Some festival was approaching for which they wanted to give Herr Alexander von Humboldt something special. What might be suitable, the valet was asked, who recommended a mattress, and so it was done. Such a gift would be irritating today, but in Berlin during the Biedermeier period it was pure luxury. However, it was surprising when the same question was asked two years later and another mattress was recommended. Why does an unmarried man need two? It turned out that the first never reached the recipient. The valet helped himself.
The anecdote from the life of the famous naturalist was told on Tuesday at the presentation of the Knoblauchhaus, which belongs to the Stadtmuseum Foundation and is open again today. Even if – it was admitted – it is hardly verifiable, an essential feature of such stories, it went well with the bed frame, which incidentally had no mattress and was mounted on the wall on the top floor as the final point of the new exhibition “Berliner Salon”.
That in turn is real: the original bedstead and at the same time the deathbed of Alexander von Humboldt. It was made around 1830/1840, bought at auction in 1860, a year after the owner’s death, by the real estate agent Richard Schweder and given to the Märkisches Museum two decades later. The Humboldt family coat of arms, with which all parts of the frame are marked, as well as that of the auctioneer testify to the authenticity.
Whereby this lack is what makes the house of garlic special and authentic. For Paul Spies, director of the Stadtmuseum Berlin, it represents a “time machine” that makes the original atmosphere of the old days palpable. The Berlin show in the Humboldt Forum cannot do that, says Spies.
With the closure of the Märkisches Museum, which is due for renovation, for several years from the end of 2022, the importance of the Knoblauchhaus for the city museum will even increase, he believes. Although it was already popular. In the twelve months before the lockdown, 30,000 people had visited the house next to the Nikolaikirche in Mitte.
Generations of the Knoblauch family have lived in it, the last ones only moving out in 1929. It survived the Second World War relatively unscathed, was divided into a wine bar and rented apartments during the GDR era, and was converted into a museum in 1989, initiated as part of Berlin’s 750th anniversary celebrations.
The interior of a Berlin town house from around 1835 is shown in an exhibition that has now been revamped in terms of technology and content. At that time, the house was redesigned by the owner Carl Knoblauch, a businessman who worked in the silk trade, among other things – the last conversion of the house. Historical interiors have been reconstructed in eight rooms, often with original furniture, as curator Jan Mende explained during the tour.
The first room you enter on the tour through the Biedermeier world starting on the first floor is the Raffael cabinet. Even the hanging of the Raphael reproductions was reconstructed here using old photos. The history show is supplemented by some media stations that do not disturb the authentic picture. The texts on the walls are also pleasingly clear.
The four themed rooms “Berliner Salon” on the top floor of the Knoblauch-Schau offer a different picture. Instead of the “imitated reconstruction using old furniture”, as the curator described the Biedermeier rooms, a very modern exhibition design dominates the scene here, for which the Heilmeyer company is responsible
Carl Knoblauch is also the focus of the Berlin Salon. He was the center of a network that brought him into contact with celebrities such as the Humboldts and Schinkel – and repeatedly brought them to his house. The businessman was a right-wing club boss, a member of a good dozen of them, mostly even on the board, including the “Association of Friends of Art in the Prussian State”. Lots of contacts were guaranteed, but it wasn’t always just about the fine arts and sciences.
Garlic left behind 2,000 letters and invoices alone. Ten can be called up at a media station via touchscreen, facsimulated, reprinted and thus readable: a letter of recommendation from Alexander von Humboldt to Knoblauch or the annual accounts of the locksmith Hauschild, whom Knoblauch had commissioned eight times in 1834 with repair work such as the manufacture of new locks and door fittings. Right next to it is a picture that shows the locksmith surrounded by his family: art and crafts ideally networked through museum architecture.