of the congress.
In Löbichau Anna Dorothea of Courland brought together poets, politicans and artists. Museum Burg Posterstein has been doing intensive research about her live and the lives of her daughters for more than 20 years. The museum is cooperating with the French history society Les Amis de Talleyrand. The cooperation was officially recorded with a contract between the Museum society Burg Posterstein (Museumsverein Burg Posterstein) and Les Amis de Talleyrand in 2015.
A whole week on Twitter is dedicated to the museums in the world: #MuseumWeek. At Posterstein Castle we blog on each days hashtag. Today everybody tweets and talks about #heritageMW, our chance to point at the mystical boroque castle church in Posterstein:
Seen from outside, nobody would expect something special inside the small church of Posterstein. Built inside the former castle mout, the church looks small compared to the castle itself. After fights with the neighbouring landlords in Nöbdenitz, the owners of Posterstein Castle built their own church in the second half of the 16th century.
Legendary baroque splendour
Although the church community always has been protestant, the church looks nearly cathlic style inside. The church became famous for the extremely rich equipment with baroque carvings that demonstrate masterly craftsmanship. The altar is seen as the highlight of the works. The baldachin, on which the passion is shown, is supported by four open-work, spiral hollow columns, made of one piece and decorated with leaves, tendrils and grapes. The pulpit shows the figures of the four evangelists and is crowned by a “roof” with a tall angel on top.
The artwork and the murder case
The only lead to the artist of Posterstein church’s wood carvings is a small inscription underneath the gallery: “Johannis Hopf 1689”. An old Posterstein legend tells that Johannis Hopf was a wood carver who committed a deadly crime on his way through the local region and was sent to the prison of the fortress. During his captivity he is supposed to make the carvings in the chapel. It is said that Hopf’s death penalty was changed into life long imprisonment as a reward for the magnificent decoration of the church.
In spite of intensive research the true story of the Posterstein carvings could not be explored yet.
It’s #MuseumWeek on Twitter and in other social networks. Today’s slogan is #peopleMW. Posterstein Castle focusses this year on Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel (1744–1824), a minister of the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, who chose himself a very special burrial plot.
Starting his carrier at court in Gotha as a “page” in 1760, he became minister in 1805. Between 1803 and 1808 he was – with diplomatic mission – travelling to Denmark, Berlin, Königsberg (Kaliningrad), Dresden and Paris. In Paris Napoleon received him in audience.
As a friend of Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1745–1804) Thümmel’s influence on court was huge. Today he is still known for his engagement in the county of Altenburg: He founded one of the first banks, supported the building of roads, mapped the region and founded the local hospital in Altenburg. In Thümmel’s house in Altenburg the local high society met for tea, among others his older brother, the writer Moritz August von Thümmel (1738–1817).
Thümmel’s old-age residence close to Posterstein
When he retired, Thümmel lived mostly in his castle in Nöbdenitz near Posterstein. In the countryside around the castle, Thümmel had a pleasure garden and a path along the lake invited the guest to dander. Friends of the family, as the Duchess Dorothea of Courland (1761–1821), who had her summer residence near-by in Löbichau castle, came to visit Nöbdenitz to sail on the lake and to enjoy the garden. Thümmel was member of the Duchess’ poets club and published several books with witty aphorisms.
Before his death Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel decided to get buried at an inconvenient place – under the so-called 1000 year old oak of Nöbdenitz. He bought the tree from the local church and let arrange a grave between the tree’s roots. The writer Emilie von Binzer (1801–1891), guest in Löbichau, met Thümmel when she was a young girl. She noted in her book “Three summers in Löbichau” (“Drei Sommer in Löbichau”) that Thümmel was old as the hills by the time she met him and that he had an old oak in standby state to be burried underneath.
Still burried under the 1000 year old oak tree
This grave was inspected in 1959 by the local teacher and historian Ernst Bräunlich. He documented that there was a small oratory with a wooden bench inside the hollow tree, to commemorate the dead. The minister’s body lies in a coffin parallel to the street. Today one can only look at the tree from outside. A sign tells its story. Only parts of the castle complex and garden outlived the years of the German Democratic Republic.
September 18th 2013: Under the hashtag #AskACurator Twitter users could ask curators of more than 600 museums in 35 countries questions about their exhibitions. Museum Burg Posterstein took part in it. – This is a review.
At Museum Burg Posterstein / Posterstein Castle (Twitter: @burgposterstein) both the museum’s director and Marlene Hofmann (curator of the permanent exhibition “Wehrhaft – Wohnhaft – Haft” on the function of the keep at a medieval castle in 2012) answered questions on behalf of the museum. Right from half past 9 in the morning Twitter users asking questions kept us busy.
Media work, museums & social media
The first questions asked were about social media and media work in our museum. – One of our favourite subjects. You find our answers here.
(How do you handle bloggers? Do you contact them personally? Do you see them as a burden or as an opportunity?)
And of course, for us – blogging ourselves – bloggers are an opportunity and a complement to local journalists – unfortunately we don’t know that many museum bloggers in our region (so don’t hesitate to contact us!).
To sump up,#AskACurator Day 2013 was a great experience for us as a museum and yet another example for how museums can engage with other people and possible future visitors via social media. We enjoyed it and are looking forward to next year’s Ask A Curator.
We collected all questions and answers in a separate story on Storify. – There you can read the detailed questions and answers, too.
P.S.: There will be a #AskACurator Day in 2014 as well, just look for the hashtag on Twitter. But until that, don’t hesitate to ask us via e-mail, comments, Twitter or Facebook.