The Town Hall windows by Georg Meistermann in Wittlich
History of origins of the Horsemen of the ApocalypseToday they count among the so-called “Jewels of Wittlich”: the four windows with the subjects of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Professor Georg Meistermann in the Old Town Hall in Wittlich, which has borne the artist's name for ten years now.
In view of today's press and public relation work by the town council and Municipal Authority, the detailed discussion in the population about every new municipal project and the vivid participation from Wittlich's citizens in changes regarding their town you will also expect many written documents about the creation of the new Town Hall windows even from those times. However, thorough studies by the local press and the records of the town council meetings from the years 1953 – 1955 as well as studies of existing Meistermann literature yielded a poor result. A first hint is given by a description by the late Wittlich artist Johannes Scherl who reported: “In the first years after the war, Mayor Mehs wanted to have a painting made by Otto Dix for the rear wall of the council chamber in the Town hall ... During this time Mehs and I together went to Cologne to visit one of the first art exhibitions after the war. Meistermann's painting “Der neue Adam”, which had become famous, was there. And a glass window by Meistermann was to be seen ... M. J. Mehs said. “What do you think, should we bring him to Wittlich for Saint Mark?” On that day in Cologne, Mehs also said that he had another wonderful job, that is to say the windows in the staircase of the Town Hall in Wittlich. The four windows in the staircase even gave the subject, he said: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” from the Revelation of St. John 1 From what Scherl wrote it is to be gathered that the idea, the creation of the Meistermann windows in the church of Saint Mark, was first formulated between 1945 and 1949.
Meistermann himself recalled this in a similar manner and he began with the famous sentence: “Insofar I am attached to this town and then, one day, an inquiry came from Mr Mehs once again that they would like to have windows ... I propose to make the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. First, this did not mean much to the town representatives. I had brought the text from the Revelation of St. John along, read it out and said that I thought that this would be a very dignified thing for such a dignified town. And that was accepted. The greatest thing of all in those times was always the fact that you did not have to present any drafts. Those who commissioned you trusted in you ... 2
There are no other sources from the time before 1954 except Matthias Joseph Mehs' diaries which are still in private possession and cannot be consulted. Only on 13 May 1954 is an official note to be found in the minutes of the council meeting: “The question of the new windows was discussed with Professor Georg Meistermann. The costs for these new windows are estimated to be DM 10,000 – 12,000 by Professor Meistermann. It was agreed that the fitting of new windows instead of the rolled glass still existing would be considered to be necessary. The matter will be postponed until the next meeting.” 3 During this meeting on 20 May 1954 the following was resolved: “The glazing of the windows in the town hall entrance hall was destroyed by a bombing attack on Christmas Eve 1944. Since then the windows have been temporarily provided with rolled glass. With respect to the long time past as well as with regard to the large Agricultural Exhibition in prospect (September 1954) the restoration of the window is considered to be imperative. The idea is to present the Apocalypse in the new windows, thereby recalling the hardships of the last War, in particular the bombing attack of Christmas Eve 1944, as well as an exhortation to today's and future generations. In the case of Professor Meistermann being awarded the contract, the windows would be produced by the Derix company in Kaiserswerth. The costs for the draft and the execution are estimated to amount to DM 10,000 – 12,000. After a detailed discussion, the town council resolves with 2 opposing votes: Professor Meistermann shall be commissioned to design the staircase windows in the Town Hall in glass painting with the subject of the Apocalypse. The execution of the draft shall be carried by the Derix company in Kaiserswerth. The total costs will amount to DM 10,000 – 12,000. Influence is to be used to have the windows delivered forthwith, at all events, however, before the Agricultural Exhibition in September 1954. The Town Council wishes to see the cartons (drafts) before the execution. It is being assumed that the amount of the costs can be distributed over 2 budgetary years.” 4
If you look at the data, the town council expected Professor Meistermann to perform a miracle. Within three months he was to draft four windows, submit the drafts to the town council, have the windows produced and mounted. Therefore it must be assumed that the then First Town Councillor, Matthias Joseph Mehs, had probably informed Georg Meistermann considerably in advance about the desire to have the windows produced. As there is no according note available which reveals that Meistermann had presented the drafts to the Council it must be assumed that his memory had not become blurred. It seems that there was definitely no time left in this connection.
On 1 June 1954 Wittlich's population was informed for the first time about the fact that the desolate state of the windows in the Town hall had been a topic of discussion. In the newspaper “Wittlicher Tageblatt” this “blemish” was criticised and it was proposed that “a restoration of the large interior windows could also be an opportunity to maintain the memory of the major bomb attack on Christmas Eve 1944 pictographically in order to thereby preserve the memory of the victims in the population.” 5 Meistermann and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse were not mentioned. In its non-public meeting of 15 July 1954 the Town Council of the Town of Wittlich additionally resolved the renovation of the staircase in the Town Hall and on 20 July 1954, again in non-public meeting, an advance payment to Professor Meistermann was resolved. Not before 17 August 1954, a solid week before the presentation of the windows, the “Wittlicher Tageblatt” wrote, that the mounting of the new glass windows in the staircase had begun. No more detailed information. Thus it is not astonishing what this newspaper wrote in its edition of 18 August 1954: “The deep mysterious about the windows in the staircase of the Town Hall is disclosed. The windows are already mounted. The drafts are from Professor Meistermann, which means, the same artist who also drafted the often discussed windows in the parish church. For the Town Hall, subjects from the Apocalypse had been chosen. The artwork will offer sufficient material for discussion.” 6 The Meistermann windows in St Mark had been controversially discussed in 1949 and Meistermann had to have parts replaced again. Perhaps one reason, why Wittlich's citizens had been confronted with facts at such a late point of time. New discussions and annoyance only five years later were to be avoided. The slightly sardonic tone of the newspaper article shows that subjects for the late information of the public had been well known. In the weekend edition of 21/22 August 1954 it was hinted to the official turnover of the new Town Hall windows on a Sunday morning. The population had not been invited but was informed one day later, on 23 August 1954, that a “special meeting by the Town Council had taken place for the turnover of the Town Hall windows”. 7 Apart from that it was reported that the “Kirmes” (Fair) had been quite nice despite the bad weather. The “Wittlicher Tageblatt” reports about this special meeting quite detailed on 24 August 1954. Mayor Soesters explains the ideas which had led to the selection of the subjects, a minute's silence for the victims of the two Wars took place and Professor Meistermann reported about his work. Nothing was said about who else had been present. Even in the second longer article by the “Wittlicher Tageblatt” of 28/29 August 1954 about the Town Hall windows the windows were exclusively described on the basis of the Apocalypse of John and the “The Victor” and “The War” were shown. An interpretation or an artistic assessment did not take place.
This most concise reporting disappoints much. However, it should be taken into consideration, that in September 1954 the “Borderland show” had taken place, an agricultural exhibition which attracted over 100,000 visitors to the then scarcely 10,000 inhabitants counting town of Wittlich. The organisation and execution of this event must have blocked all working capacities of Council and Administration. But despite this understanding, people in Wittlich were nevertheless annoyed, because on 23 September 1954 the “Wittlicher Tageblatt” wrote the following under the title “No secret municipal politics!”: “The reason why in our opinion this statement is so remarkable is because it confirms the tendency notable for some time now, to deal with important municipal-political questions of interest for the entire population behind closed doors. For example, this also includes the provision of the new Town Hall windows. One day they were mounted without having informed the population about this or about the commissioned artist, the chosen subjects or the costs before although this had been a matter of interest for the entire population. Until today the population has not been informed about the fact that the windows had cost 14,000 DM. Therefore the taxpayers would have had the right to have been at least informed about the use of their tax paid.” 8 But also the Town Council perceived the error, because on 8 October 1954 the following excuse is found in the “Wittlicher Tageblatt”: “The assigned town council then explained that he had to admit that indeed the press had not always been informed the way the press would have liked to be informed and that the Town Council wished that it would have been done. But, so he wrote, it had to be considered apologising that the things which had to be coped with had been so delicate that it had not been justified to alarm the public.” 9
Despite accusation and excuse the entire press reporting of the year 1954 displays nevertheless an agreement with the Town Council. Superfluous discussions and anxieties were to be avoided. In 1954, DM 14,000 approximately equalled the annual income of the mayor. Much money for the adornment of the Town Hall in view of the fact that there still existed a high housing shortage and unemployment rate in Wittlich. The economic miracle had not yet shown effect. In addition, only five years after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany (and the German Democratic Republic) surely a completely different understanding of democracy prevailed compared with today. Town Councils were dignitaries who cared for the wellbeing of the population which was not able “to cope with” all information. And the politician Matthias Joseph Mehs was surely a man of unbureaucratic and fast action. From today's point of view a visionary who in times of financial scarceness provided his home town with incomparable artwork for future generations.
1 Georg Meistermann. Druckgraphiken - Zeichnungen - Glasfenster-Kartons - Glasbilder - Ölgemälde.
Hrsg. von Justinus Maria Calleen. Wittlich: Kulturamt, 1992, S. 28
2 Georg Meistermann. Druckgraphiken see page. 36-38
3 Record of the meeting of the Town Council of the Town of Wittlich of 13 May 1954
4 Record of the non-public meeting of the Town Council of the Town of Wittlich of 20 May 1954
5 Wittlicher Tageblatt of 1. Juni 1954
6 Wittlicher Tageblatt of 18. August 1954
7 Wittlicher Tageblatt of 23. August 1954
8 Wittlicher Tageblatt of 23. September 1954
9 Wittlicher Tageblatt of 8. Oktober 1954