Rilke’s Ammersee flirtation

Wikimedia_Commons

The “Künstlerhaus Gasteiger” in Holzhausen, near Utting. This is not the villa Rilke wanted to rent (that house may have burned down in the 1960s). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1914 and 1916, Rainer Maria Rilke was involved romantically with the (married) painter Lou Albert-Lasard. In 1915 he found himself somewhat stranded in Munich, waiting to learn whether he would be drafted into the Austrian Army. While there he was consoled by another married Lou, his former lover and life-long good friend Lou Andreas-Salomé (who had a number of other admirers during her lifetime, including Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud). Andreas-Salomé helped him look for a country home to rent on the western shore of the Ammersee. The lake’s western shore and more specifically Holzhausen have long been popular with artists.

Andreas-Salomé: “Yesterday after a bit of an odyssey I rode with Rainer to Holzhausen on the Ammersee so that he could see a small villa owned by Professor Erler. A beautiful, tranquil lakeside park, a charmingly furnished little house seemed to us the clear choice. He’s only uncertain because he would have to commit for the summer months. I think the solitude in nature will do him immense good.”

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Image from the Ammersee Kurier

Rilke: “…it is likely that next week I will move into a very small house on the Ammersee, with a housekeeper (whom I am still looking for) and my books. So that I won’t have to speak nor hear and, in a way, be faceless. … the city has become quite unbearable to me”.

“The little house has been taken away from me (when I had just decided this morning), since the Erlers now want to rent out their other, larger villa, not the small one down on the lake!”

“The Erlers”, one assumes, were the brothers Fritz and Erich Erler, both artists, or one of them with spouse. I can’t say which one might have been the professor to whom Andreas-Salomé refers.

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Image from Municipality of Utting website

Quotes from “Mich gelüstet’s nach Idylle” by Karen Eva Noetzel (in German).

Seeking Fortunatus

After posting my most recent entry I began to look more seriously for the “Vita S. Martini” by Venantius Fortunatus in translation. It hasn’t brought much to light. I cannot read medieval Latin, but there is an Italian translation available in book form, which might be my only option. There is also a German version available but which costs an arm and a leg (and really, I don’t want to spend that much on a hobby). There are plenty of English-language academic papers about aspects of the text, but I don’t believe that an English translation exists. If any buffs of early medieval literature can prove me wrong, please have at it, as I would love to know!

“If the Baiuvarii on the Lech don’t block your way”*

My husband knows that I have this fascination with local maps and roads and routes from long ago. In a recent acquisition of used books he stumbled across something he knew I’d like — “Die Alpen in Frühzeit und Mittelalter” (The Alps during Antiquity and the Middle Ages) by Ludwig Pauli, C. H. Beck, 1980. I skipped ahead to the chapter on Alpine crossings and Roman Roads, and lo, look what I have learned:
It’s about 565 C.E., the Romans have retreated back to the Italian peninsula, and Rhaetia has gone through a few centuries of bloodbaths. The people who buried their silver coins in the hopes of recollecting them “when things died back down” are long dead and their stashes will remain buried for another 1,600 years or so. There’s no upkeep of infrastructure, but the roads are still there, more or less. Against this backdrop, a 25-year-old named Venantius Fortunatus has set off from Aquilea, on the Adriatic coast, for a long journey to Tours to pay respect at the grave of St. Martin of Tours. He wrote about his travels later**, and so we also know the route he took — over the Plöcken Pass (at the Italian border to Carinthia in Austria), then westward to the Brenner Pass, north to the “Seefelder Sattel” and on to Augsburg and beyond. What this means is that he took the (later named) Via Rhaetia, “our” Roman Road, which passes right through our area here between the Ammersee and the Lech River. Fortunatus passed through here — which means he is the earliest person of later world renown*** to have traveled in our area, all those years ago.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with the name, but a check with Wikipedia revealed something quite interesting — I was already somewhat familiar with his works, musical versions of which are in the Episcopal Hymnal (it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that most classical singers in America, no matter what religion or denomination they grew up in, know hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal, because the Episcopal churches, unlike their R.C. counterparts, pay well for professional choirs.)

One of his greatest hits is Pange lingua gloriosi, Corporis mysterium.

 

*Venantius Fortunatus, advising a traveler about conditions on the Via.

** “The Life of St. Martin”, which of course I need to hunt down.

*** Hannibal and his elephants crossed further west.

A Idea of Mine

I have a confession to make. Beyond all the other things I am doing right now – singing, translating, assisting in a bookselling business – I have a project in mind for the future. I want to put together a guidebook for the Via Raetia.
There are guides and books for following the Via Claudia Augusta, the first Roman-made road to cross the Alps in this region, but I have yet to find a modern tourist guide in English for it’s younger sister, the Via Raetia. The Via Claudia has an “official” route which one can follow ona bike, and much of it may accurately follow the old road. The Via Raetia does not, and here you can see why:
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Clearly one can’t just go traipsing across private property, let alone tell others to do so.

Walking, cycling, sights along the way, history, archaeology, culture, on the route between Augsburg and… well, how comprehensive do I want this to be? I could keep it within Bavaria (Augsburg to Mittenwald) or publish installments (Part 2, North Tyrol from Mittenwald to the Brenner Pass, Part 3 Italy: Brennero to Verona). Even if I had no other work, this would take a few years of research, travel, exploration. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to do it. (Note to any publishing houses: I’m here, “boots on the ground”, if you are considering something along these lines from a distance.)

But all this will have to wait another year at least, because for professional reasons I am going to be spending a considerable amount of time at the other end of Bavaria, namely closer to the Czech border.

Image from Google maps.

Nazi Bedtime Stories

The next estate dissolution in which we took part involved the sale of a rather large piece of land in the middle of Munich. A rich textile-industry dynasty family had a villa there with a spacious guest house, and basement garage for classic autos (with a car elevator), and the entire property had been sold. The owner’s mother came from Prussian nobility. Many of the thousand-plus books were from assorted family collections, brought together and stored out of sight and forgotten. One could get a vague sense of family life from one child’s horse book collection, or the 1930s German law publications pointing to a lawyer in the family, right next to a shelf with German resistance memoirs. The art books were in the living room, the romance novels upstairs.

It was in this large, scattered accumulation that I first held in my hand an actual Nazi children’s book.

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Fünf Wiegen und noch eine” (Five Cradles and One More) is an odd little work. Author Henrik Herse was an SS-Obersturmführer and “Fünf Wiegen” contains perhaps autobiographical musings, although it’s hard to say (the narrator is a somewhat impoverished writer with five children and a sixth on the way. The author was a senior officer in the SS, and I don’t know how many kids he actually had). I called it an odd little work but it  was probably typical of many war-time children’s books, no matter the era or location. What it seeks to do is to “familiarize children within the SS Family of their roots and culture”* through children’s rhymes, prose and symbols of Nordic and Germanic origin. [All quoted passages translated by the blog author.]

The goal — it would be impudent to think one knows it. Much more important than what lies in the distance is the way there. We must bring it to its conclusion in a way that does not shame us.

(IOW: it’s not important for you to know where this Reich is heading but you’d better be on board.)

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There are sweet stories of family life in a big house in the country, interspersed with nursery rhymes. Stories of simple meals laid out on the big oaken table, of birthday rituals, of hunger and poverty born with pride, of Christmas trees. The narrator speaks of living a quiet and taciturn life, of the next child being accepted into “our circle”, into which “we don’t let everyone”. I began to wonder what kind of effect stories like this had on the children waiting restlessly in bomb shelters all over Germany. They would begin to dream of being a part of this happy family in the country, of being the “next child”. It would have planted a seed in their impressionable minds, of some rare and holy place where only the best and bravest little Nazis could go. Or was it an exclusive book, only for the children of the elite SS?

At times it reads like a journal or a personal blog. Halfway through the tone gets a bit darker and more urgent. Words like “enemy” and “battle” start appearing in the prose. And always, the idea of Keeping the Faith. His thoughts go here:

It is not so easy to live this life of ours on to its end. It is not always a song which one wants to sing. There are cares upon cares, and they are greedy and want to eat you through and through.
And some men have thrown it all away, and have fled as cowards. To their deaths, or to another side.
That is the most wretched form of desertion, and death should first come to them.
Is love then eternal? many ask. Is that happiness?
Yes!! But only if you are strong enough to win and keep it! The greatest victories are in the battles for our lives.

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None too obscure and none too small,
none to die senselessly and alone,
because the holy torch I was given
I will pass on as the flame of eternal life.

What can I say? Some people have reality TV shows, some people have religious movements. It has the same ring as some early Christian writings. Probably not a coincidence.

What is difficult, is to have courage. To have so much courage that the blows don’t matter in the least. To hold your head up against the blows! The head and ribs can withstand much, when the heart inside beats in resistance.

Those poor victimized fascists.

The poems are now no longer about babies and Mother, but of iron-man strength, of battle, of swords, of blood and of German soil and imminent beatings!  And then, suddenly, we’re back to cradles again, and stories of his children’s births.

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The NSDAP was definitely onto something when they began starting them young. Research suggests that our 14-yr-old brains are “imprinted” with the music and literature which will stay important to us throughout our lives. While the nursery rhymes in “Fünf Wiegen” are for small children, the prose passages are not. These, rather, would have been noticed by them, but understood by 12-14 year olds. What a set up. All those kids, just dying to be chosen for the special circle of fellowship and purpose. It’s almost like a “Lord of the Rings” primer from the side of the Orcs, or Hogwarts fanfic about Slytherin children (which is indeed a thing as well).

One last, important thing: this book is nothing special, there are cheap copies to be had over the Internet. It may have been everyone’s grandmother’s favorite book as a child, the one she sensibly kept hidden from her grandchildren but liked too much to throw out. These are the books that come to light after someone dies.

*I lifted that phrase from here because it is perfect. I couldn’t have said it better.

Weekend Mountain Blogging: Mittenwald, Scharnitz, Seefeld

IMG_1999I needed to go to Mittenwald because of something I’d promised to do, and since I had the day free it seemed like a good idea to get some hiking in along with some sights.
As there’s only so much ground one can cover in an afternoon, I broke up the journey with short train rides. First, to Mittenwald.

IMG_1992Every so often, a sign that I’m on the old original Roman road. In tracing the route over the Alps one has the advantages and disadvantages of the landscape. Humans are practical above everything: the first mule paths made by the more ancient inhabitants followed the easiest ways over. The Romans built mainly on these existing paths because they were there (once they got onto more open land they had more options). After the Roman retreat in the 4th century CE, the roads remained and continued to be used for trade, later providing for much of the route of the Via Imperii during the years of the Holy Roman Empire. And so on, through the ages, until that ancient road over the mountains is now mostly (not completely) under the B2.

IMG_1995From Mittenwald I walked parallel to the B2 on a quieter trail, to get a sense of what Goethe may have felt when he came through here for the first time, in 1786.

Left Mittelwald at 6, clear sky, a keen wind blowing, and the kind of cold only allowed in February. The near slopes dark and covered in spruce, the grey limestone cliffs, the highest white peaks against the beautiful blue of the sky made exquisite, constantly changing pictures. Near Scharnitz you get into the Tyrol and the border is closed with a rampart that seals off the valley and joins up with the mountains. It looks very fine. One one side the cliff is fortified, on the other it just goes steeply up.

IMG_1996The fortification to which Goethe refers is the Porta Claudia, built in the 17th century and named for Claudia di Medici.
Back on the train, next stop Seefeld in Tirol.

IMG_1998“Bee Hotel”

I had seen this path many times from the window of the train, and often wondered what the signs said. Were they historical markers?  No, the trail is all about bees and honey!

This bee-themed nature trail ended at Reith bei Seefeld. From there a late-afternoon train brought me back to Innsbruck.

Hardy’s Map

While packing for a long train trip to Styria, I pulled a couple of books of the shelf to help pass the time. Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” was I book I supposedly had read in high school — although I couldn’t for the life of me remember what happened after chapter one, and it’s likely I really didn’t read it at all since none of it seems familiar now, beyond the Reddleman.

But what really surprised me was this map.

egdon-heath-map1It’s not a real place, or rather it’s a composite of places near Dorchester, real or renamed,   and re-ordered for the convenience of the story. Egdon Heath figures so prominently in the book that it’s been treated as a literary character in several analyses. Of course it has a Roman road, partially a modern road and partially remains of a track through the heath.  An ancient barrow (or grave mound) also features as a setting for several meetings.