The Romantic Road - On The Trail Of The German Philosophers

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
Comments
02The Early Romantic20090804

Writer Stephen Plaice takes a journey through the German cities where the great philosophers of the 19th century lived and worked, exploring the impact that these thinkers have had on each stage of his life. Along the way, he reflects on the Germany which has been locked away behind the two World Wars, and examines our contemporary prejudices towards Germans.

Stephen revisits Marburg, where he was a student 35 years ago. He reconsiders the subjective philosophy of Fichte and of the nature philosopher Schelling, whose work he studied in the 1970s, with particular reference to Schelling's idea of the World Soul.

These thinkers provided the philosophic basis for German Romanticism. Stephen relates how, as a young man, seeing the world through the lens of Romanticism, he was in for some pretty sharp collisions with reality.

The 'magic theatre' behind the mysterious black door in the building in which he rents a room as a student turns out to be Marburg's secret gay scene. Revisiting the building nearly four decades later, he discovers it has become another cultural ghetto: a smoker's pub.

Stephen also recalls a house party in the forests near Marburg back in the early 1970s, where he had a strange encounter with a young woman who seemed to embody Schelling's idea of the World Soul. Like a character in a fairytale, she appears to have sprung from the forest itself. However, the inherent romanticism in their meeting is later tempered by the appearance of the woman's husband.

Stephen Plaice revisits the town of Marburg, where he was a student in the 1970s.

03Doppelgänger20090805

Writer Stephen Plaice takes a journey through the German cities where the great philosophers of the 19th century lived and worked, exploring the impact that these thinkers have had on each stage of his life. Along the way, he reflects on the Germany which has been locked away behind the two World Wars, and examines our contemporary prejudices towards Germans.

Together with his brother Neville, an expert on the romantic city of Heidelberg, Stephen explores the city of the Student Prince and examines its connections with the philosophers Hegel and Schopenhauer. He considers the idea of the Doppelgänger, the double, an important archetype in German Romantic literature.

Neville explains how the movement of High Romanticism was created by the anti-French nationalism, which developed in the city during the years after the Napoleonic invasion. The enthusiasm for German folklore, which was later fostered by the Nazis, was directly related to this cultural reaction.

Stephen discusses with his brother two of the famous philosophers associated with the city, Hegel and Schopenhauer. Hegel went on to become an intellectual superstar, taking over the chair of philosophy in Berlin. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, was dismissed by the academic establishment, his ideas only latterly being taken seriously by the likes of Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche. Schopenhauer attempted to emulate Hegel, and became a kind of Doppelgänger for him when he followed in his footsteps to Berlin and set up his own rival series of lectures. These were so poorly attended however, he had to beat an ignominious retreat from the capital.

Stephen explores Heidelberg and examines its connections with Hegel and Schopenhauer.

05 LASTLifting Berlin20090807

Writer Stephen Plaice takes a journey through the German cities where the great philosophers of the 19th century lived and worked, exploring the impact that these thinkers have had on each stage of his life. Along the way, he reflects on the Germany which has been locked away behind the two World Wars, and examines our contemporary prejudices towards Germans.

Stephen ends his philosophical journey in Berlin where he considers how, in maintaining our prejudices towards the Germans, we have excluded the liberal wisdom of its philosophers. Berlin, a city with an very divided past, provides a living metaphor of the Hegelian dialectic of history. Out of the opposing forces of Communism and Nazism, a third, democratic synthesis has emerged. But at Checkpoint Charlie, Stephen discovers that the old oppositions of the Cold War have been turned into tourist entertainment. Is there an ironic phase to history?

Visiting the cemetery in which Hegel is buried, and then the Humboldt University where he lectured, Stephen reflects on the two opposing ideologies that tried to gain control of Berlin in the 20th century, and examines the extent to which the accusation holds that German idealist philosophy was responsible for the rise of both Fascism and Communism. He cites Kant's treatise On Perpetual Peace to illustrate the enlightened legacy which has been obscured behind the pseudo-philosophy of the Third Reich. Stephen argues that we have handed Hitler a victory by allowing our image of the Germans and of German culture to remain fixated on the Nazis.

Stephen also reflects on The Principle of Hope, a key work by the German Jewish utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch, which he co-translated in the 1980s.

In conclusion Stephen reflects how, from the early Romanticism of student days in Germany, via Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, to Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope and the Kantian responsibilities of parenthood, philosophy has the power to shape personal experience.

Stephen Plaice concludes his philosophical tour in Berlin.