Goethe: The Literary Lion

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) is the preeminent figure of German literature and philosophy. He lived to be 82, spending those decades in prolific production of novels, essays, treatises, scientific articles, travelogues, plays and poetry. A consummate politician, Goethe was also a classic 'Renaissance man', capable in many disciplines: during his life he served as town planner, architect, social reformer and scientist.

Born in Frankfurt am Main and trained as a lawyer, Goethe is most closely associated with this city, where he lived from 1775 until his death. He overcame the disadvantages of a wealthy background and a happy childhood to become the driving force of the 1770s Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) literary movement. Though he worked and experimented in various styles throughout his life, his work with Friedrich Schiller fostered the theatrical style known as Weimar classicism. Goethe himself once described his work as ‘fragments of a great confession’.

Faust, his defining play in two parts, is a lyrical but highly charged retelling of the classic legend of a man selling his soul for knowledge. It's still regularly performed throughout Germany today. The beloved Goethe-Schiller Denkmal, a statue of the two Weimar literary colossi rising directly in front of Weimar's Deutsches Nationaltheater, where you may see his drama in production, still pulls a crowd.