Station: [6] Carl August Wildenhahn (1805-1868)

Carl August Wildenhahn

born 1805 – died 1868


My June 1837

In Dresden, the 32-year-old theologian takes his leave, boards a stage-coach with his travelling companion Julius, and travels…

“… to a place to which your childhood dreams have already propelled you, to the land of eternal icy mountains and delicate Bernese maidens, of which so many tedious descriptions already exist, to which you are determined to add your own minor contribution!”

His “minor contribution” is a not-in-the-least tedious diary of his three-week trip. It took him through Bavaria into Switzerland, took in Baden and Württemberg on the return journey back, and concluded with final stop in Stuttgart. Wildenhahn reports on his travel experiences, on people, cities, landscapes, and on his own ordeals and delights during his travels, and he enriches the whole with delightful drawings. 

He illustrates the nature of travel in the first half of the 19th century, as the era of the stagecoach was coming to an end. In Nuremberg, the two travellers were already able to venture on to the first railway. Even during this period, tourism was flourishing in Switzerland. All those eager British travellers were ruining the prices, noted Wildenhahn. The glaciers still extended far into the valleys – these days, they’ve all melted away.

But Wildenhahn wants more than just to experience the mountains under their eternal ice. He writes:

‘… my path leads towards her, who strolls along the shores of Lake Geneva and turns her brown eyes northwards’.

He’s referring to a certain Louise, who waited for him in vain during that June of 1837. He ran out of time and money before he reached Lake Geneva. But the pair were married the following year. By then, he was working for the church, first in Schönefeld near Leipzig, and later in Bautzen, where he would stay until the end of his life. He combined his work for the church with an enormous output as an author, writing textbooks as well as popular titles, for instance travel books.

Even during his time in Dresden, Carl August Wildenhahn was a member of the literary circle surrounding Ludwig Tieck, who himself became famous for his travel books. As a music lover, Wildenhahn also enjoyed a close friendship with the composer Robert Schumann – so close indeed, that he officiated at the wedding of Schumann and Clara Wieck in Schönefeld near Leipzig in September 1840.

One highlight of his time in Switzerland, and a peak in more ways than one, was a trek across the Scheidegg pass in the Bernese Alps. Here’s Wildenhahn again:

An enjoyable hike:

Icy cold around our feet, up to our torsos in snow and water, the blazing sun on our heads – it’s a way to render fools reasonable, and turn reasonable men into fools. Yet there was silence all around us, and from time to time the thundering of an avalanche roared down from the Wetterhorn peak into the valleys. We were running short of breath – our knees were collapsing – our guide had lost his way – that’s all we need – but look there, suddenly the silver horns of the Jungfrau summit came into view. Their gleam shone on us so magically that we once again plucked up our courage, and after an extremely strenuous half hour, we stood at the top of the Scheidegg pass.

On the descent:

Finally, we once again reached meadows without a snow covering and were suddenly standing in front of the magnificent Grindelwald glacier, between the Wetterhorn peak and the Metterberg, a wonderful sight, like a river frozen within a vast chasm – blocks of ice thrust together, silvery white and sky blue within the hollows, and above it, a blazing shaft of sunlight.

Right next to the glacier was a chalet. The herdsman gave us a warm welcome, and then we were reclining on the soft grass, eating milk and cheese and bread, and look there! surrounding us and gazing down on us were the Wetterhorn, the Grindelwald glacier, the Schildhorn, the Metterberg, the Mönch, the Eiger and beyond it, the bashful Jungfrau.

All depictions: © Gerhard Seitz, Das Deutsche Tagebucharchiv e.V.