Encounter with the House Angel

by Monika Wagner

Monika Wagner studied Painting in Kassel, then Art History, Archaeology, and Literature in Hamburg and London. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Tübingen, headed the Radio College of Modern Art, and, since 1987, has taught Art History at the University of Hamburg. During the academic year 2005/2006 she was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftkolleg.

Hardly had I inspected my new address at the Villa Jaffe, Wallotstraße 10, when a package of visiting cards was already waiting for me as part of the wonderful service at the Wissenschaftskolleg. I am in no way a friend of these supposedly unavoidable aids to memory, but I was pontaneously fascinated. What immediately gave me the feeling of being at the "right" address was less the art-historically heavyweight street name than the small, winningly light and elegant angel with the large drawing compass on the front. The emblem of the Wissenschaftskolleg was familiar to me from correspondence, but now my name operated under the auspices of this winged being. The house angel made my new address seem very promising.

For the attribute of the compass is one of the most significant tools that long characterized both the earthly and the heavenly inventor and construction master. In medieval depictions of the creation of the world, in Renaissance portraits of architects and construction masters, and in personifications of architecture as found in books of emblems and tracts on architecture, the compass is the prominent attribute. Dürer's famous "Melancholia" muses with the compass in his hand, and avant-garde artists like EI Lissitzky used the compass to identify themselves as the constructors of a new world. But none of the figures equipped with a compass is as elegant and graceful as Schinkel's winged figure, which appears as a neuter or hybrid, despite its nakedness. At any rate, the compass figures as the sign of construction and inventive power in connection equally with the Creator of the world and with the constructor of utopian worlds. The compass stands for the idea and for the energy of the deed at the same time. Not a bad motto for the emblem of an address dedicated to the humanities and sciences.

A short time later, when I expressed my pleasure over a book that I had futilely tried to acquire for weeks, Ms. Bottomley addressed me in connection with this motif of the angel with the compass. She asked whether I happened to know where the motif came from, because the Association of the Friends of the Wissenschaftskolleg was planning a kind of "angel edition" for the big celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Wissenschaftskolleg in September 2006. Schinkel, or Schinkel's circle, was all I could offer as a suggestion at that time. I had no in kling of the strange way I would stumble across the angel again in the course of my research project.

Of all things, it was the architecture of the former Stalinallee that led me to the origins of the house angel. To explain this encounter, I have to take a short detour. Up till then, I regarded Stalinallee as nothing but an urban-planning monstrosity that had nothing at all to do with my research project; but then I had one of those unforeseeable Berlin encounters that has never let go of me again and that gave my work an unexpected turn. For one of the monthly city tours, an offer from art historians for interested Fellows that goes back to Martin Warnke's initiative, I chose the architecture of Stalinallee. At the beginning of Febuary 2006, we fought our way eastward through an icy, increasingly blustery snowstorm from Strausberger Platz, and this forceful encounter with the former parade axis of East Germany made it clear to me that Stalinallee is an indispensable part of the social surfaces in Berlin's urban landscape and had to be part of my research project. Since that hard-won Go East, which, despite the most adverse external circumstances, a large number of Fellows refused to be deterred from making, among them Horst Bredekamp, Ingolf Dalferth, Jean-Louis Fabiani, Luca Giuliani, Charlotte Klonk, and Mordechai Kremnitzer, I see the street in a new light. The talks, observations, and discussions on what is now called Karl-Marx-Allee and in front of the high-rise on the Weberwiese are unforgettable and have tmly given me wings.

A few weeks later, as I, ensconced in a warm armchair, pursued my snowstorm-initiated research in East Germany's prominent architecture magazine, Deutsche Architektur, which accompanied every step of the erstwhile prestige object and which steered its reception, I unexpectedly bumped into the Wissenschaftskolleg's house angel. In what East Germany regarded as its nationallegacy, to which the architects of the early 1950s were expected to refer, Karl Friedrich Schinkel took the first rank. This explains the full-page publication of a textbook-style sheet with the multi partite ornamentation that was realized on the Feilner house in Berlin in accordance with Schinkel's plans. From among the architectural ornaments, the angel practically leaped into my eyes. It was part of the ornamental acanthus frieze of the door lintel and was underscored by a tondo that adorned the middle axis of the entrance to the house of Tobias Christoph Feilner, a manufacturer well-known throughout the city 10 the 19th century. Feilner's workshop was considered an experimental facility in which all kinds of ceramic parts, from a candelabra through construction ornaments to new kinds of tiled ovens, were developed and manufactured. The manufacturer collaborated productively with Schinkel, the star architect of his age, and used red clay to produce the construction ornaments Schinkel designed far the Feilner house. (If the Friends' angel edition is white, it can still be asserted that it comes closer to Schinkel's design sketch than the version on the construction does.) While other winged beings equipped with measuring instruments decorated the ornamental band of the side doorframe of the Feilner house, the angel with the compass floated above those who entered the building. For the artisans, architects, and inventors who went in and out of Feilner's house, it may have represented an offer of participation in the house's productive spirit resembling that of the emblem of the Wissenschaftskolleg for the Fellows.

I still have the hope that the angel of the house, which, as I finally learned, the Founding Rector Peter Wapnewski selected as the suitable logo for the Wissenschaftskolleg, may also turn out to be inspiring for the conclusion of all our projects.

Berlin, Summer 2006