Goethe Took a Hike

In the morning of September 6, 1780, the German poet, playwright, novelist, theater director, educator and scientist Johann Wolfgang Goethe, decided to take a hike. What began as a leisurely walk through the northern part of the Thuringia forest near the town of Illmenau, ended in the creation of one of the most brilliant little poems of the German language, high above the magnificent landscape in a little cabin* on a mountain named Kickelhahn.

The great writer had a pencil with him but no paper. Thus, he wrote the poem Wanderers Nachtlied on the cabin’s wall, expressing, as no poem has expressed before, quietness of nature and a wanderer coming to rest. From that wooden wall, the little text went into Goethe’s book of poems, became part of countless readings in literary salons, and finally it inspired Franz Schubert to compose a Lied 35 years later, far away in Vienna.

Before you undertake the little exercise below, learn the vocabulary first:

The first line of Wanderers Nachtlied:

Über allen Gipfeln

The last line:

Ruhest du auch.

Now, arrange these lines in the order as Goethe had written on the cabin’s wall:

Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.

Kaum einen Hauch;

Ist Ruh’,

Warte nur balde

Spürest du

In allen Wipfeln

Do you need help? Listen to Schubert’s Lied and to the voice of
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and try again.

* Goethe visited the cabin one more time at old age 30 years later, a few months before his death. He read the poem out loud and after the last line (ruhest du auch) he started crying.

70 years after that, the cabin burned down. A replica was built and can still be visited today.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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