The Garden
History of the garden

Max Liebermann’s waterfront property consisted of two parcels of land – one on the waterfront and the other directly behind it – comprising a total area of 6730 m². Measuring a scant 26.3 along the street Am Großen Wannsee the narrow property fanned out somewhat to a width of around 43 m at the bank of the lake. The distance from the lake to the street was just over 190 m. The property was accessed through the short cul-de-sac on the west side, Colmierstr. Liebermann was also able to lease from the public works administration (Tiefbauverwaltung) an extension of Colmierstr. which led down to the waterfront and thus to broaden the property by four and a half meters.

While Albert Brodersen (1857–1930) was designing the garden, Max Liebermann turned for additional advice to the director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Alfred Lichtwark (1873–1914). Well-known for his garden design reforms, Lichtwark endorsed the functional cottage garden on the one hand and the architectonically conceived Baroque garden on the other as ideal prototypes for the spatial art of garden and park design.

Deliberation over the layout of the Wannsee garden generated extensive correspondence in which Liebermann’s daughter Käthe also took part. It was decided to situate the house on a line with the neighboring Hamspohn villa and thus to split the quite narrow property into two well proportioned areas, a front garden and a lake-side garden. The lakeside portion of the garden consisted of a large expanse of lawn circumscribed by a horseshoe shaped path and allowing an unobstructed view out over the lake. Plantings along the boundaries helped to screen views into the neighboring properties. Also, Liebermann felt strongly about retaining the existing birch grove on the right
side of his own property.

On the flower terrace, ornamentally shaped flower beds were set in lawn. Whereas the borders here contained an arrangement of annuals that changed from year to year, Liebermann always planted red geraniums in the central beds, creating a strong color accent that lasted well into autumn. From a semi-circular bench placed on the right or southern end of the terrace one looked over these beds to August Gaul’s bronze Otter Fountain at the opposite end.

Occupying the entire front yard was a flower and vegetable garden accessed and traversed from front to back by a central path lined by broad beds of annuals and biennials. At right angles to the path at the level of the gardeners’ cottage a perennial bed stretched across the entire garden. The diverse annuals, dahlias and hollyhocks incorpo- rated here in different combinations each year produced ever varying color compositions continually inspiring the artist anew. The house was given an expansive forecourt with a rectangle of lawn accented by four round boxwood bushes at the corners. To camouflage the awkward overlapping of the gardener’s cottage and the street façade
of the villa, an elevated linden hedge consisting of eight trees was planted along the edge of the forecourt. The axial alignment of the path with the center of the house permitted an ideal view from the sitting room into the front garden and when the doors were open it was possible -- in the other direction -- to see clear through the house down to the lake.

The compulsory sale of house and garden in June 1940 had drastic consequences for the garden. The joint use of the Liebermann villa and the Hamspohn villa next door first by the National Postal Service and from 1945 onward by the Wannsee Hospital resulted in a combining of the two gardens and the loss of all ornamental flowers. Later large parking lots were built in front of both houses fundamentally altering the front gardens.

The greatest damage occurred in the hedge gardens (see HedgeGardens).

In 1972 when the diving club moved in, basic maintenance of the garden as it was found at the time was resumed. Also, docks and other structures necessary for sports activities were constructed at the bank of the lake.

Fortunately, in spite of these detrimental measures much of the original garden structure survived and could be used when reconstruction began, for example the retaining walls and steps and the elevated linden hedge in the front garden as well as other trees and the remains of the hornbeam hedge.