"Hölderlin in Bad Homburg" Top 5 Page for this destination Bad Homburg vor der Höhe by Nemorino
Bad Homburg vor der Höhe Travel Guide: 81 reviews and 262 photos
In the 19th century, Bad Homburg -- or just "Homburg", as it was officially called until 1912 -- was a fashionable spa for the rich and powerful, and before that it was the seat of silly little landgraviate (sort of like a minor-league duchy) called Hessen-Homburg.
Frankfurt and Bad Homburg are now connected (since June 2008) by a well-marked 22-kilometer walking and cycling trail called the Hölderlin Pfad (Hölderlin Path), named after the poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), who used to walk from Bad Homburg to Frankfurt very often -- but not daily, as an exaggerated local legend asserts -- to catch a glimpse of his beloved Susette Gontard and on a good day even cop a kiss or at least exchange love letters by secretly passing them through the hedge when nobody was looking.
Susette was married to a wealthy Frankfurt merchant named Jakob Friedrich Gontard. In 1796 they hired Friedrich Hölderlin, a recent theology graduate, as a private teacher for their children. This was a common occupation for young intellectuals in those days, before they got established as professors, like Hölderlin's friend and former roommate Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, or before they drifted off into incurable insanity as Hölderlin himself eventually did.
It was love at first sight between Hölderlin and Susette, but he was well aware that as a resident teacher the worst thing he could do would be to have a love affair with the lady of the house, so he suffered in silence and started rewriting his novel-in-progress, Hyperion, to make his hero's beloved Diotima more like Susette.
This was all very well for an idealistic poet, but Susette wanted more so she soon took the initiative, passed him on the stairs at every opportunity, spoke to him, told him how she felt. Before long they were spending hours together while her husband was off at work. She soon knew she was Diotima, and read every word he wrote.
In the summer of 1796 a French army was threatening to attack Frankfurt, so Susette fled with the children -- and their teacher! -- to Bad Driburg in Westfalen, leaving her husband behind to protect his business and the family property. In Bad Driburg Susette and Hölderlin had an idyllic summer together, before returning to Frankfurt and their life of secrecy.
It took another two years before even Susette's husband realized what was going on, but then in September 1798 he finally fired Hölderlin and ordered his children never to mention their teacher's name again.
After losing his teaching job at the Gontards, Hölderlin moved to nearby Bad Homburg at the suggestion of his old friend Isaac von Sinclair, who lived and worked there as a minister in the government of the Landgrave of Hessen-Homburg. In the next two years Hölderlin finished the second volume of his novel Hyperion and wrote numerous poems that were not widely appreciated at the time but which later established his reputation as one of the most brilliant poets of his generation.
These two years, 1798-1800, were the years of his now-famous walks from Bad Homburg to Frankfurt and back.
Later Hölderlin returned to Bad Homburg for another two years, 1804-1806, but that was a very different time. Susette was dead, so there was no longer any reason for him to walk to Frankfurt. Hölderlin still had some lucid periods in which he wrote great poetry, but during these two years it gradually became clear that insanity was taking hold of him, and in 1806 his friend Sinclair reluctantly agreed to have him forcibly removed to an asylum in Tübingen. He lived for 37 more years, but never really recovered.
Photos: 1. Signpost with the text of Hölderlin's poem "The Oak Trees". 2. The poem and some trees -- not only oak trees,... more travel advice
Photos: 1. Buses at the Kurhaus in the center of Bad Homburg. 2. In a bus in Bad Homburg. 3. Information screen in... more travel advice
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