Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 1 of Three Perfect Days: Understanding Dr. José Rizal's Legacy: Heidelberg-Wilhelmsfeld, Germany

Sir Rainer J. Weber, Chapter Commander of the Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg Order of the Knights of Rizal was reserved and polite in his reply to my request for a meeting and for help in tracing the legacy of Dr José Rizal in Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld, Germany.  Many Philippine politicians, diplomats, academics and erstwhile travelers regularly pass by Heidelberg-Wilhelmsfeld and Sir Rainer generally always took care of showing them around.  Sir Choy Arnaldo, Chapter Commander of the Philippine Chapter of Knights of Rizal introduced me to him.

Mr. Weber is one among the foremost Rizalists in Germany, following in the footsteps of the Foremost Rizalista, his late father, Pastor Gottlob Weber.  The kind pastor was highly instrumental in the Philippine National Historical Commission in 1960's in accumulating "never-before-known"  information about Rizal's stay in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany. (See Philippine National Historical Institute, Paz P. Mendez, Adventures in Rizaliana. 1978).  Pastor Gottlob Weber took over the Wilhelmsfeld vicarage from Pastor Karl Ullmer.  Dr José Rizal was invited as a lodger in Pastor Ullmer's household in 1886.

Day 1.  My excitement ran high.  Sir Rainer came armed with a huge brilliant smile.  He was the kind of gentleman who looked you in the eye and hang on to your every word as if you had something important to say.  He immediately put me at ease. He had previously received my email indicating what sites I needed to document.  For reference I had listed the sites named in the Pictorial Album on Rizal (1962).   

Dr José Rizal HIstorical Marker, Heidelberg
He asked; "How are you in terms of walking and climbing up steps?" I deflected the assumption (of age) and braced myself saying,  "Let's go."

First stop, the Augenklinik's Rizal marker on 20 Bergheimer strasse, just a few yards from my hotel. In the Centennial Book (1962) it was located on 4 Bergheimer strasse.

The foremost ophthalmologist, Dr Otto Becker, was a respected professor at the University of Heidelberg. Rizal, as one of his favored students, had the use of the new eye instrument:  the ophthalmoscope.  Rizal at that time had an apartment in front of the University. The eye clinic  on the other hand, was located in the vicinity of Bismarckplatz, further off the old university campus.  Rizal had to walk through the length of Hauptstrasse. It took me 20 minutes to negotiate it.
Rizal's apartment opposite the University square.

Next stop:  The University of Heidelberg.  Rizal was in for the greatest festival of his life when he arrived in 1886.  It was the 500th anniversary of the university's founding. Today, the university still maintains its old world charm. Rizal lived right in front of the university square by the fountain.  I looked at the cobble stones.  Wow! Here our national hero trod these very stones, I observed.

Within the university campus is the noted Witches' Tower, a relic of the middle ages when witches and old hags were incarcerated and/or otherwise burned on stakes.

The University's Witches'Tower, Rizal mentioned this in his letter home.

There is a historical marker on the facade on 12 Ludwigsplatz, now Grabengasse.  Rizal occupied this place from February to June, 1886.  The adjoining building is currently being renovated.  Sir Rainer, ever the ultimate Rizalista, mindful of losses in the past, called attention to the bookstore owner on the ground floor, to ensure that the Dr. José Rizal historical marker is not lost or misplaced during renovation.

Next stop: The Student Prison or Studentenkarzen.  Rizal was so intrigued with the self-governing application of misdemeanor consequences among the students.  He was invited by a fraternity to join their group (the Swabians, yellow caps), whose preoccupation was to duel each other proudly displaying their facial scars. The prison walls and all the spaces were pock-marked with darts, paint, and a veritable maze of medieval grafitti.

We cruised leisurely at all the other Rizal landmarks. The Jesuit Church  has an extraordinary luminous and uncluttered  nave. The Corn Market Madonna stands in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Sir Rainer showed me the dividing place where for some time, the Catholics celebrated their masses, while on the other side of the nave, the Protestants held their service.  Rizal noted this religious tolerance within the church edifice.

The Lord Mayor's house  (City Hall) is a stone's throw from the beer gardens that Rizal must have patronized.  At the oldest hotel, (The Ritter-Knights Hotel) Rizal found his initial bearings.

The morning was ripening. Sir Rainer wanted me to double up so we could get on to the Castle ruins.  Rizal was quite taken by this ruined castle.  He took a tour of the ruins and remarked that the tour guide was as dour and as old as the castle walls itself.  Rainer told this private Rizal joke to one of the castle tour guides.  And although my German is unusable, I could guess by intonation, body language and snippets of "Rizal" the subject of their mirth.

 I was not sure what Rainer's plans were.  He looked squarely at me and decided that a (60-going on 80-ager) like me needed a little boost, so he suggested we take the Bergbahn funicular to the castle grounds up in the hill plateau overlooking the town.  Then he assured me that we could leisurely walk down after the castle tour and get ready for a great dish of stuffed pork stomach, sauerkraut and potatoes, served at the famous Red Ox, a Heidelberg popular student eatery.

The University Library

To be continued.
The University of Heidelberg. Rizal was here in 1886

No comments: