Ella Fitzgerald described her as „the best singer without a voice“. Her mother pronounced her “talent-free”. And during her test performance at the State Film School in Babelsberg her typical Berlinerisch pronunciation and the habit of swallowing word-endings made the examiners cringe. Yet despite all those apparent shortcomings, Hildegard Knef, who never claimed to be a talent or a beauty, became a head-turner, a star and a legend. And not only in Berlin.

Hildegard Knef on stage in Eindhoven in the play “Nicht von Gestern”. Photo by Wim van Rossem / Anefo – Nationaal Archief.

Today’s mood in Berlin – it must have been April, too, when Lesser Ury made sketches for this painting in 1910 on Kurfürstendamm. Back in the days when Charlottenburg was an independent city said to have been the wealthiest municipality in Prussia.

Ury himself lived at Nollendorfplatz 1 in Berlin W30 (the old postal code for Schöneberg). At the time his biggest “enemy” (it was more of a bitter competition but not one marked by malice) had his studio almost exactly 3.3 km north-east of Ury’s, in the very heart of fine Berlin. Professor Max Liebermann, the heavy-weight of Berlin art-world, and his family resided on the second floor of the house Pariser Platz No. 7.

The anecdote has it that when Lesser Ury allegedly began to spread a rumour that it was him and not Liebermann who created the exquisite light-effects in the master’s famous 1887 painting, “Flax Scourers in Laren”, Liebermann – famous for his direct ways and sense of humour – responded: “I can’t be bothered to sue Herr Ury – unless he starts telling people that it was I who painted his paintings.”

Lesser Ury “Am Kurfürstendamm”, 1910 (image PD via Wikipedia, original painting in a private collection )