Mathilde (‘Tilli’) Wolff-Mönckeberg (1879–1958) was born and died in Hamburg, and experienced the best and worst that the twentieth century had to offer. The patrician Mönckebergs were prominent in the life of Germany’s greatest trading city (an entry in her mother’s diary for one day during the 1890s, when Tilli’s father was First Burgomaster, shows Prince Bismarck expected for lunch and Johannes Brahms for dinner) and typified the industrious, cosmopolitan virtues that reigned unchallenged in Hamburg for centuries.
Then, in 1933, the ‘common little house-painter from Austria’ – whom the Mönckebergs and the other elite clans despised so heartily – came to power and everything changed. Tilli and her friends withdrew into their trusted circle, saving their contempt for the Nazis for private conversations and diaries. Since 1925