The Brehmer Siblings

My great-grandmother Natalie (Tali) Brehmer) had five sisters and two brothers who both died young. One brother died before his second birthday and the other, Paul born in 1891, died in 1918 (WWI or the flu).

One of Tali’s sisters, Susanne (Suse), had a suitor who prior to asking her father for his daughter’s hand, inquired whether Suse’s dowry would be enough for them to live on and him to attend law school and train to became a lawyer. When the answer was positive, he proposed and they married. Their son Otto Stiebeling followed his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer.

Elisabeth (Lithi) Brehmer, (1882-1967), obtained a Ph.D. in chemistry and became one of Germany’s first female scientists in her field. Magdalene (Ala), an older sister of Tali, became mother of Alén Müller-Hellwig who created a successful career for herself as a textile artist, weaving tapestry images which she exhibited and sold worldwide. A younger sister Leonore (Lola) married Alfred Jansen, but I don’t know what happened to Margarethe (Detta 1873-1946), and Paul Brehmer’s widow Clara.

It was Alén’s family’s loss of wealth that enabled her career, she used to say. Had they not lost everything during the hyperinflation in the 1920s, Alén would have been expected to marry and supervise the servants. Having no money liberated her to strike out and create her own future. She was a strong and opinionated woman who married an accomplished violin builder named Günther Hellwig and didn’t have children until she was over 35 years old – very unusual at that time.


Alén was my grandfather’s favorite cousin and occasionally visited us in Sweden. My family used to visit her and her husband in Burgtor Haus in Lübeck where they lived and worked for many years. In the watch tower she had her  studio and he built his violins. Burgtor is one of originally four gates in the city wall, dating back to 1250.  Burgtor Haus was intriguing – I especially recall being shown a lid in the gate floor that could be opened to pour boiling oil on the enemy as they entered the city through the gate that was supposed to keep them out.

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Adolf Paul marries Natalie Brehmer and spends all her money

Natalie Brehmer was only 16 when she became engaged to Adolf Paul.

Natalie (Tali) Brehmer was born on October 19, 1879 and grew up in a large patrician villa at Roeckstraße 6 in Lübeck, Germany. She was petite and slender with dark blond hair framing a heart shaped face with blue eyes.

Belonging to an old local family that had been involved in the pact with Swedish king Gustav Vasa who needed the support of Lübeck when he was fighting the Danes back in 1522, Tali’s father Adolph Brehmer was a wealthy merchant in Lűbeck. Several family members had served as senators and town mayors.

On a fateful day in 1895 Paul visited the Brehmer house. He was in Lűbeck to report on a Nordic seminar and for some unknown reason he visited the Brehmer home. Tali’s mother (also named Natalie) had opened the bible to read her daily verse. She came upon Matthew 7:15

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Paul and Tali were left alone for a brief period and  – love at first sight – they immediately became engaged. The parents didn’t know much about their 16-year old daughter’s fiance, and later used to joke about the false prophet in sheep’s clothing who had captivated their daughter’s heart.

Paul and Tali married on August 18, 1897 when she was 18 and he was 35.  Paul believed that his wife’s one-million D-mark dowry would last a lifetime and rented an exclusive apartment in Berlin, overlooking Kurfűrstendam. “An ambassador’s residence,” one relative described the grand dwelling. Later the family resided in a grand villa in Charlottenburg in the outskirts of Berlin.

“He didn’t know how to count,” Tali’s niece Alén used to say. Within a couple of years, Paul’s lavish lifestyle had consumed most of Tali’s dowry. Tali did not mind. In the 1920s, when the hyperinflation struck and people lost every penny, she praised her husband who had made sure they had enjoyed her money while it was still worth something.

In a 1904 article in Idun, a now defunct Swedish magazine, the reporter described Paul’s villa in Charlottenburg in great detail. According to the article, art by Gallen-Kallela, Munch, Strindberg, Carl Larsson, Josef Sattler, Albert Engstrom, Albert Edefelt and Vigeland adorned the walls.  Solid Scandinavian oak cabinets, hand-carved saint depictions, antique candle holders and laurels decorated with the Swedish, Finnish and German colors dominated the interior. Paul himself gave a somewhat slow first impression, which was soon replaced by a more animated persona. He was described as calm, short and stout with peppy blue eyes and a blond mustache.

All her life Natalie was proud of having been considered a good catch, and used to tell how she at age 24 was already a mother of four. Her role was to be her husband’s muse and inspiration. The household was taken care of by servants.

Several of Adolf Paul’s artist friends dedicated works to Natalie Brehmer. This is by Swedish artist Albert Engstrom.

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Tante Ditha – A Modern Woman

Editha von Moers (b. Koenig) in the middle flanked by her sisters Käthe (left) and Hildegard, my grandmother (right). 1915

Editha (Ditha) von Moers (b. Koenig) considered herself a modern woman. She was my mother’s aunt and born in 1890 in Zanzibar, then a British colony where her father, a navy physician, was stationed. Her father promised each of his three daughters either a dowry or a university education. Ditha was the oldest sibling and she wanted to study. While a university student, she married her first husband, a geologist.  They enjoyed trekking in the Alps with little hammers that they tested the different geologies with. Soon, however, Ditha grew bored with the geologist and dumped him for Egon von Moers, an accomplished lawyer who was older than her and had a thriving career.  In addition, Egon von Moers was a member of the German aristocracy and definitely a step up in the society. As Frau von Moers, Ditha’s status was considerably higher than as Frau geologist.  Egon von Moers was stationed in many different places and thanks to her university studies Ditha found teaching jobs in some of the towns where they lived.

Ditha was a fervent believer in the Rudolph Steiner educational methodology, my aunt Christa recalls. In letters Ditha wrote to her parents, she came across as a popular and accomplished teacher.  My mother recalls how Ditha’s letters were read aloud at the dinner table during the years she, her sister and brother and their mother lived with her grandparents in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s. “Wir haben eine feine Lehrerein. DIE kann erzählen” (We have a fine teacher. SHE can tell (stories)), Ditha quoted a student’s writing about her in one of her letters.

Modern woman as she was, Ditha decided early on that dentist visits and childbearing were not for her. She had all her healthy teeth removed and replaced with fake ones so that she would not have to endure the pain of having cavities drilled and filled. She was petite and slim and thought her physique was ill suited for pregnancy. In addition, she did not like little children and through her father she found a doctor who performed an elective hysterectomy on her.

Egon von Moers had a son Horst from a previous marriage who was 12 years old when Ditha married his father. Ditha found his age  perfect: “Children should enter this world at age 12,” she used to say. Sadly, Horst died of blood poisoning while interviewing for jobs after graduating from college. He had an infected pimple and was told not to shave. In order to look good for his interview, he ignored the advice and shaved and that, supposedly, triggered the blood poisoning. This was before development of antibiotics. After Horst passed away, Ditha and her husband adopted Eno, a teenage son of one of Egon’s relatives in Brazil, whom they gave the middle name Horst in honor of Egon von Moers’ diseased son.

During World War II, it is believed that von Moers continued to work as a lawyer. From being born in Zanzibar Ditha had a British passport, which saved her and her husband from being interrogated and imprisoned after the war. Her passport, however, was not enough for her adopted son to avoid being drafted into the German army. Eno was mortally wounded early on in World War II and soon  died from his injuries.

My aunt recalls visiting Ditha and her husband when they lived in Elsass, which now is a part of France known as Alsace. Egon was very fond of Christa and brought her with him to the work so that she could watch him argue court cases. He introduced her as a junior law students to his colleagues and did his best to ensure she had a positive learning experience. Christa also remembers Tante Ditha as a pleasant woman.

Tante Ditha was my uncle Heye’s godmother. He remembers her as impersonal and perhaps a bit thrifty. Whenever she came to visit her parents while he lived with his grandparents in the 1930s, her first question would always be: “May I use the phone?” She would then be on the phone for hours. Telephone calls were expensive back then and rather than paying for long distance calls, Ditha waited to call her Berlin friends until she visited her parents and could make local calls at their expense.

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Adolf Paul’s career in Berlin

Strindberg and Adolf remained friends for a few years after the letter Strindberg wrote in 1993 (see Adolf Paul part 1). In 1894, Adolf contributed to a book honoring Strindberg in which he especially highlighted Strindberg’s view of the battle between the genders, and revealed a familiarity with Nietzsche’s űbermench ideal. In the mid 1890s Strindberg, who was now middle-aged, had divorced his first wife and married a much younger woman whom he soon separated from. He suffered from severe paranoia and, according to some sources, wrongly accused Adolf for having based unsympathetic characters on him in two of his books. Other sources say, however, that both Strindberg and Adolf populated their novels with miserable characters based each other. Not only did Strindberg and Adolf use their friends as inspiration for their works. Most of the artists in Adolf’s group based fictional characters on each other and used each other in paintings. Adolf, for example, figures in works by Edvard Munch and Axel Gallen-Kallela.

Strindberg, who died at age 63 in 1912, debuted with his novel The Red Room in 1879 and is credited with having influenced writers such as Tennessee Williams, Maxim Gorky and Eugene  O’Neill. Adolf called Strindberg “The Master,” and greatly admired his work and ambition, literary as well as socially. Both authors used their work to question contemporary norms of the society. Being colleagues, however, they were also competitors wooing the German audience and establishing a presence at a much larger and more lucrative market than Scandinavia.

Depiction of Adolf Paul from a book by Glenda Dawn Goss entitled Silbelius: a composer's life and the awakening of Finland

As opposed to his on and off relationship with Strindberg, Adolf remained a lifelong friend of Sibelius and cooperated with him on several occasions. In 1898 Sibelius composed music to Adolf’s play Kung Kristian II (King Kristian II) and in the 1911 Hochzeitzug aus Die Sprache der Vögel (Wedding march, 3rd act). Adolf also wrote lyrics for Sibelius’ Korsspindeln. Both Kung Kristian and another play Karin Månsdotter were performed at the Stockholm Royal Theater in 1898.

After moving to Berlin, Adolf had adapted to German circumstances and was writing in German, reaching a larger audience than possible when writing in Swedish. Having mostly grown up and coming of age in Finland, he wasn’t well connected in Stockholm, which may have hampered his career potential. His works were published by large publishing houses in Sweden, Finland and Germany, including Bonniers, Wahlström & Wistrand, Åhlen & Åkerlund, Grönlunds, Lűbke & Hartmann, Breitkopf & Härtel and Schuster & Löffler.

Many of Adolf’s early novels challenged contemporary morals. His first novel, En bok om en människa (A book about a man), is autobiographical and describes a man who is struggling to define and promote his identity. The main character passionately opposes the norms of the society, disdains the bourgeoisie and has a sense of spiritual superiority. Breaking with the norms and becoming an artist, the main character then faces an identity crisis and suffers a mental break down. This book was the first in a series of three and dedicated to Sibelius who also appears in the book thinly disguised as Sillen.

The second novel in the En bok om en människa series titled Med det falska och det ärliga ögat (With the false and the true eye) was published in 1895 dedicated to Adolf’s piano teacher Ferruccio Busoni. This book was mainly about free love and the conflict between the carnal and the intellectual, and contained characters based on Adolf’s artist friends in Berlin. This book was, among others, inspired by Edvard Munch and his art.

Several of Adolf’s novels were considered obscene because of their violent and abnormal sexual content.  In The Ripper, a collection of short stories published in 1893, one of the stories was an imaginary diary of Jack the Ripper with graphic details. Another short story was inspired by a 1889 murder in south Sweden, Yngsjömordet, where a mother and her son had an incestuous relationship and bludgeoned  the son’s wife to death. Albert Bonnier who had published En bok om en människa  refused to publish The Ripper, which was published in Finland, but banned as obscene. After publication of Die Madonna mit dem Rosenbush,  (The Madonna with the rose bush) in 1903, the publisher was sued. The novel’s main character is an artist who delivers a different work than the portrait he was commissioned to paint, enraging his client. The novel also describes some debauchery in Berlin considered risque at that time. It was translated into Swedish.

Adolf continued to work on plays and novels and his career waxed and waned over the years. One of his best known novels was his 1915 bestseller titled Die Tänzerin Barberina (Barberina, the dancer) whose main character was based on the dramatic life of Italian dancer Barbara Campanini (1721-1799) who was brought to Berlin by Frederick the Great of Prussia to become a highly paid dancer at the newly opened Berlin Opera and his lover.

Between 1914 – 1919 Adolf worked as a screen writer and wrote scripts for some 14 movies, including Die Teufelskirche, which I found a clip of online ( and in 1919 he wrote the movie version of Die Tänzerin Barberina.

Adolf Paul in later years.

Adolf’s 75th birthday in 1937 was celebrated with the publication of Das Lebenswerk Adolf Pauls, which covered his published and unpublished production over the years. In addition to plays and film scripts he authored some 20 novels, In 1937 he received the Vasaorden, a honor bestowed upon him by the King of Sweden,  Gustaf V.

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My grand uncle: Holger Wiedersheim-Paul

Holger Jurgen Wiedersheim-Paul was my grand uncle and Adolf Paul’s youngest son. He was born in Berlin, Germany in 1907, and moved to Sweden in 1931 to study at the Konsthogskolan (Stockholm Academy of Art) with Swedish artist (and a friend of his father) Albert Engstrom. He worked as an artist, illustrator, graphic designer and teacher.

Holger married Herta Maria Charlotte Fourestier in 1932 and was married to her until he passed away in Ronninge outside Stockholm in 1970. It was a very happy marriage, according to my mother.

Holger and Herta had four children: Ragnar, Yvonne, Anette and Tomas.

His son Tomas Wiedersheim-Paul wrote his bibliography click on the link below:

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Adolf Paul, my great grandfather, part 1

My great grandfather Adolf Paul was a writer who wrote novels and plays. He lived his adult life in Berlin, Germany where he was friends with Swedish writer August Strindberg, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and Finnish artist Axel Gallen-Kallela.

This is the first entry about Adolf Paul:

Ancestors and early years

Adolf Georg Paul was born on January 6, 1863 on Bromö, an island in lake Vänern in Sweden. At that time his last name was Wiedesheim-Paul. The family name came from a Preussian Major named Ludwig von Wiedesheim, born in Anhalt-Kothen, Germany. His grandson Elias was born out of wedlock to Albertina Julia von Wiedesheim and Fernando Pollini, an Italian earl, and given the surname Wiedesheim-Paul after both parents (Pollini became Paul). Being born out of wedlock, Elias had no right to the aristocratic “von”. Elias’s uncles, who were in the military, helped Albertina raising Elias. Following the career path of his uncles, Elias joined the Swedish army in Stralsund on the Baltic coast, which at that time belonged to Sweden. After serving the Swedish army in war and peace for 30 years, Elias followed King Charles XIV John when he retreated to Stockholm and ceded Stralsund to Germany. In Sweden, Elias was appointed to a position as Regiments Commissioner near Karlstad in western Sweden.

At the time Adolf was born, several Wiedersheim-Paul family members lived on Bromö, which is not far from Karlstad. According to an anecdote, extended family lived on Bromö and they were called “Pållarna på Bromö” (Paul is pronounces “pål” in Swedish and a “pålle” is also slang for a horse). Adolf’s mother’s maiden name was Hedvig (Hedda) Blix, and her family was in the glassworks business. On Bromö Adolf’s father Alfred  managed a glass manufacturing plant – perhaps he met his wife through his line of work. Adolf had an older sister Hedvig, a younger sister Anna and seven younger brothers; Alfred, Elis, Ernst, Knut, Oscar, Torsten and Leo.

In 1868 Alfred sold the glassworks and the family moved to Rosendala castle between lakes Vänern and Vättern near Karlsborg where Elis, Ernst and Knut were born. When Adolf was nine years old, in 1872, the family moved to Jokkis (Yokkis, Jokijoinen), a vast farm in the Swedish-Finnish part of Finland. It was at this time the family added an “r” to the spelling of Wiedersheim-Paul for some unknown reason. Including more than 30 smaller farms, three parish churches and the town of Forssa, Jokkis used to be one of the largest estates in Finland and is now owned by the Finnish government. Jokkis also contained ironworks, spinning mills, and glassworks. Alfred managed Jokkis with a partner and two financial supporters from Sweden.

A drawing of Alfred and Hedvig and their children by Adolf’ Paul’s daughter Tali Paul. Courtesy Leo Wiedersheim (my cousin twice removed) who has documented the Wiedersheim family ancestry.

In 1872, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia, which had conquered it in the 1808-1809 war with Sweden. Since the peace treaty of 1323, between Sweden and Novgorod, the western and southern parts of Finland had been tied to Sweden and the Western European cultural sphere, while eastern Finland, i.e. Karelia, had been a part of the Russo-Byzantine world. Not until 1917 did Finland become independent.  In 1872, the Finnish-Swedes were the ruling class living along the coast. Being Swedish, Alfred and his family did not have to change language. Initially, the Alfred prospered. He built a family residence in Tammela near Jokkis named Charlottenberg and acquired a farm on the island Runsala (Ruissalo) outside Åbo (Turku) and was a partner in several business ventures. Today Runsala is famous as the site of Ruisrock, an annual rock festival that began in 1970.

From farming to piano and play-writing

Adolf’s father wanted him to become a farmer and he first studied agriculture at Mustiala Agriculture Center in Tammela. After three years of studies, Adolf started to manage the Runsala farm. In addition to expanding the number of cows on the farm, Adolf had a piano shipped to his new home where he enjoyed playing music much more than he did farming. After a few years as a farmer Adolf decided to become an artist. In 1886 he began studying music in Helsinki. It was during this period he became a socialist and shed Wiedersheim from his surname. While studying the piano at the Music Academy in Helsinki, he became friends with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Both studied with the famous Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni who brought them to Berlin when he moved there from Helsinki in 1889.

When Adolf first arrived to Berlin the city was a cultural center that drew artists, painters and writers from all over Europe. Located further north than Paris, the other artist Mecca at this time, many Scandinavians made Berlin their home for shorter or longer time periods. Adolf joined the Scandinavian artist community where he in addition to Jean Sibelius counted Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and Swedish writer August Strindberg among his friends.

Adolf Paul is depicted in one of Edvard Munch’s paintings, The Vampire. The painting shows a red haired woman bending her head over the neck of a man hiding his face in her lap. (Source: Edvard Munch mennesket og kunstneren by Ragna Stang). He is also portrayed in Finnish artist Axel Gallen-Kallela’s The Symposium, which is at the National Gallery in Helsinki, Finland, as the man who has fallen asleep on the table after a night of drinking. On the sketches preceding the final version, Adolf is still awake, sitting at the table focusing his stare to the left of the viewer.

Collaborating with Sibelius, Adolf discovered he was better at composing plays than music and after a concert in Helsinki in 1891 focused on his writing. That year he published his first novel En bok om en menniska (A book about a man), which was published by Bonniers in Stockholm. In 1892 he published The Ripper, inspired by London serial killer Jack the Ripper. Albert Bonnier considered The Ripper too indecent and refused to publish this book and other books Adolf later wrote about violence and sexuality. Instead, The Ripper was published by Grönlund in Åbo, Finland, but the book was controversial and critics considered some of the content of The Ripper a description of “sickly erotic” . In 1893, Adolf published a book named Herr Ludvig, which is believed to be based on his father’s misfortunes. Alfred had passed away in 1892 after losing most of his assets.

Adolf’s artist friend Axel Gallén-Kallela created the cover for one of his books, Ein gefallener profet (A fallen prophet) in 1895. The book was well received and so were his early theater plays. At the Helsinki opening of the play Kung Kristian II, Adolf received standing ovations and was crowned with a laurel wreath that he kept for the rest of his life. The royalties for his books and plays made sure the family had some steady income during the 25 years these lasted.

A Strindberg letter

In Sweden, he was overshadowed by August Strindberg, his friend whom he greatly admired. In a newspaper article in Svenska Dagbladet in the late 1990’s the writer called Adolf “Strindbergs Salieri” and described how he was the one who introduced Strindberg to everyone worth knowing in Berlin and to the hangout Zum schwartzen Ferkel where the artist community gathered. In 1893 Strindberg had married Frida Uhl and traveled with her on a honeymoon to England where the heat made him unhappy. They left England for Germany where he wanted to visit Adolf. Penniless he wrote a letter to Adolf on June 20:

Höfers Hotel, Hamburg

20 Juni 93.

Adolf Paul, Br.

Sedan i går morgse sitter jag fången i Höfers Hotel, Hamburg. Orsaken: Skinnerier på vägen, så att det fattades 2 mark att komma till Rügen. Nu växer hotellräkningen, och koleran står och väntar; så här blir nog ingen Weimarresa av. Jag har ställt pengar på Rügen, men om det kommer några vet fan! Har Ni några, så telegrafera över dem att jag får rymma åtminstone. 20 Mark går det med. Jag hade en 7-helvetes otur. Ty Pontoppidan var bortrest; och Drachman som jag sökte, var också rest. (Min resa dit tog de sista 7 marken!) Nu har jag inga telegrafpengar, ingenting, och nerverna, som jag ser på min skrivstil, äro åtgångna. Jag borde egentligen skjuta mig, men det skulle ha varit gjort för länge sedan.

August Strindberg.

The letter complains about money, cholera and bad nerves. The last sentence reads: “I should shoot myself, but that should have been done a long time ago.”

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