I was in Germany this past summer doing some archival research. When I wasn’t poring over ancient drafts and letters, I was out and about visiting some of the places that turn up in one form or another in the fiction. Obviously none of these places match the imagined places in the literature one to one, but then principles of literary criticism shouldn’t always spoil our fun. Here are a few pictures of places in and around Braunschweig that turn up in Wilhelm Raabe’s works.
First on the tour is the Braunschweig “Palace.” The Raabe collection is here, part of the Braunschweig city archive. The current building is modeled on the residence of the Dukes of Braunschweig, which was completed in 1841. The original building was badly damaged in the firestorm of October, 1944 and the ruins were demolished in 1960. From the 1960s until the last decade the site was a large public park. In the 2000s the city decided to build a copy of the palace. To raise the funds, the city sold the park in spite of public protests. Today the north side houses the city museum and archive, the south the city library, and the main entrance leads into the “Palace Shopping Arcade.” From my seat in the archive I was able to watch shoppers pull into the parking garage.
This is the Oker River. In the Middle Ages it ran straight through the center of town, but now at least the above ground portion runs in a moat around the old town. I’ve already written about Braunschweig’s water problems at the end of the 19th century here and here.
Braunschweig’s former train station now houses a bank.. The building served the city into the 1960s, and has since been converted into a bank. If we accept that Die Akten des Vogelsangs is set in Braunschweing in this period (which we can’t really, but as I said about the principles of literary criticism):
“Es war eben ein anderer Zug, ein Vergnügungszug, angelangt, und ein Gewühl aufgeregten und dem Anschein nach sehr vergnügten Volkes, das unserer Stadt und ihrer hübschen landschaftlichen Umgebung seinen Besuch zugedacht hatte, quoll uns daraus entgegen. Der Morgen war schön, die Sonne schien, ein fröhlicher Schenktisch war von einem sorglichen Komitee errichtet worden: die fremden Liedergenossen oder Sangesbrüder kamen nicht nur mit ihrem musikalischen Hoch, sondern auch mit viel Durst bei uns an, und eine einheimische Blechmusikbande brach mit schmetterndem Hall zum Willkommen los: die Stadt und Residenz hatte sich sehr vergrößert und verschönert seit dem Tage, an welchem Mr. Charles Trotzendorff sein Weib und sein Kind aus ihr weg und zu sich holte, und der jetzige Bahnhof, von welchem ich nun die Frau Nachbarin, die Mutter des Freundes, nach Hause führte, stand damals auch erst auf dem Papier und lag noch auf den Tischen der Fürstlichen Landesbaudirektion.” (BA 19: 312-313)
“Another train pulled in, a tourist train, and a mass of excited and apparently happy people, who had come with a mind to pay our city and its lovely surroundings a visit, flowed out and towards us. The morning was lovely, the sun was shining, a cheerful drink table had been set up by an interested committee: the singing crowd did only only arrive with their musical cheer, but also with considerable thirst, and a local brass band brook into a piercing tune of welcome: the city and residence had been greatly expanded and beautified since the day Mr. Charles Trotzendorff summoned his wife and child away, and the current train station, from which I led my dear neighbor, the mother of my friend, home, had only just appeared on paper and was still lying on the tables of the court building offices.”
The Kohlmarkt in Braunschweig. In order to facilitate traffic to the train station, the city cleared knocked down some of the historic structures on the west side of the square. The historical marker from which I learned all of this didn’t have much to say about the people who lived there, but in Raabe’s novel “Meister Autor” the narrator meets a city planner who tells him:
»Es hat uns noch keine Nivellierung so viele Mühe verursacht als diese hier,« sagte er, »aber dafür wird auch keine der neuprojektierten Straßenanlagen die Stadtbevölkerung in ihrer Vollendung so sehr überraschen und erfreuen wie diese. Den Kanal hinter den wackligen Mauern füllen wir natürlich aus, da haben wir dann noch die Rudera einer alten Stiftung, die müssen selbstverständlich weg. Die alten Damen verlegen wir vor das Tor in eine gesunde, wahrhaft idyllische Gegend, und so kommen wir hier aus dem Mittelpunkte der Stadt in gradester Linie zum Bahnhofe, — ohne daß zu dieser Stunde ein Mensch in diesem hier umliegenden Gerümpel irgendeine Ahnung davon hat. Es ist wundervoll!«
“‘There has never been a levelling that has caused us as much trouble as this one,’ he said, ‘but for that none of the newly planned streets will surprise and cheer the denizens of this town quite as much as this one. We’ll fill in the canal behind the tumble-down wall, and that leaves the spinsters’ home, obviously that will have to go. We’ll move the old ladies beyond the gate in a healthy, truly idyllic area. Thus we’ll be have the straightest line possible from the center of town to the train station, and no person in this heap around us will even have a clue about what’s going on. It’s wonderfull!” (BA 11 : 76).
This is the Schunter north of Braunschweig. Pfisters Mühle was based off of a lawsuit that began when pollution from the beat sugar factory at Rautheim made its way into the Wabe, then the Schunter, effectively shutting down the mills at Bienrode and Wenden.
This is the mill at Bienrode that was involved in the suit, at least what’s left of it. The mill was finally shut down in the 1960s, and in the 1980s it was converted into an apartment building. Obviously there is not much to look at these days.
This is the Wabe stream along the so-called Kleidersellerweg. The Kleiderseller is a group of prominent Braunschweig citizens who meet for a Stammtisch. In Raabe’s day they followed this route to the Grüne Jäger, a restaurant and tavern in Riddagshausen, now officially part of the city of Braunschweig. Pfisters Mühle began when Raabe noticed the degradation of the Wabe on his way to the Kleiderseller’s Thursday night meet-ups.
This is the Grüne Jäger. It is actually a very pleasant place, and a welcome stop in the middle of a bike ride through the countryside around Braunschweig.
The former sugar factory at Rautheim. The Duchy of Braunschweig was the center of beet sugar production going back as far as the 1830s. Krickerode Wilhelm Raabe’s “Pfisters Mühle” is modelled on Rautheim. The factory was in operation from the mid 19th century until after the Second World War. From Pfisters Mühle:
“Jenseits der Wiese erhob sich hoch aufgetürmt, zinnengekrönt, gigantisch beschornsteint – Krickerode! Da erhob sie sich, Krickerode, die große, industrielle Errungeschaft der Neuzeit, im wehenden Nebel, grau in grau, schwarze Rauchwolken, weiß Dämpfe auskeuchend, in voller “Kampagne” auch an einem zweiten Weihnachtstage, Krickerode!” (BA 16 : 99)
“Beyond the field rose high Krickerode, with its high towers, battlements, and gigantic smokestacks. There it rose, Krickerode, the great accomplishment of the modern industrial age in the shifting fog, gray in gray, black clouds of smoke, white steam billowing out, even on the second day of Christmas in full “campaign,” Krickerode!”
A few photos of the remains of the factory. Some of the buildings currently house a few small businesses, although as far as I could tell, other structures stand empty. I was hoping to get a shot of the drainage pipe that leads into Wabe for the sake of showing people the most famous drainage pipe in German literature, but the vegetation was too thick to find it.
Wolfenbüttel is not far from Braunschweig. I took a pleasant bike ride out there one day. Lessing’s house is there, and the library is world famous. But of course I made my way out to the suburbs to visit the Weiße Schanze, on which Raabe modeled the Rote Schanze in Stopfkuchen.
The Weiße Schanze now stands surrounded by single family homes, a process that is already visible in Raabe’s novel.
The people who named the streets here are well aware of the area’s claim to literary fame. There is also a street named for Wilhelm Brandes, who wrote the first noteworthy study of Raabe’s life and works.
And here is the Weiße Schanze. Evidently it is a Biergarten now, although it wasn’t open when I showed up. In the novel, the Saxon Prince Xaver bombarded the city from this point during the Seven Year’s War. I did not get close enough to look for the guard cat the narrator encountered. His description of the rote Schanze:
“Noch immer derselbe alte Wal und Graben, wie er sich aus dem achtzehnten Jahrhundert in die zweite Hälfte des neuzehnten wohl erhalten hatte. Die alten Hecken im Viereck um das jetzige bäuerliche Anwesen, die alten Baumwipfel darüber. Nur das Ziegeldach des Haupthauses, das man sonst über das Gezweig weg und durch es hindurch noch von der Feldmark von Maiholzen aus gesehen hatte, erblickte man heute nicht mehr. … Eine Römerstraße, auf der vor, während und nach der Völkerwanderung Tausende totgeschlagen worden waren, konnte im laufenden Saeculo nicht mehr überwachsen und von Grasnarbe überzogen sein wie die alten Radgleise und Fußspuren, die über den Graben des Prinzen Xaverius von Sachsen auf dem Dammwege des Bauern zu der Roten Schanze führten.” (BA 18 : 49-50)
“The same old trench and rampart, as good today in the second half of the nineteenth century as they were in the eighteenth. There it was, the same rectangular hedge enclosing the farm, the same old treetops. But you used to be able to see the tiled roof of the main house from the Maiholzen fields over and through the branches, and now you couldn’t. … Not even a Roman road, where countless thousands had been slaughtered before, during, and after the migrations, could have looked more grassy and overgrown today than those old ruts and footprints on the embanked way leading over Prince Xaverius of Saxony’s trench to the farm at Red Bank.” (“Tubby Schaumann, 189-190).
Further afield, I stopped in at Raabe’s birthplace Eschershausen on the way to Amelungsborn, site of Das Odfeld. Raabe loved to pun on his own name (“Rabe” with one “A” means “raven”). His study is decked out in a raven motif, his novels and stories are conspicuous for their avifauna, and his fans have a history of getting in on the fun. To wit, this whimsical mobile in Eschershausen, which is turned by a small stream beneath.
Finally, Kloster Amelungsborn. It has a beautiful garden that I could not recommend highly enough.
One of my favorite scenes in any Raabe novel happens early in Das Odfeld. It is the strange battle of the crows that presages the destruction during the battle the following day:
“Vom Südwesten her über den Solling stieg es schwarz herauf in den düstern Abendhimmel. Nicht ein finsteres Sturmgewölk, sondern eine Krähenschwarm, kreischend, flügelschlagend, ein unzählbares Heer des Gevögels, ein Zug, der nimmer ein Ende zu nehmen schien. Und vom Norden, über den Vogler und den Ith, zog es in gleicher Weise heran in den Lüften, wie in Geschwader geordnet, ein Zug hinter dem andern, denen vom Süden entgegen.” (BA 17 : 26).
“From the southwest above the Solling black rose into the bleak evening sky. Not dark storm clouds, but a swarm of crows, screeching, beating their wings, an uncountable army of birds, a column that never seemed to come to an end. And from the north, above the Vogler and the Ith, the same in the skies, ordered like a squadron, one column after another towards the one from the south.”