Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Wolfgang Bunzel: Topography and Bridging Distance by Railroads


Wolfgang Bunzel: Topography and Bridging Distance by Railroads

The Bärwalde estate, located about ninety kilometers south of Berlin, was then, as it is now, situated in a sparsely populated and underdeveloped region. Despite the comparatively short distance, the journey from the Prussian capital to the family’s country estate by horse-drawn carriage took at least ten hours in the first decades of the 19th century. When Bettina von Arnim decided to move back to Berlin in early 1817, not least because of the children, the couple had to endure long periods of separation because Achim von Arnim remained in Wiepersdorf.

Especially when Bettina von Arnim was forced to spend time alone in the countryside, her complaints about loneliness and boredom became more frequent. In a letter to her sister Gunda von Savigny, for example, she wrote: “Writing is a thing of the past here, where the whole day, the entire year, your whole dear long life, nothing happens that makes you want to lift a leg or an arm. I know of no task that dulls the brain more than doing nothing at all and experiencing nothing.”

The family owned its own carriage so it could be relatively mobile. Bettina von Arnim used it as late as 1839 for a private trip via Magdeburg and through the Harz Mountains to Kassel and back.

These leisurely but inconvenient—because extremely time-consuming—traveling conditions fundamentally changed when railroads were introduced in Germany. Lines connected almost all the major cities within just a few years. This included the line from Berlin to Köthen or Halle, the so-called Berlin-Anhalt Railroad. The stretch between Berlin and Wittenberg was officially opened in 1841. Since the Bärwalde estate was only about twenty kilometers away from the Jüterbog railroad station, it suddenly became much easier to reach. It was now much closer to Berlin in terms of travel. The train ride between Berlin and Jüterbog took only an hour and a half, so that the entire door-to-door journey could be done in just three hours.

Bettina von Arnim was one of the first authors and probably the only Romantic writer to use the railroad as a new means of getting about. Trains to Wittenberg departed in Berlin from Anhalter Bahnhof. Bettina therefore had to first go by hired coach or the family’s own carriage to Askanischer Platz. There she boarded the train and traveled to Jüterbog, with intermediate stops in Trebbin and Luckenwalde.

There were three train connections per day in the 1840s: one in the morning at half past seven, one around midday at half past two, and one in the afternoon at half past five. Depending on the frequency of stops, passengers arrived in Jüterbog after one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half hours. Bettina von Arnim was picked up at the station either by a horse-drawn cart or carriage and arrived at the country estate after another hour or so.

At first she lived in the medieval Bärwalde castle. After it burned down in 1845, the tenant of the Wiepersdorf estate vacated the manor house. The eldest son Freimund von Arnim was then able to move in. His mother organized furniture and furnishings for him in Berlin, which she had transported by rail to Jüterbog, where they waited at the local inn, Wirth Stolle, for Freimund to come by and pick them up.

At the end of July 1845, Bettina von Arnim announced the following to her son in a letter: “A large part of the furniture will be sent by rail tomorrow, Thursday. You will be able to pick it up on Saturday. There are one sofa and twelve chairs ... twelve small chairs ... one writing desk with drawers ... one washstand ... one night table ... two sleeping sofas ... one mattress ... of seagrass for the caretaker. I will probably buy a few more tables today, as well as a secretary’s desk for your caretaker and a dresser.”

This means that a large part of the furniture at the Wiepersdorf manor house was procured in Berlin and transported by rail to the estate. When her eldest son Freimund von Bärwalde moved to Wiepersdorf, Bettina von Arnim again visited the family estate more frequently. The good railroad connection now even made it possible to make the round trip within a day if necessary.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bunzel, born in 1960, is head of the Romanticism Research Department at the Goethe-Haus/Freies Deutsches Hochstift in Frankfurt. In addition, he teaches modern German literature at the Goethe University Frankfurt and since mid-2014 has been one of the two managing directors of the Brentano-Haus Oestrich-Winkel gemeinnützige GmbH. His main field of research is the literature of German Romanticism. For many years he has co-edited the Internationales Jahrbuch der Bettina-von-Arnim-Gesellschaft. In 2009, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of her death, he curated an exhibition on Bettine von Arnim at the Freies Deutsches Hochstift, parts of which were also on display in Wiepersdorf. He has also published numerous editions as well as books and essays on Romantic literature, especially on Bettine von Arnim.