The year 2021 marks 100 years since the death of the last German Empress – Auguste Viktoria. Her husband, German Emperor Wilhelm II, had abdicated in 1918, and they had been living in exile in the Netherlands since then. They had settled in Doorn House in May 1920, and by then, Auguste Viktoria was already seriously ill. In the early hours of 11 April 1921, the Empress died in her sleep.
The Emperor was relatively calm and told his aide-de-camp Sigurd von Ilsemann, “It’s a true comfort that the Empress died so peacefully.”1 That very same day, the Empress’s body came to be surrounded by flowers. In the same diary entry as above, Sigurd von Ilsemann wrote, “At 3.15, we visited the deceased’s room, followed by all the staff. The deceased was laying on a silk pillow surrounded by beautiful, fresh flowers.”
House Doorn has recreated the Empress’s bedroom as it was during the two days following her death. The Empress’s room became filled with flowers and wreaths. Margarete Kogge made a painting of the room, and this has allowed for a very precise reconstruction. The flowers and wreaths are all hand-made from silk. Some of the items on the bed are original and have remained in this position since the death of Auguste Viktoria.
On 16 April, the Empress’s coffin was moved downstairs to the dining room, which was turned into a mourning room. This room, too, became filled with flowers and wreaths and was also painted by Margarete Kogge. House Doorn has also recreated this room as it was. In reality, the bedroom and dining room situation would not have existed at the same time.
The rest of the house also has touches of mourning, such as black mourning ribbon and black fabric over the mirrors.
On 17 April, Auguste Viktoria’s funeral service was held in the dining room. In the evening, a guard of honour was held by three of her sons and her son-in-law. Afterwards, the coffin was carried outside by servants and put onto a specially converted car. Her coffin was brought to a train that stood waiting at Maarn Station. This train brought the Empress’s body to Potsdam, accompanied by several family members. Wilhelm was not allowed to leave the country and said his goodbyes in Maarn. Auguste Viktoria was interred in the Antikentempel in Potsdam, where now she lies with her husband’s second wife Hermine. Wilhelm himself did not wish to return to Germany unless it had reinstated the monarchy. He rests in a mausoleum on the grounds of House Doorn.
One of the last rooms in the house plays host to a small exhibition by art school students with their own take on mourning clothes.
The more modern part of the exhibition can be found in the pavilion. It deals with the public response to things such as the MH-17 disaster and the murder of Pim Fortuyn.
Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibition, especially the part inside the house. The flowers and wreaths are simply gorgeous, and you can tell that a lot of work went into it. However, I didn’t really care for the room with the students’ mourning clothes. It just doesn’t fit. The part of the exhibition inside the pavilion surprised me in a good way; I hadn’t expected to like it.
The exhibition comes with a small publication, which appears to be only in Dutch, unfortunately.
For more information about House Doorn and the exhibition, please go here. The exhibition will run until 3 July 2022.