MuseumWeek: we want to put travelling around 1800 in focus. Travel was undertaken on very different occasions. Scholars traveled to carry out their researches, to multiply and exchange knowledge. Young aristocrats were sent on “Cavalier’s Tours”, so that they could acquire the foundation of their training for the later court service at the foreign courts with the highest reputation. Travel to the Baths in Pyrmont or Karlsbad boomed. Artists flocked into the pulsating centers of European culture. A classic travel destination was Rome.
The focus on antiquity and the classical educational idea brought about a whole new travel culture – the educational journey. At first a privilege of the nobility, it became cultivated by the bourgeoisie. Those staying home could read the travelers’ experiences in their travel tales and journals. Landscapes, habits, culture and art were described therein as well as travel itself, political daily business or martial events. A whole industry of publishing houses was concerned with the publication of travel reports.
Traveling at this time also meant hassle and abstinence of comfort. The roads were unsafe, in bad condition, dirty and even in large cities not always lit. Beds in the inns were infested with bugs. The horse-drawn carriages, poorly cushioned and ice cold in the winter, rocked and shook the passengers and brought little in comfort.
Sometimes insuperable obstacles forced the passengers to get out of the carriage
In France, Napoleon had straight avenues built, and good road connections were also reported from England. But in Germany most roads were unstable and poorly developed. There was often talk of axle breaks in the wagons, and it was not unlikely that the constant repairs to infrastructure and equipment were to generate good revenue for the local craftsmen.
Tolls and passport checks at the border stations cost time and money or even delayed the journey. Accordingly, trips took time, and it is said the distance from Berlin to Rome would have taken about two months to travel.
St. Petersburg – Paris – Vienna – Carlsbad: The Duchess of Courland was always on the move
Near the end of the 18th century, Castle Löbichau, along with the Tannenfeld Castle, developed into a center of intellectual and cultural life in Germany, just two kilometers from Posterstein. The Musenhof der Herzogin von Kurland of the Duchess of Courland, Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821), in Löbichau was one of the most famous of its kind. The well-educated noblewoman drew important impulses from her first-class relations with the highest social circles in Europe and the associated network, and from her stays in famous salons of Berlin and Paris, as well as in the fashionable Carlsbad. She was acquainted with several important statesmen of her time.
Since the estates in Löbichau and Tannenfeld were conveniently located between the German cultural centers of the time, Anna Dorothea of Kurland transformed them into a meeting place for the European elite by inviting artists, philosophers and leading politicians of her time. The most famous guest may well have been Czar Alexander I. of Russia (1777-1825).
Löbichau centrally located in Germany
The Duchess had chosen her estates not without reason. The two castles touched important routes of her time – strategically favorable, halfway between Berlin and Carlsbad, between Dresden and Erfurt and close to the intellectual centers of this time: Weimar and Jena. The nearby Ronneburg was still a health resort in the lifetime of the Duchess and thus a popular destination.
The travel experiences, at that time still in coaches, completely differed from the ones we make today. Nature, landscape and even the streets were perceived differently. A well-developed infrastructure enhanced the well-being of travelers. Breeches and bumps on the other hand could turn the trip into a seemingly endless odyssey.
The minister and the road construction
The roads in the Altenburger part of the duchy of Saxony-Gotha and Altenburg were easily navigable thanks to the efforts of the minister Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel (1744-1824). Writer Lili Parthey (1800-1829), sister of philologist Gustav Parthey (1798-1872), reported on the nature of routes at this time. She spent time with her brother and her parents at the Musehof of the Duchess Dorothea of Courland (1761-1821) in Löbichau and can also be counted among the guests of the Thümmel family on their estate in Nöbdenitz. In her diary she wrote:
“Donnerstag, den 18. [7. 1816], war, obgleich die Welt untergehen sollte, das Wetter sehr schön. Ganz früh um 7 ging es fort; unsere Reise ging ziemlich schnell und sehr glücklich. Das Altenburgische Gebiet ist ein ganz wunderhübsches Ländchen, mit herrlichen Wegen und Aussichten. Die Verbesserungen der Landstraße und Wege sind vorzüglich Herrn von Thümmel zu danken. Wir empfanden diese Wohlthat doppelt nach den wahren Mordwegen von Leipzig bis Krona. […] Um 7 waren wir in Löbichau, dem Ziel unserer Bestimmung angekommen. Es ist ein reizender Aufenthalt.“
During one of her trips to Carlsbad Anna Dorothea of Courland met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was just one of many encounters with poets, thinkers, politicians and well-known personalities of society. The Duchess had some formal encounters with Goethe in 1808, 1810, 1812 and 1820. In 1820 the poet even followed an invitation to Löbichau. On the 29th and 30th of September he spends cheerful hours and describes the castle of the duchess as a “well-located house of joy”. After this visit, he went on to Altenburg.
On the way from Schleiz to Gera on May 30., 1816:
“Von früh halb 4 – bis 8 Uhr Abends sind wir auf eine strecke von 7 u. eine halbe Meile gefahren die Wege sind überaus schlecht. Ich bin viel zu fuße gegangen u. wäre so nach Auma gelangt hätte der Wagen mich nicht daran behindert.”
The Duchess of Courland traveled much herself, and with pleasure. Paris, St. Petersburg or Vienna, Kurland, Switzerland or Italy – she was always drawn back to Löbichau. Thus is the case with her last journey in 1821. In May 1821 she finally set out from Paris, with her health in a bad condition at this time. The change from Paris to Löbichau is supposed to ease her suffering. On 30 June 1821 the Duchess’ two daughters, Pauline and Johanna, leave. The mother describes this day as “a day of great mourning”. She will not see her daughters again.
On Aug. 20, Anna Dorothea of Courland dies in her castle in Löbichau.
The daughters are already in Switzerland at this time. It’s not until May 9, 1822 that Johanna returned to Löbichau.
For the Duchess’ funeral on August 29, 1821, 7000 guests arrived.
By Leon Walter & Franziska Engemann / Museum Burg Posterstein; translation: M. Huberti