Wolfgang von Goethe’s Passport to Carlsbad

Wolfgang von Goethe’s Passport from 1808 to travel to Carlsbad

A unique document can currently be seen in the exhibition “Treasures of the Goethe and Schiller Archives” in Weimar: Goethe’s passport, with which the poet took a bathing trip to Carlsbad.

Wolfgang von Goethe's Passport from 1808 to travel to CarlsbadThe Passport

On May 10, 1808, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was issued a passport in Weimar because he intended to travel to Carlsbad. This document has been preserved in the poet’s extensive and well-stocked archive. Depending on the issuing authority, passports were entirely different. In this case, it is a single sheet – an official form in German and French.

Passport Details

With its dimensions of 34 cm high and 42 cm wide, the paper does not seem to be handy, which is why it had been folded several times to a small practical format. The form filled out with handwritten information on the Privy Councilor bears the signature of the Weimar police chief Carl Wilhelm von Fritsch and the seal of “HERZOGL. S. LANDES POLICEY COLLEGIUM “.

On the obverse of the pass, the entry note of the “KK border post Oberschönbach” dated 14 May 1808 can be seen on the bottom left. From such visibilities in the so-called “sighting” of the passport later developed the visa, as is common today as an entry, transit, or residence permit in some countries.

Wolfgang von Goethe's Passport from 1808 to travel to Carlsbad
Front of the passport from 1808, Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Unlike at present, passports had less to do with citizenship at the time, they were more of a travel document and confirmed that the person concerned had the permission of the country of origin for that one trip. The destination and validity period was specified. Above all, they certified the identity of a person. The present passport exemplifies the evolving modern passport system because such bilingual printed forms on the French model were then used in similar forms by some German and European states.

Goethe’s Description

In two marginal columns, the form provides for a rather detailed description of the person. For example, the 57-year-old Privy Councilor (he is actually already 58 years old at this point) is described as “5 shoes and 8 inches” tall, which corresponds to about 1.60 meters. At this point, it should be noted that in the specialist literature, the information on Goethe’s height varies.

Whether the height given on the passport came about by actual measurement or merely by approximate estimation must remain open. Furthermore, the passport states that Goethe had “brown” hair and a “high” forehead, that his face was “brownish” and “perfect”, and that his mouth and nose were “excellent”.

(Extract from the article of Dr. Gabriele Klunkert, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, translated by the author). German passport history at its finest. Read the full article here: https://blog.klassik-stiftung.de/goethes-reisepass-von-1808/