A visit to Riga and Haus Mentzendorff
Mentzendorff’s House found in Riga is one of the most beautiful dwellings in the Baltic.
It was built in 1695 by Jirgen Helm, glasscutter and Elder of the Small Guild. Up to 1939 the house belonged to several owners and leaseholders and now it is named after the last owner – merchant August Mentzendorff. In 1992 after being renovated by a branch of the Riga Museum of History and Navigation, Mentzendorff’s house opened its doors to present the social-cultural traditions of wealthy Rigans.
Magnificent and original wall and ceiling paintings (17th-18th century) are the basis of the exposition. A fine selection of interior objects conforms to these colourful visions of the past. A pharmacy and tea shop premises situated on the ground floor (in the turn of the 19th-20th century August Mentzendorff sold the best coffee in the town), there is a big oak Baroque table that once belonged to the Treasury Colleguim of the Riga Town Council and was used for counting money, it is surrounded with a ridged edge so that the “Thalers” (old silver German coins) would not fall off. The hall was one of the most significant rooms in the house as visitors would judge the affluence of their host by it. The kitchen has a unique mantel chimney and the floor is covered with authentic dolomite slabs. The most luxurious rooms are located on the first floor, the walls decorated with paintings through to the Dancing Hall, the Parlour, while the Poet’s room is decorated with a Sicilian landscape. A family chapel ceiling fascinates with a vibrant painting of Whitsuntide theme with allegories of Hope, Love and Faith.
One of the rooms on the second floor serves as a small museum in remembrance of August Mentzendorff’s grandson professor D. A. Loeber where you can find various exhibits such as a sword from 1918, 1930s wallpaper, glaziers tools all of which were found in the house, archive materials and various photos have been donated by the descendants of the Mentzendorff family. Prescriptions of the chemist’s with signatures testifies the location of the chemist’s shop in the building at 1830s. Another exhibit is one of the most popular drinks in northern European countries – a bottle of Mentzendorff Kummel.
Since the 16th century Kummel has been a staple drink of Holland, Denmark, Latvia and won the heart of Russia’s Peter the Great, when he first tasted it in 1696 in Amsterdam. But this caraway seeds liqueur did not garner half the reputation or commercial success it would see until a century later when, in Latvia in 1823, Dutch Baron von Blanckenhagen established the Allasch distillery on his country estate near Riga so he could produce his family’s personal kummel recipe: a distillate of cumin, caraway, and sugar beet spirit. The business rapidly developed and, in 1850, the baron approached Ludwig Mentzendorff to export the product to London. The young man agreed on the condition that his name appeared on the label and the rights to the products were his and his alone. Thus Mentzendorff Kümmel was born.
Mentzendorff house is very much alive now and not only with beautifully restored walls, ceiling paintings and exhibits, but also with cultural events taking place there. Exhibitions in the attic exhibition hall are changed monthly while under the vaults of the historical cellar visitors can admire the work of Glass Art & Study Centre members or take part in art classes. A part of a history is Mentzendorff Kummel too which is still distilled by original recipe dated to 1823.