Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Wolfgang Bunzel: Remembrance Site Wiepersdorf


Wolfgang Bunzel: Remembrance Site Wiepersdorf

It was Achim von Arnim’s grandmother, Caroline von Labes, who had certain testamentary provisions introduced to regulate the inheritance of the Wiepersdorf estate. These remained in effect until 1919 and ensured that Wiepersdorf Castle stayed in the family for a very long time. Even after the provisions became void, her descendants continued to feel a commitment to the place. So it was not until the victorious Allied powers took over after end of the Second World and the collapse of the Third Reich that the ownership structure was drastically changed. Similar to the case of Oberwiederstedt castle, where the von Hardenbergs were expelled from their ancestral seat, the residents of Wiepersdorf castle were also expropriated after the war when the region became part of the Soviet occupation zone. Unlike Oberwiederstedt, however, the estate was quickly put to cultural use. The Wiepersdorf manor house was soon declared a writers’ retreat center, which subsequently developed into what was probably the most famous retreat for creative artists in the GDR.

In this way, Wiepersdorf became a place of remembrance that was quite unique in its kind. Since numerous authors of the second German state lived and worked here at intervals, the castle remained a place of cultural encounter. And what is more, throughout all the years it belonged to the Arnim family, the manor could not boast as many intellectuals as have crossed its threshold since the fifties.

In this respect, the place blossomed anew, albeit in a different form. At the same time, the property proved to be a living repository of memories. The memory of the former owners was ever-present to all visitors and not infrequently led to an intensive investigation of the building’s history prior to being a writers’ retreat. The literary texts that were written either during a residency or afterwards under the impression of the estate’s historical ambience bear witness to this. Probably the most famous testimony to such a dialogue across the ages is Sarah Kirsch’s Wiepersdorf poetry cycle from 1977. In some respects, however, this culture of memory also reveals contradictory features. The GDR did not begrudge the so-called cultural workers the atmospheric experience of bygone days shaped by aristocratic life, which were overcome, according to its mindset, while it did not undertake investigations into the castle’s previous history and present the information and findings in a permanent exhibition.

In other words, while the shape of the rooms and the furnishings testified to the past, the guests had to go elsewhere to find out about the people who had lived on the estate in former times. This state of affairs was particularly absurd in the early days, when part of the library of the Arnims was still in the house and one could leaf through and read the books that the former residents had collected at this site. This way of engaging, at best, indirectly with the cultural heritage of the place was indicative of the GDR’s ambivalent attitude in its cultural policy toward Romanticism, which it long considered backward-looking and reactionary. Thus an important site for recalling two Romantic writers was not used as a museum, but was kept alive by way of reuse.

It was not until after the reunification of Germany that separate museum rooms were fitted out here, dedicated to the couple Achim and Bettina von Arnim. The former studio of their grandson, the painter Achim von Arnim-Bärwalde, builds the heart of the museum space. It was the grandson who gave the original Baroque building its present rather palatial character. The driving force behind this came from a descendant of the family, namely Clara von Arnim, who founded a memorial dedicated to both poets, together with Hartwig Schultz, the Romantic scholar from Frankfurt, and maintained it with the help of a circle of friends.

In the meantime, Wiepersdorf has passed through various kinds of trusteeship with some deviations in concepts for its use. In its image as a residence for artists and a place of cultural exchange, it has continued and still fosters the impressive tradition of the writers’ retreat that was created in GDR times, while adopting a more international and a stronger intermedia focus. Wiepersdorf is a special kind of time capsule: it preserves the flair of a bygone era from which later generations find ideas for shaping the present. At the same time, however, it is also a memorial to a place and its inhabitants from a period of over 200 years now.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bunzel, born in 1960, is head of the Romanticism Research Department at the Goethe-Haus/Freies Deutsches Hochstift in Frankfurt. In addition, he teaches modern German literature at the Goethe University Frankfurt and since mid-2014 has been one of the two managing directors of the Brentano-Haus Oestrich-Winkel gemeinnützige GmbH. His main field of research is the literature of German Romanticism. For many years he has co-edited the Internationales Jahrbuch der Bettina-von-Arnim-Gesellschaft. In 2009, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of her death, he curated an exhibition on Bettine von Arnim at the Freies Deutsches Hochstift, parts of which were also on display in Wiepersdorf. He has also published numerous editions as well as books and essays on Romantic literature, especially on Bettine von Arnim.