José Rizal in Heidelberg and in Wilhelmsfeld


“In Rizal we are not only losing a loyal friend of Germany, and of German scholarship, but also the one man with sufficient knowledge and resolution to open a way for modern thought to that far-off island world.” Prof. Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) in his obituary address for Dr. José Rizal at the Annual General Meeting of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory in 1897.

Dr. José Rizal (1861-1896), martyr and national hero of the Philippines, doctor and gifted poet, spent an important period of his life in and around Heidelberg.

Having come from Paris on February 3, 1886 he completed his ophtalmological studies at the University Eye Clinic Heidelberg, Bergheimer Str. 20 (photos), under the renowned Professor Becker. At that time the physicist Prof. Helmholtz had invented the ophtalmoscope and the basic research done here attracted young doctors from all over the world. This enabled Rizal later to cure his mother’s eye disease.

(Old)University Eye Clinic in Heidelberg, Bergheimer Str. 20 with a plaque in memory of Rizals time at the Eye clinic:”Dr. José Rizal,1861-1896, national hero of the Philippines: Here, in Bergheimer Str. 20, Rizal practised ophthalmology from February to August 1886 under Professor Dr. Otto Becker, Director of the University Eye-Clinic. Embassy of the Philippines, June 19,1960″

From different Rizal letters (his first one from Heidelberg is dated February 9, 1886) telling about his studies, the student life and (his first) winter impressions in Heidelberg:

“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. ……Three times I have gone to see their duels at Hirschgasse and I have witnessed from 20 or 25 of them; each time 7, 8, or 9 fight and several times the duels were bloody. One that I saw received as many as six wounds during the duel; sometimes they are not wounded. They fight only among themselves, corporation against corporation, many times without any motive, for those who choose the adversaries are the sponsors; it is just to test bravery, according to them. They are five students corps here and they are Vandalia, Guestfalia, Saxoborussia, Rhenania and Swabia and their respective caps are red, green, white, blue, and yellow. Don’t think that I belong to any of these corporations; I would need to stay at least one year, for they require six months trial. The Swabians are my friends. …..When they fight, they have all the parts of the body covered except the face and the eyes are protected with googles of steel mesh so that the head and cheeks are the most exposed. They use a very sharp saber with which they fight by raising the arm over the head. The German student has fine presence, tall, and is very robust. On the night of my arrival, wishing to obtain information about the good professor of ophthalmology, I inquired about the beerhall where students foregather, and I was directed to the Gulden Bierbrauerie. There in fact I found some eight or nine, with yellow caps, of the corporation Schwaben (Swabia). I introduced myself and in semi-German I asked them. Instantly they stirred, asked one another and gave me all the necessary information. They invited me to sit with them and drink beer. Because of my lack of practice in speaking German and not being accustomed to hear it, conversation was difficult; and because they hardly spoke French, we resorted to Latin and we used this language part of the evening until one who knew French came. The majority of those who were there, eight or ten, had the left cheek full of large scars – there was one who had more than 15 and the one who spoke French with me had, besides eight or ten large scars, his head bandaged, for just a few days ago, he lost a portion of his scalp. …. The German student is kind, courteous, modest and is not boastful. When he greets, he lifts up his (leather) cap entirely, throwing it forward. That night they didn’t let me pay at all for my beer for being a stranger and recently arrived, but next time I shall have to pay in accordance with the custom of each one paying for his own. When they drink, they have the custom of toasting the health of every one saying, “Prosit!” or “Prost!” and holding forth the glass toward the person to whose health they are drinking. They invited me to join their society, but upon knowing that I couldn’t remain among them for a long time, they said it was useless, for it would be of no benefit to me. At least six month were necessary for probation and another six month to be admitted into it. These young men take singular pleasure in making themselves look ugly, for there are among them some who really possess masculine beauty on one hand and on the other patched up skin. There was one who had already fought 54 times. Not all students are members of these corporations. …”

“…It has been very cold here and everywhere I see only ice forming capricious figures, stalactites, of cristals, rocks, on which the rays of the sun play, producing most beautiful colors. … There’s so much snowfall that it is necessary to keep the fire (in my boarding room) burning continuously lest one freeze. …”

He lived in various accommodations in Heidelberg, first in Karlstr. 16, then in Grabengasse 12, former “Ludwigsplatz 12” (photos). Grabengasse 12 in front of the “Old University” of Heidelberg: “In this building, former Ludwigsplatz 12, Rizal lived from February 18 to June 1886. His poem “A las Flores de Heidelberg” was written here on April 22, 1886. Embassy of the Philippines, June 19,1960″ (text on the plaque)

From Rizals letters:

“Now I’m living in a boarding house. The cost is not as cheap as I expected, for room, food, service and light cost me something like 28 pesos a month. Undoubtedly it is very much cheaper than in Paris, but it is not as I supposed, so that the money that I thought would last until the end of April will only suffice until the beginning of this month. .. My neighbor is a young Englishman who came to study German and when we couldn’t understand each other we speak English. At mealtime German is spoken. Little by little I’m getting to understand it. As I intend to change house to see if I can find a cheaper one, it would be desirable that you address me thus ‘Germany Herr Joseph Rizal, General Delivery, Heidelberg’…”

“..Tomorrow I am going to change my residence and move to No.12 Ludwigsplatz, near the University. The room alone with service, light, and heating costs me eight pesos a month or 32 marks, each mark is worth 2 reales fuertes. If we were in the midst of winter, it would cost me more for I would have to spend for the heating. I shall eat at the restaurant during the day and at night take supper in my room in German style, that is, a cup of tea, bread, and butter. I believe that in this way I can live on 25 pesos a month with board and lodging until the end of April when I expect to receive my monthly allowance.”

Here in Heidelberg he met classical education, scientific progress and the growing national selfconfidence of Germany at the end of the 19th century, and he saw and admired the beauty of Heidelberg and its countryside. This inspired him on April 22,1886 to write his famous poem “A las flores de Heidelberg” (To the flowers of Heidelberg), which shows that although he appreciated the beauty of Heidelberg, his thoughts and his heart remained on the Philippines:

“Go to my country, exotic flow’rs sown by the traveler on his path, and ‘neath her cerulean skies, that keep my loves in their bow’rs, tell them about the faith for his native land, the pilgrim sighs! …”

On the Philosophers’ Way, from where he had the famous romantic view over Heidelberg, the Neckar River, and the Castle, he met Pastor Karl Ullmer, the Protestant pastor in the neighbouring village of Wilhelmsfeld in the Odenwald Hills. Pastor Ullmer invited José Rizal to stay in Wilhelmsfeld with his family for three months, and Rizal accepted willingly (his letter to Pastor Ullmer from April 24, 1886), because this gave him greater opportunity to speak German, offered him a quiet and simple countryside alternative to the busy student life in Heidelberg, and gave him the chance of experiencing European family life.

This following letter from April 24, 1886 of José Rizal to Pastor Ullmer was written in the original in German:

Dr. José Rizal Heidelberg, April 24, 1886

Your Reverence Pfarrer Ullmer in Wilhelmsfeld

Reverend Sir,

I have promised to write to you in case I should decide to spend a few weeks in the countryside. You have been so kind to offer your help finding me bed and board. If weather conditions permit I will be in Wilhelmsfeld on Sunday evening. I have been told the people of Wilhelmsfeld do not speak a correct German, rather a dialect. Although being afraid to misuse your kindness please allow me to stay in your house if possible rather than being with other families. Your friendship is very precious to me and this would implay that I live with a charming family and practise German on a high standard which I consider to be a main point. In case this should prove to be impossible or inconvenient I can take any room you choose and know it will be good for me. I send my regards to your young lovable family. Allow me to thank you in advance and be assured of my deepest respect.

J. Rizal

This letter is part of the “Ullmer Rizaliana collection album”, a donation of the Hack-Ullmer family to the Filipinos in 1960, now kept in the National Library in Manila.

Rizal started learning German in January 1886. His active knowledge of the language – both spoken and written – is amazing. In Wilhelmsfeld he wrote the last chapters of “Noli Me Tangere“, the book of the Philippine Revolution. (The novel exposes the maladministration of the Spanish rules and the monastic orders in the Philippines.) In addition he translated Schillers “Wilhelm Tell” into Tagalog.

In Wilhelmsfeld,José-Rizal-Street 7, “José Rizal, 1861-1896, National hero of the Philippines, wrote the last part of his novel “Noli Me Tangere” in this house, while being guest of Pastor Ullmer. 1886″

So Rizal left Heidelberg in April 1886 and moved to Wilhelmsfeld, although this meant a long walk (12 km) through the forests and hills to attend his studies at the university. In Wilhelmsfeld Rizal met the warm and friendly hospitality of Pastor Ullmer’s family, made incredible progress in speaking and writing German, talked to Protestant and Catholic priests, met religious tolerance and saw the simple country people. Besides his studies he found the time to complete and modify his famous, strongly autobiographical novel “Noli Me Tangere”, and celebrated his 25th birthday anniversary.

One passage in Chapter VII of “Noli Me Tangere” clearly describes Wilhelmsfeld, when his protagonist Ibarra is talking of his time in Europe:

“…Could I forget you? Many times I thought I was listening to the sounds of your piano and the accents of your voice, and in Germany, at sunset, whenever I wandered in the woods peopled by the fantastic creations of its poets and the mysterious legends of its past generations, I always called on your name, I thought I could see you in the mist that rose from the depths of the valley, I thought I could hear your voice in the rustling of the leaves, and, when the peasants returning from their work were heard from afar singing their popular songs, I imagined the melodies harmonizing with my inner voices, that they were singing for you, giving reality to my illusions and dreams. 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, I seemed to see you in the heart of the forest as a faint, lovely image swaying about amidst the light and shadows of the dense thicket; and if by chance the nightingale poured forth his varied trills, I thought it was because he could see you, and you were inspiring him…..”

In this house of Pastor Ullmer in Wilhelmsfeld, José-Rizal-Street 7, José Rizal wrote the last part of his famous novel “Noli Me Tangere” in 1886.

(The original cover of the novel published in Berlin in 1887)

He left Wilhelmsfeld and Heidelberg in the late summer of 1886, went to Leipzig and Berlin, where “Noli Me Tangere” was published, and eventually returned to the Philippines, where he tried to convey to his people some of the ideas and influences he had found in Germany.

His experiences in Germany caused him to put so much emphasis on education, diligence, democratic and civil rights, through which he wanted to achieve freedom for his country and its people.

In 1960, shortly before the centennial of Rizal’s birth, Mrs. P.P.Mendez, wife of the Philippine Ambassador to Paris and later Foreign Secretary, assisted by Pastor Gottlob Weber, then Protestant pastor in Wilhelmsfeld, retraced Rizal’s footsteps in Germany, and unveiled memorial plaques at the places where Rizal had stayed in Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld.

Pastor Weber traced the descendants of Pastor Ullmer, and in 1960 the Ullmer-Hack family donated their extensive and priceless collection of original Rizal memorabilia (letters, sketches, a first edition of “Noli Me Tangere”, etc.). Some of these items can be seen at the Rizal-Shrine in Fort Santiago.

The road outside the pastor’s house in Wilhelmsfeld was later named “José-Rizal-Street”, the fountain in the Pastor’s garden, from which Rizal drank, was later taken to the Rizal-Park (‘Luneta’) in Manila (photo).

As a symbol of the German-Philippine friendship and as a remembrance to Dr.José Rizal and his merits for freedom, human dignity, justice and democracy the Rizal-Fountain was brought in 1964 from the Protestant Pastor’s garden to the Rizal-Park in Manila by Pastor Gottlob Weber.

Heidelberg also has a “Rizal-Ufer” (Rizal-Embankment) along the Neckar-River, and in 1978 the “Rizal-Park” in Wilhelmsfeld with a bronze statue of José Rizal by Prof. Anastacio Caedo was opened (photos). Since 1998 the way near the Catholic Church in Wilhelmsfeld is called “Karl-Ullmer-Weg” in remembrance of Rizal’s host.

The bronze statue of Dr.José Rizal (here shown at different seasons of the year, in summer and covered by snow in winter time), was made by Philippine sculptor Anastacio Caedo, thanks to the president of the German-Philippine Society, Franz-Josef Weyand, who organized a big successful action of contributions in 1975. The statue was erected in the Rizal-Park in Wilhelmsfeld and unveiled by the Embassador of the Philippines, Excellence Gregorio Abad, in 1978.

Close and friendly ties between Filipinos and Germans have developed over the last 40 years, and in 1997, the Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg Chapter was established in Wilhelmsfeld by the members of the order of the Knights of Rizal, which keeps the memory and the ideas of José Rizal alive.

In 1995, the 6th International Assembly of the Knights of Rizal, and in 1998, the 10th Kalayaan of the Philippines were celebrated in Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld.

The Rizal-Park with the statue of Dr.José Rizal in winter time

There is also a collection of Philippine books and utensils at the “Voelkerkundemuseum” in Heidelberg, Hauptstr. 235, and of Rizal memorabilia and Filipiniana from the collection of the Weber family at the “Rathaus” (Town Hall) in Wilhelmsfeld, where a “Rizal-Shrine” will be established in the next months.


Wilhelmsfeld and its relations to the Philippines (deutsch)

In the “land of the 7107 islands”, as the Philippines are often called, the name of Wilhelmsfeld has a special ring. The Philippine doctor and poet Dr. José Rizal, who was executed as a revolutionary in 1896, and who today is the national hero of the Philippines, spent a short but important part of his life in Wilhelmsfeld in 1886.

Having come from Madrid and Paris he practised at the new but already internationally renowned Eye Clinic of the University of Heidelberg under Professor Becker from spring 1886 for several months. During one of his walks in the hills above Heidelberg he met the Protestant pastor Karl Ullmer of Wilhelmsfeld, who invited him to Wilhelmsfeld, where he spent a few in the Pastor´s family and in their house.

Here, in this small village in the Odenwald hills, which then had a population of about 800 inhabitants, he found the tranquility but also interesting conversations and impulses to complete his strongly biographical novel “Noli Me Tangere”. This book, in which also Wilhelmsfeld is hinted at, was later to have an important impact on the fight of the Philippine people for freedom from Spanish colonial rule. For this reason Wilhelmsfeld is often called “Noli Village” in the Philippines today.

In the late 1950s the wife of the later Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, Mrs. Paz P. Mendez, was looking for traces of Rizal in Germany because of Rizal´s 100th birthday anniversary in 1961. The Protestant pastor of that time, Pastor G. Weber, helped her to trace the descendants of Pastor Ullmer and other information about Rizal, and in January 1960 a marble plaque was unveiled outside the Pastor´s house by Mrs Mendez in the presence of many guests from far and near. Since that time thousands of visitors from the Philippines, journalists, people of politics, culture and economy, nurses and friends and admirers of José Rizal have come to Wilhelmsfeld, where Pastor Weber, an ardent Rizalist, was for almost 25 years an expert guide, host and promoter of Rizal´s ideas.

The sandstone fountain in the Pastor´s garden, from which Rizal had drunk in 1886, was sent to Manila as a present of the parish of Wilhelmsfeld and is now standing in a little pool in Luneta Park, not far away from the place where Rizal died as a martyr for his nation´s freedom in 1896. In 1964 the street passing the Pastor´s house was named “José Rizal Street”.

About 6000 Philippine citizens live in Germany, mostly nurses and doctors, who have won the sympathy of their patients. Their interests are represented by the German-Philippine Association in Mainz. Its president, Mr Weyandt, and his wife started a fund raising campaign to have a memorial statue of Rizal erected in Germany. In September 1978 a bronze statue of José Rizal, made by Professor Caedo in Manila, and financed by the donations of many Philippine nurses in Germany, was ceremoniously given to the public in the presence of Ambassador G. Abad and other high Philippine and German guests in the newly created Rizal Park next to the Odenwald Halle.
In recognition of the merits for their support for German-Philippine friendship, Pastor Weber was awarded the highest medal of the Philippines for foreigners, and he and Mayor M. Holtzmann of Wilhelmsfeld became members of the “Knights of Rizal” as “Knight Commanders”.

In 1997 the Chapter Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg of the Knights of Rizal was established and has been headed by Chapter Commander R.J. Weber, who was born in Wilhelmsfeld in the same house where Rizal had stayed. In this Chapter friends and supporters of Rizal´s ideas and work from this region come together, who see their task in promoting German-Philippine relations and supporting charitable projects in the Philippines.

In 1995 the 6th International Assembly of the Knights of Rizal, with guests from all over the world, was held in Wilhelmsfeld, and in 1998 the 100th Anniversary of Philippine Independence from Spanish rule, for which Rizal had been so important, was also ceremoniously remembered here.

During a journey of Wilhelmsfeld citizens to the Philippines in 1979, who had been invited by the Philippine Government, the group under Mayor Holtzmann was given an overwhelming welcome. Considering the bad situation of medical care, particularly of poor Philippinos, the Mayor and the Council of Wilhelmsfeld founded the “Aktionsgemeinschaft Tondo” in 1981, with the aim of supplying an ambulance car for the slums of Tondo in Manila Harbour.

In a fund raising campaign 49.000,– DM were raised, which made it also possible to send over three tons of medicine, baby food and clothing and other goods to the Philippines to help missions and hospitals for the poor to fulfil their hard work. A hospital in Dasmarinas Bagong Bayan, where 75.000 people have still got insufficient health care, is to be supported in this latest project.

Every year Rizal´s birthday on June 19 and his execution on December 30 are commemorated at his statue in Rizal Park by the Knights of Rizal, Representatives of the Community of Wilhelmsfeld and guests from far and near. In 2001 a Rizal-Shrine with Rizal memorabilia will be opened at the Town Hall (Rathaus).







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