Station: [12] Goethe in Offenbach

M: "She was indeed the first I loved deeply and truly”...

F: ... Goethe in his old age, remembering his childhood sweetheart, Elisabeth "Lili" Schönemann. 

M: He was 25 and she was 16 when they fell in love in 1775. Goethe had recently published “The Sorrows of Young Werther" when he met Lili at a reception held at her family home in Frankfurt. The Schönemanns were bankers there, though Lily’s mother had been a d'Orville from Offenbach. In the summer months, Lili spent a lot of time with her relatives here in Offenbach, where the lovers met for long walks along the river and rendezvoused in a summer house in what is now Lili Park. You’ll have seen it earlier, when we were looking at the town model. 

F: Goethe liked Offenbach. In his autobiography "Dichtung und Wahrheit" (Poetry and Truth) he raved about...

M: ... "handsome buildings, magnificent for the period" – "ornamental beds running down to the Main, everywhere allowing free access to the beautiful surroundings"... 

F: In September 1775, Goethe and Lili became engaged. However, the Schönemanns were unwilling to agree to the betrothal. In their eyes, Goethe was a penniless poet. They wanted a rich son-in-law, one whose fortune would rescue the bank, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. 

M: Goethe and Lili had a volatile relationship. Today, we’d call it an on-off affair, and that led to a final separation in the very year of their engagement. 

F: Goethe dealt with their difficult relationship in his autobiography:

Does that bloom so fresh and youthful,--
That divine and lovely form,--
That sweet look, so good and truthful.
Bind thee with resistless charm?
If I swear no more to see her,
If I man myself, and flee her,
Soon I find my efforts vain
Forc'd to seek her once again.

She with magic thread has bound me,
That defies my strength or skill,
She has drawn a circle round me,
Holds me fast against my will.
Cruel maid, her charms enslave me,
I must live as she would have me,
Ah! how great the change to me!
Love! when wilt thou set me free!"

Foto: © Haus der Stadtgeschichte