Cloister inside the Monastery of Maulbronn

© Erich Blaich

On September 15, 1891, after passing his "Landexamen" with distinction, Hesse becomes seminarist at Kloster Maulbronn. Founded in 1147, the old Cistercian monastery, one of the most beautiful and best-preserved in Germany, became a Protestant monastery school in 1556 as part of the school reforms of Duke Christoph of Württemberg. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the mathematician and astronomer, attended the school between 1586 and 1589, and also Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). In 1807, the monastery school becomes a Protestant theological seminary entrusted with the task of preparing young scholars for a study of theology at a young age by teaching them classical languages.


Hesse enters the seminary at the age of fourteen. Like Hans Giebenrath in the story Unterm Rad and Josef Knecht in Das Glasperlenspiel, he lives in the "Stube" and "Hellas" house. The lessons are tough, with little or no spare time. Despite this, the 14-year-old initially feels at home in Maulbronn, adapting to life there very quickly. He applies himself with assiduity to the study of the classics, translating Homer and reading Schiller's prose and Klopstocks's odes. "I am happy, cheerful, and satisfied. The tone here is one that very much appeals to me," he writes in a letter dated February 24, 1892. Just a few days later, on March 7, and for no apparent reason, Hermann Hesse suddenly absconds. After spending a bitterly cold night out in the open, the runaway student is picked up by a gendarme, returns to the seminary, and is given eight days in a detention cell as punishment. In the following weeks, he shows signs of depression, friends begin to avoid him, and seminarist Hesse is left on his own to suffer from the consequent isolation and loneliness. In May, after just over six months at the seminary, his father comes to take him back to Calw. As well as featuring in Unterm Rad, Maulbronn also appears as "Mariabronn" in Narziss und Goldmund, and as "Waldzell" in Das Glasperlenspiel, Hesse having used the literary genre as a vent for his experiences at the monastery seminary.


Poem "In the Maulbronn Cloisters"