Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel


Famous scholars from Kiel:

Jens Immanuel Baggesen


In his bilingual writings Baggesen was an advocate of peaceful co-operation between the nations. He was the first professor of Danish literature at the University of Kiel from 1811 to 1814.


In Denmark Jens Immanuel Baggesen is considered one of the great storytellers of the 18th and early 19th century. His work is relatively little known in Germany, in spite of the fact that Baggesen always energetically promoted peaceful co-existence and cultural exchange between the Germans and the Danes. Born in Korsør in 1764, Baggesen was a passionate exponent of the European Enlightenment and adopted the name "Immanuel" in honour of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Baggesen wrote in both Danish and German. His best-known work is the travelogue Labyrinth (Labyrinten in Danish), an account of his journey from Copenhagen to Basle in 1789, the year of the French revolution. His journey took him to Kiel among other places. In addition to Labyrinth Baggesen wrote various verse epics and poems and was also a noted literary critic.

As the current occupant of the chair of Modern Scandinavian Literature Professor Lutz Rühling from the Nordic Institute at Kiel University is effectively the successor of Jens Immanuel Baggesen. He pays tribute to Baggesen's innovative, sometimes parodying style, as well as his influence as an important promoter of cultural exchange: "Jens Immanuel Baggesen was inspired by the ideal of cosmopolitanism and for him it was the virtuous man that was at the centre of things, not his own nation. As a result he was often in conflict with the leading literary figures in Denmark. His views were out of step with the rising spirit of nationalism in Denmark.

The Danes were very hostile to Germany at the end of the 18th century, not least as a result of the Struensee affair. This German physician to the Danish king wielded considerable influence in Denmark and carried out reforms, for example the abolition of serfdom and censorship. However, he also made many enemies, who ultimately found a pretext, including his relationship with the king's wife, to execute him. As a result of this affair what had been friendly relations with the Germans turned into animosity."

Jens Immanuel Baggesen corresponded with many leading literary figures of the age. His admiration for Friedrich Schiller led to a curious incident: Baggesen heard a rumour that Schiller was on his deathbed. He arranged a memorial service for the German writer, which in turn led the Danish king to establish a stipend for Schiller. Schiller recovered and, in chronic poverty, accepted the king's support. During this period Schiller wrote his letters on the aesthetic education of mankind.

German was widely spoken in Denmark at the time. Like many other Danish writers, Baggesen used his bilingualism to bring his works before a wider public in the German-speaking world. Despite this he lived in modest circumstances throughout his life and was frequently ill. He died in Hamburg in 1826 and is buried in the Eichhof cemetery in Kiel.


Jörg Siebels



Keyword: Labyrinth


Labyrinth is Jens Immanuel Baggesen's most important work. The story was written in the years 1792 to 1793 and is an account of Baggesen's journey from Copenhagen to Basel in the year 1789. In the preface the author tells us that he has lost his own notes from the journey. The account is therefore reconstructed and is in parts novelistic. The wittily written and entertaining book begins with an amusing incident when Baggesen cannot find his passport at the start of his journey in Copenhagen. After a desperate search he is finally able to get underway. His first stop on German soil is Kiel, but he quickly passes through in the direction of Eutin, where he meets the well-known philologist and translator of Homer Johann Heinrich Voss. He then visits the poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and other intellectual figures in Hamburg.

He continues through the Lüneburg Heath, to Celle, Hanover and Kassel. In Friedberg in Hesse the writer hears of the outbreak of the French Revolution on 14th June 1789. He is inspired by the promise of freedom and justice and is deeply moved by the revolution.

Labyrinth was well received and remains highly readable even after more than 200 years. In Denmark it continues to be widely read. An edition has not been published in Germany since 1986, and as a result it can now only be found in second-hand bookshops.


►  Back to top

Responsible for this page: Press, Communication und Marketing Services
phone +49 (0)431 880-2104, e-Mail ► presse@uv.uni-kiel.de