When the Chopins were living in one of the professorial apartments at Casimir Palace, they established a warm friendship with the Kolbergs, who lived on the ground floor of the building. In later years, the Kolbergs moved into a rented apartment on the corner of ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście and ul. Oboźna.
The head of the family, Juliusz Kolberg, was a cartographer, surveyor and Warsaw University lecturer. He befriended Kazimierz Brodziński, who remembered him as a ‘gentle and straightforward’ person: ‘Colberg [sic] wrote poems in German […]’, noted Brodziński. ‘They were all inspired with that angelic purity of feeling, with that longing for a more elevated world. […] There was patience, perseverance and gentleness in his manner. […]
‘Surrounded by six children, in his meagre lodgings, amid piles of paper and surveying instruments, he worked patiently with the most gentle resignation, detached from the poetic freedom and views of nature that he so loved’.
Of the six children mentioned, Fryderyk was especially friendly with Juliusz’s three sons, Wilhelm, Oskar and Antoni.
Chopin presented or dedicated several works to Wilhelm (a future cartographer, metrologist and road and bridge engineer, who wrote to him in Szafarnia ‘with only half his pen’): the Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 7 No. 4, Waltz in B minor, Op. 69 No. 2 and Polonaise in B flat minor (Adieu à Guillaume Colberg [Farewell to Wilhelm Kolberg]). Oskar was an outstanding ethnologist, who wrote the multi-volume work Lud [The common folk]. While he never got to finish the study on Chopin he was planning, the wealth of materials he collected proved to be of invaluable assistance to two of Chopin’s earliest biographers: Maurycy Karasowski and Marceli Antoni Szulc. Antoni was a talented painter, who completed a portrait of Chopin in Paris in early 1848. He also painted several watercolours that are now lost but known to us through reproductions, as well as a sketch of the interior of the Chopins’ living room in Krasiński Palace.
Chopin came to the Kolberg residence on the corner of ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście and ul. Oboźna for English lessons with Julian Fontana and Wilhelm. Their teacher was a man of Irish extraction named McCartney, who was well known in the capital at the time. ‘These lessons’, Wilhelm remembered later, ‘came to life with endless ideas, gestures and pranks that, for the most part, were Chopin’s doing’.