Dostoyevsky and the Rhine Society in and around Wiesbaden circa 1860-1870
By Kevin Stoda, Wiesbaden
In literary circles, it has been well-noted that in despair, very lonely, and already in trouble for gambling too much, Fyodor Dostoyevsky fled his many debts in Russia and came to Wiesbaden around 1865. To this day there are still many evident links to Dostoyevsky and the Russian love with/of the West (especially Germany) in 19th Century Wiesbaden.
The very street in Wiesbaden City which bares his name, i.e. Fiodor-Dostojewsk-Strasse, is exactly where the Hessen regional Finance Ministry offices are located, i.e. this is where Germany residents, employers, and employees of all nationalities pay their taxes or have their tax books investigated. Fittingly, Dostoyevsky wrote his famous work, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, while living on the run in Wiesbaden and in neighboring gambling towns, such as Bad Homburg. Dostoyevsky naturally continued to gamble away his own moneys week-after-week, making him quite familiar with the material for his second novel in Wiesbaden—THE GAMBLER.
Across town from the Finance Ministry and nearer to the Hessen Parliament, itself, is located the most famous gambling hall in the region: The Spielbank (Casino) Wiesbaden. Dostoyeski and other emigrants from all over Europe came to this hall to play.
It should be noted that at the beginning of the 19th Century, Wiesbaden was barely recognized as major town on the Rhine. Kilomers away–Nassovian Bieberich was where the royalty lived. It was not until Castle Bieberich and its surrounding township slowly became fully suburbs of Wiesbaden during the mid-to-late 19th Century, that Wiesbaden had clearly arrived as an elite and entertainment town for Germany’s wealthy—including the German Kaisar and his family. (The largest bank in the region is still called the Nassau Sparkasse-Bank.)
The original attraction for wealthy folks and schemers from all over Europe (and even North America) deciding to settle for months and years at a time in Wiesbaden was, however, not casinos.
The original attraction for coming and visiting Wiesbaden had already been very well-known in Roman times. This attraction was the fact that Wiesbaden was blessed with dozens of hot springs. Therefore, the township, where Wiesbaden is located, had been called by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago “Aquae Mattiacorum” or the Waters of the Mattiaci, i.e. It was named after a German tribe that lived in the area named Mattiaci. (In between the main train station and the street where I live in Wiesbaden is where an old gate to the Roman City Aquae Mattiacorum once stood.)
“By 1370, sixteen bath houses were in operation [in the township]. By 1800, the city had 2,239 inhabitants and twenty-three bath houses. By 1900, Wiesbaden, with a population of 86,100, hosted 126,000 visitors annually.” During that same 19th century, famous visitors to Wiesbaden (other than the German Kaisar and Dostoyevsky) had included Goethe, Wagner, and Brahms—and loads of foreign royalty from all over continental Europe and America.
THE RUSSIAN INFLUENCE
Seemingly afloat over the city of Wiesbaden (in the direction of the Taunus Mountains) is a wonderful Russian Church with four golden onion domed towers. The church was built in mid-19th century by a Nassau noble for his young Russian bride who had died in child birth. This church holds the body of the young royal Russian bride. The church is known as the Russian Chapel and still dazzles the eyes of any visitor in Wiesbaden who comes across it while viewing the green hills north of the town.
A “Nassovian master builder Philipp Hoffmann, who was also responsible for building St. Boniface’s Church and the Synagogue on Michelsberg, was also in charge of this [Russian chapel’s] construction. . . . Hoffmann [had been sent by the husband of the unfortunate Russian bride to Moscow before constructing the chapel]. . . . [Hoffman] studied contemporary Russian architecture, [and] he decided to take the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow as a model.”
“The church, which has come to be known as the ‘Greek Chapel’ still serves the Russian community in Wiesbaden today as their parish church. Behind the rectory lies the Russian cemetery in which there are numerous graves of dukes and princes from the 19th century.” Some of these Russian princes and dukes took on very German or French names while staying in Wiesbaden. When I went to the Russian cemetery, e.g. some of the Russian graves were marked “Baron von Osten” or “Countess von Osten” in German or French. In short, one could not tell where Prussian nor Russian citizenry began or ended in this cemetery named for the Russian inhabitants of Wiesbaden.
In short, in the 19th century, the wealthy and poor émigrés of either Western German lands, Eastern Prussian lands, Austria, and/or Russian estates, there was no real border in the central continent in those days. Like Dostoyevsky, one moved relatively easily back and forth between Central Europe lands(where Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Poland are located) and Eastern Europe, where Russian Czars dominated. In Wiesbaden, Dostoyevsky found a thriving Russian society mixing with the French, Dutch, British and German elite in Wiesbaden during his self-imposed exile of the mid-1860s.
Russians and many from Eastern Europe came to Wiesbaden’s spas to get recovered from long snowy winter nights. Naturally “[g]ambling followed bathing en suite and in the 19th century Wiesbaden was famous for both. Its casino[s] (“Spielbank”) rivalled those of Monaco and Baden-Baden.” Although Dostoyevsky had little luck gambling in Wiesbaden, he successfully wrote two novels in Wiesbaden: both THE GAMBLER and the aforementioned CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, became extremely popular. Moreover, Dostoyevsky finally found in his Wiesbaden days a bride to marry–just prior to his leaving the casinos and entertainment of Wiesbaden behind. (He and his bride decided to move all half-way across Prussia to Dresden in order to set up home and family .)
The novel, THE GAMBLER is largely set in cold and wintery Wiesbaden and Bad Homburg. I read this Dostoyevsky work in the German language last autumn just as the first cold spell hit the area and surprised us all in Wiesbaden with snow. I could imagine walking along the parks near the spas, the casinos, and the hotels with Dostoyevsky in the snow.
Currently, Wiesbaden is recovering from another recent snow and I can visualize the constant temptation to gamble that Dostoyevsky experienced here. In short, there are dozens of casinos here nowadays to attract players from across the continent. One is less than a block from where I live. Luckily, the city offers so much more in terms of entertainment: music, theater, musicals, opera, cabaret—these are often set in the most romantic of buildings or in stunning locations.
In 2010, “Wiesbaden is a city in southwestern Germany and the capital of the federal state of Hessen. It has about 275,400 inhabitants, plus approximately 10,000 United States citizens (mostly associated with the American military). Wiesbaden, together with the cities of Frankfurt am Main and Mainz, is part of the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region, a metropolitan area with a combined population of about 5.8 million people.” However, as Wiesbaden is scheduled now to take over the entire European Command for the U.S. military—a command that may often reach well into Russia, the Middle East, and Asia in years to come. (Therefore, it is likely that the number of Americans involved in this American Army expansion in Europe will at least temporarily push the number of Americans in Wiesbaden to double its current size.)
Wiesbaden is still a melting pot for Europe—just as it was in the time of Dostoyevsky. Now, over 30 percent of its inhabitants are foreign born. Many Germans of Russian descent, like Dostoyevsky, have also landed here. Some émigrés are involved in casinos, too. Some come for spas and medical tourism—just as traditionally been the case. Some, like Elvis Presley, were just temporarily stationed in the area. Others come and go after a few days or weeks.
As a whole, many Russians (including Volga Germans, etc.) and other foreigners are busy trying to integrate into the German world of the Rhine-Main region.
However, during this past decade, Europe has created a great Wall of anti-non-European intentions: No longer can authors and economic migrants, like Dostoyevsky, move in and out of the European Union at will—without the proper papers and the proper connections.
Editors for UNESCO’s International Journal of Multicultural Studies, Kristin Touzenis and Ryszard Cholewinski, noted recently concerning the rights of emigrants worldwide:
“Migration and human rights intersect at a number of points, starting when the migrant crosses a frontier, the act that defines international migration. While international human rights law recognizes the right to leave one’s own country, there is no corresponding right to enter another country, even for a refugee, without that state’s permission. This means that where a state decides that a migrant entered the country without authorisation, this decision does not of itself, and if properly taken, conflict with human rights principles. But, more importantly, the fact that a migrant entered or remained without authorisation does not nullify the state’s duty under international law to protect his or her basic rights without discrimination . . . .”
Europeans have– to a great degree–recognized the fact that émigrés have rights. However, the recent blockade of foreign-born spouses by the Rhine Main Integration and Immigration offices is very contradictory to the goals of multicultural integration.
I have lived in lands, like Kuwait and the UAE, where often millions of workers are employed with little chance that their spouse can join them—even after they have been in those lands for five to ten years. This is a losing approach to integration.
Yet, in recent months I have run into several German citizens in the Rhine Main region who have already been awaiting their spouses (or the children of their spouses) after three years or more of awaiting and constantly facing bureaucratic blockades. Moreover, in a town like Wiesbaden, one runs into dozens of foreigners whose spouse’s arrival is blockaded by the same bureaucratic mistreatment—and for decades at a time in some cases of injustice.
Such policies and so-called bureaucratic due process are so anti-family that one might be surprised to learn that Germany has a Ministry of Family Affairs to aid parents and children in this society.
In summary, if an addicted gambler, like Dostoyevsky, could find his luck in Germany, why can’t Germans (fearing the foreign) do more to integrate and inculturate themselves– and others. This part of the world has almost always been a melting pot.
Let’s all work on being more multicultural in 2010 and onwards.…and unite parents and loved ones much more quickly, too.
 Authors Note: I feel that part of Dostoyevsky’s problems with both gambling and supposed epilepsy seizures were related more ATTENTION DEFICIT SYNDROME or ADD or ADHD.
Dostoyevsky, CHRONOLOGY, http://www.vex.net/~x/dostport/dost-chron.html
Education and Integration of Emigrants, http://www.efms.uni-bamberg.de/pdf/NESEducationIntegrationMigrants.pdf
Knocking on the Doors of Fortress Europe, http://www.efms.uni-bamberg.de/pdf/NESEducationIntegrationMigrants.pdf
Multi-Cultural Case: CROSSING, http://www.managementcrossing.com/movbus/culture_de/Multi-Cultural_Case_Crossing_Seminar_inhouse.pdf
PT TYPES: Dostoyevsky, http://www.ptypes.com/vigilant2.html
Authors Note: I feel that part of Dostoyevsky’s problems with both gambling and supposed epilepsy seizures were related more ATTENTION DEFICIT SYNDROME or ADD or ADHD. That he could produce so many pages of writing in such a short time, should show a tendency to hyperfocus. Gambling or risk-taking is high among émigrés and peoples with Attention Deficit. I have ADD and my dad had seizures. I think there is a connection.