In the footsteps of an adventurer from Darmstadt
Hans Gutlich follows in the footsteps of his ancestor Hermann Gütlich by bicycle and follows an adventurous story.
By Bettina Bergstedt
DARMSTADT – The Gütlichs were a highly respected family in Darmstadt. Johann Nicolaus Gütlich (1790-1872), a successful spice merchant with excellent business relations as far as Paris, had his shop right on the market square. Not far from there, his son Hermann (1836-1861) went to the Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium, where the descendants from better circles took their exams in order to take care of their own careers from then on.
Hermann was open-minded, talented, spoke seven languages and studied law in Giessen and Heidelberg from 1854 to 1857. Above all, he was eager to travel and restless in his head.
Even as a 17-year-old, he broke all conventions. In 1853, shortly before his graduation, he disappeared overnight without informing home or school. During the autumn break, he visited his cousin Georg Wetterhahn from Mainz, whose brother, an Austrian hussar cavalry master, was to receive two horses. The journey went through Switzerland to Italy, and Hermann had no greater desire than to join this journey. With a lie about an alleged short trip, he got a passport from his parents, cousin Georg lent him money, out of culture hunger he bought “Bädeker’s travel guide” for Switzerland and off we went, the horses in tow, by ship up the Rhine. “In Darmstadt nobody knew where he was,” says Hans Gutlich almost 170 years later.
Career as a poet ends in the wine trade
Hans Gutlich is from the Netherlands, he is a descendant of the Gutlich line from Darmstadt, which has long been extinct. The umlaut, the “ü” in the name, has long been lost in the Dutch language. Hans Gutlich is a passionate genealogist, he has researched the remarkable story about Hermann and many other stories about his illustrious family. Based on the travelogue from 1853, this year he followed in Hermann’s footsteps by bicycle.
“A Runaway’s Travel Book” was to be written by Hermann as a punishment for school after he was tracked down and sent home. Apparently he liked writing the report and some of the poems so much that this may have been the reason he dropped out of college after three years. He wanted to become a poet. Unfortunately without success. In 1857, he entered Cousin Georg’s wine business in Mainz and died in debt just a few years later. His last possession: a lot of liquor and tobacco.
The original of the travel diary, printed in 1854, is in the Hessian State Archive in Darmstadt, a document that survived the fire in 1944. At the end of his journey, Hans Gutlich wanted to keep the original in his hands, having previously contacted the Hessian Association for Family History and the Hessian State Archive. Before his trip, he had printed out the digitized edition for his own adventure and laminated it for travel.
Gutlich owes one of his best travel experiences to the colors of his suitcases, black and yellow. Shortly before the toughest part of his route, the climb to St. Gotthard through the rugged Schöllen Gorge over the legendary Teufelsbrücke (Devil’s Bridge), he had to get off his bike and push. On the advice of a hiker, he ended up at the yodel festival in Andermatt, canton of Uri. Since yellow and black are the colors of the canton, he was kindly received and made a “Uri-Holland connection” while enjoying a glass of Feldschlösschen beer amidst local yodel fans. This is how his own travel story was born.
German past has an impact
He has been interested in family history since 1988. That was the year he first went “on tour”, driving his 2CV through France in search of new impressions and his identity. After 1945 and fascism in Germany, his parents were repeatedly asked for their German name. That has not gone unnoticed, says Hans Gutlich, quite the contrary. He wanted to know more about the family. There are still members in the Netherlands, but also in the US, Australia and Brazil: emigrants from Germany since the 18th century. Like Hermann, many male Gütlichs of the German line died at a very young age. They had fathered children since 1830, but none of the women married anymore, making this line (first traces go back to Groß-Gerau) extinct.
Gutlich will continue to do genealogical research when he returns to his home near The Hague, as there are still a few stories to discover: that of the dancer Anna Gütlich (1850-1929), who was known throughout Europe and trained in Darmstadt, or that of August Gütlich, who was murdered in 1863 after an argument with a pawnbroker, which was reported in the press even in America. Hans Gutlich has it easier with the internet: on his well-arranged homepage you can read the biographies, see photos and especially the two “travel books” from 1853 and 2022 are compared, everything is well researched and historically integrated.