Germany's Hall of Fame: Heine Carried to 'Valhalla' in Political Deal

A hilltop temple called Walhalla, in Bavaria, enshrines the famous German dead. In a compromise on Tuesday, the Bavarian state government admitted an unprecented number of people to its halls, including the poet Heinrich Heine.

Fireworks light up Walhalla in 2003.
DDP

Fireworks light up Walhalla in 2003.

It's modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, perched on a Bavarian hill over the town of Regensburg, and called "Walhalla" -- pompously --after the Valhalla of Norse mythology where slain warriors went to glory. Germans took the name to honor their luminaries. Some people think of it as a low-rent German version of the French Pantheon, built to immortalize the nation's famous dead. Heinrich Heine once called it a "marble skull sanctuary," but now the Jewish poet is in line to find his sculpted likeness staring into space at Walhalla next to Goethe, Maria Theresa, empress of the Holy Roman Empire and the last woman before Angela Merkel to govern any German-speaking territory, and Einstein.

The Bavarian cabinet made history on Tuesday by admitting three new faces to Walhalla, instead of just one. Along with the poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1858) and a philosopher and Catholic nun named Edith Stein (1891-1942), who died at Auschwitz -- will take their places in the columned hall of fame.

Bavaria's Academy of Sciences and Humanities normally recommends one foolproof candidate for Walhalla every few years, and that hero's bust gets installed in the skull sanctuary without much political flim-flam. This time around the Academy had agreed on Gauss, the Brunswick-born genius who did pioneering work in geometry and number theory. The problem was that the Bavarian Academy of Arts -- which has nothing to do with new admissions to Walhalla -- mounted a campaign for Heine.

Poet Heinrich Heine (left), Carmelite nun, Edith Stein and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss will all be honored with busts in Germany's own Pantheon, Walhalla.
DPA

Poet Heinrich Heine (left), Carmelite nun, Edith Stein and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss will all be honored with busts in Germany's own Pantheon, Walhalla.

So the politicians in the Bavarian cabinet agreed to a compromise: They'll admit not just Gauss in 2007, but Stein in 2008 and Heine in 2009. Heine was a great poet of Germany's Romantic era who converted to Protestantism in 1825. Stein was also a convert: In her brief but remarkable life, the Jewish-born philosopher became a nun, wrote theological tracts, and died as a Catholic martyr at Auschwitz -- although she'd been rounded up in the Netherlands as an ethnic Jew.

Stein will be the sixth woman enshrined at Walhalla. The others include not just Austrian Empress Maria Theresa but also the anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl.

Ludwig I of Bavaria came up with the idea of building Walhalla in 1807 after Napoleon conquered much of what is now Germany. The idea was to commemorate great figures in ethnic German history from 9 AD onward. Heine made his sarcastic remark about the hall in 1842, when the building was finished, and now the German artist and sculptor Jörg Immendorf has been contracted to immortalize the poet's head.

msm/spiegel/faz

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