Okay, so what’s the fuss about Goethe anyway? Yeah, he wrote a book about dealing with the devil, and the Goethe Institute I attend is named after the dude. And of all things there’s a statue of him and his buddy Schiller of all things at Golden Gate Park. Being an architect and not a writer or a scholar, I have an excuse for not knowing about German writers and philosophers. So for you literary types out there, please give me a break, OK?
Tonite I went to a film night at the GI (not Gastro Intestinal, but Goethe Institute as I will henceforth refer to fondly as “GI”). The name of the film, Surprise! surprise! was “Goethe!”. Despite getting there 15 minutes late (is this a pattern of mine?) I was quickly subsumed into the story line, despite the fact that the language AND the subtitles were in German. What is this anyway, a German class?
In the genre of the “Amadeus” movie by the Czech director Milos Forman or the other period piece “Beloved” about Beethoven, this story portrays Goethe as a frisky young guy who falls in love with a soon to be married young woman, Lotte. The twist to this story is that she sticks by her man and marries him (Kestner). Goethe is put in prison after a failed duel with Kestner. During the duel Goethe purportedly shot first, but missed. When it was the turn for Kestner, he shot into the air, saving Goethe.
But he got sent to prison anyway. Goethe did, for 6 months. During which time he used his time wisely and wrote the “Sorrows of Young Werther”. Lotte pays a visit to Goethe in prison. Hurtfully, she tells him that she intends to marry Kestner after Goethe makes a last ditch pitch. He writes feverishly as the wedding bells can be heard clanging outside his window. Heartbroken, he sends the finished manuscript to Lotte.
The final scene is Goethe’s release from prison and as he is going through the streets, the throng of the crowds are heralding this fantastic new novel that has just been published. Guess what! It turns out to be the acclamation of his “Sorrows of Young Werther”, that recounted is own story of Lotte, or the real life Charlotte.
I’m going to attach the Wikipedia (this is the first Wiki that has ever excited me) content at the bottom of this post so you can read accurate information for yourself and connect it with what you may already know about Goethe.
But three things for me:
1. He didn’t like “bugs, tobacco smoke, garlic, and the cross”.
2. He spearheaded the movement in Weimar, a city that I would love to visit more. Goethe foresaw the potential doom of the German people, that tragically played out in WWII. The Nazi shutdown of the Weimar Republic must have been related in part to Goethe’s writings. The Bauhaus movement began there too.
3. The opera “Werther” by Massenet is one of the most beautiful and passionate operas I have seen. (and the main singer Jonas Kaufmann, is an amazing new German opera singer–worth getting the DVD on the Met Opera movie). Tis was a takeoff on Goethe. No surprise that many writers such as Thomas Mann and composers pay homage to Goethe’s originality.
4. In 1774, Goethe was writing this novel in the midst of the revolutions unfolding next door, in France, and in the US! Just imagine what a world that must have been. Of course no internet or Twitter, no Arab Spring, so news may not have even impacted Germany much at that time.
5. I am noticing a distinct similarity of the Goethanum mentioned in the Wiki article and the Goethe Institute here. Compare the photos.
That was more than 3. But I got inspired and couldn’t resist. Check this guy out. He’s worth it!
By the way, it looks like this movie is on YouTube. In English it is called Goethe in Love, produced in 2010 by a German director Philipp Stolzl.
1. Hypothetical design for Goetheanum
2. Goethe Institute, Dresden