Friday, December 26, 2014

Musings after a visit to the house where Karl Marx was born

The open upper floor hallway of a Trier house that's been 
turned into a museum about a man born there in 1818
 Built in 1727, this house is now home to  
Puppet Ponyo couldn't resist also posing for a picture
with (the statuettes of) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ;b
When I was little, I shocked my parents with the announcement that I wanted to be a Communist when I grew up.  And although the days are long gone since I believed that Communism is an ideology that human societies can put into viable practice, Karl Marx continues to hold a certain fascination for me -- and I've gotten a thrill from doing such as going and having a drink at the Museum Tavern, the Bloomsbury pub which Karl Marx regularly frequented while working on Das Kapita at the British Library!
So when I found out while visiting Trier that Karl Marx had been born in that German city, and his birthplace had been turned into the Museum Karl-Marx-Haus, I decided that I'd have to go check it out -- and this even though it was described in the local tourist literature as a magnet for Chinese tourists!  As it so happened though, when my German friend and I visited, not only were there no Asians in sight bar for myself but there actually were, at most, just five other visitors there during the time that we were inside the house!!

Although the museum contains few actual artifacts, we ended up spending at least two hours in it -- thanks to the fascinating information (supplied in English by an audioguide that translated at length the German texts on the exhibit panels) along with images found within it, and our being able to take in all this information amidst the kind of peace that would have been broken if there had indeed been hordes of Chinese tourists about the place! 
In retrospect, I realize how little about Karl Marx I actually knew, and only found out, in Trier: including his having been born into a bourgeois family, his father having been a lawyer and a Jew who had converted to Christianity (while his mother stayed a Jew but agreed to have her children, including Karl, be raised as Protestant Christians), and Karl Marx himself having fathered seven children -- four of whom died in childbirth while two out of the remaining three (all female) had gone on to commit suicide!
Also, I'm not sure if those behind the museum meant for it to be so but I came away from my visit to the house where Karl Marx had been born feeling that he had been a bit of a fraud -- in that even while he had championed the workers of the world, he had not only come from a bourgeois background but also had led a bourgeois life that had included hosting balls at his house in London, tending to rely on financial assistance from friends, benefactors and family, and being unable to live within his means!
In addition, while the museum does devote space to showing that the ideas propagated by Karl Marx has spread throughout the world, it also points out that, in his name, some countries have been terribly misgoverned.  Among the prime examples of these are Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and the People's Republic of China -- whose dedicated panel includes photos showing the Cultural Revolution and tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Seeing that panel, I got to thinking: I sure hope that the tourist literature is right about many Chinese tourists visiting this Trier attraction. For especially if they are from the mainland and don't rush through the museum too quickly to miss seeing those striking images that I can't imagine being allowed to be shown in public in their homeland, what a valuable education they'll receive within this museum's walls! 


Bill said...


Thanks for sharing your honest and realistic "musings" of your visit to the house where Karl Marx was born...Sad how governments (regimes) have distorted Marxism for their own purposes...Ponyo manages yet again to add brightness to any photo - in this case, upstaging the statuettes of Marx and Engels.


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

Thanks for reading my blog entry and commenting on it. One additional comment: I came away from my visit to the museum with the impression that Engels deserves a lot more credit than he looks to have done, and wondering how come he's been overshadowed so much by Marx.