The Liebermann-Villa

At the age of 62, Max Liebermann decided to acquire a summer residence in what was then the most exclusive villa district of Berlin. In 1909, he purchased one of the last available waterfront plots on Lake Wannsee, in the villa colony of Alsen. It was a long stretch of land, covering around 7,000 square metres, located at Seestraße 45, today Colomierstraße 3.

Liebermann commissioned Paul Otto Baumgarten (1873–1946), a student of Alfred Messel, with building the house. Baumgarten had already built the neighbouring Villa Hamspohn in 1906 and now set about making Liebermann’s visions for his villa a reality.

Special features in the design of the Liebermann villa include the interplay between stucco surfaces and light sandstone and shell limestone elements. The unpretentious façade accentuates the private character of the summer residence. At the front of the house, a central path leads through the cottage garden and perennial garden, past the gardener’s cottage and over the high lime hedge to the west façade of the villa. The large, two-storey loggia is dominated by two monumental columns with Ionic capitals.

On the east façade of the villa, which faces out on to Lake Wannsee, a central two-storey avant-corps is topped with a triangular gable and round window. On this side of the villa, French windows connect all the ground floor rooms to a large terrace that looks out over the lakeside garden, with views of the flower terrace, the large open lawn, the hedge gardens and the birch-lined path. There is also a loggia on this side of the house, which Liebermann decorated himself with a mural in 1911. The architecture succeeds in creating a striking relationship between the interior of the house and the garden outside.

For a long time, Liebermann’s painting on the interior wall of the loggia was almost entirely forgotten. The artist himself had the mural painted over in the 1920s. When the Liebermann Villa was restored between 2004 and 2006, his original loggia mural was rediscovered, uncovered and restored with the help of the Berlin State Office of Monument Preservation (Landesdenkmalamt).

The Liebermann family moved into the house in July 1910. They proceeded to spend every summer on Lake Wannsee up until shortly before Max Liebermann’s death in 1935. In the period that followed, the house was used for a wide variety of purposes: In 1940, Martha Liebermann was forced by the National Socialists to sell the plot to the German National Postal Service (Deutsche Reichspost), which set up a “training camp” in the villa for its “female following”. Towards the end of the war, the house served as a military hospital. From 1945, the Liebermann Villa, together with the neighbouring Villa Hamspohn, housed the surgical department of Wannsee’s municipal hospital (Städtisches Krankenhaus Wannsee). Max Liebermann’s former atelier was turned into an operating theatre.

In 1951, the villa was returned to Liebermann’s daughter Käthe Riezler, who lived in the US. She made a rental agreement with the Wannsee hospital. Her daughter, Maria White, who featured as a child in many of Max Liebermann’s pictures, finally sold the villa in 1958 to the federal state of Berlin. After remaining unoccupied for two years, the villa was leased by the borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf in the autumn of 1971 to the DUC scuba diving club (Deutscher Unterwasser Club) for 30 years. The society transformed the villa into a club house and training facilityfor divers, which resulted in structural modifications to the house’s interior. In 1995, the Max Liebermann Society suc- ceeded in having the villa listed as a protected building, but that same year the borough prematurely extended the lease with the diving club by another twenty years.

In 1997, on the occasion of Max Liebermann’s 150th birthday, the Max Liebermann Society was able to obtain a resolution from the Senate of Berlin that the villa could be used as a museum. The senate did not, however, contribute to its funding.

Once a substitute property of similar value had been found for the DUC in 2002, the Max Liebermann Society could begin to restore the villa and transform it into a museum using private funding. Since the end of April 2006, the house and garden have been restored to their original state and permanently opened to the public as a museum, artist’s house and garden. The estate welcomes around 80,000 visitors each year.