Hermann Hendrich and the Hall of Legends in Szklarska Poręba

The Hall of Legends, also known as the Hall of Fairy Tales or in German as the Sagenhalle, was a unique place created by Hermann Hendrich. Inspired by legends of the Spirit of the Mountains, mysticism, and Germanic mythology, it stood in Szklarska Poręba even after the war. Unfortunately, within a few years, it was completely destroyed. To prevent the Hall from falling into complete oblivion, I would like to dedicate today’s article to it and to Hermann.

Sagenhalle (Hall of Legends) in Szklarska Poręba / Source: polska.org.pl

Szklarska Poręba as an Artists’ Colony

Nestled in picturesque surroundings, Szklarska Poręba (formerly known as Schreiberhau) rose to prominence as a fashionable resort and leisure destination by the late 19th century. During this period, the Karkonosze Mountains were renowned for numerous legends and mysterious tales, including those of Rübezahl, the Spirit of the Mountains, Walons in search of treasures, and herbalist-alchemists. This attracted throngs of painters, writers, and representatives of the scientific community, who collectively formed a cultural phenomenon in Szklarska Poręba – an artists’ colony.

One of them was Hermann Hendrich, a German painter from the Harz Mountains, born on October 31st, 1854, in Heringen, Thuringia. His parents were August Hendrich and Auguste Friederike, née Ziegler. After an inspiring artistic journey to Norway in 1876 and a stay in the United States with his brother, he returned to Germany. From 1886 to 1889, he studied landscape painting under Joseph Wenglein in Munich and Eugen Bracht in Berlin. He was also a member of the Elf group and co-founder of the Berlin Secession.

On April 14th, 1898, he married Clara Becker in Berlin. According to the marriage certificate, Christian Hermann and Theresia Clara were residing at Friedrich Wilhelm Strasse 16 at the time. Both sets of parents had passed away by 1898. Hermann’s father, Friedrich August Hendrich, lived in Benungen, while his mother, Friederike Auguste (née Ziegler), resided in Greencastle, United States, likely with her second son.

Hermann’s wife, Theresia Clara Geene, née Becker, a widow of a butcher, was born on July 3rd, 1853, in Achen. She was the daughter of Didrich Becker from Hannover and Elizabeth Hartmann from Amsterdam.

Shortly thereafter, the young couple arrived in Szklarska Poręba.

Ślub Hermanna Hendricha i Clary Becker w Berinie

Marriage certificate of Hermann Hendrich and Clara Becker / Source: State Archives in Wrocław, Jelenia Góra branch

Germanic Mythology and Folklore

Hermann was captivated by Germanic mythology, nature, and folklore. He also found inspiration in the works of Richard Wagner. Enthralled by the landscapes of Szklarska Poręba and the legends of Rübezahl, he decided to extend his stay here. Norwegian sacred architecture also greatly influenced Hendrich, and the presence of the Wang Church, transported from Norway in the mid-19th century to the nearby town of Karpacz (known as Krummhübel in German), served as a delightful reminder of his artistic journey from years past.

At Hermann’s initiative, the Hall of Legends, or Sagenhalle, was opened in the Valley of Seven Houses on May 30th, 1903. Its architecture drew inspiration from the local building style and ancient Germanic motifs, adorned with images of dragons, serpents, and runic symbols, among other decorations.

In the Hall, there was a series of eight massive paintings by Hendrich, illustrating the story of the Spirit of the Mountains: “The Garden of the Spirit of the Mountains,” “Goddess of Spring,” “Castle of the Spirit of the Mountains,” “Great Szyszak,” “Snowy Pits,” “Small Pond,” “Kamieńczyk Waterfall,” and “Mountain Ridge.”

Obrazy Hermann Hendricha w Hali Legend w Szklarskiej Porębie

Hermann Hendrich with his paintings in the Sagenhalle in Szklarska Poręba / Source: Polska-org.pl

Thor, Wotan and Rübezahl

On the exterior, the hall was crowned with two spears, between which hung the hammer Mjöllnir, belonging to the Germanic god of thunder, Thor, who represented home and family. Additionally, there was a symbolic oath ring called Eidring. The facade was adorned with shades of red, yellow, and blue. Adjacent to the entrance stood a large wooden statue of the Spirit of the Mountains, sculpted by Hugo Schuchardt and based on a painting by Moritz von Schwind. Known also as Rübezahl, Liczyrzepa, or simply Karkonosz – the Spirit of the Mountains personified the forces of nature and the ancient Germanic god Wotan for Hendrich.

The hall served not only as a gathering spot for artists and an exhibition venue but also became a tourist attraction. In 1927, extra railway connections were introduced from Jelenia Góra to Szklarska Poręba due to the growing interest from tourists. Additionally, every year, a massive bonfire was lit here on Midsummer’s Eve as part of the festivities of the folk-artistic festival Johanniswoche (St. John’s Week).

Rzeźba Ducha Gór autorstwa Hugo Schurchardta

Sculpture of the Spirit of the Mountains sculpted by Hugo Schuchardt based on a painting by Moritz von Schwind / Source: Polska-org.pl

In 1927, Hermann Hendrich donated the Hall of Legends and his house (Hendrich Haus) to the municipality in exchange for a lifelong pension. The artist passed away in Szklarska Poręba four years later, on July 18th, 1931, at the age of 76, due to suicide. According to his death certificate, he resided in Berlin at Düsseldorfer Strasse 74.

Following Hendrich’s death, Wilhelm Bölsche resided here until his own passing in 1939. In the Hendrich Haus, he established a small geological and natural history museum, showcasing exhibits related to the Karkonosze and Jizera Mountains. As a tribute to this institution, the street where it is situated was named Muzealna (Museum Street).

Akt zgonu Hendricha Hermanna 1931 rok

Death certificate of Hermann Hendrich / Source: State Archives in Wrocław, Jelenia Góra branch

End the Reign of Rübezahl!

Despite surviving the war, the Hall of Legends faced disfavor from the new residents of Szklarska Poręba towards the Spirit of the Mountains and the artistic creations that originated here.

An article by Mr. Izbicki, which is particularly poignant, was published in Głos Ludu on May 21st, 1947:

“We must put an end to Rübezahl! We need to take a strong stance against the ‘sanctified’ cult of a certain Rübezahl, as glorified by the local courtier-graphomaniac, which translates literally into Polish as Liczyrzepa [Turnip-Counter].

With peculiar insistence, they turn this old man with a long beard trailing down to his ankles, wandering naked in the mountains, essentially a malicious, dim-witted creation of German literary fantasy – into a legend of some sort, akin to our Janosik or the Eastern Carpathian Dobosz.

On the covers of regional publications, postcards, advertising posters, shop signs, and, heaven forbid, “tourist souvenirs,” this old man with a monstrous club in his hand is supposed to symbolize a friendly and, to top it off, Slavic spirit of the Giant Mountains.

How in the world did anyone think this made sense, especially from a propaganda standpoint? Let someone just snatch that club away and keep pounding until they break apart this bizarre regional spectacle. In the museum in Middle Szklarska Poręba, they showcase these stories on several “landscapes.” The narrative backdrop aims to introduce visiting Poles to the essence of… typical German culture.

On the other hand, we think the best course of action is to burn these crude artworks, along with other paintings, decorations on the building, bas-reliefs, and anything else needed to prevent any culturally sensitive tourist from seeing them ever again.”

After some time, the paintings vanished, and the Hall started to decay. Today, in its spot stands the “Radość” [“Joy”] training and leisure center, owned by Wrocław University of Science and Technology. Luckily, Hermann’s house has been preserved, maintaining a style described by Małgorzata Najwer as “Nordic-Giant Mountain-Secessionist.” Reportedly, the entire area has been purchased by a new investor; let’s hope that Hendrich Haus will remain safe and the memory of its creator won’t be forgotten.

An interesting fact is that preserved sculptural elements from the Sagenhalle can be found on the facade of Primary School No. 1 in Szklarska Poręba.

Fragment rzeźby z Sagenhalle w Szkole Podstawowej numer 1

Sculptural elements from the Hall of Legends / Source: Polska-org.pl

Dom Hermanna Hendricha w Szklarskiej Porębie

The Hall of Legends wasn’t the only building of its kind created by Hermann Hendrich. Another hall, the Walpurgishalle, actually the first one, was built in 1901 on the Hexentanzplatz (“Witches’ Dance Floor”) in the Harz Mountains. The third, Nibelungenhalle, near Königswinter, still stands and is open to visitors.

Marta

Sources:

  • Muzeum Dom Hauptmannów
  • Polska-org.pl
  • Dr Przemysław Wiater
  • Małgorzata Najwer, Hermanna Hendricha Świątynia Legend oraz Parsifal i zamek Grala, QuartNr 3(9)/2008, internet: http://www.najart.com/pdf/quart-hendrich.pdf
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • State Archives in Wrocław, Jelenia Góra branch

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