History of the Bergstraße Notarial Firm
The Bergstraße Notarial Firm is one of the oldest notarial firms in recent history. Modern-day notarial firms were first introduced to Hamburg by Napoleon in 1810 after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. At that time, all the notaries had to be re-appointed and re-sworn into office.
Among the first 15 notaries appointed in Hamburg in 1811 was Meyer Israel Bresselau, who was followed in office by Gabriel Riesser in 1839. Riesser, known well beyond Hamburg, was politically active and became vice president of the Frankfurt Assembly in 1848 and later vice president of the Hamburg Parliament. When the City of Hamburg built its new city hall, it honoured Riesser by engraving his portrait into a sandstone medallion on one of the pillars in the entrance hall.
In 1858, Riesser was succeeded by Dr. Ferdinand Gobert, who maintained an office at Schauenburger Straße 44 and, after joining forces with Dr. Rudolf Martin in 1860, became our firm’s founding father. 1858, in other words, marked the birth of our notarial firm.
Dr. Martin only stayed in office until 1864, when he was appointed a judge and then, in 1898, became the Presiding Judge of the Hamburg Higher Regional Court.
After Dr. Martin left, Dr. Gobert made Dr. Heinrich Ludwig Wilhelm Asher his new partner in 1864. In 1892, Dr. David Friedrich Weber, previously a lawyer, joined the firm as a junior partner. When Dr. Asher left the firm around the turn of the century, Dr. Gobert and Dr. Weber brought in Dr. Wilhelm Götze. After serving briefly as a notary, however, Dr. Götze returned to private practice as a lawyer. Dr. Gobert and Dr. Weber then found a new partner: Dr. Gottfried Wäntig, who was appointed a notary in 1901 and left an indelible mark on the firm with his outstanding skills in the course of half a century.
After Dr. Gobert’s death, Dr. Weber and Dr. Wäntig immediately cast about for a successor. They soon found a perfect partner: Dr. Moritz Otto Kauffmann, a fully qualified lawyer who was already familiar with notarial law. In the beginning, the three notaries worked in the cramped, inadequate offices at Börsenbrücke 2a at the corner of Große Johannisstraße that had housed the firm for years. Once the building was selected for demolition, though, they temporarily moved to an office on the corner of Große Bäckerstraße and Börsenbrücke. These quarters also proved to be too small, and so the firm was relocated to Adolphsbrücke 2-4, on the corner to Adolphsplatz and right across from the stock exchange in 1910.
At that time, all the notarial firms were located near the stock exchange. Every firm had a stand at the exchange where investors could come to ask for signature certifications. Real estate agents also came by with their clients and supplied the notary with all documents required by the land registry.
In 1912, Dr. Weber, a passionate rider, fell off his horse during a St. Hubertus' Day hunt and died of complications shortly thereafter. By that time, the firm had grown so large that the partners quickly set about to find a capable replacement. Their choice fell on the Honourable Dr. Gustav Adolf Ulrich Sieveking, a judge with such a towering legal reputation that the justice department was very reluctant to release him from office. Once he was appointed as a Hamburg notary in 1913, the firm had three partners again.
Business slowed down considerably after the outbreak of World War I. Between 1915 and 1918, the firm was completely orphaned as all three notaries and the male employees were drafted into the German Army.
When Dr. Wäntig, Dr. Kauffmann and Dr. U. Sieveking returned to the firm once the war had ended, business picked up again quickly. By 1925, it was time to bring in another partner: Dr. Hermann Rebattu. He brought the firm into the age of motor vehicles. Until then, the notaries had used brougham carriages in the winter and droshky carriages in the summer for protesting bills and running other errands. The travel time for each trip depended entirely on the driver’s skill, the horses’ stamina and the carriage’s condition. The first partner to switch to motorised transportation was Dr. Rebattu. He purchased a motorcycle for running errands and occasionally taking one of the other partners for a ride down Jungfernstieg Street – which left quite an impression on them and the firm’s employees. Shortly thereafter, the firm purchased a car and hired a driver.
Eventually, the building at Adolphsbrücke 2-4 was sold to a bank that needed the rooms for itself. The firm once again had to look for new quarters. As it turned out, the most suitable location was an office on Bergstraße that many businessmen passed every day on their way from the free port to the exchange. And so on 1 July 1928, the firm moved to Bergstraße 11. In the process, it acquired its current name and pioneered the Hamburg tradition of naming large downtown notarial firms after the streets on which they were located.
The rise of the Nazis and their ideology struck the firm like a body blow. In 1935, Dr. Kauffmann was stripped of his office under Nazi race laws. He sought refuge in the Netherlands, where he stayed, apart from his family, until the collapse of the Third Reich. After returning to Hamburg in 1945, he resumed working at the firm.
In 1936, Dr. Wolf Harm left his post as a local court judge and joined the firm. When the Greater Hamburg Act transferred part of the Altona regional court district to Hamburg, the justice department required the firm to accept an Altona notary into their ranks – and so Dr. Heinrich Baur joined the firm. Dr. Rebattu died in 1942.
World War II was full of tribulations for the firm. During a large air raid in 1943, the Bergstraße 11 office caught fire and burned to the ground, along with all the files, furniture and supplies. Luckily, the notaries had had the foresight to transfer nearly all of the deeds to the State Archive or their homes so virtually all of them were preserved – either in their original form or as certified copies. Until their office could be restored, the notaries shared an office at Jungfernstieg 25 with a lawyer whose partners had been called to active military duty. Dresdner Bank provided provisional rooms for the stenographers next door. This way, the notaries were able to keep the firm running, even if they had to cover the broken windows with blankets at times. Once the war ended, the notaries returned to their old, restored office at Bergstraße 11 – the Bergstraße Notarial Firm was back!
Following a rapid post-war recovery, tragedy struck yet again in 1952. Dr. Ulrich Sieveking suddenly died of a heart attack after taking the minutes of a stock corporation’s general meeting. After the morning meeting, he went home for lunch with the intention of returning to the office to flesh out and sign the minutes. But that time never came – the general meeting was reprised later on.
By the time Dr. Ulrich Sieveking died, Dr. Wäntig and Dr. Kauffmann had reached over 70 years of age. To pass the firm on to a younger generation, they brought in Dr. Gerhard Baum in 1953 and Dr. Erwin Tiedau in 1955. Dr. Baum had served as an officer during World War II. Dr. Tiedau, by contrast, was much younger and had left the legal department of an insurance company to join the firm.
Given the advanced age of Drs. Wäntig and Kauffmann, the partners decided it was time for new blood. They welcomed Dr. Henning Baur as the youngest partner. Once Dr. Wäntig and Dr. Kauffmann had retired, Dr. Heinrich Baur became the senior partner. When he, too, decided to leave the workforce, he was followed by Dr. Peter Sieveking in 1964 while Dr. Henning Baur simultaneously switched to the Notarial Firm of Drs. Crasemann, Nissen, Pinckernelle. Now, the Bergstraße team consisted of Dr. Harm as the senior partner as well as Drs. Baum, Tiedau and Peter Sieveking.
These changes took place during a time in the Federal Republic of Germany’s history that was dominated by the reconstruction of the state, society and economy. The firm’s workload and range of services mushroomed, largely due to extensive construction, but also as a result of business formations. It was time to expand.
In 1968, Dr. Arnold Sieveking, until then a practicing lawyer, joined the firm as its youngest partner. As the workload continued to rise, the partners decided to bring in Dr. Paul-Joachim von Wissel in 1976.
These six partners stayed on together for another 15 years until 1990, when Dr. Harm retired after 54 years with the firm. He was followed by Dr. Baum, aged 80, in 1992. Both men had left an indelible mark on the firm in the post-war period. 1992 also saw Dr. Axel Pfeifer switch to Bergstraße from the Max Planck Institute. In 1996, Dr. Til Bräutigam left his post as local court judge to enter the firm.
When Drs. Tiedau and Peter Sieveking retired in 2000, the partners brought in a new colleague: Dr. Jan Christoph Wolters, who had previously worked as a lawyer at a large business law firm.
Dr. Johannes Beil was added to the firm’s roster in 2004, when he was appointed as the notarial administrator for the office of retired notary Dr. John-H. Plate. For over 30 years, Dr. Plate had run the Jungfernstieg Notarial Firm at Jungfernstieg 51 (Prien-Haus) on his own. Dr. Beil was made a notary in 2006. This was also the year in which Dr. Arnold Sieveking reached the statutory retirement age for notaries and left the firm.
Mid 2013, Dr. Paul-Joachim von Wissel reached the statutory retirement age for notaries which is why he had to leave his office and the firm as well.
Today, the Bergstraße Notarial Firm consists of Drs. Axel Pfeifer, Til Bräutigam, Jan Christoph Wolters and Johannes Beil.
The partners have always been committed to giving back to their profession. Dr. Wolf Harm, for example, served on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Notaries for many years; Dr. Arnold Sieveking sat on the Presiding Council of the German Federal Chamber of Notaries and was the President of the Hamburg Chamber of Notaries for 12 years; Dr. Axel Pfeifer is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Notaries.
The firm’s history is inextricably bound up with the name of Dr. Wäntig, who put a premium on legal precision and actively counselling clients in an era when notaries were seen more as seal-bearing executors than legal advisors. His colleagues and successors have passed on this spirit to today’s partners.