Robert Louis Stevenson in Germany

“I think I shall get on pretty well with German. When I am not nervous, I can generally ask for anything I want, altho’ it is indeed improbable that I shall be able to understand the answer. As for a conversation, as most gentlemen understand French tho’ they do not speak it, I can get on wonderfully well, eking out with it whenever my German runs dry. The difficulty, here, also lies in what they say. In Frankfurt they pronounce very badly”
-Letter from RLS to his mother, 29 July 1872, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 236

On this page you will find information about RLS’s travels to Germany, which was a popular holiday destination and place to convalesce for Stevenson and his parents. You will find details of these trips, including his visits to Germany in 1862 and 1863, his trip to Germany with Walter Simpson in 1872, the visit immediately after with his parents to Baden Baden in 1872, and his visit with his parents to Wiesbaden in 1875.

Bad Homburg vor der Höhe with Parents in 1862

In the summer of 1862, RLS and his parents visited Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (then Homburg), the capital of Hesse-Homburg, Germany. The family stayed in Homburg from 11 July – 8 August 1862 for a health cure for Mr Stevenson.

From 1-11 July 1862, the family made their way to Homburg, traveling via Peterborough, London, Dover, Brussels, Koblenz, and Frankfurt to Homburg.

Their return journey took from 9-16 August 1862. The Stevensons travelled via Heidelberg, Wiesbaden, Koblenz, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, The Hague and Ostend to Edinburgh.

Germany with Parents in 1863

“We are now among the Germans. How queer they speak! I can’t make out what they say at all. I got on wonderfully well with the French and Italians, but not with the Germans, though some of their words are very like broad Scotch”
– Alison Cunningham, Cummy’s Diary (London: Chatto and Windus, 1926), p. 171

When RLS was 12, he, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863. Their itinerary in Germany was as follows:

11 & 12 May: Munich. The Stevensons stay in the Bavarian Hotel.
13 May: Augsburg. The Stevensons stay in the Drei Mohren Hotel.
14 May: Nuremberg. The party take accommodation at the Bavarian Hotel.
15 May: Frankfurt.
16 & 17 May: On 16 May the party take a steamer at Bingen am Rhein to Koblenz (passing Stolzenfels Castle en route). They lunch at Koblenz in the Hotel Bellevue before arriving in Cologne. In Cologne, the family stay in the Hotel de Hollande. On 17 May they visit Cologne Cathedral.


RLS and Walter Simpson’s German Trip 1872

“As for me, I suppose you know I was going away to Germany with [Walter Grindlay] Simspon; so I may now tell you that the plan was carried out; and a very good time we had of it – what with sunshine, idleness and amourettes”
-Letter from RLS to James Walter Ferrier, 23 November 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 258

On 20 July 1872, RLS left Edinburgh for London for his trip to Germany with Walter Simpson. They had originally planned to leave in May, but RLS’s mother became extremely anxious about the trip. According to Ernest Mehew in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (New Haven: Yale University Press) she “had a fit of hysterics at the thought that she might never see him again. Eventually it was agreed that he could go for a few weeks” (vol i, p. 229).

RLS documented this trip very clearly in his letters to his parents. After leaving London, RLS and Simpson were in Brussels on 25 and 26 July (although while RLS remained in Brussels on the 26th, Simpson visited Antwerp for the day). Their German trip is as follows:

26 July, Brussels to Cologne:
RLS and Simpson take a 10:30PM train from Brussels to Cologne. The train travels overnight and stops in Liege, where RLS drinks seltzer water. When he shares it with some Greek travelers in the train (one of whom is a young woman who both RLS and Simpson fall a little in love with) they give him champagne. The train stops again at Verviers for twenty minutes.

27 July, Cologne:
As morning breaks, RLS and Simpson arrive in Aachen, Germany, where the Greek passengers disembark. Not long after, RLS and Simpson arrive in Cologne where they find rooms and take a short nap. They breakfast, visit Cologne Cathedral, and swim in the Rhine.
They also spend time in Deutz (which was then a town near Cologne – it was incorporated into the city in 1888). Here, they drink German wine and ice water. In the evening they watch a performance of ‘Mutter und Sohn’ (by Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer).
RLS takes the midnight train from Cologne to Frankfurt (Simpson will follow him shortly afterwards), via Bingen and Mainz.

28 July, Frankfurt:
RLS arrives in Frankfurt, staying at the Hotel Landsberg. He reports to his mother that the weather is stiflingly hot – which RLS enjoys. He also witnesses the capture of a man who had stabbed another man.

29 July, Frankfurt:
RLS visits a church, swims in the Main, and eats bread and cheese with Bavarian beer in a café.

30 July, Frankfurt:
Simpson is now in Frankfurt. RLS reports that he (Stevenson) is often mistaken for a Frenchman.

31 July, Frankfurt
RLS walks to Eckenheim, a village near Frankfurt, and visits the alehouse.

1 August, Frankfurt
RLS reports that “I go every night to the Theatre, except when there is no opera. I cannot stand a play yet; but I am already very much improved and can understand a good deal of what goes on”

(Letter from RLS to his mother, 1 August 1872, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 237.)

2 August, Frankfurt
RLS and Simpson have dinner in a café in Schiller Platz, where Stevenson meets a man he knows from Peebles. In the evening they see a performance of ‘Fra Diavolo’ (by Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber and Eugene Scribe). The young men also spend time trying to improve their German.

3 August, Frankfurt
RLS and Simpson move into lodging Rooms at Rossen Gasse 13, Frankfurt (where they will stay for the remainder of their time in Frankfurt). The area was something of a red light district and RLS remarks “If I were to call the street anything but shady, I should be boasting; it is shady, powerful shady”

(Letter from RLS to his father, 4 August 1872, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed, by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 241.)

A commotion in the middle of the night awakens them – there is a fire at Sachsenhausen (an area of Frankfurt).

4 August, Frankfurt
RLS and Simpson continue to work on their German.

5 August, Frankfurt
RLS sees a performance of ‘La Juive’, an opera by Jacques Francois Halevy. Afterwards, he goes for a drink to think about the opera, which moved him.

6 August, Frankfurt
RLS reports to his mother that he and Simpson are settling well into the rented lodging lifestyle. He and Simpson walk along the river Main, travelling to Griesheim (a village near Frankfurt). They then take a ferry around the village and at dinner meet with some eccentric characters.

7 August, Frankfurt
RLS writes that he has grown very weary of studying German.

8 August, Frankfurt
RLS and Simpson have trouble with the police for going into their lodgings without their passports.

9 August, Frankfurt
RLS writes that “I feel just as if I have lived in Frankfurt all my life and just as if I should never leave it”

(Letter from RLS to his mother, 9 August 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 247).

10 August, Frankfurt
RLS and Simpson visit Bockenheim for the day (a district of Frankfurt). On their return, they learn that Simpson’s brother is very ill. Simpson tries to leave immediately to be with his family but the last train has already departed.

11 August, Frankfurt
RLS visits the post office and finds that his father has sent him £20. He can now lend Simpson money so that he can return to his family and still afford to stay on in Germany. RLS’s letter to his father on this day suggests that Simpson leaves for home in the afternoon.

Baden Baden with Parents 1872
“I was only a few day in Dresden, as I was telegraphed for to meet my father and mother at Baden Baden”
-Letter from RLS to Elizabeth Crosby, 22 December 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 263

12 – 23 August, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Dresden
After Simpson leaves, RLS’s letters drop off until 4 September. It is possible to piece together his travels at this point from letters he writes later on:
“Sir W. however was telegraphed home, because the chinee-God was thought to be dying; so I left Frankfurt where we had been staying and proceeded to Leipzig and Dresden; then to B. Baden Esq., where I met my family, and thence home with them thro’ France”

(Letter from RLS to James Walter Ferrier, 23 November 1872, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 258).

RLS prefers his time in Dresden to his visit to Leipzig: “I cannot enter into your dislike of the place [Dresden]; for to me it was a place of refuge out of horrible Leipzig, and many concomitant disagreeables”

(Letter from RLS to Elizabeth Crosby, 22 December 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 263).

For more information about RLS’s visit to Baden Baden with his parents, see below.

Baden Baden with Parents 1872
“I was only a few day in Dresden, as I was telegraphed for to meet my father and mother at Baden Baden”
-Letter from RLS to Elizabeth Crosby, 22 December 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol I (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 263.

On 23 August 1872, RLS joined his parents in Baden Baden. He had just been in Frankfurt with Walter Simpson, before travelling to Leipzig and Dresden by himself.
The Stevenson family stayed in Baden Baden for a week before returning to Edinburgh (via Strasbourg, Paris, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and London).

Wiesbaden with Parents 1875
“I am off to Wiesbaden for three or four days. I think of coming down to Douarnenez about a week after my return but should like to have statements as to that lying at my address”

-Letter from RLS to Sidney Colvin, c. 1 September 1875, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 159.

On 2 September 1875, RLS joined his parents in Wiesbaden. In August he had been in Barbizon before departing for a walking tour of the valley of the Loing at the end of the month with Walter Simpson. He was in Paris briefly before he met his parents in Germany.
RLS then travelled with his parents through Homburg (Bad Homburg vor der Höhe) and Mainz. They returned home to Edinburgh, while RLS went back to Paris on 6 September.