Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche ... Why has Germany given birth to so many famous composers and philosophers and why are the Germans seen as a nation of poets and thinkers?
Unlike in France, where everything important came from Paris, Germany had no single cultural center but many small ones. Centuries of rivalry between Germany’s noble houses had left the country politically fragmented. But they also created a wealth of theaters, opera houses and universities, of which there are more in this country than elsewhere in Europe.
Germany from the Outside
In this episode, Christopher Clark looks at how foreigners such as Mark Twain and Madame de Staël saw the Germans. The French writer, who traveled to Germany in the early 19th Century, coined the image of “a land of poets and thinkers” and was also the first to notice a provincial element to the German genius. This included quirky bachelors who wanted to turn the world upside down from their unheated garrets in small towns. Carl Spitzweg and Wilhelm Busch later aimed their scathing images and writings at these cranks from the sticks.
Christopher Clark encountered many “great spirits,” including the “last romantic poet” Heinrich Heine.
Goethe and Schiller
Christopher Clark knows that many roads lead to Weimar. It is the city of the poet-genius. The Germans already loved one, Friedrich Schiller, in his lifetime, whilst respecting the other, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as a poet laureate. In “Faust,” Goethe created a literary hero who still fascinates us. Many authors including Thomas Mann have tackled the “Faustian” dichotomy that strives restlessly for the highest and deepest in man. The Nazis exploited the play, as did Marxist thinkers in Communist East Germany.
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