WEIMAR, Germany -- Germany’s national poet is omnipresent in this pretty baroque city. Walking from Goetheplatz to the Goethe National Museum, I passed the Goethe Cafe, the Goethe Kaufhaus and the Hotel am Goethehaus.
The time is ripe, then, for the comprehensive permanent exhibition dedicated to the author of Faust that has just opened in the museum next to his house.
Over two floors, Lebensfluten — Tatensturm (Flood of Life — Storm of Deeds) explores Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s political career, his love life, his interest in art, his scientific research and, of course, his writing. (It turns out he didn’t actually write in later life; he dictated, and then made additions and corrections by hand.)
Exhibits include his extravagantly embroidered suspenders, a collection of erotic cameos; heavy gray wool travelling coat and a copy of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment that found its way into his collection. Goethe was an obsessive collector. The museum estimates that he accumulated as many as 56,000 items, coins, art, rocks and ceramics.
The new show gives a sense of the times, and is a welcome complement to Goethe’s house next door, which brings alive the author in a way no exhibition could. The grand classical staircase he added, inspired by a visit to Italy, the casts of Greek and Roman sculptures, and the walls covered in paintings and graphics provide insight into his tastes and varied interests.
Cabinets for his collections line the rooms, many of which are painted in cheery bright colors. As a young musician, Felix Mendelssohn entertained guests for hours on the piano in one of the drawing rooms.
The writer moved into the spacious house in 1782 as a tenant. In 1792, Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach bought it for Goethe as an important mentor who was also his privy councilor.
Goethe held an astonishing array of offices under the duke’s reign — he was in charge of the local copper mines, waterworks, road-building, taxes and fires and flood crisis management. Later, he oversaw the theater, the building of the city palace and the ducal libraries.
He died in 1832 at age 82 in an armchair next to the simple wooden bed, by his study crammed with his books and collections. The study is still exactly as it was at the time of Goethe’s death, thanks to a detailed inventory.
The number of visitors to Goethe’s house each day is limited and often there is greater demand than can be accommodated, so visitors are allocated times and sent away. The new exhibition offers a good way to while away the time before your time slot.
• Goethe National Museum with Goethe Residence: 011-49-3643-545-400; www.klassik-stiftung.de (click on “English,” upper right).