Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Mendelssohn Houses in Berlin

It took me forever to find this illustration of what seems to be the house where Felix Mendelssohn and his family lived when he was growing up in Berlin. Huge, isn't it?? This is a house, not a royal palace or government building or a university or a posh apartment complex!

But the German caption translates this as "The Mendelssohn House on Leipzig Street, Berlin." The official address of the house Abraham Mendelssohn purchased in 1825 was 3 Leipziger Strasse, Berlin. This is where the Sunday musicales took place and where the great minds of Berlin came to be entertained by music and conversation.

Behind the house were "several guest houses," as one source described it, plus a large park with sub-gardens where the family could walk and where Felix rode his horse.

This sketch (right) is labeled "Garden House in Leipzig Street where Mendelssohn's youthful works were [written]." It is officially undated and the artist is uncredited.

The caption's words aufgeführt wurden translate literally as "rose up" which doesn't sound good in English. However, it reminded me that Felix wrote to his sister Fanny that he was sitting in the garden reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream when he decided he would write a piece of music inspired by it. Maybe that's how this one "youthful work" rose up and became reality?

It gets very confusing because the house Mendelssohn lived in in the city of Leipzig is also called "The Mendelssohn House." The fact the Berlin house was located on Leipzig Street makes it even more confusing.


I'm no fan of recommending Wikipedia as an on-line resource because it can be so inaccurate, but that's where I found this picture. Unfortunately, the person entering the data couldn't even translate a simple German caption correctly: he labeled it "The Mendelssohn House in Leipzig" when the German clearly says "in der Leipziger Strasse in Berlin" or "on Leipzig Street in Berlin." Well...

My question is - is the date 1900 correct? And why can't I find any information about when the house was demolished?

I knew, from several biographical sources, that his father Abraham bought a new, larger house on Leipzig Street in Berlin away from the busier part of the city and I knew that it no longer exists. But I've read nothing about when and why - was it torn down by the Nazis in the 1930s or was it bombed out during the Fall of Berlin in 1945? Was it demolished earlier in the century to make way for some other building? That often happens, too - ask anyone who's gone back to their old neighborhood and seen a familiar house or store replaced by a parking lot...


Anyway, today I was tooling around Google looking for any illustrations about Leipzig associated with Mendelssohn.

I had seen several photos of the house he lived in after he moved to Leipzig in 1835. But then I found this photograph (above) taken of the Berlin Mendelssohn House in 1900. If this is true, then this is the house Abraham Mendelssohn moved into in 1825, the year Felix Mendelssohn composed his Octet for Strings!

The family had continued living in the house and they continued to work in the family banking business until the 1930s. These were descendants of the youngest child, Paul Mendelssohn who went into their father's banking business. There were also descendants of Felix Mendelssohn's uncles who managed the company until 1938.

In 1888, a 2nd cousin of the composer (grandson of his Uncle Joseph) was "elevated" to the nobility, meaning they could add the 'von' to their name. And so a grandson of the composer became Otto von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and the oldest son of Felix's brother Paul became Ernst von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in 1896.

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Here is a tourist travelogue video posted on YouTube - in German - about the Mendelssohn House - this one is the Bank Building and the house where other members of the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family lived and worked. It was built by one of Felix's uncles. It is located at 51 Jäger Strasse about two blocks from Leipzig Street but perhaps in a different neighborhood from where Abraham Mendelssohn's house was located on 3 Leipzig Strasse.

At 0:14-0:27 you can see images of the Mendelssohn & Co. Bank with a sequence of the interior
of the house - a staircase - beginning at 0:40 with a shot of the building's main entrance (see photo). Felix Mendelssohn is mentioned but I think as a visitor to the house of his uncle and cousins. At 1:53-1:58, during an aerial view of this section of "the heart of" Berlin, they highlight The Mendelssohn House - in this case, this is where the bank building still stands.

This is a recent photograph of the doorway of the building that used to house the Mendelssohn Bank which was built in 1820 which can be seen at 0:41 for a couple of seconds before you go through the front door into the staircase leading up to the family's living quarters.
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This is a photograph that had been labeled "Mendelssohn House Berlin" but must refer to the banking house: it looks like a modern boardroom.

More photographs about the Leipzig House will be posted in a separate post.

- Dr. Dick