Art, Nature, Ghosts, and Ice Cream: Transcultural Assemblages of Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau (1785–1871) and Machbuba/Ajiamé/Billilee

  • Freya Schwachenwald (Author)


Today, Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau (1785–1871) is known either as a landscape planner, as an eccentric bon vivant, or as a flavor of ice-cream. Discourses today represent him as an early example of German worldliness, juxtaposing him with the Humboldt brothers and Johann W. Goethe. These representations blur the complex asymmetric power relations that lie behind his construction as a historical subject. His subjectivity emerges through processes of knowledge production on the world, nature, art, humans, and objects. While German colonial history is often considered as having consisted of a short episode from the 1880s to 1920, this article sets out to unlearn these assumptions: the aim is not to rewrite German colonial history, but to investigate in which way colonialism as a fragmentation of the world naturalizes and maintains hierarchical knowledge systems through abstraction, aestheticization, and subject-creation. First, this paper investigates the dominant narratives in Pückler’s Andeutungen über Landschaftsgärtnerei (1834), Aus Mehemed Ali’s Reich (1844), and his gardens in Muskau and Branitz as constructions of the world as ideal nature. Second, this paper analyzes the contradictory historiography on Pückler, from the propagation of ice-cream recipes during the German Empire, to National-Socialist ideas on German landscapes, to contemporary representations of Pückler as a cosmopolitan creator of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Finally, the paper critically examines the relations of humans, objects, and aesthetics within Pückler’s ecological thought. Here, the focus lies on silenced narratives and the entanglements of his understandings of nature and slavery, with a particular focus on Machbuba/Ajiamé/Bilillee, a group of enslaved women who traveled with Pückler through North Africa and the Middle East between 1834 and 1840.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
German colonialism, landscapes, constructing individuality, food history, women's studies, subaltern studies