Four years ago, when I made a trip to Naumburg to attend a philological symposium devoted to Nietzsche, I was told by one of the participants that, until recently, West Germans traveling from Frankfurt on the main west-east railway line had been forced to dismount when the train reached the “frontier town” where the Federal Republic ended and Erich Honnecker’s DDR (German Democratic Republic) began and to climb into another train in order to reach Leipzig. This inconvenience was a sickly symptom of a systematic Abgrenzung (demarcation) policy, pursued with pathological single mindedness by a “satellite” regime that was determined to prove its Marxist superiority over its bigger, wealthier, capitalistic neighbor to the west. Today, this absurd anomaly has disappeared, along with so much else, and now trains regularly travel back and forth with no arbitrary impediments between Frankfurt, Leipzig, and the Saxon capital of Dresden.
The train on which I traveled this time from Frankfurt, via Fulda, Eisenach—famous for the Wartburg Castle in which (in 1522) a carefully hidden “heretic” named Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German—and on past the old university town of Erfurt to Weimar, was called the Johann-Sebastian-Bach Express. The unlucky Deutsche Bundesbahn, recently plagued by several embarrassing railway accidents, may be a utilitarian instrument of locomotion for the carless, but in an increasingly culture-conscious Germany, it seems only proper that one of its trains should honor the memory of the great baroque composer who spent eight years (1708-1716) as the largely unappreciated organist of the ducal court at Weimar and who later, more auspiciously, served for a quarter of a century as the cantor of the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
Today, all over the world, great cities are fighting a desperate battle to save their centers from being overrun, encumbered, and polluted by the all-intrusive automobile, delivery van, and truck. Only in towns that have retained their medieval ramparts—such as Fez in Morocco, Avila in Spain, Carcassonne in France—have the municipal authorities been relatively successful in combating a pervasive invasion of gas-propelled metal. To these havens of pedestrian felicity, we should, however, add certain Central European towns that have been miraculously spared the aesthetic (and, all too often, social) blight of urban industrialization. The “secular” town of Weimar, like its not too distant Thuringian neighbor, the cathedral city of Naumburg, is one of them.
Carless travelers choosing to reach Weimar by train are confronted, as they step out of the squat railway station to the north, by a tree-lined avenue sloping gently down towards the vulnerable city center—which, when I visited it last May, was having its entrails picked clean by half a dozen tall, predatory cranes in a strenuous effort to meet the awesome challenge imposed on it by the Eurocrats in Brussels, who decided some time ago that this historically world-famous Thuringian town should be singled out and honored as the Kulturstadt Europas—the cultural “capital” of Europe during the pre-millennial year of 1999.
As I walked down the nondescript avenue connecting the railway station to the city center, I was struck by its sole distinctive feature: its name, the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse. Anyone glancing at a map of present-day Weimar cannot fail to be impressed by its distinctly “liberal,” as well as cosmopolitan, character—with street names that pay homage to George Washington, Steuben (yes, the same Prussian baron who was present at the siege of Yorktown), Franz Liszt, Alexander Pushkin, Shakespeare, along with a host of German and Austrian celebrities led by Bach, Heinrich Heine, Richard Wagner, Gerhart Hauptmann, Richard Strauss, Herder, Wieland, Feuerbach, Alexander von Humboldt, the two Cranach painters (father and son), Walter Gropius (who founded his celebrated Bauhaus architectural school in Weimar during the 1920’s), and, of course, the greatest of the town’s “adopted sons,” Goethe and Schiller. That Weimar’s municipal authorities should have made no effort to alter the street name of Karl Liebknecht, the ill-starred “Spartakist” revolutionary who was murdered by anti-communist Freikorps activists and casually tossed into a Berlin canal in January 1919, is, I think, indicative of the town’s essentially tolerant and ecumenical character, as is the name, Platz der Demokratie, that was imposed years ago on the palace square, which is dominated by a late 19th-century equestrian statue of Weimar’s most famous duke—the relatively “enlightened” Carl August (1757-1828), who for more than four decades was Goethe’s friend and protector.
What nobody, whether an unhurriedly pedestrian map reader or a more speedily cab-driven sightseer, can fail to notice when he reaches the end of the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse is the red and white “No Access” disk barring automotive penetration into Weimar’s Innenstadt. In November 1775, when Goethe first came to Weimar, the little town, which then numbered 6,000 souls in a Lilliputian duchy of 34 square miles, was protected by ramparts and ten watchtowers—only one of which, rising like a dark, baroque lighthouse over the rooftops of the ducal Schloss, still survives. Even though he had come at the urgent invitation of the 18-year-old Duke Carl August (who had traveled to Frankfurt to meet the celebrated arch-romantic author of The Suffering of the Young Werther), Goethe, like any other stranger, had to register at the little town’s western gate, indicating his name, his rank, and the purpose of his visit.
Today, it requires an effort of imagination to picture the extraordinarily fragmented state of 18th-century Germany, with its patchwork quilt of close to 300 jealously “independent” duchies, grand duchies, principalities, bishoprics, Reich-cities, and “free towns,” almost all of them surrounded by medieval ramparts which, in an age of gunpowder, bombards, and siege cannon, had ceased to be protective in any meaningful military sense, while remaining an economic bane for peasants and merchants forced to pay a toll for the privilege of entering the town or city with their wares.
In France, Louis XIV had decided as early as 1660 that the capital city of Paris could be “disarmed” and divested of its ramparts without peril to its inhabitants. The result of this urban disencumbrance was a ring of broad “boulevards”—a word of Nordic origin (boulewerke in Dutch, bulwarks in English) originally derived from the wooden logs of “bole-work” that had been used to buttress the old ramparts’ tunnel-like passages. However, it took the more timorous rulers of Weimar almost a century to dare to follow the Sun King’s example. The most notable result was the creation of a tree-lined esplanade of distinctly modest proportions, in one of whose ochre-hued burgher houses the poet Friedrich Schiller took up residence in 1799. Unlike the car-crammed boulevards of Paris, this esplanade is now being turned into a pleasant pedestrian fareway for the hundreds of thousands of robustly happy discontentedly de-motorized foot-sloggers who will be converging on Weimar next year.
I do not pretend to be an expert on the curiously static circumstances of Goethe’s long life, two-thirds of which he spent in Weimar. But it is, I think, safe to say that the 26-year-old poet and playwright would probably not have extended his stay in the undistinguished ducal town, where hogs, geese, and errant livestock still roamed the unpaved streets, had Weimar in 1775 not been striving to “modernize” itself in an age of aristocratic elegance dominated by two of the most francophilic “enlightened despots” ever to have sat upon a European throne: Frederick II of Prussia (who despised German as an uncouth language fit only for stable boys and corporals) and Catherine the Great of Russia. The strong feeling of francophobic revulsion which later overtook the Saxon-born Catherine after the French Jacobins had guillotined their monarch in 1792 was never fully shared by Goethe; but there is little doubt that the blow thus dealt to a hitherto dominant French culture by the revolutionary sans-culottes enhanced the growing prestige of William Shakespeare’s English and greatly spurred the development of a German language and literature which, until Goethe burst on the scene, had remained for the most part a language of pedantic scholars and theologians.
The first person to have conceived the idea of making the little Thuringian town of Weimar a center of German culture was neither Goethe nor his princely patron, Duke Carl August, who in his younger years was more interested in sowing a few wild oats by riotous hunting, drinking, and skirt-lifting than he was in quietly reading books of poetry. No, Weimar’s first important benefactor was the duke’s small, unprepossessing, but nimble-minded mother, the dowager duchess Anna Amalia. Widowed at the age of 19, this niece of Frederick the Great had to use all of her feminine charm, administrative common sense, and feminine guile to reestablish the financial solvency of a town that had been virtually bankrupted by a spendthrift duke (her father-in-law).
The name “Weimar,” it seems, is derived from two old Germanic words—Wiha-Mari (holy still water)—applied centuries ago to the gently flowing Ilm. Since the Ilm, a lovely, willow-and-ash-flanked brook, was far removed from the wealth-bringing waterways and trade routes of medieval and post-Renaissance Germany, the shrewd dowager duchess Anna Amalia decided that the best way to drag Weimar from its impecunious obscurity was to play the cultural card for all it was worth. In the nearby university town of Erfurt, Christoph Martin Wieland had begun to make a name for himself with his graceful verse “romances” and his translations of Shakespeare’s plays. He had, furthermore, recently published a didactic novel, The Gold Mirror, or the Kings of Scheschian, in which he had expounded his views as to how a prince should be brought up in order to become an “enlightened” ruler of his subjects. The essence of Wieland’s message was summed up in a single sentence, worth quoting for the relevance it has for the urgent problems of today: “A state could have the best laws, the best religion, the most flourishing condition of its sciences and arts, and nevertheless be ill ordained if the legislator had first shown his lack of wisdom by overlooking one point, on which in every tiny respect everything depends, the education of the young.”
Sensible recommendations like this one—so different from the visionary “permissiveness” of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (a child must be granted a maximum of freedom and allowed to grow up as unfettered and “naturally” as a tree)—made such an impression on Wieland’s contemporaries that his didactic novel was translated into French—in those days a supreme encomium. In a stroke of genius, the astute dowager duchess invited Wieland to come to Weimar to tutor her two sons, Carl August and Constantin. She made the offer so financially enticing that, in 1772, Wieland moved from the theologically stuffy atmosphere of Erfurt to the more relaxed atmosphere of Weimar. The poet celebrated his liberation from academic chores by writing the libretto for the first Singspiel opera to have been composed for German voices—Alceste (a weak forerunner of Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail)—and by launching the Teutscher Merkur (to rival Mercure de France), which overnight became Germany’s leading literary monthly.
Wieland, who was 16 years older than Goethe, was a singularly congenial poet who did not resent the intrusion on his literary turf of the 26-year-old genius from Frankfurt. Had it been otherwise—who knows?—Goethe, in that fateful month of November 1775, might have reverted to his original plan and proceeded on his way to Italy, and the little ducal town would have relapsed into its somnolent provincial obscurity. But fortunately for Weimar, the 42-year-old author of charming verse romances and the 26-year-old poet and revolutionary dramatist —who, in his rough-and-tumble play Goetz von Berlichingen, had disrespectfully thumbed his nose at the prevailing conventions of polite discourse and had rudely kicked the stilted Aristotelian “unities” of time and space off the German stage hit it off immediately and remained good friends until the day of Wieland’s death in 1813.
Infinitely less close were Goethe’s relations with the third member of the literary trio who, in less than three decades, made Weimar culturally famous throughout the German-speaking world and beyond. This was not, as one might at first suppose, Friedrich Schiller, a relative latecomer to the scene, but Johann Gottfried Herder, whom Goethe had met by chance in a suburb of Strasbourg while Herder was undergoing painful treatment for his eyes. Six months after his arrival in Weimar, Goethe took what was probably the boldest and bravest step in his curiously long, vacillating, and dilettantish career: He persuaded his young mentor, Duke Carl August, to invite Herder to come to Weimar to fill the long vacant “superintendency” (a senior ecclesiastical post in the Lutheran Church) of the old Peter and Paul Church, whose Cranach altar painting of a crucified Christ is one of the masterpieces of late-Gothic German art. Fortunately for his sponsors and the subsequent fate of Weimar, Herder, a truculent germanophile who often quarreled with the more cosmopolitan Goethe, accepted the invitation.
Today, the name of Herder means nothing to Americans, outside of the university faculties of comparative literature, history, and philosophy. But during his 26-year “reign” in Weimar, where he preached and pontificated from the pulpit of the Peter and Paul Church, Herder’s influence throughout the Germanic world as a philosophical theorist of the romantic Sturm und Drang movement equaled Goethe’s and was comparable to Rousseau’s prestige in France. Like Rousseau, Herder believed that feeling and emotion are every bit as important as reason; but unlike Rousseau, who had a particular affinity for music. Herder was fascinated by the infinite diversity, rather than by the universal similarity, of human beings. Each individual people, he was convinced, possessed its particular Volksgeist, a kind of native genius spontaneously expressed in its poetic mythology, folk songs, and tales. Whereas, almost to a man, the French Encyclopedists and philosophes had wanted to do for the study of civil society and psychology what Newton had done for the cosmos—by discovering the universal “laws” governing the individual and collective behavior of human beings—Herder, inspired by the principles of organic growth and development that cause an oak to differ from a birch tree or a poppy from a rose, felt that the only way to understand a people and thus help it fulfill its cultural vocation was to dig deep down into the distant, almost invisible roots of its linguistic past in order to discern what was indigenous and authentic rather than artificially copied and “imported” from outside. He was one of the first great explorers of the Nordic roots of German culture: It was Herder who urged Goethe to study Shakespeare and the Germanic Edda myths. So ardent and singleminded was his idée fixe as to what was nationally “authentic” and inauthentic that he ended up denouncing the Italian Renaissance as the pernicious interrupter of a vigorous Germanic culture that had begun to flourish during the later Middle Ages. His disparagement of Greek and Roman models for the purposes of contemporary German education brought him into direct conflict with Goethe, an ardent admirer of ancient Greece and Rome.
Although Herder has been credited with having invented the German word Nationalismus, he was anything but a narrow minded nationalist, for his interest in folk cultures and poetic myths was universal. His antipathy for every kind of cultural “artificiality” was so profound that, as Isaiah Berlin noted in a brilliant essay, it inspired him to write trenchant sentences like this one:
The savage who loves himself, his wife and his child . . . and works for the good of his tribe as for his own . . . is in my view more genuine than the human ghost, the . . . citizen of the world, who, burning with love for all his fellow ghosts, loves a chimera. The savage in his hut has room for any stranger . . . the saturated heart of the idle cosmopolitan is a home for no one.
There was hardly a great figure in what can properly be called Germany’s cultural renaissance during the late 18th and early 19th centuries who was not enormously influenced by Herder. The list includes Hegel—whom Herder, had he not died in 1803, would surely have condemned for his philosophical apotheosis of the state. For, as Isaiah Berlin emphasized, if Herder
denounces individualism, he equally detests the State, which coerces and mutilates the free human personality. His social vision is antagonistic to government, power, domination. Louis XTV and Frederick the Great (like Caesar and Charlemagne) represent a detestable ideal. . . . He is repelled by the claims of contemporary Celtomaniacs and Teutomaniacs who rhapsodized over the ancient Gauls and Northmen. He celebrates German beginnings, because they are part of and illuminate his own civilization, not because German civilization ranks higher than others on a cosmic scale.
A few months before Goethe’s arrival in Weimar, a fiery thunderbolt had reduced much of the ducal castle to roofless stonework and charred beams. I cannot help feeling that this disaster was curiously providential in encouraging Goethe to prolong his stay. A keen lover of the arts who might have become a painter had he displayed a greater talent in his pencil sketches, Goethe retained a life-long interest in architecture. The prospect of being able to influence his young mentor, Duke Carl August, not only in matters of architectural reconstruction but also in the layout of an English-style park, extending southward toward the Belvedere hunting lodge along the banks of the discreet, half-hidden Ilm, was too tempting to resist.
The guidebooks assure us that Goethe’s influence in the choice of trees to be planted—everything from oaks, elms, cedars, poplars, weeping willows, alders, and beeches to firs, white-barked birches, and mountain ash—was decisive. But it seems evident that between this English-style park—with its casually spaced clumps of trees rising above meadows dotted by buttercups and daisies, marigolds and thistledown—and its influential promoter there occurred a kind of bucolic symbiosis bordering on perfection. The magic of this faintly forested meadowland begins to work on one from the moment one crosses the first wooden footbridge over the rippling, green-watered Ilm or walks down the grassy slope from the old Stadtschloss, Anna Amalia’s exquisite library, or the long, many-windowed house that was once inhabited by Duke Carl August’s Oberstallmeister (master of the horse), with whose cultivated wife, Charlotte von Stein, Goethe carried on a letter-exchanging flirtation during his first ten years in Weimar. Nor is this magic purely visible; for I have never known a spot—not even Oxford or Cambridge—where what is “town” dissolves more imperceptibly into sonorous woodlands resonant with the happy chirping, warbling, and trilling of joyous songbirds.
Not long after Goethe’s arrival in Weimar, Duke Carl August, realizing how cramped and uncomfortably lodged was his protege in a local hostelry, made him a gift of a curiously squat, tall-roofed Gartenhaus, built up against the eastern slope of the flat meadowed valley, to which the recently promoted Geheimrat (privy councilor) could escape from the irksome chores of daily administration and court etiquette. It was in this semi-sylvan “retreat” that, during his early years in Weimar, Goethe wrote the first version of his Wilhelm Meister novels, his Iphigenie in Tauris tragedy, and some of his most famous poems—such as the Erlkönig (“King of the Elves”), which was first performed in ballet form at the ducal theater in 1782.
All sightseeing of famous homes is based on the spectral illusion that one can somehow better appreciate the works of creative geniuses by visiting the places where they composed or painted their masterpieces. This is a reverent illusion, closely related to the religious impulse that prompts pilgrims to visit a famous shrine or chapel. In the case of most geniuses, almost all that remains to evoke fleeting bursts of creativity are random furnishings which once formed the décor of those blessed moments of inspiration. Goethe’s celebrated Gartenhaus is no exception. Its sparse pieces of furniture—including a late-18th century clavichord made of mahogany and cherry wood, a handsome Viennese writing desk with a score of tiny drawers (for the conservation of botanical species), and a curious traveling bed equipped with litter bars and handles—give one a graphic idea of Goethe’s spartan love of simplicity. (Often his faithful valet, Philipp, slept in the same bedroom.) But none of these piously preserved artifacts tell us much about the sources of the poet’s inspirations—save, perhaps, for two truly “Goethean” items: a copper engraving showing a panorama of Rome, viewed from the summit of the Janiculum in 1765, and an imaginary city map of ancient Rome, with its 14 metropolitan “districts,” such as it was supposed to have been at the time of Marcus Aurelius and the later Caesars.
When I visited this unassuming cottage early one Saturday morning, I was lucky enough to have no more than a dozen sightseeing competitors to contend with. I am not the only one who dreads what is likely to happen during the pre-centennial year of 1999. Indeed, the Kulturstadt‘s directors are bracing themselves for such a flood of visitors that they are considering the construction of a second, ersatz Gartenhaus, not far from the real one, in the hope that this may relieve the pressure placed on creaking floorboards by tens of thousands—what am I saying? by hundreds of thousands—of “fans” eager to tramp up and down the plain, uncarpeted stairs once trodden by the “Master.”
I must confess that I found the sparse furnishings and unpretentious simplicity of the garden house far closer in spirit to what it was in Goethe’s day than the imposing burgher house—14 windows broad, with a pedimented entrance and two double-doored lateral archways for carriages and horses—that the poet-in-residence was offered as a present by his ducal benefactor in 1782. When Goethe died, half a century later, in his 83rd year, he left behind an extraordinary accumulation of belongings estimated to have totaled close to 50,000 items. Unlike his slightly older contemporary, Catherine the Great, who had a palace—the now world-famous Hermitage—built in Saint Petersburg to house the scores of paintings she kept buying (many of them still uncrated at the moment of her death), Goethe never had more than a modest townhouse in which to store his incredible collection of, for the most part, artistic bric-a-brac. Of the scores of Hellenistic and Roman busts, statuettes, and bronze figurines I saw as I walked over the beautifully polished floors of the upstairs “reception rooms,” none, and particularly not the gigantic head of an angry, shouting goddess (which used to adorn the “Juno room”), struck me as being truly original or beautiful. The only notable exceptions were a magnificent collection of Italian Renaissance and post-Renaissance faenza plates and platters, featuring allegorical scenes from Greco-Roman mythology or Roman soldiers persecuting Christian martyrs, a beautiful Italian Renaissance cabinet complete with tiny wooden pillars and sculpted medallions, and two exquisite oval mirrors in Goethe’s top-floor workroom.
Tastes differ, and my own are doubtless prejudiced. It is also unfair to discount the formidable problems confronting the embarrassed curators of Goethe’s townhouse. But they might have done better had they tried to make this residence more resemble what it was actually like when it was inhabited by Goethe, his “commoner” wife Christiane Vulpius (whom he finally married in 1806), their son August, and later their grandchildren, rather than turn it into a museum for the display of some of the poet-collector’s many acquisitions.
Better inspired have been the curators of Schfller’s smaller but more charmingly furnished house, located at one corner of the former esplanade, renamed the Schillerstrasse in his honor. Having no embarrassment of riches to contend with, they wisely chose to fill the house with chairs, tables, beds, curtains, iron and terra-cotta stoves of different shapes and sizes, as well as an impressive battery of kitchen pots and pans, all roughly dating from the years—1799-1805—during which Schiller lived here. Access to this charming burgher house, with its green shutters and ochre-hued facade, is now made from behind, where a luminous glass and concrete annex has been built to provide visitors with a useful introduction to the circumstances of Schiller’s life in Weimar. One of its most interesting exhibits is a framed copy of the patent of nobility that Emperor Francis II granted in November 1802 (four years before Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire) to Johann Christoph von Schiller—the erstwhile commoner from Ludwigsburg whose first play, Die Räuber (The Robbers), had created an uproar 20 years before by exalting the triumphs and vicissitudes of a Robin Hood figure who dares to challenge the social injustices of his time. “In a smaller city such as Weimar,” as Schiller candidly explained in a letter to his friend Christian Korner, “it is always an advantage to be excluded from nothing, for here this is felt as unpleasantly abhorrent, whereas in a big city one is not at all aware of it.”
In July 1787, when Schiller turned up in Weimar in the hope of meeting Goethe, the restless poet-in-residence had left furtively for Italy—to the consternation of the possessive Charlotte von Stein, who avenged herself when the errant “lover” returned the next year by demanding the return of all her letters, which she proceeded to destroy. This was probably not as great a loss to world literature as the deliberate incineration of Byron’s diary, but fortunately for posterity the “jilted” Charlotte refrained from burning the 17,000 letters that Goethe is said to have written to her.
The least that can be said, when the two bards finally met, is that Goethe treated the 28-year-old poet-dramatist almost as cavalierly as he had the outraged Fran von Stein, although he used his literary influence to have Schiller appointed professor of history at the nearby university town of Jena. The ten years of “exile” that followed proved singularly fruitful in one unexpected respect, giving rise to one of the most fascinating exchanges of letters devoted to serious questions of epic and lyric poetry (later filling six volumes) ever to have taken place between two literary giants. And it must be added that, when he returned in 1799 to Weimar (where Goethe was now directing the court theater), it was the younger genius, Schiller, who left the older genius far behind by completing seven plays—the Wallenstein trilogy, Mary Stuart, The Maid of Orleans, The Bride of Messina, and William Tell—in the short space of a dozen years: a firework display of dramatic creativity that no German author since has come close to rivaling.
Today an heroic double statue of Weimar’s two greatest adopted sons, mounted on a ten-foot-high pedestal, adds an aura of nobility to the dull, Doric-columned facade of the no longer-ducal theater—which now proudly calls itself the Deutsches National Theater—on a square just beyond the limits of the Innenstadt. Schiller, who died too soon to see his dream come true, had predicted, “If we had a national theater, we would be a nation”: words that were quoted when, in the turbulent month of January 1919, a group of parliamentary deputies gathered in this same theater to pronounce the death sentence on the Second Germanic Reich and to launch a new republic.
Before leaving Weimar, I went to admire the magnificent Bechstein grand piano in the humble gamekeeper’s house where Europe’s greatest virtuoso, Franz Liszt, spent the last summers of his life after having, as the Hofkapellmeister, made Weimar one of the musical centers of the continent during another “golden age” lasting from 1848 to 1861.
By the time I had climbed upstairs and down again to the tiny garden, my legs were beginning to buckle. Daunted by the prospect of trudging up the long Humboldtstrasse, I yielded to temptation and climbed into a taxi—one of half a dozen that now cater to the needs of Weimar’s 60,000 inhabitants. During the drive up to the villa where a tragically demented Friedrich Nietzsche spent the final months of his life, I asked the cabman how he was making out and if he had many clients.
“Clients!” he scoffed. “Are you joking? What did they expect”—he meant the town authorities who had more or less pressed him into service—”when anyone who wants to come here can drive all the way to Weimar in his fancy Mercedes or BMW?”
The large square villa, with the words “NIETZSCHE ARCHIV” boldly inscribed over the front door, was every bit as ugly as the photographs I had seen of it. After their mother’s death in April 1897, Nietzsche’s strong-willed sister Elisabeth, who had long since abandoned their hometown of Naumburg (much too provincial for her “cosmopolitan” taste), forcibly moved her helpless brother, along with his library, precious notebooks, and thousands of letters, to this hillside villa.
Inside, I got a shock. I already knew that, for reasons of security and safekeeping, all of Nietzsche’s papers had been removed to a massive stone building overlooking the gentle Ilm, a building which now also houses the manuscripts and sundry papers of Goethe and Schiller. What I did not know was that, two years after Nietzsche’s death in 1900, his sister, who was already succumbing to a fatal folie des grandeurs as the “guardian” and “trustee” of the “great philosopher’s” intellectual heritage, had decided to have the villa’s interior entirely redone, with elegantly carved birch-wood paneling designed by the fashionable Belgian architect, Henri Van de Velde. With the exception of a huge green-porcelain stove, used to heat the downstairs living room, there was nothing in this villa to indicate what it had looked like during the short period of Nietzsche’s last confinement.
“And his books?” I asked the receptionist, an attractive young girl who had only recently arrived from Dresden.
“His books?” she answered, with a helpless shrug. “Oh, they’re now stored in the basement of the Stadtschloss.”
The villa nevertheless was worth a visit—if only as a revelation of the supreme fatuity of Nietzsche’s dreadful sister, compiler and concocter of The Will to Power, a book the philosopher never wrote but which the unscrupulous Elisabeth had published and presented to the world shortly after his death as his “masterwork.” Prominently exhibited in the display room, next to the villa’s entrance, was a framed copy of the congratulatory telegram that Fran Doktor h.c. (honoris causa) Forster-Nietzsche had sent to “
To the l