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.



Tropical Plants – Stephanotis Floribunda


One of Rolf Keller’s hobbies was tropical plants. Today it is not difficult to get such plants but in the GDR, it was not easy. He had removed one wall in his appartment and replaced it with a glass cabinett, containing different tropical plants. In several letters, he described how he built this little greenhouse inside his appartment. One of the plants inside it is sketched here, Stephanotis Floribunda, a native of Madagascar. The pencil sketch is dated July 7th, 1959. The caption reads: “Die erste ist soeben duftend erblüht, am Vorabend unserer Wolgareise.” (The first one just opened up with a sweet scent, on the eve of our Wolga trip). The next day, Rolf and Grete Keller would start a trip to Russia, described in a series of letters.

Playing the Piano III



Two sketches from one of Rolf Keller’s sketch book, showing two undidentified pianists. I don’t know if this sketch originated during a concert (perhaps a musical competition, since the sketches seem to show two different people) or during a more private setting. It might have been on a trip to the Sovjet Union as well. Unfortunately, these sketches are not dated and I don’t know when and where they where made. I wonder if it might be possible to identify these pianists. Doing so would yield a clue to when and perhaps these sketches where made.

Playing the Piano II – Kiyoko Tanaka

1963_12_03_02 (2)

20 years ago, on February 26th, Japanese pianist Tanaka Kiyoko (田中希代子) died. Born on February 5th, 1932 in a family of musicians, she had stopped playing the piano in the early 1970s due to a chronic disease, so her initially promissing career had been cut short, although she still gave lessons afterwards. You can find a few recordings of her on the internet, e.g. here:

In 1963, she toured Europe and also gave one concert in Chemnitz (then known as “Karl-Marx-Stadt”). Rolf Keller, attending the concert, sketched her on the concert program. The sketch is dated to Dec. 3rd, 1963. Behind the date, you can see Rolf Keller’s “24”-logo.

Rolf Keller wrote on the programme (to my parrents) “In case Tanaka comes to Hamburg, don’t miss her, A pleasure!” (Sollte die Tanaka nach Hbg. kommen, versäumt sie nicht. Ein Genuß!”).

According to a newspaper clipping added to a letter Rolf Keller sent to my parents, the concert seems to have been scheduled for December 4th, 1963, but Rolf Keller corrected the date on the clipping to December 3rd, the same date that can be found on the sketch, so that is probably the day the concert actually took place. According to one newspaper article I have found here:, Tanaka played in Dresden on December 10th, in an “Hour of Music” (“Stunde der Musik”), the same title that can be seen on the the program. It looks like there was a regular classical music event by this name that took place in several cities of the GDR.

As can be seen from the program, Tanaka performed pieces of Händel, Haydn, Schumann, Chopin and Hisatada Odaka (1911 – 1951). I could not find a recording of the particular piece of Odaka she played here (“Toccata”) but here is an example of piano music from this composer, played by another Japanese pianist, Kazuko Yasukawa.

Here are the pages of the program, with the sketch:

The black printing ink of the title page has acted like carbon copy paper, creating a faint imprint of the sketch on the page that was opposite. May we take this as a symbol of Tanaka’s tragic life?

Playing the Piano I


Among Rolf Keller’s sketches, there are several ones showing piano players, so today’s article is just the first in a small series. This sketch is undated, the “24”-Logo identifies the artist as Rolf Keller. The piano is only hinted at by a single line showing one edge of the instrument. The caption reads “Natalia Karra, London spielt ChOPIN” (Natalia Karra, London, plays ChOPIN). I am not sure about the name, but as far as I am familiar with Rolf Keller’s handwriting, it should be “Karra”. I have not found any information about a pianist of this name, however. I don’t know when this sketch was drawn, maybe in the 1940s, when good paper was hard to get, but I am not sure.

A moment of concentration, captured in a few lines.

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…