Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The mausoleum of the von Schröder family at Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, Germany.

Johann Heinrich von Schröder (1784-1883) was born in Hamburg. His father, Christian Matthias Schröder, was a prominent merchant and the first Mayor of Hamburg. His older brother founded J.F. Schröder & Co., which was one of Hamburg's largest import-export companies. In 1804, Johann traveled to England, where he founded Schröder's -- today one of the United Kingdom's largest investment bank -- as a means of handling the family's vast economic interests in that country. In 1852, Johann founded the SchröderBank, which swiftly became one of Germany's largest bank. He was elevated to the nobility in 1868. (His descendant, Baron Kurt von Schröder, unfortunately was a major Nazi, and was convicted of crimes against humanity for helping to fund the Holocaust.)

Upon his death, Baron von Schröder left a massive amount of money to build Germany's largest mausoleum for his family. The Schröders were social competitors with the family of Martin Johann Jenisch (1760-1827), a senator in the Senate of Hamburg. Martin Johann Jenisch, Jr. (1798-1857) built a magnificent -- and magnificently large --- mausoleum in the cemetery of St. Catherine's Church, which was designed by architect Franz Joachim Forsmann and finished in 1828. Unfortunately, the church was located in the Dammtor are of Hamburg, which was quickly becoming a city park. St. Catherine's cemetery was closed, and the Jenisch family could no longer put their deceased in their magnificent mausoleum. mausoleum. So they built in almost identical mausoleum in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. (The main difference concerns the crypts: At Dammtor, they were underground, while at Ohlsdorf they are aboveground on both sides of the main aisle.)

The original Schröder burial ground was a crypt at the Church of St. Nicholas (completed in 1863). (It even had a private entrance from the street!) But Baron von Schröder wanted something grander for the newly-noble von Schröders. So a new mausoleum was built at Ohlsdorf. The von Schröder mausoleum was designed by architect Edmund Gevert in Neo-Romanesque style and finished in 1906. The structure if built of sandstone from Main. The interior is octagonal and 57.5 feet (17.6m) across. German sculptor Edoard Muller provided most of the statuary in and out of the structure, while glassworker Gustav Curt Stever did the stained glass windows. The rear of the mausoleum has an artificial hill built against it. A space containing six sarcophagi was built beneath the hill, but they were never used. Instead, 24 of the aboveground crypts set into the wall of the mausoleum were used to house von Schröder dead.

The von Schröder family's fortunes collapsed after World War II, and the mausoleum fell into ruin. In 2009, Hamburg real estate developer Klaus Martin Kretschmer leased the building for 100 years and began restoring it. Kretschmer intended to use the mausoleum as a place for funerals, funerary music recitals, and for prayer and introspection. Trees which had been planted near the mausoleum, and whose roots were destroying the foundation, were removed. Kretschmer ran into financial difficulties in 2013, and work ceased on the mausoleum in 2014. Work began again in February 2015, although no date for its re-opening has been set.

One of the most astonishing things about the von Schröder mausoleum is a nearby statue, "Fate", by Hugo Lederer. Erected at the site in 1905, it depicts a sad woman with long hair, her garments having fallen away to expose her breasts, dragging a man and woman by their hair through the grass toward the von Schröder mausoleum.

Both figures are prone, face-down, their upper bodies lifted from the grass because Fate has them by the hair. The young, naked woman appears unconscious, her arms lying by her sides. The young man appears to be somewhat awake, struggling to avoid his fate by moaning and placing his hand on Fate's extended left foot.

The intent of the work is clear: Death is a fate which awaits us all, young and old, and cannot be denied -- even by great wealth, social status, or begging.


  1. I have always had a curiosity about these mausoleums....especially the really old ones. It must've been a daughting task to transport all of the materials for the contruction. I guess a lot of horses and wagons were used back in those days, hence why many took years, if not decades to build.

    1. You're right: the von Schröder mausoleum was built at a time when gasoline trucks didn't exist. So everything was moved by horse- or mule-drawn wagon.

      And it wasn't daunting just to transport the materials -- but to even find them. Every stone had to be absolutely perfect. (The weight of the building was so heavy, the stones had to be perfect or they'd crack.) They probably had to mine three stones to find one perfect one.

      And then the carving of the capitals, columns, gargoyles, grotestques, and more probably took a year or more. Finding the craftsmen to do the work was probably very difficult. There probably weren't more than a handful of such people, and the demand for them was high. To keep costs down, the builders probably stretched out the construction time. (It was cheaper to keep two carvers working for three years than to hire five carvers are much, much higher wages for one year.)

      And to top it off, you had all that colored marble, stained glass, and all the other precious materials that had to be bought (usually in another country), transported, carved or shaped, and laid.