THE SORROWS OF NATURE
Does nature exist? And if so, where? The Park at the Ilm in Weimar is a growing landmark protected as cultural heritage by the UNESCO, and yet it seems so natural. Goethe and Duke Carl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach started to build a landscape garden here at the end of the 18th century. Slowly but steadily several sites in the park were designed, of whom many imitate the aesthetics of nature. But is the park nature? Or is it all just a trick? After all, it is the work of fraudulent human intervention.
The word “nature” comes from the latin word "nasci" that refers to something that is born while "cultura" stands for the care, both for the body but also for land.
Aristotle says that only nature (“physis”) has its origin of movement in itself why "techne" is that what is moved through human. But when does this break happen, that humans are no longer part of the logics of nature, but create their own unnatural world? And how natural are then genetically manipulated seeds, designer babies, organ cultivation or simply a park?
Five years before Goethe leaped into fame because of the "The Sorrows of Young Werther" in 1774 and came to Weimar because of his new popularity, James Watt had revolutionized the steam engine, and gave the impulse for the unstoppable industrial revolution. In the possible birth hour of the Anthropocene, Goethe loses himself under the oppression of social unnaturalness, that gives no chance to the expression of sentiments. Today, we become either anxious or apathetic in the simultaneous loss of nature to immeasurable pollution.
recently I had a very interesting conversation with a rock.“A“ rock is perhaps not quite correct. It is much more an agglomeration of rocks of various kinds, whose extent I cannot quite comprehend by looking at it from the surface. I have to tell you, I feel deceived. How many times have I walked past this place, the „eye of the needle“, and enjoyed its naturalness. I thought only nature could shape stone like this, the various weather conditions that have formed and modelled it in a little more than 100,000 years (since the “Eemian“, the last warm period before the present Holocene). But all this is not true! This place is culture, designed by Goethe after it has already been maltreated by countless hammer blows. For this cultural monument was a quarry before it became a memorial.
In fact, the reason that we can walk through this swath in the stone and loose ourselves in contemplation while looking towards the vermiculated meanders of the Ilm in the park is a sad one. A young woman named Christiane von Lassberg, actually still a girl with her seventeen years, drowned on a cold January morning in 1778 at the very place in the Ilm, that we can see from up there. Together with the court gardener Carl Heinrich Gentzsch, Goethe began to work on a monument for the young woman on the evening of the same day. Rumor says that she took her own life out of unrequited love.
Goethe must have been reminded of his own words, from the mouth of his Werther who defends the right to suicide against “Alberten“, the allegory of philistine society. He talks about a young woman who, in her youthfulness, indulges completely in infatuation, and when her feelings are not reciprocated, for whatever reason, she sees no other way out. Werther himself takes his own life in the novel at the end, and Goethe thus became the scandalous literary pop star. How much of the story of Christiane von Lassberg is just legend remains in question.
All this is confirmed by the stone–this conglomerate, which is composed of various aspects of young and prehistoric (geologically still young) history, that influences and forms each other to a material language, of which I do not know if I actually understand it. Always remains the fear that I only use the stone as a surface for projection, and can never quite understand it, however much I try to engage with it with all my senses. I believe that it tells me about its origins, its assembled identity, its relationships with animals and plants that fossilized and became part of it. It encloses entire elephants within itself and its slow emergence records the different natures, floras and faunas that we can no longer imagine in this place today.
In the end, it seems to me that the stone and the young woman are quite similar in their fate: They are not understood out of themselves. Goethe wanted to confront the people of Weimar with their guilt in the death of a young woman that had to escape the social constraints in such a tragic way. The people of Weimar were not listening to a young woman as if her ways of articulation were not understandable, like the ones of stone and everything between both of them. We interpret their “words”–at best–or put ours into their „mouths“. And in this they are similar to so many: The insects on the surface of the stone and the fossilized animals within it that we may never know existed, but also the marginalized people who toiled there for early capitalist ventures, and those who do the same work elsewhere today, now for late capitalists, marauding the substance of our earth.
But all these entities are by no means mute, it‘s just a matter of letting them speak.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Once again I thought I saw you–in the cave under the park. But maybe I was wrong. Was I?
Perhaps all humans, among other animals, have a fascination for caves. Even though we now use them only sporadically for dwelling and the doctrine of light dominates our homes as well as our minds. But the charm of the cave is still inescapable: do these anti-phallic monuments remind us subconsciously of the shelter of the womb?
But unfortunately, all my expectations were shattered when I heard that this „cave“ under the park is not „nature“ and therefore not a „cave“ at all. The cave under the park is a tunnel. The-if I may-crazy project of a duke in his midlife crisis. Carl August let more than 2000 cubic meters of stone and earth be excavated in order to build a black beer depot including a brewery underground. At least that was the starting point. And yes, we know how it usually goes with such large-scale projects of politicians: At some point, the realization is no longer worth it. My romantic idea of the cave became the insane project of an aristocrat.
And yet I had the feeling that you were also down there. The remains of a time of your sole reign were made visible by human excavation. It is like traveling back in time to the beginning of the Anthropocene that coexists there with other geochronological epochs. Goethe explored it together with his son, and found fossilized creatures of a lake that is petrified today. I likewise found fossils there, more or less, along with plastic gloves and bottles that will survive longer in the gravel than their „non-artificial“ equivalents.
As beautiful as it is down there, it is also terrifying that all of this was excavated by human hands-and not, of course, by whoever wanted to store their black beer down there so much, but by those who needed the pay that they got for the hard work to survive. Later, when the Park Cave was to be used as a bomb shelter, it was not even a question of wages, as prisoners of war had to wall up the front parts of the cave. It is believed that inmates from the concentration camp in Buchenwald were also forced to do this work. It cannot be denied that the Nazis‘ race ideologies used „nature“ as an argument for their atrocities. And also the inhuman capitalism instrumentalizes your modes of operation. Of course, this tarnishes my sympathies for you and I wonder if there is any point in searching for you any further at all. Or are you just being deliberately misunderstood?
When I indulge in the idea of naturalness, I keep wondering what starting point we need to go back to. Perhaps confusion is speaking from me, but if the park cave actually exists only because of the black beer and it was once a lake as far as we can trace it, is it our duty to you to flood the cave? With black beer, of course. Perhaps such an attraction would even be a lucrative business? Here is a small calculation:
At a filling height of about 218m above sea level, the volume to be filled with Schwarzbier amounts to 2,284.87m3. Since a bottle holds only half a liter, 4,569,740 bottles of Schwarzbier are needed. The crates each contain 20 bottles. 4,569,740 divided by 20 gives 228,487 crates. The crate price averages €14.99 plus a €3.10 deposit. The total cost of 228,487 crates is therefore 4,133,329.83€. In total, the cost items 4,133,329.83€ (Schwarzbier) + 28,809 € (rental costs truck) + 16,966.92 € (fuel costs truck) + 17,055 € (salary truck driver)+ 10,260 € (rental costs forklift truck) + 17. 100 € (salary forklift truck driver) + 2686,80 € (electricity costs forklift truck) + 1.193.844,575 € (costs for beer dispensers) a total amount of 5.420.052,125 € (minus 708.309,7 € deposit).*
I am looking forward to your answer.
*Salaries calculated with minimum wage and average wages in Thuringia.
your phenomena astonish me. The Läutra springs in the park are fascinatingly cold. How can you keep a constant 8.5 degrees Celsius? And that over hundreds of years? Or did something change at some point?
Actually, I don‘t really know if I can trust you. The water bubbles out of the springs so evenly that I sometimes doubt if there aren‘t pumps and nozzles at work. After all, the same thing happened to the rock spring at the “Mundloch“ of the park cave. For a long time there was a natural spring, until it dried up a few years ago and is now kept running artificially. Only there is no way to keep it a secret, because people drink from it and now no drinking water is gurgling out of the spring.
But if I assume that the spring is real, it seems to me like a connection to the ice age, when the geological fault was formed in the depths of the Ilm valley and water was pressed to the surface. Was the temperature already the same then, as well? Or was it colder at that time? Standing with one‘s feet in the water, one definitely feels reminded of the Ice Age, however healthy it may be. I feel sorrow for the women who „purified“-washed laundry– at these ice-cold springs, when I think how they had to hold their hands and feet in the cold water at all times of the year. It is more pleasant when at least the outside temperatures are warmer. But today we anyways have washing machines.
The water keeps its temperature constant, because it comes fresh from the ground. No matter how cold it is outside, it remains ice-free in winter. It almost becomes a natural constant itself. However, of course it is not. Water has specific properties and defines the Celsius scale: Until it melts at 0°C it is called ice and at about 100°C it turns into water steam. No matter if in the ice age or today, at least that‘s what we assume, the melting point remains the same.
The melting point is the point at which a substance changes from solid to liquid aggregate state. Melting temperature (°C) and pressure (Pa) determine the melting point. At normal pressure of 1013 Hectopascal, frozen water melts at 0°C.
The Läutra springs are a bit like a climatic wormhole in the way they connect different climatic eras. Ice should always melt in the springs at about the same time regardless of how the climate changes. If the climate warms by 2°C, the Läutra springs stay at 8.5°C, and even if it warms by 4°C, it stays that way–probably.
In fact, I don‘t think I care if you keep the springs going or if humans contribute to it. When we make our climate ourselves it is the same thing and still we talk about „nature“, as for example in „natural disaster“.
In great admiration.
are you alright?
I am shocked how brutally your appearance has been invaded in the last weeks. A few days before, I saw the long grass on your meadows growing the way it wants. And what has happened in this short time that I have not been in the park? Suddenly all the meadows are radically shaved short. The whole park is now only one lawn! The idea of merciless lawn mowers beheading the tender little plants is unbearable to me. Or is it just like a new haircut for you after all?
I must admit, some areas in the park are permanently trimmed short so that children, drunken younger and older people (and that with centuries of tradition) can enjoy themselves on you free of bugs and itching. But is it really the case that we need to free the other surfaces from the disturbing burden of long grass, like you free sheep from their heavy load of wool? And on the subject of sheep: If it‘s the sheep and cows that the grass is supposed to feed, why don‘t they just stay in the meadows in the park? Because they would trample the ground cellulite-like uneven? I understand that the grass becomes hay and thus durable for the winter, but unfortunately in this world not all cows live on the meadow as long as there is grass, but also in the stable to milk them more easily and therefore thea eat hay in summer. And what happens to the animals that are allowed to eat the hay? Are they only allowed to do that so that we can do the same with them in the end? Can one, as a vegan, go to the Ilmpark with a good conscience?
Whatever happens to the hay in the Ilmpark, the idea of cutting grass, pressing it into bales and then selling it, no longer has much to do with the protection of biotopes. And even if there are reasons in terms of their protection, why do we think we can patronize them?
Most certainly these reasons are somehow of aesthetic nature, because as a world cultural heritage (and not natural heritage) one has to present oneself in a cultivated way. And the etiquette of a German garden includes the neatly kept short, lush green lawn that requires constant watering in the summer. The German garden (and, of course, the English garden) regards the overly long grass with the same unease as a woman‘s unshaved legs and armpits. The only hair that belongs to a „cultivated“ appearance is the hair on the head–naturally, different rules apply to men.
And when mowing the lawn becomes shaving, what an absurd intimacy suddenly reigns between the mower and the lawn? How can I say it...I can‘t deny the strange erotic charge of lawn mowing lately!
Greetings to the Flora von Weimar!