House Schulenburg –
a family project

How does a single person come to take on such an extensive and difficult project as the rescue and restoration of Haus Schulenburg, a Gesamtkunstwerk by Henry van de Velde?

An almost unbelievable story

My father, Rudolf Kielstein (*1914), worked as a young doctor in a military hospital in Gera in the fall of 1941 and lived with my mother, Hildegard Kielstein (*1917), as subtenants in the Weisser’sche Villa, right next to the Schulenburg house. My parents must have known the adult sons of Paul Schulenburg (died 1937) and their families at least by sight. I was born in May 1942.

Rudolf Kielstein, 1940, Foto: privat
Hildegard Kielstein, 1940, Foto: privat

After the end of the Second World War, imprisonment and a period as an assistant doctor at the Waldkrankenhaus Gera, my father set up as a general practitioner at Karl-Marx-Allee 26, not far from Haus Schulenburg. One of his first patients, a lawyer who was temporarily housed in Haus Schulenburg after 1945 because the Soviet army was using his house for officers’ quarters, gave my father the well-known van de Velde monograph by Karl Ernst Osthaus from 1920, which was probably found in Haus Schulenburg. Compared to the other van de Velde buildings described, Haus Schulenburg is the most extensively documented in this monograph.

Van de Velde – Monographie, Karl Ernst Osthaus, 1920, Foto: Haus Schulenburg

We, i.e. my 3 years younger brother Dietmar, my 7 years younger sister Elvira and I, like all children, rummaged through our parents’ books and knew the pictures of Haus Schulenburg.

Volker, Elvira, Dietmar, Foto: privat

“…this is by van de Velde”.

In addition to walks with our parents, another circumstance often led us past Haus Schulenburg. There were no sterilization facilities for dressing material in doctors’ surgeries at the time. We therefore had to take the home-made gauze compresses in a special aluminium container to the Waldkrankenhaus for sterilization and pick them up again. Whenever we walked past the Schulenburg house, I was 10 or 11 at the time, my father would say: “Look at that, it’s by van de Velde”. With this remark, he expressed a high level of appreciation. Van de Velde must also have been a famous man, otherwise this book would not exist, we thought.

der Aluminiumbehälter für steriles Verbandmaterial Marke Aesculap, Foto: privat
der Aluminiumbehälter für steriles Verbandmaterial Marke Aesculap, Foto: privat
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A lasting impression

I can still clearly remember the unusually designed iron gate and the entrance door that opened into it, revealing a barrel-vaulted entrance building. The ceiling was decorated with mysterious ornaments, the path rose slightly within the passageway, the walls were made of red bricks and gray-yellow sandstone plinths. If you walked through it, you came to a large paved courtyard, with the entrance façade of Haus Schulenburg on the left. It looked completely different to all the houses I knew and aroused my curiosity. Haus Schulenburg became something of an inner benchmark for me.

Torgebäude, Durchfahrt, Foto: Karsten Friedrich

THE sight of Gera

When my then student friend and later wife Rita Buchholz wanted to take a family vacation at the Waldkrankenhaus Gera in snowy February 1965, I showed her, coming directly from the train station, THE sight of Gera – Haus Schulenburg. We looked over the enclosure wall into the small garden of the gatehouse and I showed her the beautiful blue-glazed planters in the snow (by van de Velde, of course): “You should have these!” Rita had no idea that we would one day save Haus Schulenburg from ruin together.

Rita Kielstein, 2005, Foto: privat

Day clinic plans in a complete work of art

In 1995, 32 years later, I had privatized the addiction day clinic I founded in Magdeburg in 1978 and an outpatient psychiatric-psychotherapeutic department after reunification, and my wife was now a professor of internal medicine at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, I learned from my sister, a doctor in private practice in Gera, that Haus Schulenburg had been empty and dilapidated since reunification.

I had the idea of setting up a branch of my Magdeburg day clinic for addiction and psychosomatic disorders in Gera and acquiring Haus Schulenburg for this purpose. The building, interiors and gardens were to be brought back to life as van de Velde’s Gesamtkunstwerk and used for cultural purposes alongside the day clinic.

MVZ und Tagesklinik an Sternbrücke in Magdeburg, Planckstraße 4 - 5, Foto: MVZ an der Sternbrücke, Magdeburg

Horse-trading with Haus Schulenburg

My first purchase application failed because the city of Gera had advertised in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and was hoping for a financially strong investor. But it didn’t come. Obviously, van de Velde was not so well known throughout Germany because the main work of his German period was located behind the “Iron Curtain” in the East. In the second attempt, the city of Gera sold the building to me at the end of 1996.

Ostthüringer Zeitung, 2. August 1995
Ostthüringer Zeitung, 11. Januar 1996
Ostthüringer Zeitung, 8. August 1996
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Reconstruction began in mid-1997. The renovation was supported professionally and financially by the Lower Monument Protection Authority in Gera, the Thuringian State Office for Monument Protection in Erfurt, the German Foundation for Monument Protection and the Federal Office of Administration in Cologne, and diplomatically by the Belgian Embassy in Berlin.

Volker Kielstein 2023 im Haus Schulenburg, Fot: Renè Löffler

The day clinic project and thus also the uncomplicated refinancing of the reconstruction of Haus Schulenburg failed after 10 years of efforts due to resistance at various levels in Thuringia. Nevertheless, we continued the project and in 2013 the house and garden complex could once again be experienced as van de Velde’s unique work of art.

Public recognition

Haus Schulenburg and its gardens have been an official BUGA accompanying project in Gera since 2007. In 2012, Rita and Volker Kielstein received the Thuringian Monument Protection Prize, in 2013 Haus Schulenburg was integrated into the Van de Velde Year and part of the Van de Velde Route, and in 2019 it was part of the Bauhaus 100 anniversary and a stop on the Grand Tour of Modernism. Rita Kielstein (posthumously) and Volker Kielstein also received the German Prize for Monument Protection in 2019, and Volker Kielstein was awarded the Cultural Needle of the Free State of Thuringia in 2023. In 2024, Volker Kielstein’s achievements were recognized by the Belgian royal family with his appointment as an Officer of the Belgian Order of the Crown.

Haus Schulenburg, Südseite, Fotoarchiv Marburg

The Henry van de Velde Museum’s collection includes van de Velde furniture from the Schulenburg house, the collection of valuable van de Velde book designs, works of art from his intellectual environment, the Bauhaus and modern art from the 20th century. It is sponsored by the European Association of Friends of Henry van de Velde e. V. and has been a member of the Thuringia Museum Association since 2012.

European Association of the Friends of Henry van de Velde e. V.

In 1999, Rita and Volker Kielstein founded the European Association of Friends of Henry van de Velde with the support of the Belgian ambassador in Berlin, Struye de Swielande, the Belgian envoy Renilde Loeckx and Bremen city councillor Manfred Osthaus.

Rita Kielstein became the first president of this association, while former mayor Ralf Rauch from Gera became vice president.

Generation change

Since 2022, I have been preparing Haus Schulenburg and its collections for the generational change. Haus Schulenburg is to remain the responsibility of the family. On July 23, 2023, Franziska Heymann from Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) had a conversation with my son Prof. Dr. Jan Kielstein and me about the future of my “half” life’s work during the Thuringian Culture Night.

Jan Kielstein, 1995 Medizinstudent in Chicago, Foto: privat

MDR Podcast from July 23, 2023
Generational change – Volker Kielstein on his life’s work at Haus Schulenburg