PHOTO. Valdeki manor in the light of the “press empire”: what does the home of the legendary Benjamins look like?
Valdeki manor in the reflection of the “press empire”
Andris Tiļļa, “Mājas Viesis”, JSC “Latvijas Mediji”
This autumn, the multi-series film “Emilia. Queen of the Latvian Press ”(“ Mistrus media ”) – a story about the interwar grandmother of the Latvian press – the popular publisher of“ Jaunjaun Ziņu ”and“ Atpūtas ”Emilija Benjamins, whose personality, wealth and tragic fate have become a legend.
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The footage of the film was also made in Benjamiņi rural residence – Valdeki manor, where Pēteris Benjamiņš, Emilija’s grandson, manages and guards family history. Let’s get to know these manors in time and space!
An elegant gentleman in a suit comes out of the manor in front of us, the trouser legs are ironed so sharp that you could cut a loaf of bread. You can immediately feel the sophisticated style and taste. We meet Pēteris Benjamins, the owner of Valdeki manor, one of the descendants of the Benjamin family. He was born in 1943, and went with his parents as refugees to Germany, then to Great Britain, and then to Canada. He returned to Latvia in 2002. The family of his daughter and Emilija’s granddaughter Lisa Emilija Rugele has been living in Latvia since 1995.
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Pēteris Benjamiņš Emilija’s husband Antons Benjamiņš regained the Valdeķi manor, acquired in 1931, in 1995. “At that time I was still living in Canada, there was a polyclinic in the manor. My mother Johanna settled here first. I first came to Valdeki manor in 1989, fortunately the manor was half well preserved, but the park had lost its former appearance – several places were overgrown with bushes, ”Pēteris recalls.
In the manor he preserves and protects the history of the Benjamin family, including the memory of his father Juris Benjamins – he even tells the lives of Juris, shows photographs that can be seen in the exposition created by Peter Benjamin’s mother Johanna. It is interesting that Juris Benjamins was one of the pioneers of color photography in Latvia. The exhibition also includes photographic evidence from an expedition to the Bahamas underwater caves (the well-known French underwater explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, who collaborated with Benjamin, gave his name to one of the caves near the Bahamas), as well as the work of a photo laboratory in Canada. Juris Benjamiņš (1918–1993), born as Georg Aihers, acquired the Benjamins surname in 1926, when his mother Annija’s older sister, publisher Emīlija Benjamiņa, adopted her. The two sisters agreed that if Annie had another child, Georg would be adopted and he would be the heir to the “press empire.”
Pēteris Valdeķi manages all farm work, cuts old branches of trees, mows grass with a tractor, takes care of his apple orchard and vines. “At first, my mother had planted a few apples dedicated to each grandchild, now a lot of apples, about ten varieties. I intended to make wine from apples, but the juice I squeeze is healthier. ” Peter shows an apple orchard and invites you to see the vines, from which he has created a decorative arch. The park has been cultivated, there are also memorial trees, for example, an oak tree for Pēteris’ father Juris Benjamins, it was planted on July 29, 2018, when Juris celebrated his centenary. “At that time, 74 relatives took part in the celebrations,” Peteris recalls.
The Benjamin family is large, and the public has always been interested in Benjamin. Are there many tourists visiting the manor? “A couple of groups come in a month, in the past I allowed weddings and other entertainment in the manor, but lately I want peace. After all, the manor is my private property, I live in it, I don’t want strangers to move here, ”says the owner of the manor. As we walk around the area, we notice our assistants. “Yes, I have some, Anton had about a hundred!”
The manor is an important property for the cultural history of Latvia, it should be added that during the Soviet occupation it was used by the Kandava State Farm. What will be the future of Valdeki manor? “Since I have three daughters and six grandchildren, I will not own the property they will start with the manor,” Peter replies. We are also talking about the film “Emilija. Queen of the Latvian Press ”. That is acceptable to him. Peter reveals a lesser-known fact that Emilija’s wealth was enhanced by her courage to introduce new technologies – she imported envelope folding machines from Germany (more than 1000 envelopes folded per hour!), As well as color printing presses and special printing ink, which she sold in bulk.
Exactly today, on September 23, when “Mājas Viesis” is published, only in 1941, Emilija, a successful press publisher, died in a deportation to a Soviet slave camp. believes that the money will not allow to die, moreover, Professor Kirhenstein, a long-term employee of the “Latest News”, has been appointed President of Soviet Latvia, and Benjamin’s protégé Vilis Lācis has been appointed Prime Minister.
Her other employees in the Russian government had also held senior positions, and Ms. Benjamin did not yet know that any of them would help. She sits in the waiting rooms of Viļa Lāčs every day, waiting in vain for the welcome and material-based writer to listen to her. Spriņģis, the former reporter of Jaunais Ziņu, now the organizer of Viļa Lāčs’ visitors, always says that the Prime Minister is very busy for the lady to arrive tomorrow. to read books!
“To take those big possessions. I have a diamond left in my bag. I don’t need much anymore… ”I have never seen this naively sincere, sleepy woman in sleepy self-suggestion. I sincerely wish her all the best, and we are kindly divorced – so that you will never see me again, ”writes Jānis Kārkliņš (“ King of the Press ”, Friend of Books, New York, 1962).
In 1845, the owner of the manor, Nikolaus von Koskuls, created a Valdeki manor from some of the peasant houses of Aizdzire manor, which he gave as a gift to his wife, his friend Luiz. Haanai. The Valdeki manor house building was built in 1882, probably designed by Kurzeme architect Teodors Zeilers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the manor belonged to the ambassador Eizen Schwartz. In 1931, it would be heavily lowered from the sculptor Arnolds Dzirkalis for 45 thousand. Antons Benjamiņš (1860–1939), the king of the Latvian press and a millionaire, bought the lats. At the end of the 1930s, Antons and Emīlija Benjamiņi soon established the Valdeki manor as a model farm – the “pearl of the Latvian countryside”.
(Source: I. Dišlere, A. Ozola “Manor in rural cultural environment”, Tukums Museum, 2002)
Benjamin real estate
According to Peter Benjamin, the estate of Anton and Emilia indicates nine properties. The most well-known to the public:
• Shop “Burtnieks” in Riga, Lielaja Kaleju street 29 (destroyed)
• Next to it – “Latest News” publishing house (destroyed)
• Pfāba Castle in Riga, K. Barona Street 12 (in the 90s the house was inherited by Benjamins’ descendants, who sold the house to Lithuanians, in 2006 the house was renovated, this year the hotel Europa Royale Rīga was sold to SIA Benjaminu nams for 4.82 million euros represented by the real estate developer – Estonian company Kapitel)
• Valdeki manor near Kandava (inherited by Peter Benjamin)
• Villa in Jūrmala, Jūras Street 13 (Peter Aihers, grandson of Emilia’s sister Annija Simsone, bought out a part of the Benjamin family, rented it to a rich man in Russia)
• House in Jūrmala, 135 Bulduri Avenue (the property of Jānis Benjamins, son of Anton Benjamins, was leased for 99 years to Russia, which has established the residence of the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Latvia there)
• House in Riga, Miera Street 2 (destroyed in the Second World War)
• Courtyard house in Riga, K. Valdemāra street 23 (inherited by Kristīne, Kārlis and Marija Čakstes)
• Property in Riga, Blaumaņa Street 9 – it was acquired by Annija Simsone’s grandson Pēteris Aihers and Annija’s three sisters
• Farm in Katlakalns, there was a “Burtnieka” laboratory, wholesale warehouses, etc. c. – belongs to Jānis Benjamiņš ‘daughter Ieva Ābere