Probably the most famous Englishman who never lived died 130 years ago. In a bitter fight with his adversary Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes fell down a waterfall – and was presumed dead. Arthur Conan Doyle described this in the December 1893 issue of “Strand Magazine”, and he should know it. After all, Sir Arthur is the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But death is such a thing.

“He’s alive, one hundred percent, he’s just around the corner and will come back at any time,” says Laura von Ehrenstein with a smile. Of course, she has to say that because of her position: Von Ehrenstein heads the private Sherlock Holmes Museum in London. But the German-British woman is absolutely right on several levels.

Above all, Sherlock Holmes remains immortal 130 years after Doyle reported on the spectacular duel at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. In four novels and dozens of short stories, the writer described the successful investigations of the “Master Detective” over around four decades.

Holmes ultimately survived his supposed death at the Swiss waterfall in “The Final Problem” by more than 30 years. Doyle actually wanted to bury the investigator in a figurative sense. He was simply tired of Holmes and wanted to concentrate on other stories, like those told by Ehrenstein. But the resistance and outrage were enormous.

Disappointed fans wore mourning ribbon

“Many people wore black after death, with black bracelets, because they were in mourning,” reports the museum director. “They thought someone very well known, very popular had died.” The hero’s death had serious consequences for “Strand Magazine”: Apparently 20,000 readers canceled their subscriptions. This brought the magazine to the brink of ruin – and the editors persuaded Doyle to resurrect Holmes with the help of a lucrative offer.

In 1903 he resumed the series and explained in “The Empty House” how Holmes had survived the fall. In 1901, Doyle had already created what is probably the best-known novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Ideal image of the systematic investigator

Resting in an armchair with a checkered suit and hat, a pipe in his hand, in conversation with his assistant Doctor Watson, conclusively examining all the clues and statements – the stories of Sherlock Holmes have painted the picture of the systematic detective. Doyle was probably the first writer to have his police officers consider scientific methods. He inspired crime writers like Agatha Christie. The detective’s calm and sharp character is still reflected today in roles such as the TV investigator “Inspector Barnaby”.

Holmes film actor Benedict Cumberbatch once called his role a “man of action and a great, great thinker.” “He has a razor-sharp wit that can knock people off the pedestal and gain the upper hand in a second.” Even for real civil servants, Holmes is a role model. “Many police officers visit the museum. Simply to say: He is my icon. I grew up with him and because of him I became a police officer,” says von Ehrenstein.

The museum director and her team want to reflect the time of the stories as authentically as possible. So much so that the address of the museum – thanks to official permission – is the same as where Holmes lives in his stories: 221b Baker Street. The house, which is decorated in Victorian style, is actually number 239. In front of the door, an employee greets visitors as “Bobby”.

Where is Sherlock Holmes’ grave?

“Many guests don’t even know after their visit that Sherlock Holmes didn’t exist – or don’t even want to know,” says von Ehrenstein. “Sometimes we are asked: Where can we see Sherlock Holmes’ grave?” The city of London definitely encourages this feeling. A corner from the museum, right at the Baker Street subway station exit, there is a statue of the investigator, as if he had been a real person. Walks through the British capital on the detective’s trail are also offered.

The BBC television series “Sherlock” in the 2010s in particular ensured that the old fictional character is also known to younger audiences and around the world. Some fans believed that British Holmes actor Cumberbatch was the real detective, says von Ehrenstein. The enduring popularity is enormous: In February, a Holmes rock musical premieres in Newbury, England.

“I compare Sherlock Holmes a bit to Santa Claus,” says the museum director as she says goodbye. “If you really believe in it and don’t want to know otherwise, then it’s just there.”