The German dramatist, poet and historian Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) spent the summer of 1785 in a farmhouse in what was then the village of Gohlis, near Leipzig. At that time, Schiller presumably had a better view from his bedroom window than I did when I visited in 2005.
Of course this wasn’t called the “Schiller House” at the time, because he was just a summer guest. It was probably called the Schneider House because it belonged to a farming family of that name. But the only reason this house has survived — it is the only remaining 18th century farmhouse in Leipzig — is because of Schiller’s visit.
The fancy gateway on the right was not a part of the original farmhouse. It was erected in 1841 as a tribute to Schiller. In 1856 it was torn down because it was considered totally unauthentic in a farming village, but in 1911 it was built up again in a phase when authenticity didn’t seem so important, and by that time Gohlis was no longer a farming village anyway, but a residential neighborhood of Leipzig.
Schiller stayed in Gohlis at the invitation of some Leipzig friends and admirers, who even paid his stage coach fare to get here from Mannheim. This was necessary because he had lost his job at the theater in Mannheim (his one-year contract wasn’t renewed), and after various other setbacks he was totally destitute.
The summer here in Gohlis was one of the happiest in his life, and this is where he wrote his famous “Ode to Joy”, which was later used by the composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1857) as the text for the triumphant vocal passage at the end of his Ninth Symphony. (While writing this I am listening to a recording of this symphony by the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, conducted by its long-time music director Kurt Masur.)
In this house Schiller also wrote parts of the second act of his now-classic drama Don Karlos, which was later made into one of the world’s greatest operas by composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
In one room of the Schiller House there is a model of the village of Gohlis as it was when Schiller stayed here.
It was a quiet farming village then, with just 45 farmhouses and about 450 inhabitants. There was lots of pasture and a large pond. It was about half an hour’s walk from Leipzig at that time, and was a popular place for leisurely Sunday walks during the summer months.
During the nineteenth century Leipzig kept on growing, and soon Gohlis was just another district of the big city.
This empty, boarded up apartment building was one of several in this neighborhood in 2005. There was another one right across the street.
There were several reasons for the existence of so many deserted buildings in Leipzig and other East German cities. One was the chronic lack of maintenance during the four decades of the German Democratic Republic. Another is that in some cases the ownership of buildings might still have been disputed. Also there wasn’t enough money to fix everything at once, and there wasn’t much pressure to do so because the population actually declined in the 1990s, and has only been rising slowly since then.
I hope to visit Leipzig again after the coronavirus pandemic is over, to see what the neighborhood looks like now (among other reasons).
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2020.