Dressed up for the anniversary
The Beethoven-Haus in Bonn received a newly conceived exhibition in time for the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth, in which the building itself also takes on a more central role. Renewed mineral plasters and paints in the interior play their part and put the exhibits in the right light.
Popular Music Museum
About 100,000 tourists from all over the world gather every year in a small alley in the centre of Bonn not far from the Rhine. They marvel at a house with a rather inconspicuous façade and explore the rooms behind it, because the composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the rear building in December 1770. The listed building houses the most comprehensive Beethoven collection in the world with important objects from the composer's life, such as instruments, letters, sheets of music and pictures.
From the beginnings until today
The Beethoven family lived in the garden wing of the house at Bonngasse 20 from 1767 to 1774. The building is one of the few remaining 18th century bourgeois houses in Bonn. In the 19th century, it served as an inn as well as a residential and commercial building until the Beethoven House Association was founded in 1889 with the aim of acquiring the house and preserving it as a memorial. After repairs in the 1930s and 1960s, which also included the neighbouring house "Zum Mohren" with the Beethoven Archive, the third fundamental restoration of the house followed from 1994 to 1996. Today the museum comprises both houses at Bonngasse 18 and 20 and is one of the most visited musician museums in the world as well as one of the 100 most popular sights in Germany. "The house at Bonnergasse 20 enjoys the highest level of monument protection, as it is the birthplace of Beethoven. The house next door, number 18, is also listed," explains Dr. Nicole Kämpken, museum director of the Beethoven House. With the restoration in 1996 the last exhibition was also conceived. "After more than 20 years, the show was somewhat outdated, and Beethoven's 250th birthday was just around the corner, and so was the anniversary year - reason enough for us to plan a new exhibition and thus also a renovation, as well as to apply for funds from the federal and state governments for this purpose," Nicole Kämpken recalls, and continues: "In 2016, we started the award procedure.
The renovation took six months, from March to August 2019, and in December 2019 the building was officially reopened after a complete restructuring of the permanent exhibition and extension in collaboration with Holzer Kobler Architekturen from Switzerland".
Extensive wall works
The basic structural repair and restoration in the years 1994 to 1996 was carried out in cooperation with the Rheinische Amt für Denkmalpflege (Rhineland Office for the Preservation of Monuments). The buildings were in good condition in 2019, the museum director sums up. The general aim was therefore to update the exhibition. "One of the most extensive measures we carried out in 2019 was to redo the wiring in the small, cabinet-like rooms in order to install an adequate lighting system. To do this, we had to open up the walls a lot and pick up the wooden floorboards from the floor. Even though I got scared in between because of the many prised open slots, the plaster was only removed where cables were laid - the rest remained intact", Nicole Kämpken explains the measures.
"The work has paid off, because before we only had ambient lighting with two lamps in each room, and now we have much more light with modern LED lights and illuminated showcases".
Mineral renders and paints
After the electrical work, the craftsmen plastered the walls again with lime plaster and repainted them. "As early as 1994, lime plaster based on recipes from the 18th century was used - on condition that as little as possible of the original substance was touched. Previously, several dispersion paints were removed from the walls," reports Kämpken.
The persons responsible decided to use KEIMFARBEN products for the renovation of house at No. 20 because the mineral products are also predestined for listed buildings due to their permeability. "We assume that products from KEIMFARBEN were already used during the last renovation", explains the master painter and varnisher Lucas Lüpschen from the Heinrich Schmid company. "With KEIM Universal Render coarse, we closed the cable slots in all rooms to then create an even surface with the fine variant", the craftsman continues.
"This was followed by applying the sol-silicate paint KEIM Innostar in a wet-on-wet technique. That means we worked in two steps: pre-rolled and then re-rolled shortly afterwards." The so-called Cologne ceilings - beam constructions with stucco in almost every room - are very special and only a few houses in Bonn still have those. These ceilings, too, were refinished with KEIM Innostar, but this time as spray application.
Former renovation as basis
From the restoration report of the 1990s it became clear that the original colours of the interior of the Beethoven-Haus could only be partially reconstructed on the basis of findings. This is because previous renovations of the building resulted in considerable losses of original substance, especially on the walls. At that time, the responsible persons decided to accept the previous colour design in, among other things, pink, reseda green and grey tones of the wall surfaces of the rooms in the back and front building due to a lack of findings, but with more intensive shades. This restoration report served as a basis for the persons responsible during the recently completed renovation, so that no restorers were involved in the most recent work.
Harmonious colour impression
"So when we renovated, we used the same colours that were used before. The colour basis has remained the same, this was determined by the monument office during the restoration. However, the green, grey, blue-grey and orange pastel shades on the walls were very greyed, so they urgently needed a refinish. "The exhibition furniture is also coordinated with the wall colour of the respective room and designed in monochrome. "We have adapted the exterior colour of the showcase to the walls", explains Nicole Kämpken and continues: "The display surfaces in the showcases stand out clearly in colour. We also considered the themes presented and chose, for example, red for the theme of love and green for the theme of nature. The elegant showcases and exhibition buildings blend harmoniously into the historical rooms and create a reference to the original use of the building as a residential building. The historical house itself is staged as the central exhibit through the colourfulness of the rooms and the exhibition furniture.
Newly designed and extended
In this colourfully refreshed environment, the objects of the Beethoven Collection are no longer presented along the chronological Beethoven biography as before. Instead, the individual rooms, spread over three floors, present various themes relating to Beethoven, his life and work. After this fundamental revision, the exhibition choreography does without a predetermined narrative, visitors can stroll freely through the space. A special room is located on the top floor of the rear building, the parents' bedroom of the Beethoven family, previously known as the Birth Room. The room can now be entered by visitors, which was not possible before. In the neighbouring building at Bonngasse 18, a music room for concerts on historical keyboard instruments and a separate area for temporary exhibitions was created on the ground floor.
In the vaulted cellar, visitors can view original manuscripts by Beethoven in a treasure chamber, which were previously not accessible for conservation reasons. And on the other side of the street is a museum shop with a ticket office area and a small café and seminar room for the Beethoven House's educational offerings.
Best work – great praise
After only a six-month closing period of the Beethoven House, exhibition rearrangements and renovation work were completed. "The time aspect was a great challenge for us craftsmen," recalls Lucas Lüpschen. "We placed the greatest importance to bringing the fine plaster on the wall back into line as if nothing had happened. Because orders in such important buildings are not an everyday occurrence for us either.” With success, because Nicole Kämpken reports: "Already in September 2019 we received a very positive feedback. The theme concept has been well received by visitors. Today, they can use all the stairs as they wish and devote themselves to the topics as they please. In this way, visitors perceive the house much more as a residential building. All in all, a beautiful symbiosis of house and exhibition has been designed". And in addition to the newly conceived exhibition, the careful craftsmanship with the corresponding products suitable for listed buildings also played a large part.
Text: Dr. Alexandra Nyseth