A restless nature is one of the traits which has existed in the Krohn family since time immemorial. Perhaps this also explains the emigration of our family from the beautiful island of Rügen in Germany to St Petersburg and thence, finally, to “pure and undisturbed” Finland.
In the German town of Richtenberg there is a 15th century red brick church with pointed Gothic windows, the tower of which rises high above the treetops. There we can find the first evidence of our family history in Germany. In the floor of the church is a large gravestone, in the centre of which can be seen the family device of a crane with the words: “Niclaus Cron, Susanna Rampe and their descendants”. Looking from the device towards the edge nearest the altar is the inscription: “Here lies Niclaus Krohn, died 6th August 1617”. The name has changed with the passage of time.
It may be assumed that the name Krohn derives from the word for crane used in northern Germany. It was also a sort of nickname for grown-up, proud and ostentatious people. In the device the crane is holding a stone in one foot. Konrad von Megenburg wrote in his Book of Nature from 1350: “The crane is a symbol of alertness. He should not fall asleep. In order to stay awake the crane grips a stone, then if he becomes sleepy the stone falls from his grip and he wakens.”
Well known descendants of Niclaus in Rügen (Vorpommern) were the mayor, Johann Krohn (primi gradus, a person belonging to the upper class); his son, the horticulturalist, Johann Friedrich Krohn, as well as his sons, Johann Emanuel Krohn, Court Kapellmeister in St Petersburg and the precentor and organist, David Erdmann Krohn, father of our actual ancestor, Abraham Krohn (1766-1827).
From Richtenberg we cross a bridge to the green, picture-book island of Rügen with its limestone cliffs. There in the small village of Poseritz stands the house of David Erdmann Krohn. This is the house where Abraham was born and which has recently been very well restored.
Abraham Krohn (1766-1827) and Elisabet Krohn née Balzer (1770-1837)
Abraham at the Court of Catherine the Great
The family decided that it would be best for the 15 year old Abraham to leave the small island of Rügen for the big wide world and to travel to St Petersburg. St Petersburg was in vogue and a strong German community existed there. Furthermore, Abraham’s uncle was Court Kapellmeister and he could take the young man under his wing.
Abraham received one Kronentaler, two shirts, a pair of stockings and a blessing. With these he set off on his journey. His hopes were realised as he became an apprentice in the court bakery. However, the baker was a heavy drinker and Abraham had to take over the book keeping for the business. When the baker died Abraham quietly took his place.
As court baker to Catherine II one of his duties was to bring the bread each morning to the empress who was usually still in her nightgown. For security reasons he was also required to taste the bread in order to prove that it was not poisoned.
What happened next is very circumspectly documented in the early tales and history. Only Aino Kallas (née Krohn) dared to use the word “lover” in her book Katinka Rabe. Knowing Catherine’s taste for fine young men — and Abraham was a tall, dark haired youth with sparkling eyes — it’s not difficult to imagine why the Empress was in such a good mood one morning that she said to Abraham he could ask for whatever he wanted and his wish would be granted.
Abraham told the Empress of his dream. He would like to build a brewery to produce English style beer and to have the monopoly for the production. This type of beer was not yet available in Russia. The soft water from the River Newa would be particularly well suited for this quality of beer, and Russia had plenty of hops and barley. Abraham said he would just need a piece of land beside the Newa and a small starting capital. His English friend Danielson was an experienced brewer and would certainly agree to become his partner. If he could have one thousand roubles then he could get started.
The empress burst out laughing: “One thousand roubles will get you nothing!”
Catherine gave Abraham a piece of land beside the Newa, the patent for the brewery and 30,000 roubles starting capital. The brewery was successful and expanded. Abraham became a prosperous and respected citizen. The indications are that Catherine gave other gifts to Abraham: one of the Krohns from Madeira still possesses a snuff box decorated with pearls and precious stones and decorated with the initials of Catherine the Great.
The brewery is still functioning today under the name of Stepan Razin, and is one of the largest in Russia. After the end of communism a painting of Abraham Krohn with his German wife, Elisabeth Balzer (1770-1837) was hung in a place of honour in the brewery’s historical museum. In a glass showcase is the Russian version of the family history written in London by Nicolai Krohn in 1888.
The birth place of Abraham Krohn on the island of Rügen.
The call to Madeira
Abraham and Elisabeth Krohn had many sons. Andreas Johann Krohn fought against Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars and died in Vienna. August David Krohn was a biologist in Bonn and wrote a thesis in which he corrected Darwin’s mistakes. Darwin respected August Krohn and recognised the corrections in his later works. Friedrich Alexander Krohn continued his father’s work as a brewer. However, the damp climate of St Petersburg did not suit his two sons, Nicolai and Wilhelm Krohn. They moved to Madeira and founded a wine lodge, with their father’s money behind them. Later both married the daughters of a well-known English wine maker, William Grant.
Madeira wine was sold throughout the world and their winery was world famous. The Krohn brothers were purveyors of Madeira wine to the Russian Czars, and their wine was enjoyed in many European imperial courts. The winery still exists, although the last member of the Krohn family on Madeira died several years ago. Over the years many Krohns from Madeira moved to England.
Even in the 1990s Krohn Brothers Madeira could be obtained in Finland. Production was ended because the process was too complicated. According to Majlen Ekberg, Krohn Brothers Madeira was still obtainable at that time in Ekbergs Café, a traditional café in Helsinki.
The winery is under new ownership and recently the famous old label of Krohn Brothers Madeira has been revived, although with a more modern and simpler production technique.
The former Krohn family house with its white painted walls and wrought iron railings still stands in the town of Funchal. The garden is full of pineapple trees and palms with a beautiful view over the roofs of the town towards the shimmering blue sea.
Pure and undisturbed Finland
One of the sons of Abraham and Elisabeth, Leopold Wilhelm Krohn (1806-1890) was completely different from the others. He was interested in playing the cello and loved the arts. He did not appreciate the middle class business world of St Petersburg and dreamt of going in other directions.
The pure and undisturbed Finland shone in his eyes. Whilst on a musical visit to the Kiiskilä estate near Wiborg he became enchanted by the country. Finland’s well tended countryside, its forests, lakes, nature and friendly people were in complete contrast to St Petersburg.
There is something quite different in the portrait of Leopold Wilhelm as a child from the portraits of his brothers. He has an expressive look. In his hand he is holding a map and pointing to something with a resolute intention: could it be Finland?
Julie, the very beautiful and talented daughter of the owners of Kiiskilä, Friedrich and Anna Dannenberg, may well have had something to do with Leopold’s falling in love with Finland. Julie spoke eight languages and was an accomplished piano player.
Finland was Leopold Wilhelm Krohn’s destiny.
When he finally plucked up the courage to hold Julie’s hand she had prepared well for the moment. She had ordered boxes of pineapples (quite difficult to come by at the time) and hung them on the branch of a tree which was just behind her favourite bench. There, under the scent of a tree decorated with pineapples, she said ‘yes’ to Wilhelm.
Julie and Wilhelm Krohn married in 1834. Their marriage was described as a deep and passionate lifelong love.
Julie’s father, Friedrich Dannenberg came from a family who had emigrated from Brandenburg to Finland in the 1630s and who had become completely Finnish. These were the best years for Kiiskilä, although the history of the property went back to the 1560s. “Old” Dannenberg was a dreamer. He had the old buildings demolished and commissioned the French architect, Villiers, to design a new building. This was an impressive Palladian style wooden palace approached by a drive lined with laurel trees. The building was rectangular. The main entrance at the front featured Doric columns beneath a gable with a large semi-circular window. The plan of the building was simple. In the centre of the ground floor was the large salon connecting to other salons and living quarters. Extending out on the garden side was a glazed veranda, above which was a balcony supported by columns.
In the garden Dannenberg’s fantasies had free rein! The property stood in more than 600 hectares, most of which was forest, grazing land and meadows. Compared to other similar properties at this time it was not particularly large. The difference was that the garden alone covered more than 40 hectares.
Aino Kallas, who could not forget Kiiskilä from her childhood, wrote in Katinka Rabe: “Friedrich ‘Fatabur’ treated his beautiful, natural forested land like a painter would treat his inspiration. He began to transform it according to his imagination. And because beauty, rather than utility or income, was the main focus of his redesign, within a few years Kiiskilä was transformed into one the most beautiful properties in eastern Finland.” And the house was “like a small Italian Palazzetto.”
On each side of the main entrance was a small canon which welcomed visitors with a canon shot.
The garden was designed on the lines of the famous gardens of Malmaison and Trianon. There were mazes in the park. Acacia, whitethorn and lilac bushes were cut into the shape of walls, spheres, lions or dragons. Nymphs and statuettes made of wood were hidden among the foliage. It was said that Dannenberg made the sculptures himself, as well as many other details on the property. He wanted to have lots of paths leading everywhere, so miles of them were laid out. Of course it was important that they should be raked every morning.
“The pathways ran along the bank, around every peninsular and every bay. They turned away to the most remote parts of the park, between wild, ice age creations where the parkland becomes an undisturbed wilderness. It was as if ‘Fatabur’s’ desire for beauty was in a hurry, only stopping briefly at the little Roman temples which he had built here and there”, writes Kallas.
The main entrance at Kiiskilä with the Doric columns.
Life at Kiiskilä
The house was always full of guests from neighbouring estates and from nearby towns. There were also many colourful international visitors. Hunting parties, masked balls, Venetian dinner parties, excursions by car or boat, as well as garden parties were held one after the other.
Dannenberg was very fond of instrumental music and he even brought musicians to the house from St Petersburg. He had collected enough instruments for an entire orchestra.
His particular thrill was the masked festival. He put together whole parades in the neighbouring town with trailers and boats on wheels carrying giant carnival effigies which he himself had constructed and painted. There were hunting wagons behind containing merry shepherds and pretty shepherdesses. The whole procession wound its way countless kilometres into the town and then returned, much increased in size, to the estate to continue the festivities.
In the winter there were toboggan rides with sleigh-bells.
Dannenberg had constructed on the estate a summer-house which he designed himself and which was reminiscent of a Roman temple. The apex of the gable was decorated with two linked wreaths. In the centre of each the initials FD (Friedrich Dannenberg) and LK (Leopold Wilhelm Krohn) were symbolically linked. The wreaths represented the union of the two families. Leopold William’s son Julius Krohn (1835-88) later used the summer-house as his study and wrote his dissertation there.
Initially the young couple Julie and Leopold Wilhelm only spent the summers in Kiiskilä, and in winter they returned to their house in St Petersburg.
They had several children, of whom Julius Leopold Friedrich Krohn (1835-88) was the eldest. Then Leopold August Krohn (1837-92) was born. He was a ground-breaker in military medicine. He took part in the Russian-Turkish War and later founded the Finnish Red Cross. Then Ottilie (1844-1931) and Emilie (1841-1922) were born. Emilie married Woldemar Hackman. Hackman lived from 1841 to 1870. His family had emigrated from Bremen in 1777 and were merchants in forestry and mining. This was the first of two occasions when the Hackman family became part of our family tree.
The drawing-room in Kiiskilä.
Julius Krohn wrote his dissertation in this summer-house.
Kiiskilä becomes the family home of the Krohns
As he got older Friedrich Dannenberg became increasingly introvert and gloomy. Not even the cultivation of a black rose could arouse his enthusiasm. The garden began to be neglected.
On 12 June 1841 he officially made a gift of Kiiskilä to his daughter Julie and his son-in-law Leopold Wilhelm Krohn. Other sources state that the affluent Leopold Wilhelm purchased the property from his father-in-law on the same day.
Julie was worried about the health of her children and particularly that of Julius. The air in St Petersburg was not good, therefore in 1844 the family decided to move to Kiiskilä. For nearly 54 years the estate was the central point of the family. Three generations were born, grew up and spent the best part of their life there. It was quite normal to hear six languages spoken in the house: German at breakfast, Swedish at elevenses, English at lunch and French at dinner. From time to time Russian and Finnish were also spoken.
In the middle of the 1850s it was still unthinkable that the estate would pass into the ownership of someone outside the family. Children were born there, marriages took place there, silver and golden weddings were celebrated there. Most of the children knew nowhere else in Finland. Kiiskilä was their homeland.
For Nicolai Krohn on Madeira the export business meant much foreign travel. In his Family Chronicle he tells of his long journeys to Lisbon, Spain, the south of France, northern Italy, Dresden and Berlin, and that he always dropped in to Kiiskilä at the end of his trip. And at each point in his journey there was always a relative.
Julie was very interested in the garden and she managed to keep the central part in good condition. The sand paths were also raked every morning in patterns. However, Dannenberg’s vision was gradually transformed. Vegetation started to grow out of the rococo fairy tale creatures; nymphs and statuettes collapsed in the rain. Large flower beds were laid out, and the garden became the usual type of park for a large state. Nevertheless, in the far-flung corners of the estate the new generation of children could still find secret paths, hidden ponds and fantasy hideaways.
Instead of large parties, the focus now was on reading aloud, on the arts, on skiing and on other healthy pastimes. The atmosphere was rather Lutheran.
A post card from Nicolai Krohn to his cousin Leopold Krohn in 1891, when Nicolai had already moved to London from Madeira.
Julius Krohn, campaigner for all things Finnish
Julius Krohn became a well-known researcher into Finnish national poetry. He studied under Lönnrot and was very happy that his teacher began to hold lectures in Finnish language. For him Finland and the Finnish language were the most important and essential aim in his life. He learnt the language in depth and even ventured to write his thesis in Finnish.
His motto was: the native language is the root from which the people draw their strength. If the educated homes will not become Finnish then all the efforts of the Finnish people are in vain.
He frequently had to defend his life’s aim to his mother, who put him on a pedestal at the expense of her other children. For Julius Krohn creation of the Finnish identity was identical to the creation of his own identity. He was always involved when this theme was being promoted, for example with the foundation of Suomen Kuvalehti (Finland Illustrated) which he published and of which he was editor-in-chief for many years. He was also able to give lessons in Finnish language on occasions.
His dissertation drew much attention amongst those with Finnish sympathies. According to Yrjö Koskinen (Finnish poet 1830-1903), from a national point of view this work was the most important published to date.
When Aleksis Kivi began to write his book Seven Brothers, Julius paid him a four year stipend from his own pocket and was the writer’s spiritual support. Julius could be considered as a “romantic phenomenon”, in contrast to the “political phenomena” of the time.
Two of Julius’s children were, amongst others, Kaarle Krohn, also national poetry researcher and founder of what later became the Finnish Academy, and Ilmari Krohn, musical expert and composer. One of Ilmari’s children was Felix Krohn, also a composer. The literary, technical and musical blood of the Kurki-Suonios (Finnish form of Krohn) emanates from Ilmari Krohn.
Helmi Krohn was a translator into Finnish and author. Her husband, E N Setälä, wrote the first Finnish grammar. Aino Krohn married the Estonian diplomat, Oskar Kallas, and began her career as the greatest author of her time.
Julius Krohn's children from both marriages and the spouses of Kaarle and Helmi.
Back row from left: Ilmari, Kaarle and,Helmi with E.N. Setälä. In front from left: Aune, Helena née Cleve and Aino (Kallas).
A fateful sailing trip
Leopold Wilhelm bought Julius for his birthday a large and fast centreboard yacht with three masts. When his parents were not in Kiiskilä Julius was in a high-spirited mood. Finally he could embark upon a proper sailing trip and sail as far as he wished without having to be responsible to anybody.
He took with him his favourite sister, Ottilie, and they set sail, although Ottilie had not the first idea about sailing and Julius had to manage the yacht alone. Far out on the open lake a tail wind blew up and Julius decided to set the second sail. Ottilie recalls: “I begged him not to do this; I was afraid something might happen if he left the rudder”. However, Ottilie followed his instructions, taking the rudder and holding the yacht on course.
She continued: “One moment he was standing by the mast and the next second I saw him fall into the water. I don’t know whether he was struck by the sail or whether he slipped on the wet deck.”
Ottilie rushed to the side of the yacht and threw an oar towards him, but it slipped out of his hands. “The oar is under me”, she heard Julius cry. “Pull the sails down”, he shouted. Somehow Ottilie managed to pull the sail down. Then Julius shouted from the water: “Row, row”, but Ottilie only had one oar and the yacht was drifting inexorably further away from Julius. Ottilie says she heard: “I can’t any more”. And then in mortal fear he said the words which we have said so often in the family: “Hälsa familjen!” (“Greet the family!”). Then the waves broke over him and he disappeared from sight. His disfigured body was found only six days later.
His funeral took place in 1888 attended by nearly six thousand people. His coffin was lowered into the grave bearing many wreaths. “The whole population mourned him, even the opposition party recognised his achievements for the good of the fatherland”, wrote one observer. Finland had lost one its greatest sons. He was 53 years old.
The blow was intolerable for Julie and Leopold Wilhelm. Soon after the funeral Kiiskilä was sold and the furniture was disposed of by auction. The parents returned to St Petersburg, where Julie died a year later, clearly from a broken heart. Leopold Wilhelm died the following year.
Sven (1903-99), professor of philosophy, and Eino Krohn (1902-87), professor of literature and aesthetics, as children, together with siblings.
Leopold August and the present Krohns
Julius’s brother, Privy Councillor Leopold August Krohn, was considered to be a reserved man, although according to his portraits “he always had friendly, brown eyes in the quiet manner of the master of Kiiskilä”. One can only guess how much of this shyness was caused by his mother’s adoration of Julius.
Leopold August began to interest himself in the Swedish language, as a sort of protest at the interest his mother showed for Julius’s involvement in the Finnish language. As founder of the Finnish Red Cross and father of modern military medicine he also has an undeniable place in history.
His grandchildren, sons of mining engineer Leopold Edward (Leo) Krohn (1871-1948), were Eino Krohn (1902-87) who was professor of Literature and Aesthetics; Sven Krohn (1903-99) who was professor of Philosophy; Ernst Krohn (1911-34) who was a fine artist and founder of the Lokakuu Group (October group of Expressionists), and was the last fatal victim of rabies in Finland after being bitten by his own dog; and Adolf Krohn (1913-59) editor-in-chief of Taide (Art Magazine).
The Krohn children and grandchildren in Finland today are authorities in many subjects, and are especially active in the cultural sphere.