Summer in Weimar by Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson

Summer in Weimar

 

The English-speaking world has no precise equivalent to Weimar, which is at once a beguiling historical town and a place of passionate literary pilgrimage, most of all to the shrines of Germany’s uomo universale Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Stratford-upon-Avon, the first comparison to come to mind, has a prestigious theatre and so does Weimar, but there the resemblance ends. Shakespeare started and ended his life in Stratford and was buried there. In his honour, Stratford was, to a considerable extent, recast in early modern style long after his death. To visit Stratford today is to visit a grave, a birthplace and a living theatre.

To visit Weimar, by contrast, is to visit a whole environment of parks, gardens, theatres and rooms substantially designed and directed by Goethe, as well as lovely streets and squares still in the form in which he knew them. The Hotel Elephant, where the flocks of his admirers stayed in his lifetime and where the first part of Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar – his sad, yearning novel about Weimar in the early 19th century, written in exile and despair in the mid-20th – is set still faces the court apothecary’s shop across the market square. Lotte’s carriage ride to Goethe’s house in the nearby Frauenplan can barely have lasted two minutes.

What a strange, memorable house it is. Even today, the house feels peopled with the ghosts that Mann called into being in his intense evocation of an October evening here in 1816 – a cold reunion of old friends, their elegant conversation straying from mineral water to massacres and

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