Biography of a House in Berlin, Germany

1885 to 1945

The Schaper house in 1901; from a picture on a silver box by Hugo Schaper, given to his bother Fritz on the latter’s 60 birthday. Picture edited in Photoshop by Mike Schaper, Fritz’s great grandson.

This is the story of large villa which once existed in the German capital of Berlin and which has particular significance to the family of Friedrich “Fritz” Schaper and his offsprings. From the beginning of its design and creation by the then famous architect Heinrich Kayser in 1885 as a special tribute to his then famous sculptor friend, Fritz, as a special act of friendship, to its violent destruction in 1945 through a direct by a bomb at the end of World War II, it offered a friendly home and refuge to its occupants. Thus it certainly deserves a niche in the history of its time and in the contents of the Wolfy Tales.

Berlin was growing in the suburbs in the 1980s, especially in the area lying south of the Tiergarten. Here large residences were replacing grassy fields (Wiesen) for the more opulent residents of the time as new streets evolved. One of these more private streets was called the Buchenstrasse, a cul-de-sac near the 12 Apostle Church. In the mid 1880s Fritz Schaper’s fame had reached the moment when he could no longer handle the amount of work his many contracts required from the studio he had rented. At one of the weekly gatherings of a group of friends Fritz asked the architect Heinrich Kayser to consider building a house for him in the Buchenstrasse. According to an account by Jutta von Simson, in her book about Fritz Schaper, Heinrich Kayser asked: “Shall I build the house for you married or single?” to which Fritz answered: “Can you possibly arrange it for both and in any case also leaving a lot of room?” Thus began the design of the Schaper villa designated as Buchenstrasse 4, Berlin W35, in the Tiergarten district.

Jutta von Simson again gives an excellent verbal description of the mansion in her book about Fritz Schaper: “It was a roomy brick house adorned with towers and verandas; the windows and the curved gables, decorated with pinnacles and ornamentations, were bordered in bright sandstone. Many large studios facing north were located at ground level. Iron rails led out from the high and wide doors into the gravel path, to which Schaper caused the large statues to be pushed to study their impression in the free landscape environment.” The working environment for the artist occupied about one half of the house; the remaining portion was more than sufficient to house a large family of six persons and the household staff in comfort. While Fritz led a life of full dedication to the exercise of his enormous talent, His wife Helene managed the household and the many social commitments the artist’s reputation required, including frequent visits to the house by the emperor, Wilhelm to view statues before they were officially displayed. (See the Emperor in the Atelier, by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, “Das Reich”, 27 July, 1941)

The house itself was located on a plot of land featuring a large yard with an expanse of lawn, bordered by flower beds, fruit trees and a large nook with a small table and chairs for outdoor dining and afternoon tea. This provided an ideal environment for play of the four Schaper children and for the many outdoor activities of the adult members and guests at the frequent parties.

The death of the artist for which this house was built created a financial burden for the family, worsened by the deteriorating financial conditions in Germany. Helene Schaper faced the reality of converting the part of the house which was dedicated by its designer as “not married”. With the help of her children they managed to plan a renovation of the studios, in particular the two story one to create a fairly large apartment on the ground floor. Several additional small rooms were created. In this new format the family home now was turned into a boarding house. The new mission of the house created a temporary relief from financial difficulties through careful exercise of economic principles, greatly helped by Dorothea Schaper Barthels and her siblings. After Helene’s death Wolfgang, now married to Yvonne and also a talented painter and sculptor, moved back into his childhood home for a brief two years, before Wolfgang died. Yvonne took over the household management along with raising her son. Due to the fact that after Hitler’s rise to power Yvonne was labeled as being Jewish because of Jewish ancestry new problems arose in the running of the house. At the same time the Schaper house now also served as a temporary refuge for persecuted Jewish family members and friends.

Finally, in 1939, the Schaper family decided to sell the house to a commercial firm for reconstruction into an office building. The firm, a Kupfer Kunst Seide [Copper Acetate Artificial Silk] producer, never finished remodeling the house and thus it came to a sudden end through a direct hit by a large bomb, destroying most of the structure. It was not until the 1970s that the Französische Gymnasium decided to move to its new location (Derflingerstrasse 7) with its entrance being located directly above the spot where the Entrance to the Schaper house once stood. This, a remarkable coincidence for the Fritz Schaper family descendants, since Fritz’s only direct male descendant, Peter Wolfgang, also attended the Gymnasium in 1938 to 1943.

The Schaper house in the early 1900s; view from the garden, edited and colorized by Mike Schaper with colors as remembered by Peter Schaper.


Floor Plans and Some Interior Pictures

The preceding pages describe the Schaper House in Berlin collected from the family archives and the memories of Peter Schaper, the last living former resident. In this appendix we show photographs of the house interior from the turn of the century, matched to the floor plans of the house after its modification into a boarding house, as recollected by Peter in 2003. Obviously there are some inconsistencies, but we hope that the reader will glean a general impression about the ambience of the villa throughout its life time.

Ground Floor

Unchanged throughout the house existence is the “Foyer”, welcoming all visitors. The picture below represents the beginning of the stairway leading to the first floor with its ornate wood carved stairway and the ornate ceiling. The observer will note the central, coal fired and hot water heating system located on this floor along with the wine cellar.

Also note worthy is the small apartment and bath, next to the garage, which served as a convenient residence for the concierge. The shaded part in the floor plan reflects the modifications made to the original building, as they existed in the author’s lifetime.

Second Floor

As one ascends the elegant stairway to the second or main floor of the house one should note not only the ornate oaken railing, but also – on this level – the huge ornate cabinet (Schrank) still in existence at the time of this writing in the house of Professor Monika Barthels, Fritz Schaper’s granddaughter in Bremen, Germany.

Clearly, the largest room is the Atelier or studio, which in Fritz Schapers time took up both the first and second floor and, as previously noted, was converted to a single story room, used by Wolfgang and Dorothea, his offspring artists for some time. The remainder of this floor was devoted to family life. Most noteworthy is the Dining Room, containing the formal dining table, dining servicing furniture, the Bechstein concert grand piano and a harmonium. This room also served as the venue for frequent concerts held in the Schaper house. In the Northeast corner was located the “Erker” – a small breakfast nook – topped on the outside with a spectacular dome structure above the third floor. The “Herren Zimmer” on the other side of the dining room was the place where the gentlemen after dinner retired to after the meal to enjoy their cigars or cigarettes.

The Dining Room, looking North (left) and South (right) The “Erker” is behind the drape (note the chairs inside this room, the daily breakfast nook for Fritz).

 Third Floor

There are no “inside picture pictures” of this part of the house that would describe its importance to the living style after the death of Fritz Schaper. Hen the house was remodeled as a boarding house, the family quarters moved this floor, therefore the interior changed significantly. ”Smith’s” and “Schultze’s” bedrooms housed two of the renters during the 1930s. The “Boden” or Attic was converted to storage area for family memorabilia and furniture.

The “Halle” family room, located in the center of the floor, was a special gathering place, especially at Christmas time. In the 1930s a large (eight feet) Christmas tree would be erected in center, decorated with wax candles, tinsels, ball ornaments and the Fritz Schaper Schaper angel was suspended (perilously) above the Nativity Scene. Yvonne Schaper would decorate gift tables for all the residents of the house around the periphery of the room. In German tradition a solemn gift opening ceremony was held at midnight. Clearly, at this time period, the largest room was dedicated to Wölf, (Peter Wolfgang Schaper) and is many toys, piano, and bed, with the “Erker” as overflow or spare bedroom for close family members when needed. “Mutti’s” (Yvonne Schaper’s) bedroom, separated from her son’s room by her study, kept her in close proximity.