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Rizal’s German ties

Frankfurt—What was planned to be an ordinary courtesy call at the new Philippine Consulate General in the city turned out to be a most pleasant cultural visit. Definitely a major attraction is its ongoing Rare Rizaliana Furniture Exhibit—just when you thought you had known all there was to know about José Rizal and his German connection.

This link between Rizal and Germany appears to be well-known to Germans, because even Sister Beate, OSB, a German Benedictine sister we met in the Bernried Kloster, smiled when we mentioned Rizal, and showed familiarity when she commented with a smile, “To the Flowers of Heidelberg” (“Carry, carry, O flowers,/ my love to my loved ones,/ peace to my country and its fecund loam…”).

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The exhibit showcases furniture pieces that Rizal used during his stay in the home of Pastor Karl Ullmer in the spring of 1886 in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany. The 25-year-old Rizal had come to Heidelberg to attend lectures in ophthalmology at Heidelberg University. He found the university boarding fees expensive, so his friend Ullmer tried to help him find cheaper boarding rates. However, Rizal ended up accepting Ullmer’s invitation to live with the family so he could practice speaking German.

The furniture pieces in exhibit allow one to travel back in time, thanks to the Ullmer grandson who inherited these treasures. They’re an unexpected blessing for Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia, with the office of the consulate a fitting venue for this collection.

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Only a few pieces are on display, but what stories they must have. There is a mahogany table in Viennese Rococo style. Rizal is said to have finished his novel “Noli Me Tangere” on this table, and where he also played chess with Ullmer. While in Frankfurt, it is noteworthy to remember that the novel that sparked a revolution was first printed by Berliner Buchdruckerei-Aktiengesellschaft in Berlin, because of the financial assistance of Rizal’s friend Máximo Viola. Viola lent Rizal P300 for 2,000 copies.

The bed is 1.9 meters long while its mattress is only 1.8 meters long, which was just right for the height of the people at that time. Wilhelmsfeld is at a higher elevation than Heidelberg, so a heavy blanket and a duvet were needed.

Other pieces on display include a mirror, and a cupboard and chest of drawers, both in mahogany. Mahogany was the more expensive wood then, sourced from the French colonies. On top of the chest of drawers are a water jug and a washbasin. In Rizal’s years there, there was no running water, and the water used came from the fountain that stood in front of the pastor’s home. This fountain is now in the Luneta Park.

Truly, it was retracing “Rizal’s Footsteps in Southern Germany,” as the photo exhibit was tagged. It also shows a street marker today, José-Rizal-Straße, intersecting Kirchstraße, and a Philippines Historical Committee commemorative marker dated 1959. The photos show the exact spots, if not the original structures, where Rizal lived. A precious find in the exhibit is a signed sketch of Ullmer by Rizal. A life-size standee of the hero in an overcoat, with a book and a quill, completes the collection.

This year’s Philippine stand at Frankfurter Buchmesse (FBM), meanwhile, features Philippine titles that have gone international through translations. Without translations, there would be no world literature—this was the powerful refrain at the opening ceremony of the FBM, with the crown princess of Norway, Mette-Marit, as guest of honor. FBM president Juergen Boos emphasized the urgency of adopting the Buchmesse theme, “Create Your Revolution,” and expressed dismay at how much nations spend on arms and security, compared to the pittance allocated for education and the arts. The power of words could not have been more emphasized.

Leading the very shortlist—so far—of Philippine titles that have been translated to an international language are Rizal’s “Noli” and “Fili.” Yet again, José Rizal is paving the way for us.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia, Philippine Consulate General, Rare Rizaliana Furniture Exhibit, Viennese Rococo
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