Heavens on Earth for book lovers and bibliophiles
About 20,000 castles are scattered across the picturesque landscape of Germany. Many of those remarkable historic monuments are homes to various specialty museums these days. One of them is Burg Wissem castle of Troisdorf, a small town situated between Bonn and Cologne. Erected between early 1500s and 1800s, today Burg Wissem houses one of Europe’s most important picture books and illustration art centres – the Bilderbuchmuseum. The old castle and its location on the edge of an idyllic natural reserve evoke the atmosphere of a fairy tale, providing a stunning backdrop for what awaits inside… And what awaits inside is the seventh heaven for picture books lovers of all ages!
Bilderbuchmuseum was established in 1982 based on the collection of 300 original drawings and thousands of picture books donated by Troisdorf’s citizen Mr. Alsleben. Since then the museum systematically expanded its holdings through acquiring many a famous and important children’s books and book art collections. Displays of books from those acquisitions, the visitor-friendly library of a few thousand modern German picture books, a magical reading space up the winding staircase in a secluded turret of the castle’s tower – these are the permanent features of the museum’s offering.
The museum’s illustration art display narrates important trends in picture book illustrating over the last few hundreds of years. The collection includes artworks by Sibylle von Olfers, Herbert Leupin, Jozef Wilkon, Tomi Ungerer, F.K. Waechter, Leo Lionni, Helme Heine, Wolf Erlbruch, Nikolaus Heidelbach, Jutta Bauer. The museum also holds the collection of illustrations known as “Gertraud Middlehauve” (an important former publisher of picture books from Cologne) and works by Liselotte Schwarz (1930-2003), an award-winning German artist and illustrator. Museum also owns a few thousand of drawings and watercolours by Janosch, a popular German picture book artist.
In addition to permanent displays, the museum organises at least 8 to 10 (!) temporary exhibitions each year, curating and displaying the art of prominent illustrators from Germany and other parts of the world. The ground level is the dedicated temporary exhibition space. At present, it is “Alice in Wonderland” illustrations and various book editions exhibition featuring artists from Japan, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Australia (to be reviewed separately). Yes, to our great delight works by the Australian artist Robert Ingpen featured prominently in this exhibition, as they should:
My favourite newly discovered “Alice” edition is this vintage volume illustrated by Moritz Kennel (to be reviewed separately):
When the reception staff learn that we have come from Australia they tell with excitement about the past Bilderbuchmuseum’s hosting of a large solo exhibition by another great Australian illustrator Shaun Tan. I was so impressed by the museum’s outreach for sourcing the temporary exhibitions but not surprised given the fame of both Robert Ingpen and Shaun Tan all over the reading world.
Museum’s Collection Overview
Here is an overview of the most important collections accumulated by Bilderbuchmuseum over the years:
1. Bruggemann collection of picture books 1490s-1950s
The “Brüggemann” collection of about 3,000 old children’s books dating from 1498 to the 1950’s, collected by an expert in the history of children’s books Professor Theodor Brüggemann of University of Cologne. This is one of the most important children’s books collections in German-speaking world. It includes, amongst other things, some elaborately designed editions of the 18th c. illustrated with hand-coloured etchings plates.
2. Freidrich C Heller collection of illustrated books from the turn of the 20th c.
About 3,000 volumes collection of Friedrich C. Heller, accumulated since 1960 and dedicated to trends in book illustration art around the turn of the 20th c. It includes examples of varying styles of the 20th c. picture books art ranging from Art Deco to Expressionism, Realism and Futurism. The collection includes books originating from Austria and other European countries, it has English examples from the late 19th c., rare picture books from the Netherlands, picture books from the time of Italian fascism, from the interwar period in France, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and the USA. This collection testifies to the wealth of children’s book art in decades, which due to their political and social cataclysms aren’t usually associated with the flourishing children’s books production.
3. Picture books of historical significance from 15th to 20th c.
Other holdings of children’s books dating from as early as 15th c. and all the way through to the 20th c. The earliest books in this display are religious and spiritual texts with engraved illustrations and illustrated Aesop’s fables. Later volumes are adorned with beautiful hand-coloured etchings and exquisite illustrations.
4. The “Murken” collection
About 3,800 children’s books on medical science, physicians and hospitals.
5. The “Robinson and Robinsonade” collection of Professor Stach
Donated to the museum by the Professor Stach’s wife Maria Stach in 2011, the collection consists of more than 1,000 books and brochures as well as films, toys and documents. Few works of literature have had a larger influence on literary tradition than Daniel Defoe’s novel “The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” first published in London in 1719. The success of this novel spawned so many imitations and versions that its name was used to define a genre of the “Robinsonade”, which refers to a “desert island story” or a “castaway narrative”. Professor Stach’s collection includes books by many well-known classical and modern Robinsonade authors such as Jules Verne and Arno Schmidt as well as an extensive collection of various Robinson editions.
6. A peculiar “Red Riding Hood” collection
Gathered during a period of over 30 years by Elisabeth and Richard Waldmann from Zürich, the collection includes about 800 books and hundreds of other objects united by the “Red Riding Hood” theme – pictures, dolls, toys, dishes, cups, tea towels, board-games, cards and even match boxes. The books and objects in this collection are dating back to the 18th to 20th c. and originate from Europe, Africa, Asia and America.
Here comes a small fraction of about 800 renderings of Red Riding Hood on the covers of various editions in various languages from all over the world. Red Riding Hoods of all imaginable kinds: from traditional, vintage and cute to weird, wonderful, sexy and anything in between, there’s one for anyone here!
6. The reference library and the quiet reading space up in the Burg Wissem Castle tower
The library atop a winding staircase leading into the turret of a castle tower deserves a separate post – click here to read about it.) That space and larger library in the tower itself as well as the room set up for interactive activities for kids complete this wonderful place. Visitors of all ages with any level of interest in children’s books can find a refuge here and can enjoy the museum their own way.
If you are interested in illustrated children’s books be sure to add the visit to Bilderbuchmuseum to your next German trip itinerary. I’m certain it won’t disappoint. The only minor logistical downside is that all didactical material and labels are in German language only. I visited it with my German-speaking sister who translated some things for me. Google Translate could be useful if you’d have the patience to punch the text into your phone.
Now I‘d love nothing more than an internship at Burg Wissem…Say to help them curate another temporary illustrations exhibition from Australia or even just translating the labels into English will do… (Dear Universe, let’s talk! Haven’t I written some from-scratch labels for the 2c. AD marble heads of Satirs for the Uffizi?! Can only do better with picture books…)