The Grieving Parents

The Tragic Story behind The Grieving Parents by Käthe Kollwitz

In the early 2000s, a good friend and I spent a marvelous weekend in Cologne. We indulged ourselves in food, drinks, art and especially, the spa of the hotel. One of our plans was also to visit the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, but somehow we didn’t make it. But the name stuck in my head, and when I returned to the city some years later, I was finally able to visit the museum. And I was blown away…

Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 in Königsberg (Prussia), a city that is now known as Kaliningrad (Russia). As an artist, she worked with sculptures, printmaking, and paintings. She was heavily influenced by Realism at the beginning of her career but is nowadays mainly seen as a representative of Expressionism.

In the museum in Cologne, I saw a lot of her prints which usually depict the influence of war and poverty on the working classes. I did not have permission to photograph anything though so I had to make do with some postcards of her work. One of them depicted a statue called The Grieving Parents, but at that moment I just looked at it and pinned it on the wall of my living room when I was back home. And then… it became part of my many travel memories.

Fast forward to the summer of 1917… I am perusing a touristic magazine, looking for some inspiration for a weekend excursion, when I make 2 big discoveries. First of all, there is actually a small museum in Koekelare (West Flanders, Belgium), dedicated to Käthe Kollwitz and her son. And moreover, the statue of The Grieving Parents is located in a nearby World War I cemetery. But little did I know then that there is a sad link between the two places…

Anyway, our first stop that same day was the museum in Koekelare.

If you don’t know anything about Käthe Kollwitz, her life and her work, this place with its small collection is a good introduction, although I strongly recommend a visit to the museum in Cologne as well. But the most interesting part of the museum here in Koekelare is the video presentation about Kollwitz and her youngest son, Peter. And the origins of The Grieving Parents…

Just before World War I, Germany was in a state of economic, social and political turmoil; some intellectuals even thought that a (world) war would be the best solution to rebuild the country. Käthe Kollwitz and her son Peter shared these thoughts as well and when World War I broke out, she supported his wish to go to the front in Belgium. Although the father was against the idea, Peter finally went to the war… only to be killed less than a week later.

Overcome by grief and guilt, the death of her son sent Käthe Kollwitz in a long and severe depression. Soon though she wanted to express her feelings and newfound pacifism into art, but between the original idea and the final result lie more than 15 years. The first home of the sculpture was at the cemetery in Roggevelde in the early 1930s, but nowadays you can find it near Peter’s grave in the Vladslo German war cemetery.

The address of the Käthe Kollwitz Museum is Brouwerijstraat 13/15, 8680 Koekelare. It’s actually part of a cultural center. And there is also a cafe…

When in Belgium, always make time for beer. Local beer…

The Vladslo German war cemetery is only a couple of kilometers away from the museum site.

In Belgium, there are actually only 4 German war cemeteries: in Hooglede, Menen, Langemark, and this one which contains the remains of more than 25.000 people.

The two statues are so magnificent…

The gaze of the father is eternally fixed on the tombstone of his son.

By the time I took the following picture, I had tears in my eyes…

Address: Houtlandstraat 3, 8600 Diksmuide.

Keep on following us and join us on our next trip in another corner of Europe!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.