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Beethoven’s Bonn: A musical tour of the composer’s home city

(CNN) – He is the outstanding musical genius who did not let his deafness stop him from becoming one of the greatest composers in the world.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born maybe 250 years ago, but his story, despite his disability to achieve musical greatness, feels like a thoroughly modern story.

And with the 250th anniversary of his birth next month – he was baptized on December 17, 1770 – his hometown Bonn is preparing for the celebration.

Beethoven was born 250 years ago on December 17, 1770.

Hulton Archives / Hulton Archives / Getty Images

This is nothing new for Bonn. The city, which has a 2000-year history and was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990, has hosted the annual Beethovenfest, an international festival for classical music, since 1844 (although this year’s edition was canceled due to the Covid). 19 pandemic.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among the guests of the opening edition, which took place only 17 years after the composer’s death, along with the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. And the natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt. They not only visited the festival, but also witnessed the unveiling of the Beethoven monument, which is still on Münsterplatz, a pretty square in the city center.

Place of pilgrimage

The Beethoven monument on Münsterplatz was unveiled 17 years after the composer's death.

The Beethoven monument on Münsterplatz was unveiled 17 years after the composer’s death.

Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

There is more than one statue, however. Bonn is determined to keep the memory of Beethoven and his work alive, and traces of the composer can be found in and around the city.

Beethoven’s birthplace, originally built around 1700, has withstood the devastation of time and is one of the few remaining old houses in Bonn. The small building with its pink baroque facade is still located at Bonngasse 20. Ludwig was born in one of the attic rooms and named after his Dutch grandfather Ludwig van Beethoven, who was musical director at the court of the Cologne elector – one of the highest positions in the Holy Roman Empire.

He was the second of seven children of Johann – a court musician and singing and piano teacher – and Maria Magdalena. But only three of them – all boys – survived childhood.

The Beethovens moved in 1774, but none of their other Bonn houses survived, making the birthplace a place of pilgrimage for music lovers.

It was converted into a museum in 1893 and came through almost unscathed through both world wars. The collection was evacuated during the Second World War, and the house was only slightly damaged in the bombing of Bonn in October 1944.

The museum was last modernized in 2017 and now houses – after it also included the houses on both sides of the place of birth – a permanent exhibition on the life of the man and his family as well as the largest collection of Beethoven memorabilia – from his possessions and his music to to original paintings and letters – in the world.

The Beethoven archive, a library and a publishing house as well as an award-winning chamber music hall are located in the neighboring buildings.

But it’s the low ceilings, creaky stairs and wooden floors of Bonngasse 20 that give an idea of ​​the humble beginnings of one of the greatest music artists of all time.

“King Forest”

Beethovenwald

The Kottenforst offers an escape from Bonn.

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One of the places Ludwig and his family may have escaped from the cramped conditions in the city center are the hiking trails of the Kottenforst, the 4,000 hectare forest south of Bonn.

This is one of the oldest forests in the region and existed long before Beethoven’s time. A document from the year 973 AD calls it the “Königswald”, and the paths that traverse it come from the 18th century, which was laid out by Clemens August, the Cologne elector and boss of Beethoven’s father.

August used the Kottenforst as his personal hunting ground and in the forest there is still a hunter’s house from 1740, which served as a relay station for fresh horses for hunting. Today the Kottenforst forms are part of the large Rhineland nature park. It’s still a perfect place to experience “forest solitude” – essentially “forest solitude” – the act of escaping into the forest to connect with nature.

Beethoven with a naked torso

Beethoven Rheinaue

The Rheinaue Park is located on the Rhine.

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As Bonn’s largest city park, the Rheinaue on the banks of the Rhine is the modern version of the Kottenforst – a place where the locals can relax. In Beethoven’s time it was an alluvial forest, but it disappeared when the river was diverted in the 18th and 19th centuries. Later it was completely drained and given over to agricultural use.

When Bonn was named the West German capital in 1949, it was one of the city’s last natural spaces, although a new government district was built on the northern edge of the Rheinaue.

To protect it from further development, Bonn chose the Rheinaue as the venue for the 1979 National Horticultural Exhibition in West Germany.

In the country’s largest landscaping project, the 160-hectare area was turned into a park that formed gently rolling hills with flower beds, many different trees, and miles of winding footpaths – all without fences, so citizens could experience the flowers and plants as they were wanted.

Today there is another Beethoven monument here – a granite sculpture by Peter Breuer from 1938. Moved here in 1995, it shows a young Ludwig with a naked torso and a view of the small lake in the park.

Eighth miracle

Beethoven should love to hike in the hills of the Siebengebirge.

Beethoven should love to hike in the hills of the Siebengebirge.

Henning Kaiser / Bildallianz via Getty Images

The wooded hills of the Siebengebirge that rise on the east bank of the Rhine opposite Bonn would have been a familiar sight to Beethoven.

At 460 meters, Mount of Olives is the highest point. Despite the name, it’s actually an area of ​​more than 40 hills – long dead volcanoes believed to be around 20 million years old.

However, the name prefers to assume a local legend. The story goes that seven giants arrived to widen the Rhine and then stuck their spades in the ground as they rested near Koenigswinter, 8 miles south of Bonn. The earth that fell apart from the tools became the Siebengebirge.

Artists and nature lovers have long loved the area. The 18th century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was so impressed by the wooded peaks and rugged cliffs of these “high mountains on a small scale” that he called them the “eighth wonder of the world”.

The stone combs were dismantled by Celts, Romans and medieval Germans who built churches and castles. Today most of these quarries have grown and in 1958 the area was designated as the Siebengebirge Nature Park, North Rhine-Westphalia’s first nature park.

Back to Beethoven. The composer was so taken with the Siebengebirge that he crossed the Rhine to stroll and dream here, as the locals told the French composer Hector Berlioz, who attended the first Beethoven Festival in 1845.

Today there is a hiking trail dedicated to the composer, with stops like the Drachenfels or Dragon’s Rock.

This rugged rock, crowned by the romantic ruins of a 12th-century castle, has long been associated with myth and has inspired artists and writers such as Lord Byron and Heinrich Heine, as well as Beethoven. From here you have an exciting view of the mythical hills and the panorama over the Eifel and the Westerwald.

Rhineland roots

The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress overlooks the birthplace of Beethoven's mother.

The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress overlooks the birthplace of Beethoven’s mother.

De Agostini Editorial / Getty Images

South of Bonn and the Siebengebirge there is a suitable terminus for exploring Beethoven’s Rhenish roots. His mother was born in Koblenz, an hour southeast of Bonn.

Koblenz is the third largest city in the region where the Rhine and Moselle meet. Koblenz has a 2000 year history.

Maria Magdalena Keverich was born in 1746 in Ehrenbreitstein, the oldest part of the city.

It is located at the foot of the high steep bank of the same name, which is crowned by a fortress. There has been one here since Roman times, although today’s Prussian is from 1828.

Koblenz’s main attraction is the Deutsche Eck – an open headland overlooking the point where the two rivers flow together. Here is a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, the so-called “founder of the German Empire”, on horseback. Placed there in 1897, it was removed after the Second World War, but reinstalled in 1993 and dedicated to German reunification.

Maria Keverich, of course, had more modest origins. She was born as the daughter of Anna Klara and Johann Heinrich Keverich, the head chef at the nearby Philippsburg Palace.

After getting married young, she was widowed at the age of only 18 and met her second husband through the court violinist Johann Konrad Rovantini, who had married one of her cousins. She and Johann van Beethoven married in 1767 and Maria died of tuberculosis in Bonn at the age of 40.

Her birthplace – one of the oldest buildings in Koblenz – is known as the Mother Beethoven House Museum and is dedicated to the life of this strong woman and of course her brilliant son.

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