Driving through villages in Baden Württemberg, we reach Calw which is about 18 kms from Pforzheim. It is the birthplace of Hermann Hesse the famous writer, poet and artist.
This is a beautiful town built into the flanks of rolling hills. Its fachework houses decorated with colourful flowers on their window ledges are typical of the Black Forest. The narrow winding cobbled streets are lined with historic buildings. As the town is heavily pedestrianized, we make our journey through town on foot. We walk past the house where Herman Hesse was born on July 2nd, 1877. There are just wall plaques to indicate the house. Hesse spent the first four years of his life here. Then the family shifted to Basel for eight years, but returned to Calw where Hesse studied at a school in Goppingen.
As we walk up the incline, the Protestant Municipal Church is on the left side. It was destroyed in 17th century and the present church was constructed in 1888, with a modest interior. A stone plaque on the south side of the church escaped destruction. The Latin inscription says “God alone is the patron and builder of the church of Calw.” The inscription is dated 1627.
The Malefiz Tower (Thief’s’ Tower) looms into the skies above the buildings. Its base is a stone construction which housed three prisons. The top floor was a half timbered structure where the guards lived. Adjacent to it is a three storeyed building which now houses the town’s archives.
The Hesse Museum is in the Scheutz House not far away from where he was born. Manuscripts, drawings, paintings, his personal effects are spread over ten rooms and depict the life and work of Hermann Hesse. He was against conventional religion and spent his life in search of self knowledge, authenticity and spirituality. His novels like Siddhartha, Steffanwolf, Beneath the Wheel, The Glass Bead Game reflect his beliefs, and have received worldwide acclaim. He is the most translated of German authors.
St. Nikolaus Bridge was Hesse’s favourite haunt. He wrote on the bridge, “This is the most favourite place in the whole town. For me, the Cathedral Square of Florence can’t stand up to it.”
During World War II a sub-camp of Natzweiler- Struthoff Concentration Camp was held in Calw, where female POWS assembled aircraft parts.
Calw keeps the memory of Herman Hesse alive through various organizations that bear his name. He was a difficult person to get on with even from his childhood. He was headstrong and rebellious and had to be sent away to the Evangelical Seminary at Maulbronn in 1891.
As Maulbronn was not very far from Calw, we decided to visit that magnificent monastery, situated between Karlshrue and Heilbronn. This solid imposing structure of limestone was constructed by the monks of Maulbronn, beginning in 1147 and reaching completion only 400 years later. It is the finest surviving medieval monastery representative of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage site in 1993.
We enter through a Gothic paradies (portico) into an enclosure building. Gothic architecture was first introduced to Germany here. The church vestibules were painted with frescoes depicting the Fall of Man. The last painting was in 1552. But hardly anything is visible today.
This is a triple nave Basilica. The oldest part is Gothic. The richly and intricately carved oaken choir stalls are splendid works of art. Here 92 monks sat for prayers five times a day. The other parts are the medieval monastery and the Fountain House.
The residential house of the monks is now a museum depicting the history of the Cistercians and monastery life. Maulbronn’s many buildings are enclosed by fortified medieval walls.
A Protestant monastery was set up here in 1556, at which famous men like Johannes Keplar, Friedrich Holderin and Hermann Hesse were students. Hesse stayed here for four years. He was an unhappy child with disgust for conventional schooling. He rebelled against school authorities, ran away and even attempted suicide. He had to be sent away to a mental institution for a few years.
The monks were agriculturists. Their influence extended beyond the monastery. There were farms called granges all over Maulbronn The produce of their gardens kept them self sufficient. This monastery is also the birthplace of Maultashen – small packages of dough filled with meat or vegetables. At the Maulbronn restaurant one can sample a variety of Maultashen with different mouth watering sauces. Maultahsen is the Schwabian National Dish and was christened “Herrgottsbscheisserle”
Maulbronn’s monastery is unforgettable. But one can sympathize with Hesse when he wanted to escape from this rigid, structured, pietist atmosphere that caused his depression.
The next day, we followed Hesse’s footsteps to Tubingen. The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary (Now part of the University) with its Black Pedagogy was not to his liking. He considered it “the exploitation of children through societal conditions of violence and oppression.”
In 1895, Hesse was apprenticed to an Antique Book Seller in Tubingen Market Place. He stayed here for four years where he was exposed to Theology, Philosophy and Law. He read the works of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Nietze and other German Romantics and developed his talents as a writer. Some of his short stories and poems began to appear in magazines and papers.
The antique book shop is now a museum. It bears the name of J.J.Heckenhauser- Antiquariat. Here one can sit down and read his poems or stories and enjoy his still life paintings. In the middle of the library is a black staircase which leads to nowhere. Of this bookshop Hesse wrote, “I gritted my teeth and went through the not always easy three year apprenticeship, and stayed in for another year as the youngest assistant in the establishment with 80 marks a month. In those years I read a great deal and wrote my first pieces.”
In Tubingen, he also became a member of the literary circle “Le Petit Cenacle” which encouraged his love for writing.
Tracing Hesse’s footsteps we were able to see Calw, Maulbronn and Tubingen where he found peace and stability.