Dr. Jose Rizal in Heidelberg

By Rafael Castillo, MD
HEIDELBERG, Germany—As one walks on the narrow streets and passages of the old town where centuries-old building have been preserved, one can appreciate a lot of history. And it’s heartening to note that our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was somehow part of it. At the main square of the famous University of Heidelberg, one can almost imagine the 25-year-old Rizal, taking a drink from the fountain or reading a book under the shade of the old tree.

After doing some medical training in Paris (France) in 1886, he came here to complete his eye specialization under the renowned Prof. Otto Becker.

At around that time, the opthalmoscope, the instrument eye specialists use to evaluate the inner structure of the eyes, has just been invented by the famous Professor Helmoholtz and young doctors from all over the world, including Rizal, took interest in becoming eye specialists. He later operated on his own mother for her eye problem.

Study German

From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, of the disease of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.”

As soon as he set foot on Heidelberg, he liked the town immediately and noted the happy atmosphere and beautiful flowers in bloom. He later wrote here one of his famous poems “A Las Flores de Heidelberg” which depicted not only his appreciation of the flowers but his nostalgia for his family and country.

Rizal adjusted rather quickly to the German way of life but took some time to adjust to the diet. He noted that Germans were fond of potatoes; eating potatoes in the morning and more potatoes in the evening.

Our national hero lived initially in a boarding house in Karlstrabe then moved to Ludwigsplats just a few blocks from the university. Several weeks later, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and accepted the latter’s invitation to stay with them in the nearby town of Wilhemsfeld.

Countryside living

This enabled Rizal to experience countryside living and the German family life.

But because transportation from Wilhemsfeld to Heidelberg was still a problem at that time, Rizal had to walk quite a distance through the forests and hills to attend his training at the university.

In Wilhelmsfeld, Rizal wrote the last few chapters of his novel “Noli Me Tangere” (the book was published several months later in Berlin and subsequently he returned to the Philippines and met his fate).

In “Noli Me Tangere,” Rizal was obviously describing Wilhelmsfeld, in Ibarra’s description of his stay in Europe: “Sometimes I would get lost in the mountain trails and the night which slowly descended would find me still roaming, seeking my way among the pines, beeches and oaks, and then, when some moonbeams slipped down through the clearings among the thick foliage.”

Changed his insights

His experiences here in Heidelberg, Wilhemsfeld and in other parts of Germany somehow changed his insights in life specifically on education, diligence, democratic and civil rights. These liberal insights imbued in him the sense of mission to achieve freedom for his country and its people.

Rizal noted the German’s passion for scientific research, classic education and the high self esteem it has brought them. He wished the same for his people.

Although Rizal only stayed here in Heidelberg and in Wilhemsfeld for less than six months, local historians and government officials recognize the significance of the short stay of our national hero in the history of these two cities.

A plaque marks the building in Heidelberg where he trained with Professor Becker. In Wilhemsfeld, there is a smaller version of the Rizal Park with his bronze statue. The street where he lived was also renamed after him.

There also was a sandstone fountain in the garden of Pastor Ullmer’s house where Rizal lived in Wilhemsfeld. The local government gave it as a present to the Philippine government and is now at the Luneta Park.

Indeed Rizal has shown that it’s not the length of time but the quality of one’s interaction that defines a person’s impact on other people.






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