Reisebilder; Travel Pictures

Reisebilder; Travel Pictures (1826-31)

The Reisebilder; Travel Pictures set the standard for high-quality literary journalism and travel writing in 19th-century Germany. These texts, together with Ludwig Börne’s reports from Paris, inaugurate the genre of the literary feuilleton in Germany. These essays are amongst the best travel writing ever produced in German. They bear comparison with Goethe’s Italienische Reise; Italian Journey, but in contrast to Goethe, Heine’s essays have a profoundly political dimension. The philosophical and political reflections contained in these texts go far beyond the genre of travel writing. As Katy Heady has shown (see reading list below), Heine used the genre of travel writing in order to get his subversive political views past the rigid censorship which was in force at the time.

Volume 3 of the Reisebilder contains a notorious, vicious polemic against Heine’s poetic rival, August von Platen. Platen had mocked Heine’s Jewishness; Heine retaliated with a homophobic tirade against Platen in Die Bäder von Lucca; The Baths of Lucca (1830). Siegbert Prawer calls it ‘a disgraceful performance’ (Siegbert S. Prawer, Heine’s Jewish Comedy, Oxford 1983, p. 155). For further reading on this very unpleasant chapter in German literary history, see Ruth R. Wisse, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Princeton 2013; see details below).

The Reisebilder continue to inspire modern German poets like Hans Magnus Enzensberger, whose essay volume Ach Europa! (1987, translated into English in 1989 as Europe, Europe) can be read as a tribute to Heine’s Reisebilder. Enzensberger comments that Heine is ‘a prime example of someone who was in a certain sense a journalist, but you can still read his reports today, because they are also literature.’ (‘Enzensberger’s Europe’, interview with Martin Chalmers and Robert Lumley, New Left Review I/78, Nov-Dec 1989), 87-103 (p. 95)).  

The Reisebilder consist of four volumes:

Volume 1:

Die Harzreise; The Harz Journey (1826)

Die Nordsee; The North Sea (1826) [Parts 1 and 2]

Volume 2:

Ideen: Das Buch Le Grand; Ideas: The Book of Le Grand (1827)

Die Nordsee; The North Sea (1827) [Part 3]

Volume 3:

Reise von München nach Genua; The Journey from Munich to Genoa (1830)

Die Bäder von Lucca; The Baths of Lucca (1830)

Volume 4:

Die Stadt Lucca; The Town of Lucca (1831)

Englische Fragmente; English Fragments (first published in serial form, 1828, first complete publication 1831)

English Translation

Heinrich Heine, Selected Prose, trans. and ed. by Ritchie Robertson (London: Penguin, 1993)

Further Reading

Leonard L. Duroche, ‘Spatial Perception and Spatial Imagery in Heine’s Reisebilder’, Heine-Jahrbuch 29 (1990), 147-160

Richard T. Gray, Stations of the Divided Subject: Contestation and Ideological Legitimation in German Bourgeois Literature, 1770-1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), Chapter 4 on Ideas: The Book Le Grand, pp. 149-95

Katy Heady, Literature and Censorship in Restoration Germany: Repression & Rhetoric (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), Chapter 4

Ritchie Robertson, ‘”Herr Peregrinus”: persona, race and gender in Heinrich Heine’s Die Harzreise’, in Bridging the Abyss: reflections on Jewish suffering, anti-Semitism, and exile: essays in honor of Harry Zohn, ed. by Amy Colin and Elisabeth Strenger (Munich: Fink, 1994), pp. 145-57  

Ritchie Robertson, The ‘Jewish Question’ in German Literature 1749-1939: Emancipation and its Discontents (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 85-88 on Die Bäder von Lucca

Hermann J. Weigand, ‘The Double Love-Tragedy in Heine’s Buch le Grand: A Literary Myth’, Germanic Review 13 (1938), 121-26   

Ruth R. Wisse, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), Chapter 1, pp. 29-58