Short Portrait: Axel von Gagern

Axel von Gagern
Axel von Gagern

Born Dec 7th, 1913 as son of the writer Friedrich Freiherr von Gagern and his wife Ruth, countess of Kospoth, in Briese (Oels/Silesia). Von Gagern died May 25th, 2008 in Waging am See/Bavaria.

In 1933/34 he studied two semester in Berlin (German Studies, Theatre Studies) and later six semster in Breslau (today: Wroclaw) (German Studies, History, History of Art and Philosophy).  Due to "political untrustworthyness" he was forced to leave university in 1937/38 and excluded from any further studies in (Nazi)-Germany and Austria. To escape from political persecution he left Germany from 1938-39 and worked as a farmer in Tanganjika Territory (today: Tanzania).There he was imprisoned in September 1939 and repatriated to Germany in 1940. Von Gagern was a soldier in WW II and (american) prisoner of war. He was freed as seriously disabled in 1945.

In 1951 he took up university studies in Göttingen, where he studied Völkerkunde (with Plischke) as a major and Sociology and History of Art as minors.

On Dec 9th, 1954 he suceeded in his doctoral exams (the title of his dissertation in anthropology was Entstehung und Gestalt der Gemeinwesen von Uhehe and Ubena in Ostafrika (Formation and shape of communities in Uhehe and Ubena/Eastern Africa)). His dissertation was supervised by Plischke and supported by Prof. Helmuth Plessner (Philosophy/Sociology) and Prof. Heinz Rudolf Rosemann (History of Art).

From 1953 to 1956 von Gagern worked in the museum at the palace of Celle where he filed and catalogized artifacts removed from the Museum of Völkerkunde in Berlin. From 1957 to 1961 he worked at the Museum in Hanover.

In 1961 he became assistant of Robert Pfaff-Giesberg, director of the Ethnological Collection of the City of Mannheim (Reiß-Museum), and after Pfaff-Giesbergs retirement in 1964, von Gagern suceeded him as director. He especially focussed on Eastern Africa (in 1964/65 he carried out a research of half a year in Tanzania on tobacco cultivation and small farms im Urambo.

Von Gagern led the Ethnological Collection of Mannheim until 1970. From 1971 until his retirement in 1978 he was director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne. His last great exhibition on Sahara - 10000 years between pasture and desert, was shown in 1978.



1954 Entstehung und Gestalt der Gemeinwesen von Uhehe und Ubena in Ostafrika.

1961 Einige sogenannte Falschkopßftücher von Paracas. In: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 86, S.73-83

1976 Im Dienste einer Wissenschaft vom Menschen. In: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 101, S.222-229.


(text by Dieter Haller based on BAA and information provided by Vera, Freifrau von Gagern; photography by courtesy of Vera, Freifrau von Gagern, Oct. 2012)