Three recent unconnected stories in the German press, have caught my eye:
A certain 90-year-old Ferdinand Neess, a former art-dealer and collector, has bequeathed his collection of over 500 Jugendstil objects, which he collected over the years, to the Museum of Wiesbaden. The value of the donation is estimated to be higher than €40 million.
A certain James Simon (1851-1932) is being remembered and celebrated by Berlin, by naming the newly created visitors’ centre and central entrance building to the city’s museum cluster at the Museums Insel after him. James Simon, a German Jew – who was fortunate enough to die before the Nazis came to power – stems from a family of wealthy cotton merchants. For years, he donated a third of his income for social and cultural projects. Over the years, Simon – who is considered to be the most prominent patron of the arts at his time, donated most of his important art collection to Berlin’s museums (including the well-known bust of Nefertiti).
A certain Georg Friedrich, Prinz von Preussen, the great grandson of Germany’s last Kaiser, claims the “return” of several castles, which were nationalised, as well as thousands of art objects from the German state. A return of the objects the family now demands would empty some of Berlin’s museums. This is quite amazing, considering that everything monarchs own, is accumulated through taxation of the general population. Instead of asking the question, how the monarchs were able to amass such fortunes, the state is negotiating with the family.
It appears that the only (yet unlikely) hope under German legislation is proving that the family supported Hitler. A historically sounder case would be to show the Kaiser’s responsibility for the catastrophe that befell Germany and Europe, in World War I. Why should his heirs retain their assets, whilst millions have lost all they had during and because of that war?
Don’t let us forget who fills our museums and who is trying to empty them.