Katy, a professional translator of German, noted a significant event on her blog : The other day the venerated New York Times reviewed a translation of a German literary classic. The book is a brand new translation of Heine's Reisebilder by Peter Wortsman. It is very rare that the NYTimes uses its valuable real estate to review a translation from German, much less a new translation of a 19th century book. But the reviewer points out something that I didn't know, even though I lived in New York City for 15 years:
"After his death, a statue of Heine was offered to Düsseldorf. Nationalist sentiment caused it to be rejected. German-Americans then donated it to New York to be placed by Central Park. It was pronounced aesthetically inferior (this has always been a hard place to crack the art scene), and it stands now in the Bronx."
The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also known as the Lorelei Fountain) was dedicated at the south end of Grand Concourse Plaza in the Bronx in 1899. It is an amazing irony that a memorial to Heine, a poet of great subtlety, is now located in a park named after Joyce Kilmer, an American poet-hack who lacked all irony or subtlety.
Professor Paul Reitter of Berkeley has written a fascinating article about the "Heine Monument Wars" (in The Germanic Review - subscription only). The attempt to erect the Lorelei Fountain in Düsseldorf was sabotaged by a campaign of antisemitism which frightened away potential benefactors (and enraged Friedrich Nietzsche). A German choral group in New York City - the Arion Verein - convinced the sculptor Ernst Herter to bring his project to New York. The monument was to stand at the entrance to Central Park on Fifth Avenue. This attracted the attention of the Christian Temperance Union, who condemned the figure of the Lorelei as a "pornographic spectacle". So the fountain was moved to the Bronx, which, it turns out, was not such a safe place even in 1899: the monument was horribly vandalized when the "Personification of Poetry" at the fountain's base was decapitated. The city of New York placed a round-the-clock police guard at the fountain, but it fell into disrepair - like much of the city - during the 1970s. A dentist from Düsseldorf rehabilitated the fountain during his annual vacation trips to America, and finally, in 1999 the fountain was restored to its original splendor through the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument
Program, with $310,000 as a gift from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen
It is indeed fitting that the first monument dedicated to the exile Heinrich Heine can be found in New York City - not far from the Statue of Liberty, the first stop for so many German exiles, both voluntary and involuntary.