The Teplice Incident
One of the legendary incidents that illustrates the generational conflict of two great art personalities took place in the famous spa where the elite from all over Europe used to visit in the 19th century... But what is really true about the legend?
A chateau park and music always go together. The Teplice nobility used to meet the spa guests and local dignitaries during evening rides on gondolas on Horní rybník. Mozart’s music was played. The garden and ball room, and later garden hall, were used for a similar purpose by the spa guests, among which included Russian Tsar Alexander I, and the Prussian King Frederick William III. Today, there are concerts and shows by artists from all over the world in the gazebo in front of Zahradní dům in the summer.
The incident happened on 23 July 1812 when two geniuses of European culture, the “knight of poets” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and great composer Ludwig van Beethoven met the wife of Emperor Franz I, Maria Ludovika, and her company during their walk. Goethe raised his hat and bowed deeply in front of Her Majesty, while Beethoven, convinced that only an artist is the true aristocrat, continued walking through the crowd of the courtiers and passers-by. He later criticised Goethe for his servility and their short friendship was over. They never met again.
The episode inspired German artist Carl Röhling, a lithographer in 1887, and there is a commemorative plaque in the park where it happened. However, there is one problem with the story. It is very likely that it did not happen as the story goes. Some people still talk about the meeting as if it was a historical event – devoted Goethe as the representative of the old world and the twenty-two-year younger free-thinking Beethoven pushing his way through the row of courtiers. Others say that Beethoven was simply rude. However, we only know of this event from Goethe’s letter to his platonic love and muse Bettina von Armin. She cites an alleged Beethoven’s letter, which has not been preserved:
“Upon our return from a walk yesterday, we met the whole imperial family. Goethe let go off my arm and stepped to the side. I could not make him move. So, I rammed my hat over my forehead, buttoned up my coat, put my hands behind my back and walked through the crowd. The princes and courtiers lined the street, Duke Rudolph raised his hat and Her Majesty greeted me first…” (from a letter by Bettina von Arnim).
Today, it is more likely that the young lady made it all up, or exaggerated the whole story to shame Goethe for some reason. We will never know what her real motive was. However, the legend lives on and you can even find its interpretation in Kundera’s Immortality.
Important guests, such as the famous musician Ludwig van Beethoven, famous German artist Caspar David Friedrich, and Czech historian and literary scientist Josef Dobrovský used to reside on Lázeňská Street.
When visiting Teplice, you have to see the historic centre of the city with several churches and the plague column of 1718-19, built by F. K. Clary Aldringer, an owner of the Teplice estate as an expression of gratitude for sparing the city from the horrors of the plague. It was made by Matyáš Bernard Braun, and it is one of his best pieces.
You find reminders of Goethe and Beethoven in various places in Teplice. The most visible is the largest spa complex named after the famous composer. You can feel history in every step – in addition to majestic spa buildings with traditional buildings, there is the historical centre of the city with several churches, a chateau from the 16th century or the functionalistic building of the Concordia insurance company. However, a lot of healing water has flown away since the times when the city was called Little Paris, and the oldest spa in Central Europe, with a two-thousand-year tradition, is a city of contrasts due to coal and the past decades. However, it is definitely worth remembering the romantic stories as well as stories that, although prosaic and sad, are the true part of our history.
The atypical foundation in the shape of a high transparent tube from which water flows into a small pool replaced the original meteorological column in Mírové náměstí in 2002. Together with the steel colonnade around the cupola, this is the modern modification of Mírové náměstí, where the old residential district used to stand until 1946.