Posts Tagged ‘Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’

Friedrich Schiller – Champion of Freedom

Monday, April 3rd, 2017


Friedrich Schiller (his full name was Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller – ennobled in 1802 allowing him to add “von” to his name) is probably the second most important playwright in Europe after William Shakespeare. Throughout his life, Schiller championed physical and spiritual freedom. Born in 1759 in Marbach in Germany, he produced scores of poems, dramas, historical and philosophical papers. Although “Friedrich Schiller” is not a household name in America, it was Schiller whose eloquent poem, “Ode to Joy”, inspired Ludwig van Beethoven to set it to music in the famous last movement of his Ninth symphony. anthem/


“It hinders the creative work of the mind if the intellect examines too closely the ideas as they pour in.”

— Friedrich Schiller

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned "Friedrich von Schiller" in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned “Friedrich von Schiller” in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Friedrich Schiller’s taxing life

Germany, at the time of Friedrich Schiller, consisted of many small kingdoms. The poet was born in the little duchy of Wuertemberg, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the second of four children in the family. His father was an army doctor; his mother was a quiet, pious woman. When Friedrich Schiller was 13 years of age, the Duke of Wuertemberg insisted that he enter an elite military academy, the Karlsschule. Until then, Schiller had leaned toward becoming a man of the cloth and felt trapped at the academy. For the next eight years, he studied law and medicine. Strict obedience was stressed. Its students enjoyed little freedom. To keep up his spirits, Friedrich Schiller wrote his first play (Die Raeuber – The Robbers) while still at the school. The play scrutinizes the inequities resulting from class, religious and economic differences. When his play opened in Mannheim in 1780, Schiller stole himself to the opening without first requesting permission. He was 21 years old at the time and sentenced to 14 days in prison. In addition, he was prohibited from publishing any future works. In response to the sentence, Schiller deserted and fled to Weimar where he lived under an assumed name. Forever cash-poor, he penned several plays during that period.

Between 1787 and 1798, Schiller changed course, became Professor of History and Philosophy in Jena and pursued historical studies. In 1794, he struck up a close friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. mutually beneficial alliance inspired Schiller to compose some of his best-known dramas, including the Wallenstein Trilogy, Maria Stuart (Mary Stuart), Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maiden of Orleans) and Wilhelm Tell (William Tell). In 1805, Friedrich Schiller died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-five.


“Opposition always inflames the enthusiast, never converts him.”

— Friedrich Schiller


Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy

Many Americans know Friedrich Schiller only through Ludwig van Beethoven’s musical setting of a part of Schiller’s most famous poem, the “Ode to Joy”. From the very year in which the poem was first printed (1786) the Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy) began to be sung to various musical accompaniments. That same year, a composer by the name of J. Chr. Mueller set the Ode to Joy to music. By 1800 there were at least twenty different versions of “An die Freude” that still survive today.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Goethe writes Faust, a closet drama

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) was a prolific German writer whose extensive work included epic and lyric poetry, memoirs, treatises on botany, anatomy and color, an autobiography, prose and verse dramas, four novels, 10,000 letters and nearly 3,000 drawings. His poems were set to music throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by a number of composers. His best-known work is Faust, a two-part drama, which he wrote over a period of 57 years. It is a hybrid between a play and an extended poem. Performances of the two-part tragedy are still performed today at the Goetheanum in Switzerland.

John Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Goethe’s Youth

By the age of eight, Goethe already spoke some Greek, Latin, French, English, Hebrew and Italian. His passion at that time was drawing, and he soon became interested in literature. By age sixteen he was sent to the University of Leipzig to study law. Because he hated having to memorize judicial rules by heart, he often attended poetry lectures instead. While in Leipzig, he became a regular patron at Auerbachs Cellar (Auerbachs Keller in German). The folk legend of Faust’s wine barrel ride at Auerbach’s made such an impression on him that he turned it into a closet drama.

Closet Dramas

Closet dramas ares not intended to be performed onstage. They are plays that are read out loud by a reader. Closet dramas written in verse became very popular in Western Europe after 1800. Nonetheless, Faust Part One and Faust Part Two are often performed onstage.

Faust plot

Faust, the main character, is an aging scholar. Frustrated with the limits to his knowledge, power, and enjoyment of life, he agrees to a pact with Mephisto, the devil. Faust agrees to exchange his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures during his lifetime. On earth Faust will be master. In hell, Faust will be the devils’ servant for the rest of eternity.

Faust Part One

Mephisto leads Faust through a number of adventures that culminate in a lustful relationship with an innocent young girl. It ends in tragedy for Faust. The girl is saved but Faust is left to grieve in shame. Faust Part One was published in 1808 and created a sensation.

Faust Part Two

Part two begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust. Mephisto tries to seize Faust’s soul when he dies, but angels intervene due to God’s grace. Faust Part Two was only finished shortly before his death and was published posthumously.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Auerbachs Cellar- 5th in world fame

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Auerbachs Cellar (Auerbachs Keller in German) ranks fifth in restaurant world fame. The famous restaurant and bar is located in the heart of Leipzig, Germany, a city that is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year As the locals like to explain, “Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen, der schweige still, denn das beweist: Er hat Leipzig nicht gesehen.”

(If you have travelled to a Leipzig trade show without visiting Auerbachs, keep it quiet because it proves that you haven’t seen Leipzig.)

Auerbachs could have been Stromer’s

Auerbachs Cellar has been in continuous operation since 1525. It is located in the basement of the Maedler Passage, a shopping arcade in Leipzig’s historic district. Its original owner, Dr. Heinrich Stromer, sat on the Leipzig city council, was a professor of medicine at the University of Leipzig and personal physician to members of the nobility. In appreciation for Stromer’s services, the Prince-Elector of Saxony granted him the privilege of establishing a wine bar. The bar was first mentioned in 1438. Because Stromer was born in the city of Auerbach, Leipzig’s citizens liked to call him Dr. Auerbach. The name stuck. But the wine bar did not last long. In 1528, Dr. Stromer had the original structure razed and replaced with a larger one that included a large vaulted cellar (Grosser Keller), a Cask Cellar (Fasskeller), Old Leipzig (Alt-Leipzig), the Luther Room (Lutherzimmer) and the Goethe Room (Goethezimmer). The Mephisto Bar was constructed on the floor above. All of the rooms are still standing today. However, in the early 20th century – when the Maedler Passage was built – much of Auerbachs was reconstructed and expanded.

Grosser Keller, Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle. 2014

Grosser Keller, Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Auerbachs and the Goethe connection

While Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer, studied in Leipzig in the 1700s, he liked to frequent Auerbachs Cellar. It was here that he got the inspiration for “Faust,” his two-part play in which Faust sells his soul to the devil, Mephisto. Faust and Mephisto carouse here with students before riding off on a barrel. The scene is depicted on a carved tree trunk in the Goethe Room. Two large bronze sculptures at the cellar’s entrance depict Dr. Faust, Mephisto and the students.

Sculpture of Faust and Mephisto at the entrance of Auerbachs Cellar, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Sculpture of Faust and Mephisto at the entrance of Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Rubbing Faust’s shoe for good luck

After dining in Auerbachs large vaulted cellar recently, we admired the painted ceiling and enjoyed the traditional German food. That day’s special – Sauerbraten with red cabbage and dumplings – tasted as good as it looked. Upon leaving, we made sure we gave Dr. Faust’s shoe a rub. It is supposed to bring good luck. There must be some truth to the legend because we noticed that Dr. Faust’s shoe gleamed golden, the dark bronze patina having been rubbed away by scores of good-luck-seekers before us.

Dr. Faust's shoe, polished by scores of Auerbachs visitors, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Dr. Faust’s shoe, polished by scores of Auerbachs visitors, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle. 2014

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

1000 years city of Leipzig

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

The city of Leipzig, Germany, is celebrating its 1,000th anniversary this year. Thietmar, Bishop of Merseburg, mentioned the Saxon trading town for the first time on 20 December 1015 in his chronicle.

Year-Around Leipzig Sights

Leipzig is a city full of interesting history and culture: There is the Thomaskirche where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as a music director. The Thomaner Boys Choir has delighted audiences for 800 years. The first Christmas market took place here in 1458. Auerbach’s Keller is a tavern that was already frequented by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His classic legend “Faust” is set here. You can still visit the tavern today. The University of Leipzig was founded in 1409, and the Leipzig Zoo opened its doors in 1878 for the first time. The old shopping arcade of Specks Hof is located here, and so is the famous concert hall, the Gewandhaus. The beautiful, old St. Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), is located in Leipzig. It rose to national fame in 1989 when its Monday peace prayers became an integral part of East Germany’s peaceful revolution against communist rule. Leipzig is also the birthplace of institutions such as the German Publishers and Booksellers Association and the German Football Association.

Maedler Passage, Leipzig, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Maedler Passage, Leipzig, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Special 2015 Leipzig Events

Leipzig is a delight to visit at any time, but this year will be even more exciting because of the many birthdays that will take place this year. The city of Leipzig will celebrate its 1000th anniversary. Both, the St. Nikolaikirche and the Leipziger Messe (Leipzig trade fairs) will see their 850th birthday. And Leipzig’s Central Train Station will turn 100 this year. Many special events are scheduled throughout the year. Below are some of the highlights:

May 1- to May 25 – Leipzig’s Museum of Fine Arts will present a Paul Klee exhibition, exhibiting about 100 expressionist’s works.

May 17 to May 24 – St. Nikolaikirche’s first festival celebrating 850 years.

May 20 to Oct 25 – Exhibition “1015 – Leipzig from its beginning”

May 22 to May 31Wagner Festival

May 31 to June 7 – The Titanick Theater is enacting Leipzig’s 1000-year history at different places throughout the city, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra is playing Mendelssohn’s “Hymn of Praise,” accompanied by a 1000-voice choir.

June 27 to July 5 – Festival “850 Years Leipzig Fairs” at the trade grounds.

July 10 to 11 – Open air concert “Klassik Airleben” with the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

October 9 – Festival of Lights.

December 20 – Closing event in the Augustusplatz, including the cutting of the grand birthday cake with 1000 candles.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Götz von Berlichingen Euphemism

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

A euphemism is a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive ( “Götz von Berlichingen” is such a phrase, and I absolutely adore it.

About Writers and Poets

When I attended high school in Germany in the early 1960s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s works were as familiar to me as the classics of Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tennessee Williams might be to today’s American students.

About Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is a well-known German poet, playwright, novelist, and philosopher who lived from 1739 to 1842. Often compared to Germany’s William Shakespeare, Goethe was born in Frankfurt/Main and studied law in Leipzig and Strasburg. He was later appointed to Duke Karl August’s court in Weimar and remained there for the rest of his life. But Goethe’s true love was writing. He wrote poetry in a variety of styles and meters and produced celebrated dramas, novels, memoirs, and other literary classics.

Famous Euphemism

This prolific man had penned his first renowned drama when he was only twenty-four years old. His first drama was also the first of his works we discussed in high school. It was based on the memoir of an adventurer-poet, named Götz von Berlichingen, and included a quote that quickly rose to fame. In the third act of the drama, Götz is under siege by the Imperial Army. The captain of the army asks Götz to surrender. From a window, our hero replies, “Er kann mich am Arsche lecken – He can lick my arse.” You can image how uncouth those words must have sounded in the mid-1700s. Even today, it is a rather blunt way of putting it. At any rate, the expression, ‘Götz von Berlichingen,‘ known as the Swabian Salute, became a famous German euphemism. Instead of giving the finger, uttering the F—- word, or using other uncouth expressions, we would send a regal nod in the direction of the offender and simply say, “Götz von Berlichingen, Sir.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.