Code Name Mary, Freud Museum, Sept 2021

20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead

What entices me into London in these post-lockdown days? Why it is the engrossing thought of visiting a museum for the first time of course! The Freud Museum has been on my ‘hit list’ for a long time but somehow I have never quite made it here, but today is the day.

Down a sunny, tree-lined street in Hampstead sits an impressively large red-bricked house. Only a short walk from Finchley Road Tube station sits the Freud museum and on a warm, sunny, late September day it couldn’t look any more inviting.

Should I take my shoes off?

There is something special about a house museum, you step through the front door and instantly feel at home. It was a close run thing but I nearly kicked my shoes off in the corner and slung my coat on the banisters, but what with it being a first visit and all I made some attempts at following agreed museum etiquette.

I have come to see their latest exhibition ‘Code Name Mary’ the quite remarkable story of Muriel Gardiner, an American women living in Vienna in the 1920s and studying medicine. She became swept up in the turbulent rise of fascism but rather than return to America, the story involves fake passports, smuggled money and a secret haven for fugitives and dissidents in the Vienna woods.

If the tale stopped there it would be enough of a life for anyone but her interest in psychoanalysis led her to a friendship with Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna and in her later years she worked with her to found the Freud Museum in the home where the Freud family lived from 1938 till Anna’s death in 1982.

Muriel Gardiner was active in helping refugees and alleviating hardship in Europe at the end of the war.

Reading the letters in the exhibition that organise homes for child refugees brings a poignancy that is only heightened by the news coming from Afghanistan over the summer. It often takes the strength of individuals to fight for the rights of those dispossessed and rootless in troubled times.

Visiting the Freud Museum is an experience that isn’t founded in past, far away decades. Freud’s basis in ‘talking therapies’ is at the forefront of how we face today’s pandemic-fuelled mental health crisis. There is space for quiet contemplation in this house that does actually feel like a balm in troubled times.

I treat myself to a press view pastry and sit on my own in Freud’s garden, the sun filters through the leaves, the birds twitter as I send my tweets.

All of Freud’s possession were sent from Vienna in 1938.

My final stop is Freud’s study and I am luck to have the place to myself and quite honestly it is a strange experience. With curtains drawn, carpeted floors, soft furnishings and book-lined walls it feels like an echoless chamber. Sounds are deadened and softened. It feels conspiratorial and confidential, I have no doubt that secret fears could be coaxed out and shared here.

The shelves are full of books, and the desk and cabinets are bursting with antiquities. Freud’s love of archaeology inspired his friend Lou-Andreas Salomé to write –

“One sensed how easily such a recreation of the past came to him and one was reminded of the antique objects in his study and that the archaeologist had created the psychoanalyst in him.”

Lou-Andreas Salomé

It feels as if each statue and artefact is imbued with some past life, watching and waiting, ready to coax forth truths. Unuttered words line the bookshelves and tell of other lost and hidden lives. In this spot, time lies still, unbidden, a quiet stillness seeps from the walls and a hushed calm sinks upon me.

If buildings hold the remnants of souls then this is what it must feel like. Maybe I have waited too long to visit the Freud Museum, or maybe I came just when I needed to.

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‘Code Name Mary’ opens at the Freud Museum in London on Saturday 18th Sept – 23rd Jan 2022. To book tickets and for opening times please visit the website – https://www.freud.org.uk/

You can also see a virtual tour of the house here – https://www.freud.org.uk/visit/virtual-tour/

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