The South in the German Imaginary

The Italian Journeys of Goethe and Heine

by Lukas Bauer (Author)
©2015 Monographs X, 250 Pages


The division between North and South in Europe represents a geographical as well as a cultural boundary that has influenced the way many European nations think about their history and identity. This divide is particularly prominent in the cultural dialogue between Germany and Italy and has played an important role in the construction of German identity. This study explores German representations of Italy in the early nineteenth century by examining the Italian travel writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. It analyses Goethe’s Italienische Reise and Heine’s Italian Reisebilder and focuses on the negotiation of cultural identity through representations of the North-South divide.
The book compares Goethe’s complex attitudes towards Germany during this period with Heine’s wrestling with his place in German culture, as seen through their depictions of Italy. Goethe pointed to the classical heritage of Greek antiquity as the source not only of Italian, but also of German, cultural traditions and therefore as an essential element of German identity. Heine called into question Goethe’s experience of Italy and instead used his travels to reveal the instability of German identity and the changing nature of the European community. By investigating the travel narratives of Goethe and Heine, this study reveals the influences of historical and political change on perspectives on the South in Germany.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • CHAPTER 1: Introduction
  • CHAPTER 2: The Cultural Dialogue between North and South
  • CHAPTER 3: Duty and Pleasure in Goethe’s Journeys to Rome and Naples
  • CHAPTER 4: New Avenues for Imagining German Superiority
  • CHAPTER 5: Re-Imagining Italy in Heine’s Reisebilder
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

| vii →


First and foremost, I am deeply indebted to my principal supervisor, Professor Kerry Dunne, for her consistent dedication to my research project and her commitment that went far beyond my dissertation in guiding my academic development. Throughout my candidature, Professor Dunne has been a close mentor and a continuous source of support and encouragement.

Special thanks go to my co-supervisor Dr Karen Daly, for her support and insightful feedback on my research. Especially during the final months, Dr Daly has given me crucial help and encouragement in completing my thesis.

I would like to acknowledge the support and constructive comments of Professor Tim Mehigan. I am also grateful to Dr Heather Jamieson, who worked closely with me on refining my writing style and argument.

My appreciation also goes to the University of Wollongong for allowing me to pursue this research with the support of an Australian Postgraduate Award.

Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to my parents for their support and understanding during the ups and downs of thesis writing and for their valuable suggestions and proofing.

| ix →


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethes Werke. Elibron Classics. Vol. 10. Boston: Adamant, 2006.

IRItalienische Reise

Sämtliche Werke. Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche. Ed. Borchmeyer, Dieter et al. 40 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1985–.

FAFrankfurter Ausgabe

Heinrich Heine

Reisebilder. Elibron Classics. Boston: Adamant 2006.

RMG – Reise von München nach Genua

BLDie Bäder von Lucca

SLDie Stadt von Lucca

All references to Die Nordsee, Englische Fragmente and Über Polen are also from this edition.

| 1 →



Italy is the recurring image of the “Other” in the German literary imagination and has alternately been presented by Germans as an object of derision or of desire. The geographical opposition of North and South within Europe has been an essential means of defining the German self against the alterity of Latin civilization. Two canonical works of German travel literature written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but published only thirteen years apart in 1816 and 1829, respectively, present distinct views on German cultural identity in the early nineteenth century. Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Italienische Reise and Heinrich Heine’s Italian Reisebilder expose a key transitional moment in the interpretation of what it meant to be German. Goethe and Heine are concerned about deep and lasting changes in their contemporary home society, and they present alternative guiding principles for the edification of the German community. An exploration of both texts points to a transition in understanding German cultural identity that reflects broader social changes from the Kunstperiode, with its privileging of aesthetics as the key to a good society, to a more political orientation, particularly amongst left-wing German intellectuals.

Goethe’s experiences during his two-year journey through Italy in 1786–88 were built on assumptions about the significance of Italy for the German cultural imagination. Following publication of the three parts of his Italienische Reise (1816, 1817, 1829), Italy’s natural and cultural landscape occupied a central position in German intellectuals’ understanding of German history, culture and identity (Beebee, “Ways of Seeing” 322). The journey to the South took on the appearance of a pilgrimage for Germans to the source and centre of their own cultural tradition. Because the South became closely associated with Goethe, the journey to Italy was used as a vehicle by a later generation of writers to distance themselves from Goethe’s ← 1 | 2 → influence and challenge his authority by offering alternative experiences of Italy. Among these writers, Heine, in his Italian Reisebilder (1829, 1830, 1831), throws Goethe’s image of Italy most overtly into question.

Goethe departed for Italy on the eve of the French Revolution. Following the itinerary of the Grand Tour, which advocated taking the Brenner Pass through the Alps, Goethe travelled to Verona, Venice, and, after a short stay of only three hours in Florence, arrived at the primary destination of his journey, Rome, in November 1786. From there Goethe continued to Naples and Sicily, before returning to Rome for an extended period between June 1787 and April 1788. He then returned to Weimar, where he continued as a member of the court of Duke Carl August.

Heine’s journey to Italy was much shorter in duration. He travelled to Italy in August 1828 while awaiting news about a university post in Munich. Heine’s route closely matched Goethe’s itinerary up until Verona, but then Heine radically departed from the trail that his predecessor had mapped out, and continued to Milan, Genoa and Lucca, where he visited the spa baths prescribed by his physician. Heine returned to Germany via Florence, Bologna and Venice, where his journey was cut short by news of his father’s deteriorating health. Heine arrived back in Germany in December 1828.

Despite the more than forty years separating Goethe’s and Heine’s actual journeys to Italy, their respective travel accounts were published in close proximity to each other and are contemporaneous texts. It was not until thirty years after his travels that Goethe published a revised version of his diary and correspondence in three parts in 1816, 1817 and 1829; the Italienische Reise was intended to form a part of his autobiography Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811/22). The public reception of Goethe’s journey to Italy therefore came much later than the actual journey, occurring in the period leading up to Heine’s journey in 1828 and the publication of the latter’s satirical account of his experiences in Italy: Reise von München nach Genua (1829), Die Bäder von Lucca (1830) and Die Stadt von Lucca (1831).

Goethe’s and Heine’s respective representations of Italy are both personal reactions to the same cultural and political climate during the Restoration period in Germany (1815–1830). However, scholars have frequently overlooked this comparison. The time span between Goethe’s ← 2 | 3 → journey to Italy and the publication of his Italienische Reise witnessed the dissolving during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) of the loose conglomerate of largely German and Italian territories that made up the Holy Roman Empire. The Restoration, implemented by the Congress of Vienna (1815), was orchestrated by the Austrian Foreign Minister, Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773–1859) and designed to dismantle the emancipatory reforms that Napoleon had imposed. The period was characterized in Germany and Italy by severe censorship and repression. In reaction, nationalistic fervour became increasingly widespread amongst political dissidents, as well as a renewed political activism amongst left-wing intellectuals and writers such as Heine.


X, 250
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Cultural dialogue Journey to tome Reisebilder north-south divide italienische Reise
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. X, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Lukas Bauer (Author)

Lukas Bauer is an Honorary Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Wollongong. He received his PhD in German Literature from the University of Wollongong in 2014.


Title: The South in the German Imaginary
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