Walking Along Goethe’s Path in Ilmenau (Satis Shroff)
Subtitle: Fragments of a Big Confession
It was on the evening of September 6,1780. Johann Wolfgang Goethe was writing one of his beautiful lyrical works with a pencil on the inner wall of the hunting-hut on the Kickelhahn. This particular verse was published in an anthology 35 years later.
A day before his last birthday, he went to the small hut, which was nailed together with planks, to recall the lines that he’d written in his younger days. That was in August, 27, 1831.
Today, you certainly will not find the inscription written with his hand, because the original hut was devoured by flames in the year 1870. But forty years later, the hut was rebuilt on the old foundation. In the year 1999, which was celebrated as the Goethe Year, the members of an international conference of Goethe-translators met at Goethe’s favourite hut to recite his verse in their respective languages. The translations were financially supported by the Stiftung Weimarer Classic and the Goethe Society. I’ve translated Goethe’s poem into Nepali, a language which is derived from Sanskrit and uses the Devnagari script.
The small, lovely town of Ilmenau lies on the north side of the Thuringer forest and is known for its mountain excavations, glass and porcelain industry, and is also known as Goethetown. Apropos porcelain, Meissen is the greatest place for those who want to gather exquisite works of earthenware art in porcelain, you know. He visited Ilmenau twenty-eight times. The town of Ilmenau has laid a path with the letter ‘g,’ which Goethe used to use when he signed his initial. Just a small ‘g’ for a literary giant.
We start the Goethe walk tour along the market in Ilmenau. To the left you see the imposing thre storied house. Goethe used to reside in the corner room on the first floor. He used to live and write there whenever he came to Ilmenau. Today it’s a part of the museum, which bears testimony to Goethe’s literary works and information about Ilmenau. The beautiful museum rooms, which have furniture from Goethe’s times, are used today for literary and musical events. If you’ve read Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’ then you’ve read about his description of the inns ‘Zum Adler’ and ‘To the Sun.’ Alas, these two houses were in a desolated, dilapidated state and had to be demolished in 1992.
A new one has been built with a similar façade. Let’s saunter from the marketplace through the Obertor Street to the graveyard. Near the entrance is the grave of Corona Schröters, who was a beautiful singer and actress in the court of Weimar. Corona was the first actress who played the role of Goethe’s heroine ‘Iphigenie.’
From the graveyard you can take a short-cut to the upper exit, where you come across many memorial-stones for the prominent people of Ilmenau. You cross the B4 and climb up the Sturmheide to the middle and upper Berggraben. This is a path with different elevations along the mountain massif, which were previously hill-trenches in which water used to flow from the mountains, and was channelised to Sturmheide and Roda.
You reach Manebacher Valley after a comfortable walk through a thick forest and watch the splendid valley below. After sometime, you reach Schwalbenstein, a high rock with porphyry, where you can rest in the adjacent hut called ‘Schutzhutte.’ It was in the Schwalbenstein that Goethe wrote the 4th Act of his famous ‘Iphigenie auf Taurus’ on March 19,1779 and in the following years Torquato Tasso. On a rock you can read the beginning of this 4th Act, and you are reminded of the beauty of the German language and the rhythmical power of Goethe’s prose, which has a magical effect on you and moves you to the core.
You move on to the next inn in the forest called ‘Schöffenhaus’ and descend towards Manebach, past Emmastein and the house of the Cantor, in whose garden Goethe used to do his sketches and other drawings. You cross the railway tracks and the street and climb the small bridle path across the hilly meadow, and reach Helenenruhe. A resting place for a certain Helen. You look from there in the distance towards the forested hills behind Schwalbenstein and trek over to Big Hermann Stone. The route is rather steep and most demanding. When you reach the big rock on which once perched a castle in the Middle Ages, you are rewarded by the sight of a cave. Goethe wrote about this cave: ‘It’s my favourite place, where I want to live and work.’ Perhaps it might inspire you too.
This was where Goethe worked and did his drawings. He even brought his lady von Stein when she visited him in Ilmenau. Frau von Stein was a serene, tempered lady-in-waiting who influenced Goethe, and under her friendship Goethe developed into a mature and balanced man.
After the last steep ascent you reach the 861m Klickelhahn. You can see the magnificent Thuringer Forest from here. We know through Goethe’s letter to Ms. von Stein that he fled from the town to Thuringen’s cool forested area whenever he could and wrote to her in Weimar about the beauty of the forest of Thuringen. When words couldn’t describe the opulent beauty of a place, he sent her his excellent drawings, for a picture tells more than a thousand words: he drew the cave of Hermannstein, the misty valleys of Ilmenau, Manebach and Stützerbach. As though the drawings weren’t enough, he wrote further: ‘…there are drawings and descriptions everywhere.’ Perhaps he too found ‘sermons in stones and good in everything,’ like William Shakespeare did in the forest in his ‘As You Like It.’
Goethe was moved by the picturesque idyll of it penned his poems thus:
Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh,
in allen Wipfeln
spurst du kaum einen Hauch;
die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde ruhest du auch.
Goethe was influenced by Herder’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s genius, and thereafter he’s known to have written a pseudo-Shakespearean tragedy called ‘Geschichte Gottfrieds von Berlichingen, which was ill received by Herder. The school-kids have to learn this on their way to acquiring the high-school certificate.
The hunter’s hut, where Goethe wrote his night-song on September 6, 1780 doesn’t exist anymore, but you can see a remake of the same. And like they say on all guided tours: ‘On a bright day you can see even the distant Harz.’ You descend to the hunter’s hut at Gabelbach (fork-stream). That small house you see was constructed at the order of the Duke Carl August in 1983 when he expected prominent hunting guests. In the house itself you hear lectures about Goethe’s scientific studies in the forest of Thuringen. If you’re tired you can walk to the Shepard’s meadow (Hirtenwiese). From there you can take different routes.But since we ‘re walking along Goethe’s path, we cross the street, and descend to the pretty Schorte Valley.
In Frankfurt Goethe became the leader of a group of intellectuals, which formed the inner circle of the Sturm and Drang. He wrote stormy poetry in free rhythm such as the Wanderers Sturmlied (storm-song), Prometheus, An Schwager Kronos and drafted the scenes of a Faust play, namely Urfaust.
Goethe lived to be 82 and it was in this time that the French Bastille was stormed. Read also A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Goethe was 39 then, and told his companions at Valmy: ‘This is the beginning of a new epoche of world history and you can say, you experienced it.’ In his youth he’d been fiery, energetic and impatient and later he became an oracular figure of Olympian stature. Germany’s man of letters liked acting, drawing, even directing theatres, and is universally regarded as a writer of the first rank. About his own work, Goethe said: ‘All my works are fragments of a big confession.’
His diversity in creative writing was astonishing and he had a wide range of forms: lyric, epic, ballad poetry, drama, novels, short-stories, autobiographical works. The fragments are the essence of his literary genius.