Friday, 3 December 2010

Hegel Tour to South Germany

I here reproduce another email to the on my trip to Hegel-related towns in Southern Germany in October 2005:

I am just back from a five day trip to South Germany to see some of the
towns associated with Hegel - Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Nürnberg and Bamberg -and would like to share some of my impressions with you of things that struck me as noteworthy on the basis of having read some English-language biographical sources.

DAY ONE. From the UK, you can fly cheaply with Ryanair to Frankfurt am Main. This was where Hegel was a tutor from around 1796 to 1800. Not much of the city centre survived WW2 bombing so I guess there would not be much to see there. The skyline is dominated by skyscrapers. However, I note that Hegel, despite being associated with Jena and Berlin in the North, actually spent most of his life in such Southern cities. Like most of the other places I visited, it is an inland city set on a river. Hegel apparently didn't like it much and left it for Jena when his father died.

DAY TWO. I get a train south in the morning via Heidelberg, where Hegel was professor from 1816-18, to his home town of Stuttgart. The cheapest trains are "RE" (Regional express) and the expensive (but fast) ones "ICE" (inter city express). You get cheaper tickets booking online in advance at I stop at Heidelberg and, as the left luggage lockers are all full, have to drag my suitcase around for the next three hours. Heidelberg is built on the banks of the river Neckar (as is Stuttgart and Tubingen). It is a small town and I cannot imagine Hegel feeling especially at the centre of anything there, so perhaps that is why he left for Berlin after two years. It is also in the Schwarzwald (Black forest) and you get a sense of the identity of Schwabia from the fact that much of the countryside is dominated by hilly treeside - when the sun isn't on it it looks kind of black. However, more of that later. The town is very thin and long, stretching along the banks of the river as the hills are so steep. The buildings are old, so I guess I saw sights that Hegel saw too.

Back on the train and on to Stuttgart. I find the train station layout confusing (entrances in all directions) but eventually find a cheap hotel. The cheapest way to book hotels is to contact the tourist offices as the ones that advertise on the internet tend to be pricey. The tourist office did not pass my details on to the hotel - not so efficient after all - but still, I get to see some old monuments and churches that Hegel would have known as he spent the first 18 years of his life here. Apparently in Hegel's day there were 15,000 inhabitants but it was still a regional centre. There is a big statue in the town square to a Wurtemberg statesman and I get the feeling that there is and was quite a strong sense of regional identity (there are books on the dialect and a lot of local history books in the shops). I think Hegel toyed with the idea of a South German identity in some of his early Jena writings, but didn't make much of it on the whole. He also wrote on the Wurtemberg estates though in his later years in the South, so there was some content to his connection with the region in that he drew on his experience there in some of his political writings.

DAY THREE. I am here for two days. First, I find the Hegelhaus at 53 Eberhardt Strasse. This is at the end of Konigstrasse, the main street which goes up to the railway station. The railway station has a quote from Hegel on the front of it. The Hegelhaus was opened in 1991 and contains two exhibitions: one on Stuttgart in Hegel's day, and the other on Hegel's progress through life. What a shame that they don't have the very pen that he failed to deduce on Herr Krug's request!

Much of what I learn is the sort of thing you read in W Kaufmann's Hegel: a Rinterpretation. I am surprised though, to be reminded of Jacobi's Letters on Spinoza and Lessing's Nathan der Weise as key sources of Hegel's positive ideas of religion. This last is still in print in paperback in German. Also that the poet Schiller (1859-1805) was also from Schwabia (and also wrote philosophy). The Phenomenology ends with a quote from Schiller ("der Dichter der Freiheit" - poet of freedom) so Hegel had local connections as well as general admiration behind quoting his work.

There are a lot of first editions and I see that several of Hegel's books were published in South Germany (his first translation in Frankfurt, the Critical Journal in Tubingen, the Phenomenology in Bamberg & Wurzberg, the Science of Logic in Nurnberg, the Wurtemberg Estates and first and second editions (1817, 1827) of the Encyclopaedia in Heidelberg) and his friend Holderlin published in Tubingen (Hyperion, 1797)

The Differenz essay (1801) was published in Jena though, and the Philosophy of Right (1821) in Berlin. Interestingly, the title page of what we call the Phenomenology has "System der Wissenschaft" as its big title, with "Erster Teile: Phanomenologie etc" as only a subtitle. There is quite a lot of French influence in this part of South Germany, it being close to the French border, and there is a copy of Rousseau's Contrat Social as well as of Hegel's first translation of Cart's French political letters about Pays de Vaud.

Hegel worked first as a tutor in Berne, which is in German speaking Switzerland (whereas most of Vaud is French speaking).

In a busy day, I next take the train to Tubingen, where Hegel was a student after leaving Stuttgart. Tubingen (it's actually u-umlaut, which you have to kind of say through your nose) is about an hour on a slowish train from Stuttgart through black forest countryside and turns out to be upstream on the same river Neckar that runs through Stuttgart. There is a touristy bit and like Heidelberg it's on steep hillside. The Stift, where Hegel studied, looks fairly smallish from the outside, but no doubt it had a good library. There is an old Church (Kirche) nearby that Hegel must have known, though it has been renovated since his day. It is a warm day, though October, and there are small lizards running on the rocks, almost mediterranean, which perhaps helped put Holderlin (and Hegel) in mind of Greece. In a bookshop I find a copy of extracts from Jacob Boehme and find to my surprise that I understand bits of it as the words are so close to Hegel's (Glauben und Wissen for example). The bloke in the shop gives me two euros off the book as he says it's dusty.

Back in Stuttgart there is music in the town square in the evening.

DAY FOUR. I get up in the morning and get a train to Nurnberg (also u-umlaut). The countryside slowly changes from black forest to less hills & more farmland. I find my hotel and walk up to the touristy bit of town. This is where Hegel lived from 1809-1816 and where he wrote the Science of Logic. A lot of the old architecture has survived and you can see the churches Hegel must have known when he taught there. The town is coming to terms, as well as it probably could, with its more recent National Socialist history. There is a plaque in the town square saying that the citizens are mindful of their role in the events of WW2. The shops are stocking up for the Christmas markets.

If you walk south for an hour from the town centre, you come to the old Reichsparteitag (Nuremberg rally) grounds and the unfinished building where they were to be held that the allies blew up the Nazi emblem from the top of in the old newsreel. Since about 1990 there has been an exhibition here. It's interesting, but a bit of a heavy experience for a holiday. Apparently the Nazis were keen on "Gemeinschaft" (a sort of mystical belonging) but led the German into abandoning their "Gesetzstaat" (rule of law). I wonder what, if anything, we are to make of Schiller and Hegel's "Weltgeschichte is Weltgericht" in this context?

DAY FIVE. I take a train to Bamberg, where Hegel lived from 1807-09, where he edited the Bamberg Zeitung and where the Phenomenology was published. At first, on foot from the Bahnhof, Bamberg looks disappointing touristically speaking, but once you find your way into the town and get a map from the tourist information office, it becomes quite scenic, and doesn't seem to have suffered too much from war damage. It is also on a river and there are old churches that Hegel must have known. I buy a postcard with "Geschichte der Stadt Bamberg" on it. I see that 1802 is called "Sakularisation" and that from 1808-13 the German Romantic E T A Hoffman lived there (I know nothing about him).

Back in Nurnberg, I can kind of see how the architecture of the town, with its many prominent and beautiful Gothic churches might have put Hegel in mind of writing a logic with a religious theme running through it, and even why he might have said there that he wanted to "make philosophy speak German". Yet it was here that the Nuremberg race laws were pronounced, that Julius Streicher published his evil tracts, etc etc. Also here that the War Crimes trials were held (Room/Saal 600). I think a lot of the assumptions in our thinking come from the 1930s and they are starting to look strange to me in some ways. If Nazism was a religion for example, why was it secular law that judged it at the trials for example. I have no problem with hanging Streicher, Keitel, Jodl, etc, but what are we to make of Martin Heidegger and Carl Jung, who were amongst the greatest thinkers of the 20th century?

LAST DAY. I get a train back to Frankfurt, buy two short books by Heidegger and Ich und Du by Martin Buber, then fly home. There are some of the more Lynndie England type American tourists around, that won't even say "Bitte" and "Danke" when they speak to the locals. No wonder they aren't making themselves popular in Iraq - time to leave. I'm glad to be back in Scotland.