In the studio, 1946
© Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung | Photo: Elsa Thiemann

The magical den

The Berlin artist’s Jeanne Mammen former “magical den” has a long and colourful past. Today, the studio in the Gründerzeit building on Kurfürstendamm 29 is an authentic place of remembrance.

by Dr. Martina Weinland

Kurfürstendamm 29: A noble address in the west of Berlin and a prestigious period building. Built in 1896/97 by architect Ferdinand Döbler and stylishly renovated in the 2010’s, the original lovingly restored fresco adorns the foyer. From here you enter a bright, airy inner courtyard which leads to the equally impressive side wing. Located right in the centre of Berlin’s City West, the sound of the traffic ebbs away and an unexpected tranquillity encompasses the visitors. After a seemingly endless ascent up the stairs (91 steps!), you reach the fourth floor and your destination: the studio of the Berlin artist Jeanne Mammen.

The garden house at Kürfürstendamm 29
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Photo: Martina Weinland
Jeanne, who was born in 1890 in Berlin, grew up in Paris and studied art in Brussels before returning to Berlin, where her sister Marie Louise, known as Mimi, had rented the 55 square metre two-room studio in 1890. It had central heating, but only cold water and an outside toilet in the stairway. “The landlord thought that artists didn’t need anything. That they just lived on air and water alone”, said Jeanne Mammen in 1975, when she was reminiscing about her early days in the apartment.
“When we moved in, there was only gas lighting, along with two chairs, two easels. We would sleep on the floor, on mattrasses.“

The contemporary witness Fritz Hellwag, publisher of the Kunstgewerbeblatt [applied arts journal], described the two sisters, whom he met right after they had arrived in Berlin, as follows: One “has adopted the artist name Folcardy, while the other signs her works using her real name Mammen […] Miss Mammen is of a more romantic disposition and tends to use more pictorial expressions.  Both are very capable of illustrating good books.” The sisters, who offered their services as commercial artists, couldn’t afford to be picky when it came to choosing their subcontractors. It was not until they had begun to receive more publishing work – thereby securing a small, yet steady income – and their father had stepped in as their guarantor that the 30 and 32 years old women were able to rent their own studio in the garden house at Kurfürstendamm 29 on 1st April 1920.

Jeanne Mammen, circa 1935
© Archive of the Friend’s Association of the Jeanne Mammen Association, Berlin
Jeanne lived in the the building on Kurfürstendamm until her death on 22nd April 1976. Here she witnessed the legendary “Golden Twenties”, the Nazi marches, the aryanisation of shops, the deportation of the Jewish population, as well as the student movement and the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke on 11th April 1968. As a silent observer, she recorded the turmoil and upheavals and commented on them artistically in her own unique way using a pen, brush or, when creating sculptures, her hands.

Other famous tenants in the “Ku’damm“ 29 building included the Swiss painter Karl Walser (1877–1943), who was a member of the Kurfürstendamm-based art group “Berliner Secession” – some works of which are in the Stadtmuseum Berlin’s collection – as well as his brother, the writer Robert Walser.

Jeanne Mammen in her studio, circa 1946
© Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung | Photo: unbekannt

The studio

Drenched in clear light which shone through the studio’s large north-facing window, Jeanne Mammen’s home had always been a social meeting place. In the early and mid-1930’s, the sculptor Hans Uhlmann, as well as the chemist Kurt Wohl and his wife Grete, the biochemist Hans Gaffron and his wife Clara, and the geneticist and biophysicist Max Delbrück and his later wife Manny were regular visitors.

During the Nazi period, however, things would drastically change. Not only due to the fact that her Jewish friends were forced to emigrate, but also because Mimi decided to leave Berlin and settle in Tehran with her partner in 1937. Jeanne Mammen was lonely in her studio and she also began to feel  increasingly isolated professionally.

The studio became both a safe haven for the artist and a shelter for Jeanne Mammen’s works of art, which she created there in secret and which did not comply with the official Nazi art policy. The approximately 20 sculptures that she created between 1933 and 1945 are awe-inspiring. With titles such as “Kopf mit Schatten“ [Head with Shadow], “Hermaphrodit“ [Hermaphrodite], “Doppelprofil“ [Double Profile] and “Doppelauge“ [Double Eye], these works bear witness to the extent Jeanne Mammen suffered under the political conditions and the denunciations and contradictions that went along with them. She made a living by doing odd jobs for the “Reichsinstitut für Puppenspiel” [The Reich Institute for Puppetry] and by decorating the window displays of the fashion shops along Tauentzienstraße. A hidden source of income was the sale of her paintings by her friend Max Delbrück, who had emigrated to the USA.

The studio didn’t become a meeting place for friends and like-minded people again until after the war. The first discussions regarding joint exhibitions, which Hans Uhlmann would organise on behalf of the cultural office in Berlin Steglitz, began as early as May 1945. Jeanne Mammen, who was never able to bring herself to join an artist group in the 1920’s, now found the courage to do so. In 1948, along with her friend, the visual artists Hans Uhlman, as well as Klaus Hartung and Mac Zimmermann who would join them at a later date, she exhibited her work for the first time under the name “Zone 5”. The name was a reference to Berlin’s four occupation zones. Stylistically, the works were completely different, but they were thematically linked through the conviction that the time had come for an artistic rearrangement of the (post-war) world. Their intellectual approach was similar to the spirit of optimism that had inspired the founding members of the November Group in 1918.
Jeanne Mammen making decorations, 1949/50
© Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung | Photo: Rempor Studio Berlin

Mammen‘s participation the following year in the founding of the artist cabaret “Badewanne” [bathtub] was in line with her new attitude to life. The idea came from the painter Katja Meirowsky and her husband, the writer Karl Meirowsky. Katja was able to survive during the Nazi period by living illegally in Poland, while Karl had been able to emigrate to London in 1938. He returned to Berlin in 1947. It was mainly thanks to his good contacts within the US military government that the artist cabaret was able to hold its first event at the legendary Femina-Palast (now the Ellington Hotel) on Nürnberger Straße in the summer of 1949.

With friends at the studio, circa 1950
© Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung | Photo: unbekannt
Visual artists performed there for half a year, including Alexander Camaro, Hans Laabs, Johannes Hübner and Lothar Klünner – with short programs they’d written themselves and, in some cases, with backdrops and costumes created by Jeanne Mammen. Although they were between ten and fifteen years younger than her on average, they became close friends and loyal companions.

The studio was a frequent meeting place where people would gather to discuss and work creatively together. It was a refuge and a source of inspiration. Jeanne Mammen’s long-time friend Max Delbrück, who visited Berlin in October 1975, summed up his impressions one last time: “We paid her an extensive and cordial visit at her magical den on the evening of 30th October. Her latest piece of work, completely white, on the easel. We knew this would be our last visit, as did she, although she had yet to receive her diagnosis (lung cancer). I went by one more time the following day, we joked around, me about my hair loss ‘The man is slowly whilting…’, to which she immediately replied with heartfelt joy: ‘As is his hair’. Farewell in the pianissimo of old age“. Jeanne Mammen died in Berlin a few months after his visit, on 22nd April 1976 at the age of 86.

Unforgettable “magical den“

After she died, because of  the special nature of the meetings that took place there, her friends felt drawn to do everything in their power to preserve the studio in such a way, as if Jeanne Mammen had simply gone out on an errand and would walk through the door at any moment. Every picture, every piece of furniture lovingly designed by hand, small knick-knacks with great stories behind them adorning the shelves and a library containing German classics, like Goethe, and enlightened Frenchmen, like Rimbaud, were to remain right where they were. They decided to always keep the memory of the studio, of the “magical den” alive and in doing so make sure Jeanne Mammen’s work would never be forgotten. They founded the Jeanne-Mammen-Gesellschaft [Jeanne Mammen Society], organised numerous exhibitions and released publications about Mammen and her circle of friends. An extensive catalogue raisonné was published in 1997.

In search of a permanent home for her artistic legacy and the studio, the society then became a friends’ association that supported the dependent foundation established in 2003 under the umbrella of the Stadtmuseum Berlin. In 2018 the association decided to cease operations. From 1976 to 2018 – so, for 42 years – it protected and maintained the studio, which included original items and furnishings from the time Mammen worked there.
The studio today
© & Photo: Jens Ullrich

Lothar Klünner, one of Jeanne Mammen’s close friends, described the studio’s preserved aura in 1991: “A high-contrast energetic ambience casts a spell on the visitor. On the one hand, the visitor experiences increasing expectations and tension – on the other hand, there is a great sense of patience in the air. Yes, life still emanates from the walls; I assert, in its most precious, sublime form, that it could be philosophically clarified as wisdom. This studio summed up Jeanne Mammen’s creative existence. It is her complete work of art.”

Decades have now passed, during which the memory of a great Berliner has been kept alive and scholars from Germany and abroad have been able to research Jeanne Mammen from this authentic location. Numerous exhibitions have taken place where the artist’s work was exhibited alongside male fellow artists, such as George Grosz and Otto Dix. In 2017, a large retrospective held at the Berlinische Galerie finally brought Jeanne Mammen back to the attention of a wider audience. Since then there has been an unfaltering interest in the artist, in loaning her works of art and in tours of her studio. These objects, however, could no longer be safely kept at the studio. That is why they were relocated to the Stadtmuseum Berlin’s central depot in Spandau in 2018. In 2019, the studio was reconstructed and made accessible to the public as a complete work of art by the Berlin artist Jeanne Mammen under the direction of the Stadtmuseum Berlin.

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