José Rizal 1886 (1861-1896)

Pencil sketch by Rizal himself

Rizal's letters from Heidelberg (1886) I

addressed to his family members in Calamba, Philippines



Rizal's first letter after his arrival in Heidelberg (coming from Paris)on February 3,1886:

 Heidelberg,                           9 February 1886 16,Karlstrasse                                                 




      As I announced to you in my previous letter, I left for Paris on Monday, the 1st of February, and I came to Germany. I stopped one day in Strasbourg. Aviscourt is the last town on the Franco-German frontier and upon crossing this one notes that he is in a new country, for everywhere one sees only uniforms, militarism, throughout Germany the railroad employees being all military men. From France snow accompanied me on the way, that is, from Nancy until Wilwisheim. Until I reached Strasbourg, I couldn't understand well anyone, for although they all spoke French and German, nevertheless the German confuse the v with the f, b with p, d with t in such a way that the French spoken by them seems to be disguised German. The geese announced to me that I was nearing Strasbourg, the city of the foie gras, a delicacy made of the fat or swollen liver of geese of which much is sold.

     Strasbourg is now the capital of Alsace and Lorraine or Elsass and Lothringen, as the Germans say. It is a gloomy city despite its commerce. Everywhere can be seen the vestiges of the bombardment of 1870, here a bullet, over there a cracked wall, farther on a destroyed tower of a fortress, a hole, a helmet enchased in hard granite.

     The inhabitants take pleasure in showing the city to travelers. As was to be expected, I visited the famous cathedral and I climbed up its tower 142 meters high, the fourth in height, if I'm not mistaken, of the towers in Europe. I climbed up 500 steps until the platform from which can be seen almost the whole Rhine valley, the Black Forest, the Vosges, etc. This tower suffered no less during the bombardment, but it has been repaired. There is a very notable thing inside the cathedral and it is the most complicated mechanism of a clock which is built to run for a long time, being selfwinding. It is the second reconstruction of a clock of the 13th century.In a corner of the square there is an old wooden house said to be Gutenberg's. Strasbourg as well as the other towns I have seen are full of soldiers. I observed that many people greet me on the way and at every moment I was obliged to lift up my hat.

      I arrived at Heidelberg on Wednesday, at half past two in the afternoon. The town seemed to me gay, on the streets are seen only students with red, yellow, white, blue caps of leather, etc. They say that the students belonging to different corporations fight one another for fun. When they fight, they have all the parts of the body covered except the face and the eyes are protected with goggles of steel mesh so that the head and the cheeks are the most exposed. They use a very sharp saber with which they fight by raising the arm over the head. The German student has fine presence, tall, and is very robust. On the night of my arrival, whishing to obtain information about a good professor of ophthalmology, I inquired about the beerhall where students foregather, and I was directed to the Gulden Bierbrauerie. There in fact I found some eight or nine, with yellow caps, of the corporation Schwaben (Swabia). I introduced myself and in my semi-German I asked them. Instantly they stirred, asked one another, and gave me all the necessary information. They invited me to sit with them and drink beer. Because of my lack of practice in speaking German and not being accustomed to bear it, conversation was difficult; and because they hardly spoke French, we resorted to Latin and we used this language part of the evening until one who knew French came. The majority of these who were there, eight out of ten, had the left cheek of large scars - there was one who had more than 15 and the one who spoke French with me had, besides eight or ten large scars, his head bandaged, for just a few days ago, he lost a portion of his scalp... The German student is kind, courteous, modest, and is not boastful. When he greets, he lifts up his cap entirely, throwing it forward. That night they didn't let me pay at all for my beer for being a stranger and recently arrived, but next time I shall have to pay in accordance with the custom of each one paying for his own.  When they drink, they have the custom of toasting the health of everyone saying, "Prosit!" or "Prost!" and holding forth the glass toward the person to whose health they are drinking. They invited me to join their society, but upon knowing that I couldn't remain among them for a long time, they said it was useless, for it would be of no benefit to me. At least six months were necessary for probation and another six months to be admitted into it. These young men take a singular pleasure in making themselves look ugly, for there are among them some who really possess masculine beauty on one hand and on the other patched up skin. There was one who had already fought 54 times. Not all the students are members of these corporations.

      Now I'm living in a boarding house. The cost of living is not as cheap as I expected, for room, food, service, and light cost me something like 28 pesos a month. Undoubtedly it is very much cheaper than in Paris, but it is not as I supposed, so that the money that I thought would last until the end of April will only suffice until the beginning of this month. It is very cold; there's so much snowfall that it is necessary to keep the fire burning continuously lest one freeze. I live in a pretty good house; its owner is called Nebel; my neighbor is a young Englishman who came to study German and we speak in our semi-German and when we couldn't understand each other we speak English. At mealtime German is spoken. Little by little I'm getting to understand it. As I intend to change house to see if I can find a cheaper one, it would be desirable that you address me thus:

               HERRN JOSEPH RIZAL                              

                General Delivery



      Or better you write me at Paris, 65 Boulevard Arago, Luna's atelier, for I don't know how long I'm staying here.

      As I have already told you, it would be better if you write me every fifteen days via the French mailboat, because it makes the trip faster. The drafts through the Chartered Bank, etc.

   Heidelberg is in a valley between two mountains, on one side flows the Neckar across which are two stone bridges. Yesterday and before yesterday, many persons were skating on the frozen portion near the river. The mountains are covered with snow and in the afternoons could be seen many people strolling among the ruins of the celebrated castle that can be seen from my window. There is only one theater; there are four or five Catholic and Protestant churches and they say that one of them is used one half by Catholics and the other by the Protestants.   German food is not disagreeable, only it is full of potatoes. For everything, potatoes, day and night. At night they serve tea with potatoes and cold meat.  The majority of the women have studied French and they have a smattering of it. In general they are tall,big, not very blond though fairly so. They are amiable and very sincere.

    The waitress at the beerhall where I go is called Mina. She writes her language very well in accordance with orthography. We always talk to each other through writing for as my ears are not yet accustomed to the accentuation, I need to see the words written down. She writes her language in two ways, as she says: Lateinische and Deutsche; that is, in Latin and German characters. For example, Inseln Philippinen ... Infeln Pfilippinen. The German characters are the ones generally used.

    I end this letter now and until next mail.

    Your son and brother who loves you sincerely,



     My friend Valentin Ventura whom I owe many favors is going there. He lives on Dulumbayan Street. If you go to Manila, I would appreciate very much if you would call on him. It is better that you continue writing me in Paris, 65 Boulevard Arago, for, as I'm staying a short time here at Heidelberg, the letters may get lost.   


From a letter Rizal wrote to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt in German characters


Rizal's second letter from Heidelberg:

Heidelberg                             16 or 17? February 1886

16 Karlstrasse



    I hope that you have received my previous letter and you are enjoying good health, which is ever my constant desire.

    For some 13 days now I've been attending the clinic for eye diseases (Augenklinik) in this city under the direction of another famous oculist called Otto Becker. He is not as famous nor is he such a great surgeon as Dr. de Wecker of Paris; but in Germany he enjoys much renown and he has written many books. At the beginning I hardly understood a few words, for German is very difficult to follow on account of its unusual construction, but now I'm beginning to understand the words and I expect to be able to speak it fairly well within six months. Here we don't perform so many operation as in Paris: The 24 000 inhabitants of this city cannot give so many patients, even if there is only one clinic. Paris, they say, has 2 000 000 inhabitants, but the truth is it has also very many oculists. When I shall know enough of the great advancement of German science and I shall be able to speak German somewhat perfectly, I intend to go to London or return to Paris which is the intellectual city par excellence, where ...continually boils, and study a little with my first professor who had advised me to go back to him and I had promised him that I would do so.

    Recently on the occasion of the arrival of a German poet, very much beloved in this city, they illuminated the castle with fireworks. Don't think that it is like the fireworks thereon feast days. Here they discharge some 15 or 16 rockets, Bengal lights, and no firecrackers; and with red light burning inside the ruins in such a way that only the glow is seen and not the flames, the walls, big towers, corridors, and all that remained of the ruined castle are revealed now by silhouettes, now by direct illumination. It is beautiful to see in the midst of the darkness those grandiose ruins all red and black with neither flames nor lighters visible, and all were simultaneously illuminated ... (illegible)... I say that almost always for there are also others: ... the students with lighted torches went around the streets on the occasion of the anniversary of the Elector. I don't know exactly what it was about for I was not able to understand well the long explanation the maid has just given me this morning.

    Last Sunday I visited the interior of the castle, that is, the part ... (illegible). An old woman, tall, erect, serious, and with a sad voice, was my guide. She seems to be the shadow of the ruins or some witch who dwells in these somber and deserted places. All the walls are dismantled, the statues are mutilated, the arches cracked; ivy grows everywhere. The old woman recited in a sad and grave voice, pointing out the various places: "This is the hall of the pages, here they played games; there the waiting room; further on is the library, adjoining it is the study room with its big chimney full of drawings. The audience hall, the hall of justice, the big dining room, the hall of the English in which was held the wedding of some princes of Great Britain. The kitchen where they roasted a whole ox with the immense hearth under the high and monumental chimney used for it still preserved. The jail, the octagonal tower, etc., etc." Sometimes one goes through dark, narrow, low corridors, going up and down little stairways one reaches a large hall whose roof is supported by massive arches: now and then a dormer window lets in some light to expose the dismal and ruinous state of the old palace of the Counts of the Palatinate some of whom became emperors. At times a small door opens on one side of the corridor into a dark and humid room - it is the jail; sometimes it is the room of the warden maybe; sometimes it is a little spiral stairway that gets lost above among the ruins and below in the shadows of the underground. There are two huge casks for wine in this castle - the larger one is thirteen places long by eleven in width and holds, according to what they say, 230 000 bottles of wine, which seems to me probable for on top of it even five pairs can dance very easily. In the museum of curiosities of the castle are the pictures of all those who belonged to the noble house: Women and men and even some who do not, like those of the most illustrious citizens who lived or were born in Heidelberg as Voss, Melanchton. There I saw pictures of Luther and his wife Catarina de Roca and the ring that was used in their wedding, which has this shape more or less (Drawing) The death-mask of Kotzebue showing his wound and that of his assassin, the student Sand, who was beheaded at Mannheim. His hair and blood are preserved. I saw also a letter of Marshal Ney, a passport signed by Louis XVI in the last sad days of his reign and many more autographs more or less complete, more or less important. Among the pictures there is a pair that ought to be mentioned - they are two pictures of a noblewoman belonging to a noble family that represents her youth and old age. Her picture when she was young shows her to be a serene beauty, winsome, ingenuous, and tender; that of her old age, is of a witch that reminded me of the grotesque description of an old woman in the story of two friends, one of the awits of Tuason of Pasig. There also are the old images only before which perhaps the proud and cruel elector took off his hat and knelt, maybe after ordering the death of some unfortunate man. Today nobody takes off his hat before them, and the humblest man, the son perhaps of a slave of the late lord, passes by, examines them curiously, and partly continues on his way.

    Tomorrow I am going to change my residence and move to No. 12, Ludwigsplatz, near the university. The room alone with service, light, and heating costs me eight pesos a month or 32 marks, each mark is worth 2 reales fuertes. If we were in the midst of winter, it would cost me more for I would have to spend for the heating. I shall eat at the restaurant during the day and at night take supper in my room in German style, that is, a cup of tea, bread, and butter. I believe that in the midst of winter, it would cost me more for I would have lodging until the end of April when I expect to receive my monthly allowance.

   I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week I go to the bierbrauerei, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.

   Three times I have gone to see their duels at Hirschgasse and I have witnessed from 20 to 25 of them; each time 7, 8, or 9 fight and several times the duels were bloody. One that I saw received as many as six wounds during the duel; sometimes they are not wounded. They fight only among themselves, corporation against corporation, many times without any motive, for those who choose the adversaries are the sponsors; it is just to test bravery, according to them. There are five Corps Students here and they are are Vandalia, Guestfalia, Saxoborussia, Rhenania,and Swabia and their respective caps are red, green, white, blue, and yellow. Don't think that I belong to any of these corporations; I would need to stay at least one year, for they require six months trial. The Swabians are my friends.

   It has been very cold here and everywhere I see only ice forming capricious figures, stalactites, of cristal, rocks, on which the rays of the sun play, producing most beautiful colors.

   I wish you to keep well and healthy and that we may see each other soon, which will be absolutely next year. Regards to all who will remember me.

   Your son and brother,




During his stay in Heidelberg in March 1886 Rizal (1861-1896) wrote three more letters to his family members in the Philippines. These letters will be shown in part II of "Letters from Heidelberg" including a letter written in the house of Pastor Ullmer in Wilhelmsfeld (near Heidelberg) addressed to his family in Calamba.


View of the old town of Heidelberg with the castle and the Neckar river seen from the "way of the philosophes" (Philosophenweg)


 |25 Jahre Rizal-Park 1978 - 2003|

 |Rizal's letters from Heidelberg II 

 |Rizal in Heidelberg & Wilhelmsfeld I

|Rizal in Heidelberg & Wilhelmsfeld II|

|Rizal's letters to Pastor Ullmer, Wilhelmsfeld, 1886-88|

|Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg Chapter

|Rizal's 141.Birthday in Wilhelmsfeld |

|Flores de Heidelberg (engl-deutsch)|

|Prof. Virchow's obituary (Nachruf) for Dr.José Rizal| 

|Prof. Virchows Nachruf für José Rizal 1897|

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|Rizals 146.Geburtstag + 10 Jahre Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg Chapter: 17.Juni2007|

|50 Jahre Rizal Beziehungen Philippinen - Wilhelmsfeld: Die Wilhelmsfeld Story|

|50 Years Philippines - Wilhelmsfeld: "The Wilhelmsfeld Story", by Dr.P.Mendez|

|Correspondence Dr.Paz Mendez concerning Rizal's stay in Wilhelmsfeld (1959)| NEW!!!

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last update April 06, '10

since Dec. 15, '02