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Fine Literature
[Project Gutenberg Mirror Link]

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Rahel Varnhagen von Ense
[née Levin]

Rahel Varnhagen von Ense was born in 1771 in Berlin, the daughter of businessman Markus Levin and his wife Chaia; she died there in 1833.

At a time when school education for girls was not available in Germany, Rahel emerged, from the perspective of her contemporaries, as the most cultured woman of Europe. Her salon became a "republic of the free mind and spirit, assembled in the home of an unassuming young girl of the bourgeoisie."

In her first salon, women and men, nobility and commoners, Germans and foreigners, Christians and Jews, gathered freely. Among her famous guests were the Humboldts, Schlegel and Schleiermacher, the Prince of Ligne and Prince Louis Ferdinand.

Her second salon was frequented, for example, by Eduard Gans, Ludwig Boerne, and Heinrich Heine.

"Rahel Levin, later Rahel Varnhagen, founded one of the most famous salons in Berlin. Those with status and a name gathered here. Princes and philosophers, poets and musicians, society ladies and daughters of the bourgeoisie. they quarreled, criticized, applauded, recited, and discussed. Sarcastic or refined, profound or witty, but always in openness and tolerance. Whoever could speak declared his opinion: about the French Revolution or the rights of women, about the new literature and about love, about the art of acting and about romantic affairs, about Napoleon and about Hegel.

"Rahel Levin, through her salon, lived a masterpiece of European intellectual history. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, musical prodigy and composer of the Wedding March, was later just one of her many famous guests from all of Europe. Goethe, whom she met in Karlsbad in Bohemia (...), praised not only her 'exceptional mind': 'She is what I should like to call a beautiful soul.'"

(Information from the Journal of Politics for Germany. A magazine of the Office of Press and Information of the German federal government, August/September 1995, page 11.)

Rahel maintained, in addition, an extended correspondence with friends throughout her life, which her husband published in book form after her death.

Associated links:

  • Varnhagen Gesellschaft
  • Rahel Varnhagen Kolleg

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