Background

In October 1853, 17-year-old Hermann Gütlich goes for a week during the autumn holidays to his cousin and wine merchant Georg Wetterhahn, who lives in Mainz. During the beginning of his stay in Mainz, Hermann discovers that Georg’s brother Gustav, cuirassier [1] in the Austrian army and stationed in Lodi, northern Italy, has bought two horses in Germany because he thinks the price of them in Italy is much too high. Hermann is drawn to the adventure of bringing these horses from Mainz to his nephew Gustav together with a horse handler, and on a journey along the Rhine, through Switzerland and across the Alps to Milan. Under false pretexts, he receives a travel pass for the whole of Europe through his parents and sets off for Milan, without informing his parents directly. Due to all the experiences and setbacks, the journey takes weeks longer than the available autumn holidays.

-1- Eine Reise durch die Schweiz nach Mailand (1854)

On his return to Darmstadt an unpleasant return awaits him because he has been away from home for far too long and without permission; that he missed his father’s birthday on October 17 and missed school for several weeks. When he returns to the renowned Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium in Darmstadt, he must of course give an explanation for his absence. After telling his travel story, his teachers cannot hide their admiration for Hermann’s daring and sense of adventure, but they nevertheless devise a punishment, in which Hermann is ordered to make a travel report of all this and to present it at school. Hermann will take the manuscript of his travelogue to Gießen, where he will start his law studies in 1854. After this manuscript passed from hand to hand with teachers, friends and acquaintances, they are so fascinated by this story that they advise Hermann to publish it in book form. This leads to the 96-page booklet in August 1854 “Eine Reise durch die Schweiz nach Mailand“ (see -1-). In 1913, the writer Karl Esselborn mentions in his sequel that this book was already very rare at that time [2]. The only copy of this booklet that has stood the test of time is today kept in the State Archives in Hermann’s hometown Darmstadt. The original manuscript and diary with notes of the travelogue have unfortunately been lost in time……

-2- Wandervögel von ehedem – Karl Esselborn; (1913)

As a result of the unification of Germany in 1871, when the independent jurisdictions under Count Otto von Bismarck were transformed into one country, a counter-movement arose in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century that wanted to emphasize the local or regional identity. This leads to the publication of the series “Hessische Volksbücher” in Hesse. The regional historian Karl Esselborn (1879-1940) compiled several books, including the 1913 part 19, in which he describes travel stories of young people from Hesse under the title “Wandervögel von ehedem” (see -2-), including the travelogue from Hermann. What makes this description so special is the introduction, because Karl Esselborn, in addition to taking Hermann’s genealogical ancestry from near Darmstadt in the small town of Groß-Gerau investigates and describes, has also been able to make contact with Karl Planz (1836-1917), a childhood friend of Hermann’s living in Darmstadt. This made it possible for the writer to create an original and personal description of Hermann as a human being that matches the thoughts and deeds Hermann describes in his travelogue about himself.

That Hermann’s travel report from 1854 did not go unnoticed later in the 20th century is apparent from a publication in the Luzerner Landbote [3] of August 4, 1972 with the article “Sursee vor 120 Jahren”. The text of Hermann’s description of the town of Sursee as it looked during his trip in October 1853 is hereby published in full.

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[1] Cuirassiers were heavily armed cavalry soldiers on horseback wearing a breastplate called a cuirass. Cuirassiers were the heaviest unit on the battlefield. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuirassier)

[2] Hessische Volksbücher nr.  19, Wandervögel von ehedem, Karl Esselborn; Friedberg, 1913; pag. 92.

[3] A nationally operating Swiss newspaper that also distributes regional news – www.landbote.ch