From the notebooks of Goethe’s cook

The genius and the Thuringian dumplings

From “DIE ZEIT”  Nr. 14/1988, by Stefan Reisner


©Wikipedia, Joseph Karl Stieler / Public domain

My family comes from Weimar and therefore, like so many residents, has their own relationships with the genius of this place, the Secret Council and Minister Goethe. It was even mentioned in “Poetry and Truth“, which in Weimar society was tantamount to a noble streak and much more than the others who only stood in front of Goethe’s door to explain the peculiarities of the in-house host to the visitors.

One of my ancestors, Lena Louise Axthelm, was actually employed by Goethe from 1826 to 1829, in the kitchen. She was probably not the first cook, but rather an assistant, and she also served on ordinary days, while the valet served on festivals and receptions. According to my parents’ register – something like this had to be created during the Nazi era – it is noted that Lena Louise Axthelm died in Weimar in March 1879.

Of course, she kept a diary – like everyone who had to do something in the house on the Frauenplan someday wrote down his observations – Goethe knew this and acted on it. Three octave books have been handed down from my ancestor (two blue and one black). They are not all fully written, rather the zeal in all three booklets fades after a few pages, many pages are empty. And obviously, as you can see from the more mature writing, Lena Louise also added a few things from her memory in later years. Her former position as cook of Goethe secured her lifelong attention in Weimar.

The general remarks of the young girl, for example about the Weimar weather, are less interesting for us – for example, “Schneegestieber” is noted on January 6, 1826 (Goethe was not at the residence that day); or notes of events about which we have other notes, such as from the son books of August, which are kept very carefully – just as August was actually the real Hausmeier and administrator of the ministerial household, although he obviously enjoyed a high reputation among the employees. In Lena Louise’s diary there is never the angry exclamation mark behind his name, which is sometimes chopped into the paper behind Goethe’s title. On November 3, 1827, the young girl only noted “onion market”, and from August’s household books we can add that “two sacks of blue cibulns of 7 groschen” were bought for the large household on that day, and from the “Annals of Agricultural Society of Coburg-Gotha “(sic!) We know that these blue (French) onions were produced by two farmers in Berka.

Rather, what is important is the news about the inner state of Goethe’s house, which we can see in the records. Actually there were two households, that of the old man and then the young household of August and woman. Ottilie, who was always late for dinner, played the least part in it. The kitchen maid Lena Louise does not seem to have been very taken up by her work in Goethe’s household; this is the only way to explain that she changed jobs after only four years. It was above all a household for the elderly, whose calm was repeatedly disturbed by the many visitors. Goethe doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the tastes of his guests when it comes to his table. Coarse and rich was cooked for the secretaries and employees, who often got the venison that Goethe court sent into the house.

As he grew older, Goethe loved to eat soups, and Lena Louise noted several times “brought the soup to the secretary”. If guests were there, as is usually the case, then several courses were served, according to August’s documents in small portions. The old gentleman loved to serve his guests at the table with more spiritual gifts. For the staff, these meetings, which often lasted several hours, were a torture – Goethe repeatedly showed his beloved prints, sent his secretaries to fetch some sort of box, be it coins or bones. It was hard work for the staff, because the old man loathed being interrupted by clattering dishes during the speech. This sound came right after the hated barking of dogs.

In the notes, and this strikes me as a stroke of luck, it is exactly that
Order of dishes noted, namely that of Friday, May 4, 1827. Eckermann reported
under this date: “In honor of Amperes and his friend Stapfer great dinner at
Goethe. ”From Lena Louise’s notes it follows that the following dishes are served

  • Pigeon soup
  • Crayfish patties
  • Filled breast of veal
  • Beef fillet with truffle salad and pear compote
  • Cream foam in biscuit
  • Butter and cheese

As you can see, a home-style diner that made the “conversation loud,
cheerful and mixed up ”. (Eckermann op.cit.) Goethe was in the best of spirits and encouraged society to take a “walk around the wood on the
Way to Tiefurt ”.

August’s meticulous bookkeeping records the departure of “twelve
Bottles of Rhineland Wine ”. Recorded under the date of May 3, Thursday
now Lena Louise: “On the Ilm, for fishing!” – which concludes with some certainty
can be that the patties eaten on Goethe’s table from the day before in the
Caught crayfish were made. (The semi-rural origin Lena Louises has
you will surely convey the handiness of grasping cancer.)

This diner, which has been reported so thoroughly, seems to have been something special,
more abundant than usual. Eckermann noted on Sunday, May 6, 1827: “Again
Table company at Goethe, with the same people present as the day before yesterday. “It
were not just the same people: Lena Louise made a laconic note on that day
in her diary: “Leftovers!” – So there was the same meal. The leftovers entry
casts a telling light on August’s housekeeping, which plentifully
Well-managed father’s income; at least on this point
an honor salvation of August, often described as dissolute, is made.

Two events during Lena Louise’s service at Goethe are said to be here
be picked out, they occupy the furthest place in the diaries. There is
first the argument about the anchovy barrel and then the conversation about dumplings.
On October 18, 1827, the household received a delivery of “Portuguese Anchois” –
and Lena Louise, ignorant of the salinity of this from a small type of herring
(Engraulis encrasicholus Cuv.) Won specialty, probably for lunch
Appetizer from quail eggs (from Stadtroda) topped with the anchovy fillets. The saline diet naturally increased the thirst of the table guests. In addition, the suspicion soon arose that the barrel of Anchovis might have been spoiled by the long transport. Lena Louise writes: “Disputes about the salt fish; wanted to have the stinking glittery stuff! ”

We read Eckermanns in connection with this remark by the kitchen girl
Entry from October 18 with completely different eyes: “Hegel is here, Goethe
very much appreciated personally, even if some of his philosophy has borne fruit
don’t want to particularly taste it. Goethe gave him one in his honor that evening
Tea (emphasis by the author), with Zelter present too, but still this
Had to leave at night. ”

Tea was served – the spoiled fish delivery had its effects, and the
Eckermann’s report about Zelter’s farewell also takes on a completely different meaning,
if we assume that the gentlemen had become sickly: “We were still in
best conversation and in the most cheerful conversation when Zelter got up and went out without saying a word. “Zelter was evil!

The final proof that something was wrong with the delivery of the anchovy barrel
was okay, I found in the “Memories of an Honest Postman from Goethe
Zeit ”- published in Leipzig in 1878 – Gottlob Friedrich Freidank becomes the author
supposed. He was in the freight department of the Thum and Taxische Fuhrunternehmen in
Weimar employed and reported that in 1827 or 28 he had an argument with his
Supervisor because of “some barrels of fish, one of which had burst”.

Freidank asked, which we are not interested in here, to ban the freight of fish barrels; The “memories”, by no means meant as honestly as announced in the title, reinforce the assumption that Goethe’s household had just gotten the barrel open. As is well known, August, who made the purchases, had not been very popular with the residence’s military personnel since the Napoleonic Wars – and Freidank was a land storm man! Maybe he purposely intended the spoiled anchovy barrel for the Goethe household!

Thuringian dumplings

© Wikipedia, Sebastian Wallroth / CC BY

The other big argument that probably ultimately led to Lena Louise
took their leave, there were dumplings in March 1828. You have to imagine: That
young girls, brought up in good middle-class tradition, to which dumplings
(green, raw, half-half or cooked) suddenly found themselves in the refined semi-French kitchen of the poet prince. (“The good Germans will never achieve refinement like the French …” Goethe in “correspondence with a child”.) Lena Louise must have tried to make the old man’s dumplings palatable. Goethe now liked to eat half-and-half dumplings, but was opposed to raw (green) dumplings, which he found too unformed, too little refined, just too raw – by the way, Goethe is wrong here! Raw dumplings are a much bigger ornament for housewives than those made from pre-cooked masses, which bind more easily, while nature is subjected to a real test in raw dumplings. The raw dumpling does not crumble or crumble, that is in the skill of the hand that forms it.

On March 10, 1828, Lena Louise prepared raw dumplings for the genius. She writes:
“Bringed raw dumplings to Goethe. Said he has to do it. Exc. without Abbdit. Trouble! Sags him: You can’t find better dumplings! ”That was the beginning of the war!

Goethe concludes on March 12, 1828: “It is a
own thing, it is now in the lineage, it is on the ground, it is in the
agricultural constitution, it lies in the healthy fertilization of the soil – enough
the Weimarers claim that their dumplings are ahead of everyone else! We see only a minimum of the country’s dumplings here in Weimar, and probably not the best at all … As a German housefather, who likes the quiet of his family, I often feel a little horror when my daughter-in-law gives me the upcoming meal again with such a specialty. I can already see in my mind the tears that will flow after my justified rejection! Why is it? It is not because of rearing and the nature of the soil, it is because they take nature away and ignore the necessity of art! ”(Eckermann, March 12, 1828)

For Lena Louise, the “justified rejection” of her culinary art must be deeply hurting
been – she quits a little later and becomes in the house of cabinet colleague Bertuch
employed – who, incidentally, was an intimate enemy of the Minister Goethe. (His family is
still at home in Thuringian today.)

The departure was Lena Louise for the Goethe household – so I would like to me
say possible objectivity – certainly a loss. It was getting dustier and darker in the house; Goethe constantly complained about the unplastered windows, which barely let light through. (Compare his last words: “More light!”) Goethe felt sick and lonely.

His old friend Zelter made another attempt to stop the gloom on
Lighten up women’s plan, it came a few days before Lena Louise finally left. In his
Zelter writes the diary: “Nobody is at the gate. A female face looks out of the
Kitchen, retires. (Undoubtedly Lena Louise, the author.) The servant Stadelmann
comes and shrugs. I’m still at the front door, you should be around again
go? Does death live here? Where is the lord Dull eyes. Where’s Ottilie? To Dessau.
Where’s Ulrike? In bed. August is coming: Father is not well, sick, really sick. ”

As is well known, Zelter succeeds in getting Goethe back on his feet; he reads it three times
the “Marienbader Elegien” in succession. (Friedenthal: “Goethe and his time”, Munich, 1963)

Lena Louise Axthelm’s life path separates from Goethe here. Just one more time
Years later, she met the secretary Eckermann; there was one
crooked bird sitting on the shoulder and went past without greeting. He has her
apparently never forgave the affair with the raw dumplings.

Certainly, the few records of young domestic workers from business
des Olympiers only add to the large building in which we worship our Goethe
tiny pebble, but I want to defend those other big ones in my defense
Lead poet who asked us what the greatest are without their cooks.


Continue reading the next family story.

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