urban archaeology: sleeping beauty’s paris apartment discovered


Photo: GETTY

hi guys! i just had to post this.  for me it really stirs the imagination. enjoy!

Parisian flat containing €2.1 million painting lay untouched for 70 years

For 70 years the Parisian apartment had been left uninhabited, under lock and key, the rent faithfully paid but no hint of what was inside

By Henry Samuel in Paris
Published: 7:49PM, 04 Oct 2010

Mrs de Florian, a ‘demimondaine’ never returned to her Paris flat after the war and died at the age of 91 in 2010.

Behind the door, under a thick layer of dusk lay a treasure trove of turn-of-the-century objects including a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.


The woman who owned the flat had left for the south of France before the Second World War and never returned.

But when she died recently aged 91, experts were tasked with drawing up an inventory of her possessions and homed in on the flat near the Trinité church in Paris between the Pigalle red light district and Opera.


Entering the untouched, cobweb-filled flat in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, one expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900.

“There was a smell of old dust,” said Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery. Walking under high wooden ceilings, past an old wood stove and stone sink in the kitchen, he spotted a stuffed ostrich and a Mickey Mouse toy dating from before the war, as well as an exquisite dressing table.


Photo: GETTY

But he said his heart missed a beat when he caught sight of a stunning tableau of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress.

The painting was by Boldini and the subject a beautiful Frenchwoman who turned out to be the artist’s former muse and whose granddaughter it was who had left the flat uninhabited for more than half a century.

Giovanni Boldini

The muse was Marthe de Florian, an actress with a long list of ardent admirers, whose fervent love letters she kept wrapped neatly in ribbon and were still on the premises. Among the admirers was the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau, but also Boldini.


The expert had a hunch the painting was by Boldini, but could find no record of the painting. “No reference book dedicated to Boldini mentioned the tableau, which was never exhibited,” said Marc Ottavi, the art specialist he consulted about the work.

When Mr Choppin-Janvry found a visiting card with a scribbled love note from Boldini, he knew he had struck gold. “We had the link and I was sure at that moment that it was indeed a very fine Boldini”.

He finally found a reference to the work in a book by the artist’s widow, which said it was painted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24.

The starting price for the painting was €300,000 but it rocketed as ten bidders vyed for the historic work. Finally it went under the hammer for €2.1 million, a world record for the artist.

“It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion,” said Mr Ottavi.

October 7, 2010. Tags: . Paris, Paris Apartments.


  1. cityfarmer replied:

    I JUST read this at paris atelier … wow!!!!
    what a story

    hugs darling

    • Wayne replied:

      Wow, I could have squatted here rent free for all that time,

      • Emma G replied:

        Way to think! So, so true. Instead people are profiteering off of this intimate family artifact. Where is that money going? Certainly not to the dead owner or the dead painter.
        Oh, society.

      • Justin replied:

        Youre joking right? Shes dead. Hes dead. I kinda doubt they care what happens to their stuff.

    • Osvaldo Aires Bade replied:


  2. Splendid Sass replied:

    Oh. My. Goodness. I would love to go into this apartment and see everything. Such lovely things.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Karen Sugarman replied:

    What a haunting and beautiful story. I suspect the gorgeous Boldini painting was not the only lovely item left behind.

  4. Anette replied:

    This is such a romantic and beautiful story. I wonder why she never returned though…

    • Helena replied:

      You have to remember, France after the war was very different, as any country under occupation would be. I would imagine that for some people it was impossible to imagine a city so drastically different from the city they left, that to return was an impossibility.

      • magar replied:

        She put it off… until tomorrow…

      • Hans replied:

        What do You mean, very different? The Germans had been ther for a few years but they did not change anything as far as I know.

      • CarolMaeWY replied:

        Hans, oh never would the “Germans” change Paris, it was occupied by Nazi’s. Have you lived in an occupied country? Have you read any history about things before 1980?

      • Carole Resplandy replied:

        Strange the net curtains are modern,what about gas and electric bills?

  5. Judith replied:

    Lol! I just read your comment and then popped over to read the post! We are on the same wave length! Oops! What a romantic story! Can you just imagine the incredible objects left there!?! I wonder if there were jewels or clothing and did you see all of the other art. Le sigh!!! I was more interested in trying to see all of the little details in the photo than anything else. The falling wallpaper and those curtains! I love that there is still magic in this world.

    • LI2PHX replied:

      The Apartment is Absolutely perfect. Miss de Florian must have really wanted to perserve Very Happy Time in her young life. I have family that lived in Europe during WWII.

  6. Chic and Charming replied:

    What an amazing story, like a fairy tale! It would have been so amazing to be the guys who got to catalog the apartment.

  7. Nita@ModVintageLife replied:

    Fascinating! Don’t you wish it could all be left as is? I’d love to come peak in that room left for all those years. They should just rope it off with fancy velvet ropes and let people come view it like art in a museum.

    • Alessio replied:

      So true. I was thinking exactly the same… But, this is a greedy world… :-/

    • Dawn replied:

      I completey agree!!!!!

    • Martha replied:

      I absolutely agree. Instead we have people “curate” rooms like this based on old photos. Here is a REAL one. It should definitely have been left alone. Cleaned, roped off, charge admission, but left alone.

    • Lyn de Jong replied:

      absolutely..so sad how the headline of this article is ‘2.1 Million painting’..that apartment held a part of History caught in time and told of a life kept in secret for all those years..to now be pull apart for for money.. I find that incredibly sad

  8. Tanya replied:

    What an amazing story. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

  9. Gypsy Purple-Chamara replied:

    What an amazing story!!! Thanx for sharing!!!

  10. Linda replied:

    I would love to have been the first one through the door. I think there are many places like this, left behind and the family just leaves empty because someone doesn’t want to sell it-Napoleonic laws tend to keep things from being sold easily.

  11. Bonnie replied:

    I’m totally fascinated by stories like this of long lost treasures! Just look at the beautiful dress she is wearing! Do you think she is sitting on a chaise or on the edge of a bed? I found more beautiful paintings by Giovanni Boldini on the blog Scala Regia…
    http://scalaregia.blogspot.com/2009/02/giovanni-boldini.html. Apparently he was friends with Edgar Degas. And here… http://www.giovanniboldini.org/
    Thank you for sharing your discovery!

    • Bill replied:

      It looks like a sofa or chaise. I think it would of been a scandal if she was painted sitting on her bed or any bed back in those days. Wish I could find a place like that. Hope some of the collections went to a museum and the new owner of the apartment keeps the interior intact.

  12. Fabulously French replied:

    Wow – wish that I could make a discovery like this. I dream of the day that I come across an old house that has been closed for years packed full of lovely French “goodies”.

    Leeann x

  13. vicki replied:

    I LOOOOVE this! Thanks for sharing..my imagination has been stirred and my heart is racing. Just the thought that there could be many more French apartments and countryside chateaus that are abandoned…

  14. kath replied:

    Thank you so much for posting this. It just made me sigh and believe more in Fairy Tales. How romantic and amazing. I hope someone documented this in great detail. It would probably make a lovely book…

  15. Vicki Archer replied:

    Hello Claudia….What a fantastic story…I wish it could be kept as is…such a fabulous time capsule. I hope all is great in your world, xv.

    • Dawn replied:

      I completely agree Vicki!!! wow!!!

  16. Lauren replied:

    I am thrilled you have posted on this! It is amazing and you are the first site I have found who has the Ostrich image!!

  17. Acquired Objects replied:

    OMG I love it! How exciting to stumble upon such a time capsule. I would have given anything to have been able to troll through that place too. Thank you for such an amazing post!

  18. Julienne replied:

    How exciting to have been there! But that carpet, the mirror, the books I could look at that room for hours. Imagine it just sitting there for all those years, the mind boggles!!! A really lovely post.

  19. liza replied:

    I have a recurring dream like this, but it’s my apartment and I finally remember to go there after decades. Really odd, but curiously satisfying dreams.

    Who paid the rent on the flat? That, to me, is the oddest part. Who would keep paying, but never visit, or clean it out?

    I adore Boldini.

    Thanks for this, Claudia.

  20. Beadboard UpCountry replied:

    OMG! Just look at the way her dress is portrayed by the artist!!! It looks like incandescent gossamer….She is gorgeous!!!! To think that this stuff still happens is amazing!!!!!!!!!Thanks Claudia!!!

  21. Leslie replied:

    A magical, fantasy-inspiring post. Thank you.

  22. Dianne replied:

    How absolutely amazing ~ imagine walking into that appartment layered in dust and then finding this amazing painting~ it’s almost like a fairy-tale. I love the painting it is so… very exquisite! i am still sitting here utterly bewildered after reading this post.

  23. Elizabeth replied:

    I wan to know more about Mrs. de Florian. This story is marvelous.

  24. beverley christenson replied:

    this is what makes you so different, the romance the intriuge. the glamour, you see it in all the perfect
    imperfections of life.
    I can even see this ability growing over the years,go for it girl.
    The world needs more stories to uplift our hearts,thank you for this post love Bev.

  25. lancerika replied:

    Absolutely breathtaking!
    I’m at a loss for words..
    truly a relic from a bygone age..a treasure.

  26. Eric Aeschliman replied:

    WOW! I wish I could find a floor plan of the apartment! One article described it as “Large,” and living in Paris ain’t cheap! … and what more could be said about the beautiful, mysterious, romantic story and the wonderful treasures left behind by Madam de Florian!

  27. Luna Campbell replied:

    Wow – how beautiful. What an amazing find, but so sad that the woman didn’t ever return to live there. She must have had a nice life in the south of France…
    Luna Loves…

  28. sheila replied:

    this story has to have more detail….surely someone will publish a book showing this lovely place and follow up on the who, where, why ….so so romantic….gives me hope there is still magic out there

  29. katie kirby replied:

    It’s so beautiful! The story and the images!!!

  30. le petit cabinet de curiosites replied:

    I love this story. I wish I would have been the 1st one to open the door .
    They should make a movie

    • Dawn replied:

      I completely agree 100%!!!!!

  31. Lonni replied:

    Just sad, how you can take such a amazing story and turn it into money

  32. Diane replied:

    What a wonderful story! I especially loved the Clemenceau connection and that all those letters survived. A wonderful project for someone to edit and publish – think of the fabulous details of life during those times.

  33. Susan replied:

    Oh, this conjures memories… my parents were packrats on a pretty grand scale. After their deaths it took me three years to sort through their belongings and those of my mother’s parents. There was everything that had ever passed through my life as well as theirs– every drawing I’d created as a child, every toy (both mine and hers), love letters written before their marriage while my father was stationed in Korea. Among the treasures I found were a calendar where my mother had noted the day she met the boy who would become my father, sketches she made of him while they were in high school, paintings of my grandmother and sketches of me at two days old. She must have been sketching in her hospital bed.

    • Beverley Preston. replied:

      Wow, you also could write a book on your life! What a gift for generations to come! I just love these stories, I am a hopeless romantic, I guess! Blessings!

    • Heide replied:

      I hope you realize the blessings that you received with your family treasures … and, please, chronicle them for many that are not as lucky (smile)

  34. Dermott Banana replied:

    The dates in this story are all wrong.
    She was 24 in 1898, so she was born around 1878.
    Yet she died 112 years after she was 24, at the age of 91?
    The story says the room was locked away for 70 years. But was that starting in 1900, like the article says, and this room was discovered in 1970?
    Or was it locked away when she went into exile following the German occupation in 1940, and it’s just been discovered 70 years later?
    Something doesn’t smell right, and it’s not 70-year-old dust.

    • Magnus Holmgren replied:

      The artist’s muse and the subject of the painting was her grandmother, “whose granddaughter it was who had left the flat uninhabited”.

      One expert said it was *like* time had stood still since 1900, which isn’t a statement of fact as to when the apartment was abandoned.

      • Carole Resplandy replied:

        If you look at the curtains to the right of the dressing table,they are modern curtains ,not 1920 0r 1930’s,something is not right.What happened to reading the gas and electric.Did no one notice the shutters were closed for so many years.

  35. Sarah @ Natural History replied:

    What a wonderful, wonderful story. And to think that all of those treasures had been lying undisturbed for so many years…

    A Caravaggio was discovered in my own native Dublin a few years ago in a Jesuit dining room, quite by chance – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Taking_of_Christ_%28Caravaggio%29

  36. BarbG replied:

    Thanks for revealing this beautiful apartment. Many
    treasures under the dust.

  37. Eddie Ross replied:

    Such a great post! Thanks for sharing!!


  38. The Shutter replied:

    Great post. Love your site, I’ll be back.

  39. Ashley replied:

    This is absolutely AMAZING!! This story just really makes my day xoxoxo

  40. CultureChoc2010 replied:


  41. Sarah @ Maison Boheme replied:

    Oh this is marvelous! What a treasure trove. Thanks for posting… you never cease to delight me!

  42. Gee replied:

    This sounds almost too good to be true! What a wonderful story of finding such wonderful treasures held as if in a time capsule.

  43. Jade replied:

    Just magical…I wonder why she didn’t go back to the apartment; maybe a lost love was involved and yet the place still held her heart?
    :) Jade

  44. Reyna replied:

    Wow….enchanting! Can you imagine? Just wow! It sounds like something from a fairytale!

  45. Malin replied:

    Hello Claudia, what a story! I’m gonna post this on my blog (with links to you!) Love your blog by the way
    check out mine!

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  47. how to get to sleep replied:

    Wow, nice! I want to go to there

  48. coquine replied:

    Fantastic story, hope u have more like this one

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  50. photomfa replied:

    what an incredible find. The Mickey Mouse stuffed animal is pretty awesome.

  51. ihath replied:

    what a story

  52. Carla Wolf replied:

    What an amazingly romantic story…

  53. christine ashby replied:

    I would have love to be the first one to walk into that apartment. So many treasures and history. Interesting that the woman never bothered to go back considering how much she had left behind. Art historians are salivating.

  54. MB replied:

    Hello: As to the math, the apartment belonged to the granddaughter of Marthe de Florian. The granddaughter must have inherited the portrait of her grandmother, as well as the items of provenance. Perhaps it was her grandmother’s whole apartment’s content that she inherited, and things were left untouched far longer than just WWII. – M

    • BellaDonna (@BelleWest925) replied:

      I love this theory!! I think you’re right. They said it was ‘as if it had been frozen in time since 1900′. It looks to me (from the article below) that the apartment belonged to the grandmother (Boldini’s muse), and the granddaughter ‘inherited’ it with all of her grandmother’s belongings after she died. Apparently, there was a great deal of wealth in this family, considering it was a ‘large flat’, and you can tell it was well appointed. And, the fact that rent was paid on it for 70 years when she wasn’t even living there! … It was a ‘shrine’ to her grandmother… left intact with the love letters and calling cards of her ‘clientele’. Excellent!


  55. Bea of Beabloguistan replied:

    It’s amazing, and so romantic… thanks for this discovery !

  56. Evgeniya replied:

    Ah, I wish I could have been the one to walk in there first! It’s magestic, I don’t understand why the lady never went back to this treasure alcove.

  57. Hailee Elizabeth Johnston replied:

    I can’t get over the stuffed ostrich.

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  59. J.Vu replied:

    That money better have been put to a good cause…

    • Cheryl S. replied:

      “That money better have been put to a good cause”….or what?
      You sound like a socialist.
      Just enjoy the post without getting political and ruining it for others.

    • Lisa replied:

      That money belongs to the family and they may use it any way they see fit !!! Who the hell are you to say what they do with their money? A NOBODY !!

      • Heide replied:

        Thanks to the previous 2 ladies for their ‘to the point ‘replies!

  60. Christina replied:

    Wow! This just made Paris even more romantic, mysterious, and exciting for me! Thanks for sharing :)

  61. Lunneth replied:

    I live near Paris and I just want to say: why it’s not me?

  62. Heaps Cool Stuff | Fat Aus replied:

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  63. Mary Griswold replied:

    Fairy tales really do come true for some people, who have left behind magical mementos from their lives. Wonderful true story!

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  65. Sara replied:

    Oh my God, it’s like a dream. Absolutely beautiful!

  66. Jon replied:

    SO what you are saying is that all these items were kept safe by her until she died, then everyone went in a ransacked her possessions…I hope the family got the money at least. If I were her I would be haunting some people.

    • The Paris Apartment replied:

      Well at least they got photos of the place. What should they do? Keep it as a museum?

      • Lisa replied:

        If they want to, it’s a time capsule. One that I would love to see.

  67. rencontre paris replied:

    je passe boire le cafe quand je passe a paris !

  68. Robert replied:

    There is a certain key phrase in the article that makes this a bit less romantic.

    “Mrs de Florian, a ‘demimondaine’ never returned to her Paris flat after the war and died at the age of 91 in 2010.”

    The key word here is “demimondaine” which carries roughly the same meaning as courtesan or a high-class prostitute.

    • hellolovely replied:

      Eh, Gigi was still a romantic story, and she was a demimondaine. Sure, in reality, I’m sure it wasn’t really romantic because of that, although she may also have just been someone’s mistress (which fits into the definition of the word). I bet there’s quite a story there, though, if she left suddenly and never returned.

    • Heide replied:

      Glad someone else picked up on this BUT … makes the story actually even more intriguing …

  69. The Paris Apartment replied:

    Oh that is a bit torrid and maybe not even accurate. I wonder what prompted the use of that word? Who was she exactly with everything from Mickey Mouse to taxidermy in the apartment?!

    • Heide replied:

      Actually, Mme de Florian was nothing more or less than so many famous Ladies of Society that kept their “Salons” where artist and poets would meet their likes …

  70. Robert replied:

    I have done some more digging. Seems She was an actress as well as a high-level prostitute.

    And I have not been able to dig up any information on the type of acting. Ideally, the best person to converse with would have been the now deceased grand-daughter who was paying the rent on the flat. There has also been no mention that I have seen to indicate any surviving family members.
    Further digging suggests that Boldini did not have any children either since he did not marry until he was 86. No mention of any offspring in any of the articles that I have read so far.
    The love letters that are mentioned in the above article could be handy in determining more of the story. The love letters seem to have been of a racy nature as mentioned by the French Press.

    The flat itself is located near the then red-light district of Pigalle. The grand-daughter lived in the same flat until she fled to the south of France just before the war. (information provided by the Luxe Chronicles)

    There were calling cards from senior statesmen within the flat, and according to the article I have read on http://www.mysinchew.com/node/46082, she hosted many lovers within the flat.

  71. The Paris Apartment replied:

    Wow that is really interesting stuff! Fascinating! Funny that I have not seen a thing since the article was written either about her or what happened to the contents of the apartment. I have a feeling there’s a story there.
    Maybe you’re the person to uncover it?
    Thank you so much for this, it’s really juicy and gets my imagination going. Please let me know if you pursue this any further!

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  75. Bill replied:

    What a great story and find, but so many questions. Why did she not come back?? Was everything sold?? Did anything go to a museum?? Was the apartment sold or rented to another tenant?? Is the interior still intact?? Regarding the rent, was there rent control over the years?? Renting a large place like this is very expensive. The owner, amazingly over 70 years would have the right to access of the apartment if something went wrong, such as a broken water pipe. Seeing the water damage in one photo, would suggest that the water went into the unit below. The photo’s look staged. I can’t see the window treatments open for 70 years. The sun light would of damaged the fabrics, paintings and furniture. Also, it was customary to cover furnishings if you were not going to be there for some time. Lastly, amazingly, no one broke in there?? Including the Nazis, they would of took what they wanted and lived in such a fine place during the war. Hope someone writes a book about this families history. Thanks for the posting this………….

    • Carole Resplandy replied:

      I note that the curtains to the right of the dressing table look of a modern design,pre war curtains were not like that they would have been cotton lace,and I am sure they would be faded and rotted.Looks wrong to me?

      • Karin replied:

        My thoughts exactly!

        I’m also having a hard time believing that anyone fell for this obvious hoax. But I guess we all believe what we want to believe… and art auction houses certainly aren’t renowned for their integrity!

  76. Shelli replied:

    No one has mentioned the incredible picture of either a small moa (long extinct NZ bird) or emu with a satin cosmetic jewellery encrusted shawl just thrown over it – now where and why did that come from??

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  78. miklos halasz replied:

    Very intresting story ..Everybody is going that way sooner or later.(hope later .

    • Heide replied:

      Haha .. Miklos, thanks for the chuckle … gossoenem … (obviously I don’t know how to spell it, lol)

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  80. callmecarol2 replied:

    Please tell us more about the love letters. They are a lost art.

  81. Beauty replied:

    The quick red wolf jumped over the lazy dog

  82. Tim replied:

    This is the type of apartment I want to live in for the rest of my life.

    • M. Opinion replied:

      Well, mine has just about that much dust but the contents are far less interesting . . .

      • Heide replied:

        LOL … love your sense of humor!

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  88. ddrio replied:

    next to the mouse is that Porky Pig ?

  89. Gent replied:

    I think this is maybe a fake story to push a fakepainting into art market. Hos is it possible that nobody was in the flat for this long time ? in Paris ? impossible

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  91. Carole Resplandy replied:

    Perhaps it should have been kept intact.Sir Roy Strong is leaving his property to the Nation,but that is England and not France.

  92. Carole Resplandy replied:

    The net curtains next to the dressing table look modern,they would have been in cotton net,those look to white,and not discoloured ?

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  99. Lisa replied:

    It was her granddaughter who fled and paid for the apartment to be kept. When the granddaughter died at 94 her heirs discovered this secret

  100. Bob replied:

    Is there a place to see more photos of this, I hope that it can be left as is or moved and displayed in a museum. I am so intrigued by these photos, it gives a real glimpse into the life of how someone lived at that time.


    • Dawn replied:

      @Bob, I completely agree!! I wish they would do that, but I don’t know if they did or not.I was thinking the same thing and same way.I would have loved to see the inside and see how she lived back then. Talk about a time standing still,wow!! Talk about an amazing sight,wow!!!! A time capsule indead!

  101. the time that time stood still | the paris apartment replied:

    […] run around doing errands.  i took this afternoon to play around a little on the net. i wrote about a very romantic story in 2010 and it’s starting to circulate again without much new news. i dug a bit to try to conjure up […]

  102. donna adams replied:

    I know this is an article, but I need to know more. Just fab story. Please someone tell me there is more …..

    • donna adams replied:

      *sorry should’ve read, OLD article.

  103. Dream A Little Dream | Lilli Bean 23 replied:

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  104. Eleonora replied:

    Потрясающая история “законсервированного” прошлого.
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  105. 2014: The Year of Two Unusual Hues | Photography.xcuz.me replied:

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  107. biddie replied:

    Awe, please, we should just charter a plane, to allow all our wishful thoughts to come true. To be able to walk into this remarkable place and stand in wonder , to have our hearts feel , our minds drift into a time, when we may / or may not have been yet born. Our sight will give us the gift to cherish and the memory of being part of something that was saved. If I could just go and participate and see the untouched Paris apartment.

    • Dawn replied:

      I completely agree with you Biddle! It just needs to very carefully dusted all over the apartment,but make sure everything is left just as it was found,roped off inside in certain areas that should not be touched but is ok to see it and take pics if they are desired. But that apartment NEEDS to be preserved!!! I would love to see that place!!! OMG,WOW,what a sight that would be!!!Time has definentally stood still in that apartment,for sure!! Despite all the dust, wow! It’s AMAZING And BEAUTIFUL!!!!

      • biddie replied:

        Thank you for the response. I thought I stood alone as I was so taken and smittened when first reading this story. You are absolutely right. It should be preserved. Can`t imagine just leaving. To watch an old Nazi movie , one would vision this young girl fleeing from all the fear of seeing the Nazis caring their gear. OMG. Is right. If I had cash on the mahogoney, believe, those tickets would be bought just to walk down the street Dont know what floor this apartment was. But to look at the carved woodwork furniture. Yes rope off tour guide. Dusted. You are right.

  108. biddie replied:

    This unbelievable, believable story with extraordinary paintings, just about everywhere to be seen. The absolutely beautiful painting of, if I read correctly, of her grandmother. Now, for a moment of thought, just for that slight few seconds, did anyone look behind any of those paintings. Like, did the experts, remove the frame and take the back off to see, if any, yet another big wilderment? Or, in those days, were the paintings done without a back for support with frames? Not sure in those days would glass be with a framed picture or painting? OMG, just think, another hidden treasure to surprise everyone. I would never question the honesty on this story. This reason being everything appears outdated. Awe, look, where big bird is standing by his/her hind legs, looks like Mona Lisa painting??? leaning against dresser.

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