She wrote her speech at Heathrow, on the morning of the award ceremony, in the hustle and bustle of London airport. Not an ideal place to reflect on romance, says Anne Bohnenkamp-Renken in the courtyard between Goethehaus and Volksbühne in Frankfurt. There is always the view of the scoreboards. Does everything work out, does it start now?

Florian Balke

Cultural editor in the Rhein-Main-Zeitung.

  • Follow I follow

The night before, she gave the Wilkinson-Willoughby lecture to the members of the English Goethe Society, after Wolf Lepenies and Alfred Brendel in the years before her. She spoke about Goethe's interdisciplinarity and about the role of becoming and emerging in the poet's work and world of thought. Now, one evening later, she is being awarded for something she created herself. And for which she had to wait as eagerly as travelers at a busy airport. Or at a German train station.

Is the ICE coming? Is the Romantic Museum coming? It took ten years, which were "very intense and demanding", until it finally stood, says Prime Minister Boris Rhein (CDU), who presented Bohnenkamp with the Hessian Culture Prize in the arcade hall of the Goethehaus before the start of the champagne reception he organized. In his laudatory speech, he praised her as one of the "most important German literary scholars": "With tireless commitment to art, culture and education."

"Successful in everything you do"

The state of Hesse has been awarding the award, endowed with 45,000 euros, since 1982. In this case, it is aimed at the creator of a museum of international appeal that opens "doors to another world", says Rhein: "The epoch of Romanticism can be experienced with all the senses. I'm sure many visitors will think long and hard about what they can take away from it for today."

In addition to directing the Free German Bishopric, Bohnenkamp teaches as a professor at Goethe University Frankfurt, is a member of the editorial board of the historical-critical hybrid edition of "Faust" and is on the board of the Goethe Society in Weimar: "You are successful in everything you do." Which is because of how she approaches things: "With passion."

How to charm 1500 donors

In front of listeners such as Science Minister Angela Dorn (The Greens) and Frankfurt's CDU mayoral candidate Uwe Becker, Rhein Bohnenkamp pays tribute to Bohnenkamp's year-long struggle to finance the Romantic Museum, which was co-built by the federal government, the state and the city, without the more than six million euros in donations that Bohnenkamp raised but would never have been built: "You have convinced more than 1500 private supporters. The museum is an example of civic engagement."

Bohnenkamp, in turn, recalls numerous comrades-in-arms, including Carl Ludwig von Boehm-Bezing, the chairman of the administrative committee of the Prince-Bishopric, who died unexpectedly in January 2023: "Without his trust in the idea and his active support, I would not have been able to set out on this path."

When the Enlightenment is clarified

The museum, which opened in 2021, seems more urgent than ever, she adds. In Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the national self-discovery of Romanticism reveals its fatal consequences, in the Baltic States, tense in view of the war in the neighborhood, through which she traveled in the summer of 2022, a brighter side of national self-reflection and solidarity among peoples is revealed for her.

It is precisely because of this dual nature that she insists that not only the Enlightenment is a common European heritage, but also focuses on the romantic view of man, imagination and creativity: "Romanticism is not the other of the Enlightenment, it is its continuation, is the Enlightenment of the Enlightenment." For Bohnenkamp, the museum aims accordingly at the development of aesthetic awareness. It trains differentiation. And take a look at contemporary issues: In 2024, together with the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt and the Sinclair House in Bad Homburg, there will be a large special exhibition on the forest and how we deal with it.

"I was really lucky," says the comparatist, who was born in Hilden in North Rhine-Westphalia in 1960 and has been directing the Prince-Bishopric, the sponsoring association of the Goethe House and the Romantic Museum, which is traditionally financed by the city, state and federal government to the tune of one third each, for 20 years.

She still heads an institution that is both an archive and a museum, that guards Goethe's childhood home, serves as a non-university research institution and fulfils the educational mission of the founding year 1859.

She thanks her husband, who gave up his job at a bank in Munich for her job, her children and her brothers: "They are the ones with whom I organized the very first exhibitions of my life in our shared nursery."