Weimar revisited

Von Lukas Meier

Lukas Meier already marvelled at Goethe and Schiller high on their pedastals when he was just a boy. As a student of philosophy in Oxford he took the chance to approach them once more and visited Weimar as a MWW research assistant. A report.

MWW-Forschungshospitant Lukas Meier half, den Buchbestand in Goethes Privatbibliothek zu erfassen. © Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Foto: Jens Hauspurg

Again you show yourselves, you wavering Forms,
Revealed, as you once were, to clouded vision.

I was a small boy, about seven years old, when I first came to Weimar in the mid-1990s. I didn’t know very much about Goethe and Schiller yet, but judging from my parents’ reverent and solemn tone of voice, I gathered that these two men towering over me from their memorial pedestal must have been exceedingly important. During my school years, reading Werther and Tell, my clouded vision gradually cleared and I started to understand the influence these two poets had on our language and culture. Eventually I felt the wish to visit Weimar a second time, to see it again through different eyes.

Shall I attempt to hold you fast once more?
Heart’s willing still to suffer that illusion?

But that, for the moment, was not to be. I went off to university and studied Philosophy and Political Science, not German Studies. The subjects took hold of me – I had little time to devote to those two Weimar figures with whom I was now better acquainted. Then I transferred to Oxford where students are offered work placements every summer, including at one of the three institutions which make up the MWW Research Association. And there it was – the opportunity I had been waiting for for so long, a research visit to the Klassik Stiftung Weimar.

You crowd so near! Well then, you shall endure,

So there I was in summer 2016, standing in front of the still larger-than-life figures, but now furnished with the knowledge of their amazing creativity and grateful for the unexpected chance I was given. I was allowed to participate in the MWW research project “Writers’ Libraries” at the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. Under the supervision of the project leader Dr. Stefan Höppner, I helped catalogue the collection in Goethe’s private library and compared it with existing registries and correspondence. With this method, one can determine which books are no longer in the possession of the Goethe National Museum and how the volumes were originally organised. Not only was the work enjoyable, but it also included a visit to the library itself which is normally off-limits to regular museum-goers. We also studied original documents in the Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv and went on an excursion to Goethe’s house of birth in Frankfurt.

I enjoyed my workplace in the Study Centre, idyllically located opposite the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, whose upper floors were destroyed in a fire in 2004 and reopened three years later after extensive renovation. At the weekends I visited numerous museums managed by the Klassik Stiftung Weimar.

I was also allowed to conduct research on a topic of my choosing. I decided to investigate Goethe’s autograph collection. For many years up until his death, Goethe had collected and catalogued manuscripts by influential figures from all walks of life. What prompted him to take up this relatively unnoticed occupation? What criteria did he use for selecting the autographs? Was graphological interest his primary motivation, or rather the wish to imagine the absent individuals?

I addressed these and other questions during my research stay. Only in Weimar can one examine a comparable volume of manuscripts first-hand and work with different original collections. The research conditions are ideal, which is why I want to thank the Klassik Stiftung Weimar for this unique opportunity. There is no other place where one could be closer to these two famous men overlooking the Theaterplatz. My perspective of their impact has now changed, but the awe I feel is the same as when I stood before them as a young boy.

I feel a long and unresolved desire...

... I will clearly have to come back.


Lukas Meier studied Philosophy and Political Science in Göttingen and Oxford. In July 2016 he was invited as an MWW research assistant to the Klassik Stiftung Weimar where he participated in the MWW research project “Writers’ Libraries” and conducted research on Goethe’s autograph collection.