Freddy von Bettendorff has created a unique art gallery on the foundation walls of a former water castle near Gauangelloch. An exhibition space for impressive contemporary Zimbabwean sculptures.
You enter another world on the edge of Gauangelloch. It takes a 15-kilometre ride from Heidelberg via Leimen to the former water castle owned by the von Bettendorff family. A small path on the right leads directly to the myths and spirits of Zimbabwe as you leave the village centre of Gauangelloch behind.
A huge sculpture greets you at the entrance of the estate. It is a tower made of nine stone heads stacked on top of one other. Nine different stones, nine different colours, nine different faces. The sculpture pays homage to ancestors who played a major role in Africa. And they do so also in this place. The castle has been in the von Bettendorff family for many generations—over a period of 600 years. Freddy von Bettendorf then created a unique art gallery on the foundation walls of the former castle 30 years ago.
An enchanted little park with old trees surrounds the castle. The large stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are set up on the lawn there. Some of them weigh tons, made of ancient volcanic Serpentine rock, 2.6 million years old. It comes in handy that Zimbabwe itself translates as “home of the stones.” The park looks like a fairytale garden. Each stone sculpture tells a different story: a mother with a child, very close to nature, sits next to grotesque creatures or abstract figures; simple lines turn another rock into a face; a flat fish appears on a rock that is structured by blue-green veins resembling scales. There are so many figures and numerous stone types, coloured in white, beige, pink, brown, green, red or jet black. Freddy brought them all here. He lives nearby, in Nußloch, where everyone calls him “The Baron” and where he runs a hotel and a restaurant. His heartfelt project, however, is the gallery in Gauangelloch. It was sparked by love—at first sight. Freddy first saw the unusual works of art from Africa at the 1992 Expo in Seville. “These sculptures made of stone fascinated me. My girlfriend at the time knew their owner.”
On the edge of Gauangelloch…
… is the former water castle of the von Bettendorff family.
Freddy von Bettendorff has created a unique art gallery here.
With impressive sculptures from Zimbabwe.
The enchanted little park...
… brings visitors closer to the myths and spirits of Zimbabwe.
An unusual space...
....for impressive contemporary art.
The von Bettendorff family have lived in the Electoral Palatinate since the 14th century. They attended the prince electors, were treasurers and Schultheiße, that is mayors, and owned estates in Gauangelloch and Mauer as well as villas in Heidelberg, such as the building of today’s Kurpfälzisches Museum. Coming back from the Expo, Freddy decided to turn his family’s property into an art gallery, both outdoors and inside the former house of worship in the park.
These sculptures made of stone fascinated me
Freddy von Bettendorff
Freddy is actually no proprietor of art galleries or even art historian, rather just an open person—open to art. With his decision he simply started to rely on his gut feeling and set up this gallery for contemporary African art for the sculptures from Zimbabwe. The idea became a huge success, despite the risk of establishing it in such a remote, poorly connected location in the neighbourhood of Heidelberg. The press, radio and television reported from France and the Benelux countries shortly after its opening in 1993, among them several art experts who stated that an art gallery like this one is hard to find in Germany and Europe and that actual world art—by artists, whose works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and other major museums around the world—is on display here in this village.
Great support and help has come from a Zimbabwean, Roy Guthrie. He has become Freddy’s partner and friend. Together they own the largest collection of Zimbabwean sculptures in the world. Roy has been promoting Shona Art works since the 1970s, which were initially created by unassuming workers from the Shona people; today, artists from different peoples of Zimbabwe are involved.
Roy organises large exhibitions all over the world. The Bettendorff art gallery has been a venue for his exhibitions from 1994. That year he organised a show at the Palmengarten botanical gardens in Frankfurt managing to squeeze Gauangelloch in before that. The huge expenses for transporting the exhibits more than 8,000 kilometres had already been covered. Baron, hotelier and businessman Freddy became a passionate amateur gallery owner after this sensational initial exhibition. Art historian Beatrix Altmann-Schmitt shares this passion and is always on site when the gallery is open or artists from Zimbabwe give workshops there or when Freddy organises exhibitions elsewhere, as he did in the Schwetzingen Palace gardens in 2022.
The first work Freddy bought was a sculpture by Bernhard Matemera. It is a creature with monkey hands, a bird head and a rhinoceros nose, protecting his park. Its creator went to Gauangelloch and told Freddy on this visit that he always takes the rough stone to bed before he sets to work on it. Then he has a dream about what the rock wants to become, because in every stone lives a spirit that talks to him. The sculptures tell stories of the faiths and cultures of the Zimbabweans. But also about the AIDS epidemic that has hit the country so hard. A sculpture by Joseph Muzondo with a large hole, twisted and battered, is called Living with the virus. This metre-high figure made of Springstone rock was part of the advertising campaign for 2000 Expo in Hanover, Freddy recalls.
All sculptures are hand-crafted, without machines. This is sometimes very hard work. Serpentine rock comes in different colours and degrees of hardness. Springstone is the hardest type. It takes just one wrong strike and the figure is gone. One of the gallery’s recent purchases is special: a shiny green-gold sculpture by Benjamin Katiyo, entitled My first born. The rock itself is special, too. It is virtually unobtainable for art, because rare earths are so abundant in it that the quarries are all bought up. Then it ends up in our chips, mobile phones and other electronic devices.
“The high number of forgeries is another problem,” the gallery owner says regretfully. There are many sculptors who copy and sell. The works of Henry Munyaradzi are among them as well as the many life-size “Mamas” by Colleen Madamombe. “I visited Waterfront in Cape Town. Plenty of these Mamas are sold there. They are all fake, but well made, hard to tell apart.” What you can tell apart is the price. You can get a fake sculpture for 500 to 1,000 euros, whereas an original starts at 10,000 euros. And speaking of finances: Is the art gallery profitable? The Baron laughs. “I make sure that I break even at least. If it were just a hobby, I’d have stress from the tax office.”
Freddy’s associate Roy has actually dissolved all his camps in Europe and the US and moved them here, to this small, African enclave—to this world of spirits and myths in the middle of the old castle park in Gauangelloch.
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