Object of the Month: August

Visual documentation of “Berggasse 19” by Edmund Engelman

In the current permanent exhibition, photos of Freud’s rooms forge a link from today to the past and give a vivid impression of the domestic setting in which the founder of psychoanalysis lived and worked. However, the pictures are but a late snapshot. Only few photographs exist of Freud’s apartment or office from the long years that the Freuds lived at Berggasse – the family had moved in in 1891, having office rooms on the first floor since 1908. The pictures that you see here as photo displays were not taken until 1938, shortly before the family emigrated to London.
Edmund Engelman was born in Vienna in 1907. The son of a middle-class businessman who, like many other Jewish families had come to Vienna from Eastern Europe as a child, he received a sound education. At the age of ten, Engelman made his first camera, and from then on his interest in photography grew consistently. While studying mechanical engineering and electrical engineering at Vienna University of Technology, he also devoted himself to chemistry, cinematography and similar subjects. Graduating during the Great Depression in 1932, the position of “Photo Engineer” that he had intended to take up was not available, and young Engelman instead opened his own photography shop, with the result that the “Photo City” soon became known as a platform for photographic innovations. A friend introduced him to August Aichhorn and Sigmund Freud. He soon became close friends with Aichhorn, and in 1938 the social educator asked him to create photographic records of Freud’s apartment and workplace when his emigration became inevitable. His thoughts were already revolving around a future museum, “once the storm of these years is over”. Because the Freuds’ apartment was being watched by the Gestapo and any activity regarded as suspicious could result in arrest, the photographs had to be taken as covertly as possible – i.e. without a flash or spotlights. Engelman did not hesitate, putting himself in danger by visiting the Freud family with inconspicuous camera equipment and documenting everything from the building’s façade and stairs to the rooms proper over the space of three days. The only thing he did not photograph was the family’s private quarters, i.e. the bedrooms, bathrooms and salon. Initially it was not planned for him to meet the eighty-two-year-old Sigmund Freud and perhaps upset him by his visit. On the third day, however, Freud appeared unexpectedly in the study and it was only then that his friend Aichhorn explained what was going on. Various portraits and passport photos of the family were subsequently taken.
Engelman himself was forced to flee to the United States and gave his negatives to Aichhorn for safe keeping. After his death, they came into the possession of Anna Freud, who handed them over to Engelman after the end of the war. The photographs taken at that time were incorporated into the exhibition with the permission of the heirs when the museum was redesigned in 1984. Photographs of the treatment room and study are displayed on the walls in those places depicted in the images and thus create a panorama of what they looked like then.
Sigmund Freud's consulting room at Berggasse 19, 1938, Photo by Edmund Engelman, (c) Thomas Engelman
Entrance door Berggasse 19, 1938, Photo by Edmund Engelman, (c) Thomas Engelman

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