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Happy Birthday Goethe

Marking the anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Julia Howells
Johann Wolfgang Goethe 1828, by Karl Joseph Stieler

Since the early twentieth century the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Frankfurter Goethe-Haus (the birthplace of German writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe 1749-1832) have celebrated the anniversaries of the birth of each other’s respective authors. Each year the Goethe-Haus sends the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust a laurel wreath which is displayed on 23 April at the statue of the English dramatist at his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Goethe Haus wreath
Wreath from the Goethe Haus at the Shakespeare Centre, April 2017

The SBT reciprocates on 28 August, dispatching similar greetings to the Goethe-Haus, Frankfurt am Main. Tradition was interrupted during the hostilities of World War II, however SBT Board minutes record custom being reinstated and a wreath being sent in 1945.

An earlier example of the Germanic tradition of wreath giving can be seen in the SBT Collections which contains a wreath presented by the Frankfurt English Society in commemoration of the 1864 Shakespeare tercentenary celebrations.  Its 1868 catalogue detail - 'A wreath of oak leaves and acorns which was placed upon a bust of Shakespeare, at Frankfort, on the occasion of the Tercentenary celebration, presented by the English Circle at Frankfort, to be deposited as a Memorial in the Museum'.

The SBT is very proud of this special European relationship which celebrates not only two great literary geniuses, but also Goethe’s profound understanding of and passion for Shakespeare and the close ties between their two countries.  The partnership was highlighted by SBT Chief Executive Diana Owen in the Toast to the Visitors which she gave at the 2017 Shakespeare birthday lunch.

This year’s wreath for the Goethe birthday celebrations was created by SBT Gardener, Annamaria Vass, using plants from the Shakespeare Gardens. 

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