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23 October 2006

Heidelberg Romanticism 200 Years On

Symposium at the International Science Forum of the University of Heidelberg, 2-4 November 2006 — Coordinator: Prof. Helmuth Kiesel, Department of Germanic Studies

So-called Heidelberg Romanticism encompasses a period of hardly any more than 10 to 15 years in the early 19th century. In literary studies it is normally treated as a phase of the Romantic movement in its own right, but its contours have rarely been delineated precisely. Customarily it is referred to as "high Romanticism", thus setting it apart from "early Romanticism" in Berlin and Jena and "late Romanticism" in Dresden or Vienna. This creates the impression that literary Romanticism in Germany was a unified movement or epoch, burgeoning, flourishing and declining like some flowering plant. But such a model is highly dubious. When in 1978 Reinhard Brinkmann attempted to draw conclusions from the concepts of Romanticism dating back to the period itself, his verdict was that defining what "Romantic" actually means "would even have caused the owl of Minerva some embarrassment". Indeed, Romanticism is so marked by contradictions, twists and turns that it is very difficult to consider it a homogenous movement. In fact it is fair to say that, though Jena Romanticism and Weimar classicism had plenty to fall out over, they still had more in common than Jena and Heidelberg Romanticism.

Accordingly, the task of this symposium is first of all to delineate the specific profile of Heidelberg Romanticism in contradistinction not only to the Jena variety but also to Berlin, Dresden, Viennese and not least Tübingen or Swabian Romanticism.

There are three or four specific factors conditioning the emergence of Heidelberg Romanticism. One is the smouldering hostility to France dating back to the Reformation wars. This conflict found symbolic expression in the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, razed to the ground in 1689 and 1693 in the wars of Orléans succession. As early as 1773 Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart had announced that "anyone seeing these ruins and not hurling a curse in the direction of France cannot possibly be a true-blue German." In the course of the Napoleonic wars, sentiments like this became a national obligation, though Heidelberg itself was initially spared the horrors of armed conflict. In 1803 the territories on the right bank of the Rhine fell to Baden and the ruler of Baden, Karl Friedrich, found a pragmatic way of coming to terms with the Napoleonic constraints, thus ensuring his territory precarious peace. This also enabled him to reform the moribund university, which had lost its properties on the left bank of the Rhine. He modernised the administration and attracted important academic figures to Heidelberg. Many of them came from Jena, the first "Romantic" university, which had to close its doors in 1806 after Prussia's military defeat in Jena and Auerstädt. As Sophie Mereau so rightly said, the "Academy" in Jena had started emigrating to the "Athens in the south" (Heidelberg). As the wife of Clemens Brentano she herself was also to find a new home here. This influx of scholars from Jena (Johann Heinrich Voß, Jakob Friedrich Fries, Anton Justus Thibaut, Friedrich Wilken and many of their disciples and friends) was the decisive impetus for a thoroughgoing reconstitution of Romanticism after the demise of the republican dreams it had nurtured. It also shows that the contacts with Jena Romanticism had not been cut off completely. Many of the literary and philosophical ideals cultivated there (including ideas on natural and artistic poetry and Schelling's thoughts on natural philosophy) were upheld and developed further in Heidelberg. Accordingly, one of the central tasks of the symposium will be to cast light not only on the historical, but also on the social and cultural humus that was to make Heidelberg a unique centre of the "Romantic" spirit.

Another central topic at the symposium is the impact of Heidelberg Romanticism, which has yet to be comprehensively and conclusively mapped out. We know of course that many of the Wunderhorn songs inspired later poets (Eichendorff, Mörike, Heine) and were set to music by major composers (Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Reger, Strauss). But less attention has been paid to the way in which the engagement with Old High German and medieval manuscripts provided a decisive fillip for comparative linguistics and German studies. Görres' lectures on aesthetics (1807/08) enlarge on these matters and indicate links with the contemporary literature of the time. As such, they represent an important source for the history of Germanic studies as a scholarly discipline.

Altogether, the engagement with Volksliteratur in Heidelberg (folk songs, folk legends, folk narratives, fairy tales, etc.) was geared less to its poetic and philological aspects than to its political potential. This can be seen from a dictum attributed to Freiherr von Stein to the effect that "much of the fire that consumed Napoleon" had come from Heidelberg, a reference to the strengthening of national awareness aroused by the ruins of the Castle and further inflamed by the engagement with old German literature. The collection of old German paintings compiled by the Boisserée brothers was another operative factor in this connection. They were acclaimed as an indication that the Germans could not only look back on a literary, but also on an artistic tradition and became a token of national prestige, as is borne out by the poems of Max von Schenkendorf and the reviews by Helmina von Cházy and Amalia von Helvig. It is thus true to say that Romantic Heidelberg ignited a beacon that shone out brightly throughout the 19th century — not least due to the student fraternities — and retained its inflammatory potential until well into the 20th century. The extent to which this fire also fanned the flames of National Socialism is still controversial, although there are studies and theories that suggest this. The fact that Josef Goebbels did his doctoral dissertation (1919) on a Romantic subject (Wilhelm von Schütz) may well be symptomatic in this respect.

Summing up, we can say that in its manifestations and impact Heidelberg Romanticism will certainly repay closer study. This symposium is designed to substantiate this claim.

Prof. Dr. Jochen Hörisch, Prof. Dr. Helmuth Kiesel, Prof. Dr. Friedrich Strack

Coordinator and contact person
Prof. Dr. Helmuth Kiesel
Department of Germanic Studies
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/543215/543205, fax: 543249

General inquiries from journalists requested to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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