17 November 2021 was the date for an unveiling event of note and grand party evening. We celebrated the 150th birthday anniversary of the Lithuanian born Hermann Kallenbach, celebrated architect and close friend of Mohandas Gandhi during Gandhi’s time in South Africa.
The event was the culmination of a partnership project of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and the Lithuanian Embassy in South Africa. The latter has sponsored research into the life of Hermann Kallenbach.
Hermann Kallenbach (Johannesburg Whose Who 1928-29)
The main event was the party and talks at The Tents in Grove Road, now the home of Mr and Mrs Ken Rayner who joined with the Embassy in playing host. Two blue plaques were unveiled, one at the top end of Kallenbach Drive just below the dry stone rock wall erected by Hermann Kallenbach in the early 1930s. The second was at 8 Grove Road where Kallenbach erected a simple rondavel home in vernacular style built of koppie stone and roofed with thatch (see main image).
The Tents Blue Plaque (Kathy Munro)
In his day Kallenbach planted a vegetable garden and an orchard on the rocky slopes of Mountain View. Many of the magnificent trees we see today were planted by Kallenbach including a great pepper tree so symbolic of a pre automobile age when transport to Orange Grove from the city was by tram down the Orange Grove Hill or by horse and buggy or carriage. Motor cars were just coming into fashion. There is also a giant eucalyptus tree that dates back to Kallenbach’s making of this small hillside suburb. Top terraces where the houses are located offer magical view sites to the north of the city.
View from the Linksfield Ridge (The Heritage Portal)
The storm on the ridge during the celebrations was dramatic… grey, black, dark sky... terrifying to watch the thunder and lightning. We did a speedy unveiling of the blue plaque below the Kallenbach wall with a small party of about 12 people. The unveiling was done by the Lithuanian Ambassador, The Honourable Mr Dainius Junevicius. The group then proceeded to 8 Grove Road (The Tents). This was the home of Hermann Kallenbach from 1909 to 1914 in parallel with the experimental farm residence with Gandhi at Tolstoy Farm at Lawley (near Lenasia today).
We had intended a second blue plaque unveiling but that became a virtual nod in the face of the storm. When the rain abated the guests, now about 40 people from the Lithuanian embassy, the JHF, the architecture profession and members of the Kallenbach family, were offered a glass of wine and walked up the winding path to the top terrace.
Vernacular thatched stone lapa built by Hermann Kallenbach. A lovely garden of terraced lawns, rock pools. A Gandhi statue welcomes guests (Kathy Munro)
The welcome and presentations were done in the lapa built by Kallenbach and his artisans and labourers who he trained as stone masons and builders. The Kallenbach Rondavel was open for viewing and Kallenbach photographs were on display along with a small collection of India focused books.
All enjoyed the strong spiritual sense of place on the Mountain View ridge with its extraordinary history. There was a touch of humour in the naming of this home as during the construction phase, Kallenbach, sometimes joined by Gandhi camped out under canvas in two bell tents.
Hermann Kallenbach’s first home was The Kraal in Orchards at 15 Pine Road designed around two rondavals. Kallenbach invited Gandhi to share that home prior to Gandhi going to England (to appeal to the British parliament to grant better human rights terms for Indian settlers in South Africa by the new Union of South Africa). Today the Kraal is a Gandhi / Kallenbach museum and guest house named Satyagraha House which also has a blue plaque.
Old photo of Satyagraha House
Satyagraha House (The Heritage Portal)
Blue Plaque (The Heritage Portal)
Professor Kathy Munro delivered a passionate presentation on the story of Hermann Kallenbach, his friendship with Gandhi and early life in Mountain View. Eric Itzkin spoke on the subject of the books featuring Kallenbach and Gandhi and their history in Johannesburg, including his own book Gandhi’s Johannesburg.
Alkis Doucakis's book “In the Footsteps of Gandhi" focused on the Linksfield Ridge and the title did not do full justice to the role of Hermann Kallenbach in the shaping and making of Johannesburg and the suburbs of north east Johannesburg. Kallenbach did build a home in Linksfield on the ridge but that did not happen until 1928 and followed his trials and tribulations during the First World War. When identified as a German national, Kallenbach spent nearly three years as a war internee on the Isle of Man and in London’s Alexandra Palace.
Kathy explained that, with the support of the Lithuanian government and in partnership with Dr Shimon Lev in Israel, she has been researching a biography of Hermann Kallenbach to separate fact from fiction, myth from reality and to bring Kallenbach out from the shadows of the Gandhi dominance.
Gandhi and Kallenbach
He was a fine man, a prominent architect, a pioneer of Johannesburg and generous philanthropist who was keenly interested in Zionism from as early as 1913. Kallenbach was a man who designed synagogues but also churches; he crossed racial, class and religious boundaries. His career in architecture spanned over four decades. He died in 1945 at his home on Linksfield ridge, named Lower House.
Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven.