The Good European

Nietzsche: The Problem of Autumn
by David Farrell Krell and Donald L. Bates
A web feature for The Good European: Nietzsche's Work Sites in Word and Image by David Farrell Krell and Donald L. Bates, published by the University of Chicago Press.



      Friedrich Nietzsche was acutely sensitive to place: to the taste of sea air, to the sweep of wind across the coast, to the narrow confines of medieval walls or the tumbling breadth of an Alpine vista framed by the window near his writing desk. He was convinced that the effects of environment, climate, and terrain on one's life and thought were both tangible and profound.

      The places where Nietzsche lived and worked include some of the most beautiful places in Europe. In The Good European, Krell and Bates explore for the first time Nietzsche's Epicurean appreciation of the beautiful cities and landscapes in which he worked and their effects on his thought.

      This web feature, Nietzsche: The Problem of Autumn, both introduces and extends the book. It includes twenty-seven color photos not found in the book, and new text (left column below) on Nietzsche's long search for a place to spend the autumn months. Nietzsche: The Problem of Autumn is a small taste of the richness of The Good European.

      Bracketed numbers within the texts are hyperlinks to the photos; and except for the four that appear below, each will open a new browser window. Captioned links to all the photos appear at the end of the text. Photos and text published here are protected by copyright; reproduction without consent is prohibited.

The Problem of Autumn
   Summers in the high Alps of Sils-Maria [1] were never a problem for Nietzsche: the snows of the surrounding mountains there kept the air fresh and cool throughout the summer. Yet the autumn and winter came early to Sils, and so Nietzsche most often escaped Sils in early September.

Piz Roseg
Photo 1: Piz Roseg, in the Bernina Chain of the Alps south of Sils-Maria, Oberengadin, Switzerland.

   The "problem of spring and autumn" had been with him during the entire decade of his travels, the 1880s. If the Riviera of France and Italy offered him hospitality during the winter months, and the Alps gave him the most beautiful and protective summers of his life, the problem months were October to November and March to April. The mountains were too cold, the seashore too warm. Nietzsche tried numberless solutions to this problem.

   Lake Lucerne in Switzerland [2] [3] was too far north to serve as a transition, as much as Nietzsche remembered and loved it because of the Wagners' residence at Tribschen. Even the beautiful Lake Garda, with its surrounding Dolomite Mountains [4], was too fickle to serve as a solution: the autumn could turn to winter in an instant, and that winter could last into May. Lago Maggiore [5] [6] offered a more stable climate.

Photo 8: The town center of Cannóbio, on Lago Maggiore.

   Nietzsche tried many of the beautiful towns that dot the Italian side of the lake, towns such as the beautiful Stresa, with the nearby Isola Borromeo [7]. The ancient town of Cannóbio [8], west of the southern leg of the lake, seemed most promising: the Villa Badía for a time seemed the perfect solution to the problem. The nearby gorge of the Cannobino River [9] offered endless walking paths and vistas. Farther to the south, the city and lake of Como [10] offered perhaps the most elegant possibility for a residence during these troublesome months "in between."

   Nietzsche also was thrilled by the beauty of Recoaro Terme, in the Dolomites of the South Tyrol [11], and he loved the simple elegance of the Albergo Tre Garofani ("The Three Carnations") [12] [13] [14], where he resided for a time with Heinrich Köselitz. Even though the weather could be cold and rainy, the beauty of the place and the health-giving waters of the Fonti Centrali promised him health of body and mind.

   The magnificent city of Venice ("the only place on Earth that I love") [15] [16] was problematic because of its high humidity in the summer and the chilly winds of winter; yet autumn and spring were beautiful there. As autumn descended into winter, however, Nietzsche would have to head farther south and closer to the sea. At first he tried the towns of Genoa and Rapallo, where he enjoyed both the sea [17] and the surrounding hills [18].

Photo 17: Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera. The Castrum Venagi.

   He then moved farther [19] west to Nice, where both the elegance of the old city [20] and the power of the sea [21] [22] [23] captivated him. Nietzsche also enjoyed vigorous walks in the mountains at Èze, east of Nice, on what is today called the "Nietzsche Path" [24]. The beauty of the Parc du Château [25], above the Old City of Nice, never disappointed him, even as his eyesight continued to deteriorate almost to the point of blindness.

   One of the reasons Nietzsche chose Turin as his ultimate solution to the problem of autumn was its even pavements of black granite [26], which he could navigate without the aid of vision. He spent the final autumn and early winter of his wakeful life in an apartment high in the atrium of the Galleria Subalpina [27], on the Piazza Carlo Alberto, in Turin.

Nice coastline
Photo 22: Three moods of the sea on the Nice coastline—view two.

Captioned links to all photos
[1] Piz Roseg, in the Bernina Chain of the Alps south of Sils-Maria, Oberengadin, Switzerland.
[2] Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.
[3] Lake Lucerne.
[4] The Dolomite Mountains above Lake Garda, in the South Tyrol.
[5] Lago Maggiore, Italy, viewed from the boardwalk of Stresa.
[6] Lago Maggiore, not far from Stresa.
[7] Isola Borromeo, Stresa, on Lago Maggiore.
[8] The town center of Cannóbio, on Lago Maggiore.
[9] The Cannobino River, taken from a bridge high over the gorge, not far from the Villa Badía.
[10] Lake Como, and the western part of the city of Como, with the Villa Olmo on the left.
[11] Sunset in the Dolomites above Recoaro Terme in the South Tyrol.
[12] The elegant Albergo Tre Garofani ("The Three Carnations"), where Nietzsche stayed while taking the waters at Recoaro.
[13] The Albergo Tre Garofani
[14] The Albergo Tre Garofani
[15] Procuratorie Vecchie, Piazza San Marco, Venice.
[16] Procuratorie Vecchie
[17] Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera. The Castrum Venagi.
[18] Sunset on Monte Allegro, above Rapallo, where Nietzsche loved to walk.
[19] Mentone, on the border of Italy and France.
[20] One of Nietzsche's residences in Nice. Rue François de Paule, 26, taken from the Place des Phocéens. (Nietzsche resided on the shadow side of the building, not facing the sea, on the third floor on the far left.)
[21] Three moods of the sea on the Nice coastline—view one.
[22] Three moods of the sea on the Nice coastline—view two.
[23] Three moods of the sea on the Nice coastline—view three.
[24] On the "Chemin Nietzsche" at Èze, east of Nice.
[25] Parc du Château, Nice. (Double exposure.)
[26] Sidewalk and street in Turin, Italy.
[27] Galleria Subalpina, Turin, Nietzsche's residence at the time of his collapse. (Double exposure.)
Nietzsche on traveling
   "Where one must travel.—Direct self-observation does not by any means suffice for self-knowledge. We need history, inasmuch as the past wells up in us in hundreds of ways. Indeed we ourselves are nothing other than what we sense at each instant of that onward flow. For even when we wish to go down to the stream of our apparently ownmost, most personal essence, Heraclitus's statement holds true: one does not step twice into the same river.—The maxim has by now grown stale; yet it is as nourishing and energizing as ever. So too is the maxim that in order to understand history one must search for the living remnants of historical epochs—and do so by traveling, as the venerable Herodotus traveled to sundry nations. . . .
   It is quite probable that the last three centuries, in all the hues and refracted colors of their civilization, live on, quite close to us: they only have to be discovered. . . . Most assuredly, in remote places, in rarely penetrated mountain valleys, self-contained communities manifesting a much older sensibility can be more readily preserved. That is where we have to go looking for them. . . . Whoever after long practice has become a hundred-eyed Argos in this art of traveling will finally rejoin his Io—I mean his ego—everywhere, and will rediscover the travel-adventure of this transformative and evolving ego in Egypt and Greece, Byzantium and Rome, France and Germany, in the periods of the migratory or the sedentary peoples, in the Renaissance and Reformation, in one's own homeland and abroad, and indeed in the sea, the vegetation, and the mountains."—Human, All-Too-Human


Of all the places on Earth . . .
   "Of all the places on Earth, I feel best here in the Engadine. To be sure, the attacks come to me here as they do everywhere else; yet they are milder by far, much more humane. I am continuously calmed here, none of the pressure that I feel everywhere else. Here all excessive stimulation ceases for me. I would beg of mankind, 'Preserve for me but three or four months of summer in the Engadine, otherwise I really cannot bear life any longer.' . . . Yet the Engadine summer is so short, and by September's end I will return to Genoa. I have never had such tranquillity, and the paths, woods, lakes, and meadows are as though made for me; the prices are not altogether beyond my means. . . . The place is called Sils-Maria. [1] Please keep the name a secret from my friends and acquaintances; I don't want any visitors."—Letter to his sister Elisabeth, July 7, 1881

The year is fugitive in Sils-Maria
   "Now, my dear and good friend! The August sun shines over our heads, the year is fugitive, it grows quieter and more peaceful on the mountains and in the woods. Thoughts have been looming on my horizon the like of which I have never seen—I don't want to say a word about them, I want to preserve an unruffled calm in myself.
   It seems I shall have to live several years longer. Oh, my friend sometimes the realization runs through my head that I am actually living a supremely dangerous life: for I belong among those machines that can explode! The intensities of my feeling make me shudder and laugh aloud—already on several occasions I was unable to leave my room for the ridiculous reason that my eyes were inflamed—from what? On each occasion I had been weeping excessively during my hikes the day before; no, not sentimental tears, but tears of exultation; during which I sang and muttered nonsense, filled to the brim with my new vision, which I am the first of all human beings to have."—Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, August 14, 1881

From Recoaro, Italy
   "As far as landscape is concerned, Recoaro is one of my most beautiful experiences. [11] I literally chased after its beauty, and expended a great deal of energy and enthusiasm on it. The beauty of nature, like every other kind of beauty, is quite jealous; it demands that one serve it alone."—Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, June 23, 1881

Zarathustra comes to Rapallo
   "The following winter [1882-83] I lived near that charming, quiet bay that intervenes between Chiavari and the foothills of Portofino, the Bay of Rapallo [Tigullio] [17], not far from Genoa. My health was not the best; the winter was cold and excessively rainy; a small albergo, fronting directly on the sea, a happenstance that made sleep impossible during the nights when the sea was high, in all respects offered the very opposite of everything my heart desired. Nevertheless, and well-nigh as evidence for my statement that everything decisive originates 'despite all,' it was during this winter and under these unfavorable circumstances that my Zarathustra came to be.
   In the morning I would ascend in a southerly direction along the splendid road that leads high up to Zoagli, a road that passes through pines and offers a view far out over the sea. In the afternoon, when my health permitted, I would walk around the entire Bay of Santa Margherita and over the hills [18] all the way to the tip of Portofino. . . . On these two paths, the first entire part of Zarathustra, and above all the figure of Zarathustra himself as a type, came to me. Or, rather, he overcame me."Ecce Homo

Letter from Nice
   "I've tested Munich, Florence, Genoa—but nothing suits my old head like this Nice [20], minus a couple of months in Sils-Maria [1]. At all events, I am told that the summer here is more refreshing than at any place in the interior of Germany (the evenings with sea breeze, the nights cool). The air is incomparable, the strength it gives one (and also the light that fills the sky) not to be found anywhere else in Europe.
   Finally I should mention that one can live here cheaply, very cheaply, and that the place is large enough in scope to permit every degree of concealment to a hermit. The altogether select things of nature, such as the forest paths on the closest hill, or on the St. Jean Peninsula, I have all to myself. Similarly the entire Promenade (about a forty-five minute walk) is splendidly free, inasmuch as people visit for only a few hours during the day. . . .
   One is so 'un-German' here: I can't emphasize that strongly enough"—Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, November 24, 1885

Zarathustra wanders through Nice
   "The following winter [1883-84], under the halcyon skies of Nice, which glistened above me for the first time in my life, I discovered the third part of Zarathustra—and the book was finished. Scarcely a year for the composition of the whole. Many concealed spots and many heights in the landscape of Nice have become sacrosanct to me because of unforgettable moments there [24]. That decisive part of the third book, 'Of Old and New Tablets,' was composed on the difficult and steep ascent from the railway station at Èze to the marvelous Moorish eagle's nest overhead.—My muscle tone was always greatest when my creative energies flowed most abundantly. The body is spirited—let us leave the 'soul' out of play. . . . One could often have spotted me dancing: at that time I could wander through the mountains for seven or eight hours at a time without tiring. I slept well. I laughed a lot—I was fit as I could be, and I was patient."—Ecce Homo

Ever-holier mountains
   "I draw circles and sacred boundaries about me; fewer and fewer climb with me up higher and higher mountains.—I am building a mountain chain out of ever-holier mountains."—Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Of Old and New Tablets"

The old nag's circle dance
   "It is my fourth winter in this place, my seventh on this coast: that is the way my health wants it, for it is stupid as well as demanding, ready to make mischief as soon as the occasioning circumstances pile up. Nice and the Engadine: that is the circle dance this old nag cannot escape. . . . To be sure, there can be no more beautiful season in Nice than the current one: the sky blindingly white, the sea tropical blue [21], and in the night a moonlight that makes the gas lanterns feel ashamed, for they flush red. And here once again I perambulate, as so many times before, thinking my kinds of thoughts, ebon thoughts."—Letter to Malwida von Meysenbug, December 13, 1886

The Turin solution
   "I have discovered Turin. . . . Turin is not a well-known city, is it? The educated German travels right on by it. Granted my hardness of heart in the face of everything that education commends, I have established Turin as my third residence, with Sils-Maria as the first and Nice as the second. Four months at each place: in the case of Turin it is two months in the spring and two in the fall. Odd!
   What convinces me is the air, the dry air which is the same in all three places, and for the same meteorological reasons: snow-capped mountains to the north and west. That is the calculation that has brought me here, and I am enchanted! Even on the very warm days—and we have had such already—that famous Zephyr blows, of which I had heard only the poets speak (without believing them: pack of liars!). The nights are cool. From the middle of the city you can see the snow."—Letter to Reinhart von Seydlitz, May 13, 1888

A city beyond good and evil
   "This is a city I can use now! That is crystal clear to me, and it was so from the very first moment. . . . What a worthy and serious city! Not at all a metropolis, not at all modern, as I had feared: rather, it is city of seventeenth-century royalty, which has but one commanding taste in all things, that of the court and the nobles. Aristocratic tranquillity in everything has been preserved. There is no wretched faubourg. There is a unity of taste, down to the colors (the whole city is yellow or reddish brown).
   And for the feet as well as the eyes it is a classic spot! What safety, what sidewalks [26], not to mention the omnibus and the trams, which are miraculously arranged here! . . . What solemn and earnest piazzas! And the palaces are built without pretension, the streets clean and well made—everything far more dignified than I expected! The most beautiful cafés I've ever seen. These arcades are necessary here, given the changeable weather: yet they are spacious, not at all oppressive. Evenings on the bridge over the Po: splendid! Beyond good and evil!"—Nietzsche's Letters


Copyright notice:"Nietzsche: The Problem of Autumn" is published by the University of Chicago Press. © 1997 by David Farrell Krell and Donald L. Bates and the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. Any use or republication of any of this text or any of these photos, in any medium, is prohibited, except with the consent of both the authors and the University of Chicago Press.

The Good European
The Good European: Nietzsche's Work Sites in Word and Image
by David Farrell Krell and Donald L. Bates

© 1997, 264 pages, 65 color plates, 174 halftones, 8-1/2 x 12
Cloth $55.00 ISBN: 0-226-45278-6
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 0-226-45279-4

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for The Good European.

"A valuable chronicle of a writer who was never quite comfortable in his own skin. Nietzsche was always dreaming of someplace else, someplace not plagued by excessive heat, noise, glare…For Nietzsche, travel was a stimulus to thought, through solitude. With its extensive use of Nietzsche's letters and 174 b&w and 65 color illustrations of landscapes, cities, and hotels, this is a valuable reminder, not just of Nietzsche's writings, but also of another era of travel."—Publishers Weekly

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