Ernst Altien


The life of Ernst Altien

Told by Sven Froekjaer-Jensen. You can learn more about me  here  here

Not very much is known about the Danish or maybe German painter Ernst Altien. He is a rather reluctant  source of information, and although I have known him for many years, he don´t want me to give out too much information about himself. He is supposed to have been born in the cold month of November 1940 in Lübeck, where his father earned his living as a clerk. Ernst Altien inherited the fathers great affection for art and literature, but did not find his fathers deep religious commitment.

Because of the dire circumstances during WW2, he was sent as a little boy to some relatives in Denmark, where he grew up in small town in Jutland .

As a young man he travelled a lot but returned to the northern part of Germany, where he worked for some years as a caretaker in a small restaurant on Lüneburger Heide. The Bierstube does not exist any more.

As a more mature man he gathered his wits, woke up from the sins and vices of the sixties and found out, he could make a living out of the word of art. So he sold his paintings to galleries, private collectors and through auctions.

A great lot of his more naturalistic paintings disappeared during a fire in one of his humble lodgings in Kreuzberg, Berlin, where he stayed from 1982-1983. In those days he made his living as a lorry driver and might have some contacts with an east german Stasi officer with the first name of Franz. Later on he fiercely denied any contacts of that sort, but some of his friends did wonder about his numerous trips to the eastern part of Germany and to Poland. One night when he was almost petrified of alcohol, he mentioned Franz and said boasting: Yes, Franz, you people would never believe what he told me and what I told him on the road from Berlin to Oranienburg. Some have believed that the great fire was a revenge from the eastern intelligence service because he alledgedly wanted to get out of his relation with them, but others have seen him caught in the crossfire between some of the foreign services. What ever the real explanation is,  most of his older paintings were lost at that moment, and what he had of personal papers went the same way except for some letters from his mother, which he always carried on him him. The fire of the 28 of February 1983 ended his stay in Berlin and he went south. First to Marseilles and then to the Canaries, where he stayed several months. Later he took the northern road  to Denmark again .

Back in Denmark he was still unable to cover his life expectations by painting alone, so he went back to his old occupation as a waiter and used most of his sparetime on painting and drawing. In those days – that is after 1983 – he fell hopeless in love with a lady from abroad, with whom he lived for about 8 years. Since he is very shy about his love life, no one knows, if he left her or she just found out, that he was no good. The pain that rose from the ruining of his love gave him very much energy for painting, but he never mentioned her again. I think this unfinished painting, which I found in his Swedish studio, was made one day when she was lying at the waterfront.

By now he is living in a remote part of Scandinavia working with his art and pondering the structure of life.

In his older days he is difficult to get into touch with, but you can normally reach him on his email:

Ernst Altien had a sporadic correspondence with his mother, who passed away in 1989. They discussed a lot of subjects, among others his art. The first letter from his mother was the most important to him, although he first got it from her after her death. You can read this letter here. Later I might publish the other letters from his mother.