Intrepid men and women in Eckernförde

When the celebrated author, feuilletonist and travel writer, Théophile Gautier – one of the leading figures of the Romantic movement in France – was commissioned by the editors of the newspaper “Le Moniteur universel” to write a report on the Tsar’s art treasures in St. Petersburg, he took a diversion that also led him to Eckernförde in 1858. In his travelogue “Voyage en Russie”, which appeared in a series of preprints in the official French State Gazette from October 1858 and has still not been translated into German, we read about an excursion he made to this small town at the end of September 1858 accompanied by a friend:

“The path led through hedgerows hung with bright berries of all colours, blackberries, rowanberries, sloes, barberries, not to mention the pretty coral buds that outlast the dog-roses and which one is wont to call by a name as indecent as it is ridiculous (French gratte-cul = arse-scratcher). It was enchanting.

Then we drove between tall trees, past small villages or across fields where magnificent teams of horses were circling the fields with their harrows, as if they wanted to loosen the earth like a moiré. Eventually we reached the sea, on a road with elegant little houses half hidden in flowers on one side, which are rented out to bathers during the season, because Eckernförde is a seaside resort like Trouville or Dieppe, despite its fairly northerly latitude. The carts and bathing huts scattered across the beach were evidence of intrepid men and women who were not afraid to brave the icy waves. Some merchant ships rocked in the harbour, and on their sides floated, contracting and expanding, many of those slimy or pearly jellyfish, which are animals although they do not look like them, and which we had once noticed in the Gulf of Lepanto on the way back from Corinth, “where it is forbidden for anyone to go”, as the proverb says.

Eckernförde is not very different from Schleswig in terms of architecture, apart from the fact that the ship masts mingling with the trees and chimneys put a stamp on every town. There are the same brick churches, the same houses with wide transverse windows, where you can see women with cut-out dresses behind flower pots, handling needles. In the otherwise rather quiet streets of Eckernförde, however, there was an unusual hustle and bustle; heavy carts brought the soldiers who arrived or were discharged every six months to their respective homes. Although they were crammed together rather uncomfortably, they seemed to be buoyed up by the festive mood and perhaps also by the beer.”

On Saturday, 2 December, Norbert Weber will present details of Gautier’s journey as part of the after-market talk at 12:30 pm. Afterwards, there will be a reality check for the scholarship holders and anyone with a car along the route to the house where Gautier lived at the time. It is also possible to reach the destination in 14 minutes on the 711 bus at 13:00. Please register for the trip at