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17 December 2002

The Student Prince and Heidelberg

Stories of happy student days in Heidelberg — Dissertation at the Department of German Studies devoted to the origins and worldwide dissemination of a specific image of Heidelberg in literature, theatre and film

A young prince by the name of Karl Heinrich from the fictional state of Sachsen-Karlsburg is sent to study at the non-fictional University of Heidelberg. Here, he quickly frees himself of the shackles of courtly etiquette, exchanges princely reserve for the uninhibited drinking and singing rituals cultivated by a student fraternity and falls head over heels in love with a waitress by the name of Kathie. But this dream of normal life is doomed to be short-lived. After only four months, he is summoned back home to assume his governmental responsibilities and to a marriage in keeping with his social rank and status. The fraternity cap and sash are the melancholy souvenirs the youthful head of state retains of the happiest time of his life, of Kathie and the place he longs to return to: Heidelberg and its University.

This is the bare outline of the plot of a play first performed in Berlin in 1901. Like no other literary work before or since, it has made the name of Heidelberg and its university a household name all of the world: Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's "Alt-Heidelberg" ("The Student Prince"). Since then, at the latest, student revels, springtime romance and first love have been inextricably bound up in our cultural memory with the university town on the banks of the Neckar.

A newly published doctoral dissertation from the University of Heidelberg's Department of German Studies offers the very first closely researched examination of the origins and worldwide dissemination of this image of Heidelberg in literature, theatre and film. It also engages with the criticism of this memorial complex as "kitschy" and "trivial". The study focuses centrally on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's "Alt-Heidelberg", the culmination of the immensely successful popularisation of Heidelberg as a "site of romantic nostalgia". The success of the book and the operetta based on it is largely attributable to the collective memorialisation of Heidelberg, transfiguring the town into a locus amoenus predestined for romantic love stories in the student milieu and crucially inspired by Viktor von Scheffel ("Alt-Heidelberg, du feine").

The author, Oliver Fink, is an editor of the Heidelberg University magazine "Unispiegel".

Oliver Fink: "Memories vom Glück". Wie der Erinnerungsort Alt-Heidelberg erfunden, gepflegt und bekämpft wurde. Verlag der Regionalkultur, Ubstadt-Weiher 2002, 192 pages (Buchreihe der Stadt Heidelberg, Vol. IX). ISBN 3-89735-209-5 (German only).

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 01.01.2003


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