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What You Must See at the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

In the adjoining building to the Goethe House, and up the stairs, squirreled away in fourteen jewel-tone rooms are paintings, busts, and ephemera from the time of Goethe, revealing his colleagues, friends, adversaries, and rulers. What a genius lens to view a person’s life! If you take the necessary time, no more than an hour, to visit the galleries, you’ll see the painting styles change as Goethe witnessed them.

Goethe’s lifetime saw late Baroque, Rococo, Enlightenment and Sensibility, literary Storm and Stress movement, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism. There are examples of all these movements in one place. It’s impressive the wealth of the experience in such a small collection. One of the most important Fuseli collections in Europe, a trail blazing German woman artist whose story is nearly impossible to find, and THREE Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes in one small room.

The German painter Caroline Bardua...who was she? Her three portraits of the Von Arnim sisters hang in Room 11 of the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

The adjoining Frankfurt Goethe Museum is a graphic arts collection, library and a manuscript archive. While the nonprofit group Freies Deutsches Hochstift furnished and opened the Goethe House in 1863, the complementing Goethe Museum opened 34 years later in 1897.

Remember that beefy, 22-page English brochure in the gift shop for 1.50 Euros? You’ll be so glad you bought it. It provides the overview of each of the 14 gallery room themes and explains the relationships Goethe had with the subjects for a majority of the works on display. I’m only going to focus on three rooms, and I’ll elaborate on what you’ll find in the brochure.

The painting Mad Kate by Henry Fuseli on display at the Frankfurt Goethe Museum represents the Sturm und Drang movement

The Sturm und Drang Movement Visualized
Room 3 | Johann Heinrich Füssli: New Paths in Historical Painting

(German birthname: Johann Heinrich Füssli) Henry Fuseli's paintings were a revolutionary thrill to behold during Goethe’s lifetime. A great example of being at the right place at the right time, when writers, including Goethe, and musicians were rebelling against the Enlightenment ideals and exploring human nature and emotions, cue Fuseli with his dramatic, emotional paintings bringing to life Shakespeare’s plays and supernatural forces. His explosive depictions resonated with what others were reading and composing. He is most famous for his renditions of ‘The Nightmare.’ The first version (1781) was so impactful he made several variations of the work, and the Frankfurt Goethe Museum collection has the 1790-1791 variation.

Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare painting was so popular he did several variations. The Frankfurt Goethe Museum has the 1790-1791 variation.

Who Was Painter Caroline Bardua?
Room 11 | Clemens Brentano, Bettine and Achim von Arnim

I was delighted to see in Room 11 a triplet of stunning portraits of ladies that was painted by a female artist I’ve never heard of. Her name is Caroline Bardua. Unfortunately the accompanying text was in German and only had the names of the subjects, dates, materials, artists, the basics.

Portrait painting of Maximiliane Von Arnim by German Painter Caroline Bardua at the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

Far left, Maximiliane von Arnim, the oldest daughter of the Bettine and Achim von Arnim.

Portrait painting of Armgart Von Arnim by German Painter Caroline Bardua at the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

In the middle is her younger sister Armgart von Arnim, and on the far right is the youngest Gisela von Arnim. Gisela later married the son of Wilhelm Grimm, and became famous for her own fairy tales. The sisters had their own literary salon, Kaffeter Kreis, Maximiliane was the President. Caroline Bardua painted the three sisters’ portraits in 1845.

Portrait painting of Gisela Von Arnim by German Painter Caroline Bardua at the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

A basic google search on Caroline Bardua brings up tidbits; she was a middle-class female artist who supported herself, and sometimes her sister too, with her art! Very rare, and very hard to do! So many webpages were quick to point this out, but I couldn’t get much farther than that.

Finally a breakthrough thanks to Google Books search, I found a well-sourced biographical entry on Caroline Bardua. She sounds like such a cool, brave, independent lady, and Goethe helped her career. There’s no mention of this in the Museum, and there really should be! Goethe’s recommendation helped her get into the Weimar Academy where she studied for three years under Johann Heinrich Meyer. Then, Goethe gave her a letter of recommendation to study under portrait painter Gerhard von Kügelgen. She lived to be 83 years old and was a lifelong, self-supported painter. If you’d like to read more about her, she’s on page 209-2012 in the Dictionary of Women Artists: Artists, A-J.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Caspar David Friedrich
Room 12 | Romantic Landscapes

If you’re a Caspar David Friedrich fan, then you’ll be tempted to skip straight to Room 12. I don’t blame you.

The Evening Star by Caspar David Friedrich, on display in the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

The Frankfurt Goethe Museum has three similarly-sized landscapes by Friedrich, The Evening Star, Swans in the Reeds, and Willow Bushes in the Setting Sun. There’s debate as to whether Goethe was a fan of Friedrich’s, but does it really matter? The brochure points out that Goethe’s feelings were ambiguous. However, it was thanks to an early career competition prize Friedrich won, which Goethe was a juror, that legitimized Friedrich as an artist. History can’t have one without the other. I’m disappointed in how my cellphone shots turned out, and then the public domain ones I found aren’t any better. You really just need to see them in person, they’re stunning. It’s challenging with such high contrast paintings with a lot of dark areas to see the detail in reproduction. However, in person, every brush stroke is delicate, and looking at any one of these pieces is to be transported into the scene, emotions in your throat, classic Friedrich.

Have you been next door to the Goethe House, where Goethe was born? We'll fill you in on the highlights, just click here.

Where? When? How Much?
You can reach the Frankfurter Goethe House and Museum by all subways and interurban trains stopping at ‘Hauptwache’ within five to ten minutes walk. Car parks are located in the immediate surroundings. The address is Frankfurter Goethe-Haus / Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Großer Hirschgraben 23-25, 60311 Frankfurt am Main.
Typical hours for the Goethe House and Museum are Monday through Saturday, 10am-6pm, and Sunday from 10am-5:30pm. Admission is 7 Euros. Check the official site for available discounts and group prices.

Swans in the Reeds by Caspar David Friedrich, on display in the Frankfurt Goethe Museum

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Willow Bush in the Setting Sun by Caspar David Friedrich, on display in the Frankfurt Goethe Museum
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Ultimate Cheat Sheet to the Goethe House in Frankfurt

The windows are wide open in the birthplace of Frankfurt am Main’s favorite son, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. A cool breeze shimmies its way in, stirring up historical smells. You only hear the sound of the wooden floorboards creaking under your feet and in neighboring rooms, and further away a student tour group is laughing. Ongoing construction site white noise from next door, the soon to be German Romantic Museum, foretells of historical fun to come in 2019.

Why Do You Need a Cheat Sheet to Visit?
There are very few descriptive signs hanging because the nonprofit group, which oversees the Goethe House and Museum, Freies Deutsches Hochstift wants to keep the presence of the house as authentic as possible. This means you need to either do some homework before visiting, succumb to an audio tour for 3 Euros extra, or, split the difference and get the beefier English brochure for 1.50 Euros and use that as your tour guide. Currently there’s only German tours on weekends, and no English tours at all.

My American education only mentioned Goethe in passing, and I imagine many others will relate. It seemed as though our English teachers had a hard enough time teaching us Canterbury’s Tales, Beowulf, and Shakespeare’s countless plays, they didn’t quite make it to Goethe’s oeuvre.

I’ve gathered together and simplified what you need to know in order to get the most out of your visit, but I do recommend buying the beefier English brochure. It is well produced and designed, as well as easy to pack and a great souvenir. The brochure goes room by room and discusses more highlights and goes into further detail.

Family is What Makes This House a Home
Johann Wolfgang Goethe and his sister Cornelia grew up in the top tier of Frankfurt’s society. They both received excellent, private educations. It was expected that Goethe would be a lawyer like his father before him. He went as far as finishing law school and opening a private practice when his literary career made him a celebrity.

Top 10 Historical Events You Need to Know About the Goethe House
1. Sold | Goethe’s grandmother on his father’s side (Cornelia Goethe), bought the property in 1733
2. Birth | Johann Wolfgang Goethe was born August 28, 1749
3. Birth | Goethe’s beloved sister Cornelia Goethe was born 1750
4. Renovation | Goethe’s father (Johann Caspar Goethe) renovated and combined two half-timbered houses into one spacious, Rococo-style home from 1755-1756.
5. French Occupation | Royal Lieutenant François Théas de Thoranc occupied the house from 1759 until 1761 during the French occupation of the Seven Years’ War, and had local artists visit to paint for him. As a result, Goethe watched Johann Georg Trautmann work on his Joseph Cycle paintings.
6. Writing | Goethe wrote “Goetz of Berlichingen” in 1773 and “The Sorrows of Young Werther” in 1774
7. Sold | Goethe’s mother sold the house, furniture, and her husband’s collections in 1795.
8. Sold | The house was acquired in 1863 by the Freies Deutsches Hochstift, “A Society Devoted to the Liberal Arts.” They began reassembling and recreating the home’s original furnishings.
9. Bombing | After the 1944 bombing raid, the house and Goethe Museum was completely destroyed. Furnishings and objects had previously been evacuated and were saved.
10. Rebuilt | Meticulous reconstruction from 1947-1951 led to the house and museum being reopened in 1954.

Must-See Highlights of the Goethe House By Floor
Ground Floor Highlights
1. Kitchen |The house still has it's original water pump linked to a well in the cellar, pure luxury in a time most households depended on a public well!

Goethe House in Frankfurt still has its original water pump linked to a well in the cellar

2. Staircase | The first four sandstone steps of the staircase on the ground floor are original, (survived the 1944 bombing.) The massive staircase and spacious landings were part of Goethe’s father’s renovation. Look for his parents’ initials in the ironwork of the railing on the first floor.
3. Blue Room | The framed oilcloth wallpaper hanging on the wall is from the house before the renovation, and allegedly acted as a tarp over the kids’ beds in the attic during the construction work.

The framed oilcloth wallpaper hanging on the wall is from the house before the renovation | Goethe House Frankfurt

First Floor Highlights
1. Peking Room, also called Red Room | Behold the fabulous loud wallpapers with flowers and animals that imitate Chinese and East Asian styles!

Peking Room has fabulous loud wallpapers that imitate Chinese and East Asian styles| Goethe House FrankfurtI love the room heater/fireplace in the Peking room | Goethe House Frankfurt

2. The Northern Wing Cabinet | There’s a portrait of the French Lieutenant Thoranc who occupied the first floor of the house from 1759 until 1761 during the French occupation of the Seven Years’ War.
3. Grey/Music Room | The Goethe family group of four was very close, and music was very important to them. Cornelia (sister) was excellent on the piano, the father played the lute, Goethe played the cello, and the mother sang. Above the red, upright pianoforte is a portrait of the Goethe family by Johann Conrad Seekatz. The five cherubs in the background symbolize the parents’ five other children who died very young.

Portrait of the Goethe family by Johann Conrad Seekatz hangs above the red pianoforte in the Grey Music Room | Goethe House Frankfurt | Room Photo of Pianoforte by Flickr User Soohyang.Song

Second Floor Highlights
1. Goethe’s Father’s Library | These books are scandalized by the idea of ebooks, and suspicious as to why they’re behind glass, lonely, and locked up!

Goethe's Father's Library is scandalized by the idea of ebooks, and suspicious as to why they're locked up! | Goethe House Frankfurt

2. Cabinet of Paintings | Goethe loved art and especially the Dutch traditional style. He kept his art collecting local, and supported Frankfurt masters, Trautmann, Schütz the Elder, Juncker, Hirt, Nothnagel, and Morgenstern, as well as Darmstadt court painter, Seekatz.

Goethe loved art and especially the Dutch traditional style. He collected local Frankfurt & Darmstadt painters and displayed them in the picture room | Goethe House Frankfurt

3. Astronomical Clock | Not original to the house, it was in Privy Council Wilhelm Friedrich Hüsgen’s home, where Goethe admired it when he was young. There is a dancing bear in the lower peephole that acts as a signal for winding up the clock. It was built in 1746.

Third Floor Highlights
1. Poet’s Room | Here, with it's original standing desk and a writing desk, is where Goethe wrote his early works.

Poet's Room with the original standing desk. Here is where Goethe wrote his early works | Goethe House Frankfurt

2. Puppet Theater | Goethe’s puppet theater he received when he was 4 years old, yes really! It’s survived. Worth climbing all those stairs? You bet.

Goethe received this puppet theater when he was four! | Goethe House Frankfurt

3. Western Attic Room | When the French Lieutenant Thoranc who occupied the house from 1759 until 1761 during the French occupation of the Seven Years’ War, he had many Frankfurt artists to visit and work in this room. Goethe watched Johann Georg Trautmann create his Joseph painting series in this room. They’ve since been returned from Thoranc’s estate to be displayed where they were created!

Johann Georg Trautmann created his Joseph painting series in this room, and now here it is displayed again | Goethe House Frankfurt

But wait! There’s more! Here's what to expect at the adjoining Goethe Museum.

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The History of ALDI, the German Discount Store

The success story of ALDI started in the spring of 1913, when the baker Karl Albrecht, together with his wife Anna, opened “Albrecht” in Essen, Germany. At that time, self-service was still quite unusual and all customers were personally served by the store clerks. This is what the first storefront looked like:

The Mom and Pop Store 'Albrecht' in the German city of Essen in 1913 | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

After WWII, their sons Karl and Theo took over the store in 1945 and and expanded their family business into 100 branch stores by 1955 and over 300 by 1960. The ALDI brothers Karl and Theo are considered the inventors of the discount supermarket system in Germany and were among the richest people in the world, each valued at just under 20 billion dollars by Forbes magazine. However, both valued their privacy and declined most interviews, hence there are very few photos of the two brothers. Theo Albrecht died in 2010 due to a severe fall, and Karl passed away in 2014. Here is one of the few photos, from WirtschaftsWoche's archive:

A rare photo of Theo and Karl Albrecht from Wirtschafts Woche's archive

A Disagreement About Cigarettes
The growth of the Albrecht store empire went well until 1960, when the brothers divided the company into two geographical areas in Germany: ALDI North and ALDI South. Apparently they had a clash of opinions regarding the sale of cigarettes. The northern branches were taken over by Theo, who was the one that wanted to sell cigarettes and and the southern branches were managed by Karl Albrecht (ALDI South sells cigarettes only since 2003).

Map of Aldi North and Aldi South Territories

Times are Changing
Also in the early 1960’s, Germans started to discover supermarkets how we know them today, where you can walk in, grab what you need, pay and leave. The small service stores like the ones from the Albrecht brothers saw a decline in sales and the brothers decided in 1961 to open their own chain of supermarkets. They chose the name ALDI (ALbrecht DIscount) for their new supermarket-style stores. Their concept for their new stores was a bit different than the one of a traditional supermarket. The ALDI stores offered no duplicates of food, so for example there was only one type of orange instead of several kinds to choose from. The basic idea is to only have products in the assortment which have a high turnover rate, about 700 items per store.

ALDI is focused on staple food items and did not issue price tags on each item until the early 1990s. I still remember being at ALDI with my mother and the cashiers would manually enter each price for each item with the prices they had memorized. If they were not sure, they would ask the next cashier over, who would then yell back with the exact price. The ALDI brothers also negotiated products with well-known manufacturers, which were produced under a different name specially for ALDI. As a result, these products were not subject to price constraints and advertising costs, enabling ALDI stores to sell them favorably.

First aisle of an Aldi North in Dortmund, Germany | Photo by Kira Nerys

ALDI Today
To this day ALDI stores are rather simple when it comes to decoration and advertisements. Most items are sold directly out of the manufacturers shipping carton and all shelves carry the same orange price sticker. All employees are cross-trained to be at the cash register or re-stock items that are running low. This omission of “traditional” supermarket retail features brought the ALDI supermarkets great cost advantages over the years, at the same time enabling consumers great price advantages. Until the 1980s, ALDI had the image of a “poor people's” supermarket. Their products were regarded as qualitatively sufficient, but without prestige. Even today, poor populations are an important target group for ALDI, however many of the products marketed by ALDI have very good test results in German Consumer Reports magazines.

An important image change for ALDI came during the 1990’s, when they started their short-term weekly offers, usually as part of a theme week, for example handyman items with an assortment power drills, saws and work boots. During my high school years and the rise of personal computers, ALDI even offered the first "ALDI PC" around Christmas 1995, right when the internet started taking off and everybody got an AOL CD in the mail every other week. It was a well-equipped machine, that sold out in the first hours of the sale, based on its fair price and the fact that the German computer market was unsaturated with computers. This is a picture of the first PC’s being sold by ALDI, photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung:

ALDI PC being sold | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

2 Tips When Shopping at ALDI
Two things to keep in mind before you visit ALDI for your first time either in Germany or in the States: Customers are expected to bring their own bags from home to transport their groceries, otherwise they can purchase bags at the store for a small fee. That way ALDI cuts down on the use of plastic bags, which is good for the environment and good for their expenses.

Secondly, expect to pay a deposit if you want to use a shopping cart. Another way ALDI saves, is that customers pay a 1 Euro deposit to use a shopping cart at ALDI. "The shopping cart rental system is one of many ALDI efficiencies that enable us to keep our prices so low," the company informs on its website. "By not having to hire someone to police the shopping carts, we are able to pass the savings onto our customers." In the USA the deposit is typically a quarter.

You can see their current sales ad here.

Have you been to an ALDI store already? What do you think about them? Let us know in the comments.

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Why Santa Claus Visits on December 6th in Germany

December 6th is a special day for children in Germany and many other European countries. It is Nikolaus or Nikolaustag, named after Saint Nicholas. There are many miraculous stories about him, and some belong to the realm of imagination, others may have actually contributed to the yearly tradition.
Why Santa Claus Visits on December 6th in Germany? An explanation on Nikolaus, or Nikolaustag, named after Saint Nicholas

Tidbits of Known history
The following is known about Saint Nicholas: The young Nicholas was born between 270 AD and 286 AD in today's Turkey to wealthy parents. When he was 19, he was ordained a priest. Soon, as Abbot, he heads the monastery of Sion near Myra, near his home town, hence his other nickname Nicholas of Myra.
After the death of his parents, Saint Nicholas inherits a large fortune, which he distributes to the poor in form of gold clumps and afterwards goes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, today's Israel. After his return, he was elected bishop of Myra due to his just nature.

Legends Surrounding Saint Nicholas
One legend of Saint Nicholas is the grain miracle legend. Based on the advice of Saint Nicholas, the sailors of an Alexandrian grain ship unloaded some of their cargo in a city threatened by famine. When the grain ship later arrived at its final destination, the crew discovered their supply had been replenished.
Another legend describes St. Nicholas throwing three gold balls into the house of a poor man, so that his daughters can be properly married. In many pictures, Saint Nicholas is represented in simple bishop's clothing. On later pictures, three golden balls are added, which are the ones he had thrown into the poor man's house. Sometimes three oranges or apples are used to represent the gold.

How Come We Know About Him?
The legends about Saint Nicholas’ righteousness and charity made him the patron saint of sailors, travelers, pilgrims, traders, the poor, and children. The worship of Saint Nicholas spread from the middle east across Russia to all of Europe including Germany. Even today, on Saint Nicholas’ death day, on the 6th of December, he is celebrated in many countries. That is why Nikolaus has many names: in Austria he is called Nikolo, in England and Ireland he is called Father Christmas and in the Netherlands and Flanders, he is called Sinterklaas, an abbreviation for Sint Nikolaas.

Celebration of Saint Nicholas in Germany
In many regions of Germany, it is customary to place well-dressed, empty shoes outside your door on the evening of December 5th, in the hope to find well-filled shoes the next morning, even though this custom has also changed over time. While parents used to stick apples and nuts into the shoes, today toys or candy often find their way into the shoes.

By the way, naughty children are threatened with Saint Nicholas, who will not bring them any gifts on December 6. You better be nice, and also do not forget to clean the shoes before you put them outside the door. Allegedly Saint Nicholas will not deliver if you leave mud on your boots.

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Photo Credit Left to Right: 1.)Russian Icon Depicting St. Nicholas With Scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm. 2.) Nicholas throws three golden balls into the room of three poor girls. Circa. 1425. Gentile da Fabriano 3.) Modern St. Nicholas Handing a Girl An Apple, Photo by Richard Huber 4.) Panels dating from around 1485 found on the northern wall of the choir in the church of St. Mary's Church (Marienkirche), a Gothic church in the Thuringian city of Mühlhausen illustrates Saint Nicholas and the Grain Miracle.

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