March 2020


Whatchamacallit 5: Hier war Goethe nie

Hier war Goethe nie

Before moving to Germany, I think it is safe to say that I had not really thought at all about Germany and its history – beyond the typical broad strokes that Americans learn about: Germany was responsible for World War I and for World War II.

I could go on about the accuracy of such statements – the overly generous generalizations – but that’s beyond the scope of today’s Whatchamacallit – “Heir war Goethe nie”

Before arriving in Weimar, I’d probably heard of Goethe, but I would not have been able to place him in the pantheon of German writers. Since living in Weimar, European Capital of Culture (1999), I can assure you that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was by far the world’s most important writer, a man whose genius exceeds that of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and William Shakespeare, combined.

I jest some, but not really.

This silly little sign is on the wall next to my front door, serving as a daily reminder of Weimar.

Weimar was a charming little city that lived (well, still lives) in the past: in the eyes of Weimar residents, Weimar is the center of German civilization, particularly in the form of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but also Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. Other notable cultural geniuses include Franz Liszt, Wassily Kandinsky, and Walter Gropius. If you’ve never heard of some of these people, it’s not Weimar’s fault that you’re ignorant.

Living in Weimar was an experience: the emphasis on “Kultur” could be, at time, oppressive – if you paid attention to it. As an ignorant American, I tried to be oblivious to it, to the most reasonable extent possible. Which could be, at times, tricky: Weimar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – twice. Once for Classical Weimar (see Goethe and other enlightenment figures), once for Bauhaus.

Weimar’s obsession with Goethe is comical, if you’re able to relax a bit: Goetheplatz, a statue of Goethe in Theaterplatz, the Goethe café, Goethe Kaufhaus, Goethe Haus, Goethe Gartenhaus, Goethe’s burial site, and the Goethe Ferris Wheel. (One or more of these are a joke, I’m not really sure.

This little sign, which says, Goethe was never here, stands in stark contrast to most signs in Weimar, each emphasizing that Goethe was there – whether because he knocked on the wrong door, used a urinal, fell in love with the youngest lass in the house, or because he actually did something interesting there.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

5 comments to Whatchamacallit 5: Hier war Goethe nie

  • Joanne

    Loved this one… for obvious reasons! So true! But it’sa huge part of what makes weimar si charming. And yes, they do consider themselves (their city) as (translation) “the cradle of German Culture” for it is true that a large number of Enlightenment figures spent time in dear little Weimar. And not only Enlightenment figures but others as well, as you note in pointing out WEIMAR’s connection to the Bauhaus movement. Most people associate it with Dessau but it’s origins were actually in weimar.
    Looking forward to the next Whatchmacallit entry!

  • Joanne

    Sorry about the grammatical errors! 😡 especially “it’s”— you know me better!

  • Just wanted to check in and say that I am enjoying your Whatchamacallits. Greetings from socially distanced Baltimore.