Living Room with Tropical Plants


In a previous post, it was already mentioned that one of Rolf Keller’s hobbies was growing tropical plants. In 1958, he removed one of the walls of his apartment (he was the owner of the house) and replaced it with a glass cabinet or indoor greenhouse, shown on this drawing. In the lower right corner, you can see Rolf Keller’s “24” logo, his signature and the dating “Dez. 58” (Dec. 58). The two rooms where integrated into one larger room this way with the “greenhouse” as a room divider. The size of the painting is 22 cm * 29 cm. It is mixed media, predominantly watercolor.

There had been paintings of tropical plants on the wall before, documented on some photographs, but obviously Rolf Keller had preferred to get the real thing instead. The integration of living plants and typical 1950s furniture creates a modern atmosphere.

The project of building the glass cabinet and populating it with plants is documented in several letters, some of them with illustrations. I am planning to show the more interesting ones here in a future post. For example, in one of the letters Rolf Keller describes how he got and transported the large branch that acts as the “backbone” of the little tropical landscape inside. Getting the plants in the GDR (East Germany) of the late 1950s was a challenge, but he was eventually able to get several species of epiphytic ferns and flowering plants.

In the back of the room, you can see Rolf Keller’s wife, Grete Keller, perhaps reading a book, or playing a solitaire card game.

On the right side, the picture is getting sketchier. One can see here that Rolf Keller would draw hidden parts of an object, like the arm chair sketched here, in order to get the proportions right, even if these would not be visible in a finished painting. Rolf Keller signed and framed the picture like this, so I think the sketchiness of the drawing on the sides is intended. This way, the viewer’s gaze is directed to the center which has been worked out in more detail, showing the plants and the bright light of the lamp.

In the foreground you can see one of the chairs shown in a previous post. The lamp might be the one shown there as well.

Here is an enlargeable version of the image. Click on it, then click again to see details.



Reading Stories 2

Svend Vorlesen (1)

Another drawing by Rolf Keller, showing a book being read to my father as a boy. This time, it’s his mother, sitting in a wing chair, reading to him. The ladder, perhaps brought into the room to take the curtains down for washing or to change a bulb, had been turned into a chair (or a throne, a raised hide, a crow’s nest?).

The captions read “Mutti liest aus Marie Hamsuns die Langerudkinder” (“Mom is reading from Marie Hamsun’s The Langerud Children” and “Svend, siebenjährig (oder acht?) in Grüna Villa Rauschenbach” (“Svend, seven years old (or eight?) in Grüna Villa Rauschenbach”).

Since Svend Keller was born in 1928, this might have been in 1935 or 1936. Grüna is the name of the village (near Chemnitz and nowadays a part of Chemnitz) where the Keller family was living before moving into central Chemnitz.

Reading Stories


“Oma-Ebersdorf ließt vor und Svend lauscht…”

(Grandma Ebersdorf is reading to him and Svend is listening…)

How much is in these three little dots…

Rolf Keller’s mother was living in Ebersdorf, near Chemnitz (nowadays a part of the city). His other grandmother was living in Hamburg, so there was “Oma Ebersdorf” and “Oma Hamburg”.

This pencil sketch by Rolf Keller, made in the 1930s, is showing my father as a child, sitting in a chair and listening while his grandmother is reading stories to him. Maybe when he was much smaller, he was sitting already in this same chair, and now, already a bit too large for it, he was making himself small again inside that chair to listen to the stories. Then, his grandmother took the heavy book from the bookshelf, put on her glasses, sat down besides him and started reading…

He told me about it when I was a child myself. His grandmother would, for example, read the stories of Wilhelm Hauff to him, for example “Zwerg Nase” (The Dwarf Nose). I remember my father reading this (and many other stories) to me and my sisters. Nothing can be compared to the feeling of having stories read to you when you are a child. And when my daughter was small, I discovered the joy of reading stories to a child, again something special that cannot be compared to anything. I continued it even when she could read already herself, at our shared pleasure.

“… She went so slowly that it was three quarters of an hour before she reached a remote part of the city, and finally stopped before a tumble-down house. Then she drew a rusty old hook from her pocket, and inserted it skillfully into a small hole in the door, which sprung open with a bang. But how surprised was little Jacob as he entered! The interior of the house was splendidly fitted up; the ceilings and walls were of marble; the furniture of the finest ebony, inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl; while the floor was of glass, and so smooth that the boy slipped and fell several times. The old woman then drew a silver whistle from her pocket and whistled a tune that resounded shrilly through the house. In response to this, some Guinea-pigs came down the stairs; but, as seemed strange to Jacob, they walked upright on two legs, wore nutshells in place of shoes, and had on clothes and even hats of the latest fashion. …”

A long thread of story reading and, earlier, story telling connects us back through the generations into earliest times, and at the same time into the world of the stories. “Once upon a time…”, “Es war einmal…”, “Mukashi, mukashi, o-mukashi…” – many languages have such formulas that enter the child and the reader into that realm of stories, the only real magic words. The chair, the carpet, the curtains disappear, and in their place, a different world appears…

Start of School Greeting Card


A postcard designed by Rolf Keller for Lederbogen Verlag. The text says: Best wishes for the beginning of school. This image does not show the whole postcard; I have cut off the margin (about one cm) around the picture since it had been written on.

I cannot date this card exactly. It does not show the printing license code typical of GDR printed media. The System of printing licenses had been introduce in 1951 (see, so this card should be latest from 1951. A letter by Rolf Keller dated February 23rd 1959 tells us that he started working for Lederbogen in 1945  “… Lederbogen is opening their trade fair stand fort he last time. In March the have to dissolve the company, an old customer (since 45) goes down the drain that way, who brought me 6000 per year on average. Friday morning I am driving to the fair to design the Lederbogen stand.” (“… Lederbogen hält zum letztenmal seinen Messestand offen. Im März muß die Firma liquidieren, ein alter Kunde (seit 45) geht damit flöten, der durchschnittlich 6000 im Jahr einbrachte. Freitag früh fahre ich zur Messe, um den Lederbogen-Stand zu gestalten. ”) I do not know what was the reason for the liquidation oft hat company, it might have been for political reasons since many private companies in the GDR where transformed into state owned ones or integrated into larger state owned companies.

So the earliest date for the card would be 1945. However, the quality of the paper and printing is quite good and there was probably no demand for such cards directly after the war, so I think it is very unlikely that this card is from the immediate post war time. I would therefore date it to around 1950

The motive of the card, however, is older. It shows Rolf Keller’s son, Svend Keller (born in 1928), as a young boy (around 1935) in the Kellerfamily’s apartment in Chemnitz, so probably Rolf Keller used a sketch or photograph from the 1930s as a basis for this card.



I found this drawing (aprox. 12.7 cm x 13,7 cm, pencil and watercolor on drawing board) among Rolf Keller’s letters. My mother had pre-sorted them by year and this one is from the 1958 file, so I suppose it is from that year although it is not dated. I have not yet transcribed the letters from that year (I am currently working on 1957, fighting with Rolf Keller’s sometimes hard to read handwriting), so I don’t know yet if the drawing is mentioned in any of them.

After Rolf Keller’s son Svend Keller, who had been a political prisoner (see Advent Calendars 3) had been released in 1956, he left the GDR after a few weeks and went to Hamburg in West Germany where he had relatives. As a result, they started writing letters to each other. Of this correspondence, the part from Rolf Keller has been preserved and that is what I am currently working on. The letters turn out to be a very interesting historical source.

The drawing shows some armchairs that Rolf and Grete Keller had acquired. As you can see from these chairs, the typical 1950s style, with its characteristic slanting conical legs, also existed in the German Democratic Republic. The material on the yellow chair, with its irregular black stripes, is a typical textile design of those years.

The captions read:

Left lower corner: “„Mein“ Wannensessel FUG, Gelbschwarz. ich vermisse nur den eingebauten Aschenbecher” (“”My” basin-shaped armchair FUG, yellow-black I’m only missing the built-in ashtray).

Right lower corner “„Muttis“ Sessel SYLVIA schwarz-gelb” (“”Mom’s” armchair SYLVIA black-yellow).

Upper left corner: “Solche Lampe aus d. Verkaufsgenoss. Bi Künstler wollen wir Knudsen zu Weihn. schenken. Wie denkt ihr darüber? (<- Zweiflammig)” (Such a lamp from the Verkaufsgenossenschaft Bildender Künstler (Sales Cooperative of Visual Artists) we want to give to Knudsen for Christmas. How do you people think about it? <- with two bulbs (lit. two flames, a rather old-fassioned expression)).

“Knudsen” was a pseudony or nickname of Svend Keller (see also Ruins 4). The “Verkaufsgenossenschaft Bildender Künstler”, established in 1954, was a state-controlled trade organisation for the visual arts in the German Democratic Republic. This example indicates that not only fine artists in the narrower sense but also designers had to trade their products through this organisation.

I have a faint memory of these chairs, especially the yellow-black one of my grandfather that I must have seen as a child on a visit to Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz). I have probably been sitting on that chair myself. I am very fond of this 1950s style of furniture, with this kind of chairs and the characteristic kidney-shaped or triangular rounded tables. I also like the abstract designs on textiles, ceramics and other things from that time, as well as some of the architecture. I suppose that when I was a small child in the 1960s, a lot of such furniture and objects in that style where still arround and these things make me feel at home.