Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Holger Schwinn: Achim von Arnim as Farmer and Writer


Holger Schwinn: Achim von Arnim as Farmer and Writer

Achim von Arnim begins his novel Die Kronenwächter (The Crown Guardians) with reflections on plowing a field. The day’s work of a plowman, that is, the area that is plowed with a team from morning to evening, is compared with the day’s work of the intellectual, the writer: The plowman’s activity is devoted to the earth and “steadily progresses”—and is “respected by all.”

In contrast, the daily labors of “workers in the intellectual field” are burdened with great uncertainty: “Who can measure the labor of the intellect in its invisible realm?” asks the narrator in the introduction of the novel, and “Who respects where it draws the line?” The beginning of the Kronenwächter (The Crown Guardians) is a good example of how rural life is embedded in Arnim’s literary work. But what did this life of one of the landed gentry caught between farming and writing desk look like? What did Arnim gain from physical labor? Why didn’t he live with Bettina and the children in Berlin?

When Arnim came to Wiepersdorf in 1814, the estate was managed by tenants. The main sources of income were from grain cultivation and sheep farming. Until the last tenant left in mid-1821, the poet was able to initially spend a lot of time at his green writing desk and slowly adapt to the role of the lord of the manor. First of all, he had the barnyard redone; he planted trees, created fish ponds, and created his own small paradise in the shape of a newly planted kitchen garden that provided lettuce, carrots, beets, potatoes, and asparagus, among other things, in addition to various types of fruit.

As the owner, Arnim progressively developed and diversified agricultural production on the estate. In addition to sheep, he also kept pigs, cattle, and various kinds of poultry. The forest provided game and mushrooms, and beer was brewed in the village of Bärwalde. And the Wiepersdorf farm even had a distillery.

On the Bärwalde estate, to which the Wiepersdorf and Bärwalde farms of the Arnim’s belonged, dozens of day laborers and volunteers were employed in cultivating the large fields of grain, clover, and flax; digging drainage ditches; and building stables and wells. The owner of the estate himself also lent a hand.

His strong commitment hardly paid off, though, as the overall economic situation was difficult. From the beginning, Arnim was burdened by the enormous debts on the family’s property and inheritance, debts that, in his eyes, necessitated his presence at Wiepersdorf and the family’s extensive self-sufficiency.

He was only gradually able to reduce the amount that was owed. He even had to sell part of the estate due to financial hardships in 1818. Then, he was faced with a drastic drop in the price of grain in the early 1820s. Despite these manifold difficulties, Arnim worked tirelessly at Wiepersdorf on his literary work: on the Kronenwächter (The Crown Guardians), on stories, dramatic works, poems, and short texts and essays.

Arnim wrote from Wiepersdorf to Bettina, at the end of May 1821, how country life impacted his writing. In the letter he states that “In Berlin, I feel how I waste away—physically and mentally.” He continues on to say that “I need physical activity in order to keep myself mentally active ... My work here on the farm and estate ... is linked to the world of my thoughts.”

And thus everyday life in Wiepersdorf is reflected in the frame story of the collection of stories under the title Landhausleben (Country seat life) as well as in Martin Martir, a posthumously published fragment, in which we find the following lines: “When we shake apple trees, pick grapes, slaughter for meat, and make sausage, these are our feast days. The peculiar affinity of growing fruit, agriculture, and animal husbandry to the world and work of the poet had a twofold impact on Arnim’s writing: While the realities of rural life pervaded his literary work in descriptions and linguistic images, it also opened up new thematic fields of writing for the author, as is found in the late writings on horse breeding and the grain trade. Thus Romanticism acquired a down-to-earth quality; a remarkable sense of connectedness to the basics in life became evident at Wiepersdorf, even though Arnim remained a representative of the Romantic School throughout his life—and was, indeed, one of the most imaginative Romantics. From the arable land in the Mark of Brandenburg, his imagination grew wings and soared, giving birth to those ideas of which it is said in the Kronenwächter (The Crown Guardians) that they are “signs of eternity, which we strive after in vain in our earthly pursuits.”

Dr. Holger Schwinn is a literary scholar. He is working as an academic collaborator on the Frankfurt Brentano Edition, which is being made at the Freies Deutsches Hochstift in cooperation with the Goethe University Frankfurt. Numerous publications on Romanticism; for the series "Frankfurter Buntbücher" he wrote "Achim von Arnim auf Wiepersdorf" (Frankfurt a. d. O. 2016).