Famous People you Might Not Know Were from Hessen
It is a well-known fact that German ingenuity has allowed for great inventions such as the printing press or automobiles. But did you know these people were actually born and raised in Hessen and have influenced the world in which we live today?
Let’s start with a favorite German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). He has shaped my literary understanding and views of the world from a young age: He is arguably still one of the most important literary figures in German history. Not only did he write hundreds of poems and novels like “Faust” or “Egmont,” but he was also a painter, statesman, critic, and scientist, as well. He was one of the most prominent figures of the age and shared the stage with Napoleon, Mozart, Beethoven, and Humboldt. Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main, but he also spent time in Wetzlar an Darmstadt. He even spent a brief time in Italy. Ultimately, he settled in Weimar in Thuringia, where he became friend and chief advisor to the duke. That's how he got the "von"in his surname which indicated his nobility. In 1829, he wrote that “life belongs to the living, and those who live must be prepared for change” - and that is the beauty of life!
"Once upon a time," brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm were born in Hanau. They studied at the University of Marburg, and went on to live in Kassel for quite some time before settling in Berlin. They put together a memoir of German folklore and complied the first German dictionary. Among their most known stories are Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Rapunzel. They also compiled the first German dictionary. Unfortunately, the dictionary was never completed during their lifetimes - the brothers only managed to complete chapters A through F themselves. The dictionary was only finished about a century later in the late 1960s, making it one of the most detailed works on the German language to this day. It was revised in the late 2010s as the chapters compiled by the Grimms were already becoming outdated by the time the book was completed. For the brothers, collecting fragments of the German language was not only a quest for a collective understanding of the language, but to find identity and belonging in the fragmented Germany of the 19th century. Today, the Online Dictionary contains over 320,000 entries. Therehere are hundreds of German schools named in their honor and museums dedicated to their works (e.g. Grimmwelt in Kassel).
Speaking of fairytales, did you know that the composer of the soundtracks of the Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Gladiator, was born in Frankfurt am Main as well? For Hans Zimmer it is as they say: dreams really do come true in the land beyond the Atlantic. While we are talking about music, the band Milky Chance, consisting of Clemens and Philipp, are also from Kassel. Maybe you saw them on stage at the 2022 Summerfest in Milwaukee, or you’ve just hummed along to their songs on the radio. The next time you listen to Stolen Dance on your phone, remember that they composed it while they were were sitting in the very woods where the Brother’s Grimm compiled their fairytales.
I am not doing justice to the many other people from Hessen who have contributed their shared discoveries and work in art, science, and industry. Here are just a few more I'd like to point out:
Henri Nestlé, chocolatier
Paul Reuter, founder of the Reuter news agency
Adam Opel, automobile entrepreneur
Otto Frank, Anne Franks father
Otto Hahn, chemist and pioneer of radioactivity
Sebastian Vettel, F1 driver
Martin Lawrence, American Actor
I could write hours on the meaning of being a “Kasseläner.” I am embedded into the history of these streets and woods and have been shaped by what happened here in the past as well as what happens here every day. Recognizing that you are part of tomorrow’s history makes it so much more fun. I am proud to be amongst those Hessian people.
Theresa Werner is from Kassel in Northern Hessen. She was a student at UW Green Bay from 2019 to 2020 when she returned to Germany. She continues to promote connections between Wisconsin and Hessen as part of the Hessen Wisconsin Society.