"You’ve come to a family of perfumers"
The Cosmetic Companies Scherk and Dr. Albersheim (Showcase Exhibition)
Costume party at Scherk in the 1960s © Regina Wenzel, photo: Jens Ziehe
"You've come to a family of perfumers" – this is how Fritz Scherk (1918-1995) was enthusiastically greeted by his family at his birth. He grew up amidst perfume bottles and powder compacts, since his father Ludwig ran the flourishing Scherk cosmetic company in Berlin. The Albersheims, who had owned a perfumery in Frankfurt since 1892, were also part of the family. Both firms survived "Aryanization," the war years, restitution, and reconstruction and were continued into the 1960s. The cabinet exhibition takes visitors on a journey through time with the Scherk and Albersheim family and company history. Alongside family history exhibits, numerous products will be displayed, among them 100 on loan from a private collector.
Traditionally dominated by the French, the cosmetic industry also gained in importance in Germany during the German Empire. Among the successful entrepreneurs was Moritz Albersheim – who founded the Dr. Albersheim perfumery in Frankfurt in 1892 – and the former Dr. Albersheim employee Ludwig Scherk, who established his own cosmetic company in Berlin. The exhibition "You've Come to a Family of Perfumers" outlines the stories of these two companies connected by family ties. In seven parts it tells not only the history of two companies, but also the stories of two middle-class German-Jewish families in the 20th century – from the German Empire to Germany's "economic miracle years."
The central figure of the exhibition is Ludwig Scherk's son Fritz, who built up the firm again in the post-war era. His daughter, Irene Scherk, has donated her father's bequest as well as historical cosmetic products from her own collection to the Jewish Museum Berlin. Photos, documents, and in particular diary entries from the period between the wars by Fritz's mother, Alice Scherk, reflect a very secular family that attached little importance to religious rituals but much weight to moral principles.
The Heyday of the 1920s
The 1920s were the heyday of the Scherk and Dr. Albersheim firms. The Frankfurt company conquered the market with a perfume and cosmetics line that shared the same fragrance ("Khasana") – the first such integrated line in Germany. Meanwhile, Ludwig Scherk established a network of company branches that extended beyond Germany's borders. Facial toner and the "Mystikum" powder compact were Scherk product hits. Well-known designers such as F.H. Ehmcke were involved in the creation of cosmetic articles. The Scherk factory in Berlin was built by Fritz Höger, who also built the "Chilehaus" in Hamburg.
The success stories of many Jewish firms came to an end with the Nazi rise to power and the "Aryanization" in the years that followed. Ludwig Scherk was forced to sell his company to Schering AG for a price substantially below its actual value in 1938. The Dr. Albersheim company was taken over by Dr. Korthaus, a former senior manager at the "IG Farben" concern. The change of logo and label on the exhibited products are evidence of the ruin of the Jewish family companies. Members of both families emigrated to England, France, and the USA.
"Scherk is Back": Compensation and the Post-war Years
Fritz Scherk, the principal heir of the firm's deceased founder, returned to Germany in 1950, having applied for compensation from Israel and having bought the company back from Schering. He announced his fresh start in a letter to the trade: "Scherk is back." Newspaper reports, photos of the reconstruction, and compensation files tell of this time. Fritz Scherk reestablished the family-like business culture his father had begun until he sold the firm in 1969. The Scherk company events and parties – at which the boss played music and recited his own poetry - were legendary.
The exhibition was designed by the company Kaiser Matthies Communication and Exhibition Design and curated by Dr. Iris Blochel-Dittrich and Leonore Maier of the Jewish Museum Berlin.
2 September 2010 - 31 January 2011
Libeskind Building, Rafael Roth Learning Center
with the Museum ticket
We are sincerely indebted to Irene Scherk for the bequest of her father’s estate, and to a private collector in Berlin for lending us more than one hundred product packagings.