The son of a baker, he was sent to study commerce in Berlin but became a painter. In 1837 he travelled to the island of Heligoland for the first time. From 1841 he decided to live there and from 1843 he studied birds on the island. He studied ornithology and made a collection. In 1891 a station was established in Heligoland and the Prussian government acquired his collection for the North sea museum. The collection was destroyed in 1944 by bombing.