MILLI BAU. 5000 km to Paris

May 5 to October 27, 2024   Partner project of RAY – Triennial of Photography 2024 A cooperation with the Weltkulturen Museum and the Archive of the City of Science Darmstadt

The exhibition at the TU Kunstforum and in Darmstadt's public space is the first of its kind to pay tribute to the work of journalist and photographer Milli Bau (*1906 Darmstadt – †2005 ibid.). Her impressive photographs, of which around 800 can be seen in the exhibition, bear witness to the more than 40 journeys Bau undertook from 1948 onwards, later as a feature journalist for Hamburg's »Welt« newspaper. They are a sign of cosmopolitanism and cultural understanding – and an impressive testimony to an emancipated, fearless and curious woman.

»Then I will become a migratory bird, a home nowhere, a person who is unstable and fleeting on earth.«

Milli Bau

In 1949, travel writer and photographer Emilie »Milli« Bau was the only woman to take part in a three-year expedition to South America and later traveled around the world alone in a converted VW bus. Her reports and photographs are an impressive testimony to an independent woman in Germany in the 1950s and beyond. She traveled to North Africa, the Middle East and East Asia, among other places. From 1967, she lived in Tehran for seven years. At the age of 88, she crossed Siberia. She captured all of these journeys in photographs with her Rolleiflex: insights into a world that was unknown in the West and no longer exists today.

From Milli Baus' extensive estate, with more than 6,000 slides and photographs, a concise and intimate exhibition of her travels and the woman behind the camera has been created. Julia Reichelt, Head of the TU Kunstforum, and Alice Pawlik, curator at the Weltkulturen Museum Frankfurt, as well as Kathrin Stößer as curatorial assistant have curated the exhibition in collaboration.

Exhibition in the Archive of the City of Science Darmstadt

Accompanying the exhibition at the Kunstforum der TU Darmstadt, the exhibition »Mit der Schreibmaschine um die Welt – Aus dem Nachlass von Milli Bau« on the life of Milli Bau can be seen in the city archive from June 4 to August 30, 2024.

Further information on the website of the city archive

Milli Bau was born Emilie Wissmann in Darmstadt in 1906. Her desire to travel is evident from an early age. »I think I was four years old when I set off with my father's walking stick to see 'where the sun comes out' and I am said to have put up a fierce fight when I was brought back,« she later recounts. She is enthusiastic about the books by the Swedish Asia researcher. »Why Asia in particular?« she was asked in an interview with Hessischer Rundfunk in 1988. »Because I'm the daughter of a Sven Hedin admirer. I really knew what Lhasa was before I learned about Berlin at school. (…) I have always been drawn to the East.« Between 1925 and 1926, she first traveled to Italy, where she studied the language in Bologna. Back in Darmstadt, she married Siemens director Richard Waldemar Bau in 1932. In 1939, they had their only son Gerhardt Dieter Bau, who died a year later.

»›Haben Sie eigentlich nie Heimweh?‹ Und da habe ich gesagt: ›Nein, ich habe ja niemanden mehr zuhause.‹«

Milli Bau

During the Second World War, Milli Bau is forced to work and is given the opportunity to write articles for the culture section of the Hamburg newspaper »Die Welt«. In November 1948, she embarked on the three-year expedition »Mission Cientifica Alemana« (German Andean Expedition) through the South American Amazon region as an interpreter and reporter – the only woman taking part – with the scientists Dr. Walter Forster, zoologist, Dr. Heinrich Hawickhorst, physician, Friedrich Michel, animal photographer, and Dr. Gert and under the direction of Hans Ertl (publicist and photographer).

After the death of her husband in 1953, she wrote her first book »Holy Mountains – Green Hell. A woman travels to Bolivia«, which was published a year later.

»I was the first to come up with the idea of turning a Volkswagen bus into a house on wheels.«

Milli Bau

From January 1, 1956, she travels around the world alone in a converted VW bus for the first time in four years. Her route took her via Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal to China and Japan. »And then in Beirut, a crane put my little house on land and then I set off from there and wound my way around the world, so to speak, with my work, my articles for newspapers and radio.«

It took nine years for Milli Bau to set off again in a VW bus – this time to Iran. »Caviar is a delicious delicacy – but I don't need any for the time being.« (Milli Bau). She has lived in Tehran for seven years as a correspondent for Die Welt and is close to the Pahlavi Shah family. »Here I have a fabulous place to stand in the park of the ambassador's summer residence. The old house has literally collapsed and there is nothing left in the park of the wonderful festivities that used to take place, so I stand [in my VW bus] under old trees between well-tended lawns and have a clear view of the mountains, on which snow has now fallen.« (quoted from Julica Norouzi: Milli Bau. Silk Road 1956-1974, 2017, p.15). She describes her impressions in the book »Iran. How it really is", which was published in 1974 and should be critically scrutinized by today's standards due to the unreflective enthusiasm for the Shah.

Picture: Stadtarchiv Darmstadt

Emilie »Milli« Bau

Emilie »Milli« Bau was born in Darmstadt on July 29, 1906. In 1949, she is the only woman to take part in the German Andean Expedition. From 1953, she travels the Silk Road in a VW bus. Further journeys follow. In 1996, she was awarded the Bronze Medal of Merit by the City of Darmstadt. She died at the age of 99 on October 31, 2005.

Milli Bau returned to Darmstadt in 1975. She builds up her Asia archive, which consists of more than 6,000 slides, around 4,000 books and documents and is open to the scientific community. Bau gives numerous lectures about her expeditions and experiences. She never stays in one place for long. Milli Bau travels around for her lectures well into old age. At the age of 70, she is a cultural consultant on various cruise ships and gives lectures. On her last trip, she crossed Siberia at the age of 88. There she met Professor Svetlana Prokopyeva, a lecturer at the University of Yakutsk, with whose help she, together with Dr. Ulrich Joger, organized the exhibition »Mammoths from Siberia« at the Hessian State Museum in Darmstadt. In 1996, she received the bronze plaque of merit from the city of Darmstadt for her worldwide commitment to international understanding. Milli Bau died in Darmstadt in 2005 at the age of 99.

»The unrest remains.«

Milli Bau (Hessischer Rundfunk - Kultur aktuell, 10. April 1988)

Milli Bau leaves behind an extensive pictorial work about her travels. Almost 20 years of cultural and contemporary history are captured on cellulose. Her photographic legacy can be found in the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt/Main and part of her written legacy in the Darmstadt City Archives.

In addition to the exhibition at the Kunstforum der TU Darmstadt, Milli Bau is traveling through Darmstadt. From Monday, May 6, 2024, selected photographs will be shown in the Luisencenter Darmstadt. On Saturday, June 8, 2024, the Kunstforum der TU Darmstadt invites you to the summer festival in honor of Milli Bau on Paulusplatz.

Supporting program