Out of all the major world capitals, Berlin has the most peculiar outlook on wealth. In this “poor but sexy” city individuals who are wealthy either because of professional success, or even more so if their wealth was inherited, are criticized by the young creative community. Nowhere is reason for such wealth-bashing more apparent than in Mitte, where banks and corporations have all but pushed out the lower class from the area, most evident by the disintegration of Kunsthaus Tacheles.
So when I found out that I would be interviewing the notoriously wealthy former chairman of Wella AG and art collector at me Collectors Room in Mitte, I thought we would have absolutely nothing in common. Yet, although our net worths could not be further apart, the truth is that collector Thomas Olbricht was nothing like the filthy rich, controversial figure I had read about, but instead a normal guy who has a great creative instinct, a wicked sense of humor, and most of all, a passionate, lifetime love of art.
A Lifetime Collection
The setting for our meeting was the great room of me Collectors room, home to Olbricht’s newest exhibition, “Wonderful: Humboldt, Krokodil, & Polke.” The collection combines Northern Renaissance works such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder with contemporary art and scientific oddities, such as mounted insects and a stuffed giant tortoise, to create a modern-day Cabinet de Curiousitie. When asked how he chose which works to include in the collection, Olbricht replied "I don’t really know how I choose to put this collection together, it could be only my natural sense,” smiling from ear to ear as he looked around at his work. “I like humor but I also like difficult things; I put it in my head altogether and make a new fantastic world out of it.”
Olbricht has been a collector since he was five years old; he started with collecting stamps. “I discovered the world through stamps, so at that time I saw plants, animals, discoverers of the world and others,” he explained. “Later I began to collect art nouveau pieces, then Africana and so on, but 60 years later I still collect stamps.”