Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Petra Heymach: Achim von Arnim-Bärwalde


Petra Heymach: Achim von Arnim-Bärwalde

In the same year as the Revolution of 1848, Freimund, the first-born son of Achim and Bettina von Arnim, announced jubilantly—and with a twinkle in his eye—to his mother the birth of her first grandson: a “noisy bundle ... with enormous fists!” But the Arnim’s joy over their first offspring born in Wiepersdorf was only brief. The baby’s young mother Anna, born a von Baumbach, died only three quarters of a year after the boy’s birth. In addition, little Achim was born with a disability, a so-called club foot. His father first married again when the child was four years old; his second wife was his cousin Claudine, née Brentano, who was eight years his senior.

Claudine was very understanding and affectionate toward Achim, devoting herself to his education and the costly medical care of his ailing leg. Later, she engaged a private tutor for the boy, a pastoral candidate from Württemberg, who also gave his pupil his first drawing lessons. Achim developed a highly creative and artistic way of occupying himself already in Wiepersdorf. He painted, drew, designed jewelry out of paper, and performed theater and circus pieces. Claudine wrote that, even while planning these things, he is “thrilled for days.”

This life, which was completely tailored to his needs, ended abruptly when Achim had to prepare for the state school in Frankfurt am Main. There he was integrated into the family circle of the Brentano relatives—with its rules of etiquette, its obligations, and a tightly packed schedule of school life. Nevertheless, even there he tried to integrate visits to the theater and exhibitions into his everyday life. The correspondence with his mother, however, reveals how much he longed for his home in Wiepersdorf and even more for her. When Achim turned fifteen, his father Freimund, to whom he had a rather reserved relationship, died. His father’s brother, Siegmund von Arnim, now became his guardian. Mother and uncle wanted Achim, as a future landowner and farmer, to be instructed in bookkeeping and commercial arithmetic. Barely a month after successfully completing school, he enrolled as a law student in Berlin at the age of nineteen and, after passing the examination in 1870, was appointed a trainee judge at the Berlin Court of Appeal.

However, his very different inclinations strengthened his inner doubts, and he consequently decided not to take the second state examination in law. Only four months later he enrolled in the Philological Faculty of the Royal Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin to study history and art history. Two semesters later, he dropped out of this field of study too and, after a phase of turbulent inner conflict, told his mother the reason why: “This is now already the sixth letter I have begun writing to tell you, my dear mother ..., that I have finally made the choice of which profession I wish to pursue in life—I want to become a painter!"

A year later he went to Munich and enrolled in one of Germany’s leading academies of fine arts to study under the prominent history painter Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826–1886), whose master student he became. Later he gave up history painting and changed genres, devoting himself to portrait and landscape painting.

At the age of twenty-seven, Achim, like so many artists, began to regularly visit Italy. Nine trips to Italy in only fourteen years have been documented. During these stays he scoured the entire Italian Peninsula and sometimes stayed in the country for up to half a year at a time. And why? Wiepersdorf Castle, as it presents itself today—with its Baroque transformation, the terrace in front, the garden with its sculptures and terracotta vases—provides an impressive answer to this riddle. Achim often drew the architectural plans himself for the changes to be made to his estate. While in Italy, he entrusted the implementation of his plans to his cousin Moritz von Baumbach, who administered the Wiepersdorf estates in his absence. Much overwhelmed, Moritz asked him to return to Wiepersdorf on several occasions. But Achim kept purchasing on a grand scale: for example, he bought ten statues and four vases on his last trip, in 1889, spending a total of 6,000 marks on these pieces. They were expertly packed and shipped to Wiepersdorf. Today they stand in the castle park.

Totally isolated and only forty-three-years old, Achim von Arnim-Bärwalde died of pneumonia in Wiepersdorf in 1891. In his short life, he had transformed the ancestral home of his grandfather Achim von Arnim from a simple manor house into an estate with a castle-like character. He did not live to see his final plans completed, and he of course never saw the Wiepersdorf of today. But he surmounted all hurdles and difficulties and fulfilled his dreams as a painter and the designer of Wiepersdorf.

Petra Heymach was born in Biedenkopf/Hesse in 1951. After studying special needs education and psychology, she worked as a teacher with a special focus on language at a school in Berlin/Kreuzberg. Her interest in Bettina von Arnim and her family began at the age of 18. Initially, she approached the subject with staged readings such as Goethes leidige Bremse, Szenen einer Ehe (Literaturhaus Berlin) and various lectures such as Bettina, eine Revolutionärin? From 1989 onwards, she devoted herself specifically to family research and conducted research in the archives of the (former) GDR. In 1992, she mounted her first exhibition, Vom Familiensitz zum DDR-Künstlerheim Bettina von Arnim at Schloss Homburg (North Rhine-Westphalia). In 2000, intensive research began on the painter Achim von Arnim-Bärwalde for a conference at Schloss Wiepersdorf in 2001 with the contribution Ein Cravaller mit großen Feusten. This was followed by training as an exhibition curator at the UdK in 2014 and various further training courses on the subject in 2016. From May to July 2015, she curated the second exhibition at Schloss Wiepersdorf on the life and work of the painter Bettina Encke von Arnim with the accompanying book Die Malerei ist mein ganzes Glück.