Hermann Hesse and the Maulbronn Monastery

I admire the German writer Hermann Hesse for a long time. That’s why I decided to visit Maulbronn Monastery (Kloster Maulbronn).

Some crucial events of Hesse’s early life took place here. The monastery is one of the best preserved Medieval monastery complexes in Europe. Its construction commenced in 1147.


In the fall of 1891, the 14-year-old Hermann Hesse became a seminarist in Maulbronn Monastery because his parents thought it was the right place to prepare their son for the study of theology.
As Hesse settled in, he took an interest in literature, and started to translate Homer into German. However, in March 1892, he suddenly ran away from the monastery and spent one night in the wilderness until a gendarme found him, and brought him back. Hesse had to spent some hours inside a student prison, and was seen as a rebel from now on. The parents of other kids advised them to stay away from him. Hesse started to feel depressed. His condition worsened every day. He felt very lonely and weak, and was unable to study at all. Finally, his father brought him back home in May 1892.




While walking through the monastery, I imagined Hermann Hesse as a teenager and tried to understand how desperate he must have been. The architecture of the main building, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic style, was impressive and frightening at the same time. I especially liked the fountain in the middle of the monastery, because its sound created a peaceful atmosphere.
The dark wooden statue of a Black Madonna and the choir stalls caught my attention inside the church.



Hermann Hesse’s experiences in Maulbronn Monastery influenced his writing and his way of living a lot. The author drastically shows what could happen to a young person who is not able to rebel against his/her family and the strict education system in his book “Beneath the Wheel”.
It is the story of Hans Giebernath, a very bright student who attends classes at the school of Maulbronn Monastery. He faces a lot of pressure, and high competition. When he befriends a young poet called Hermann, he starts to think about an alternative way of living. But unfortunately, Hermann is not able to help him to escape from his situation. Hans suffers from a nervous breakdown, and can only ease his pain for while through nature and romance.

Three of my favorite quotes in Hermann Hesse’s “Beneath the Wheel”:

“When a tree is polled, it will sprout new shoots nearer its roots. A soul that is ruined in the bud will frequently return to the springtime of its beginnings and its promise-filled childhood, as though it could discover new hopes there and retie the broken threads of life. The shoots grow rapidly and eagerly, but it is only a sham life that will never be a genuine tree.”

“Anyone with a touch of genius seems to his teachers a freak from the very first. As far as teachers are concerned, they define young geniuses as those who are bad, disrespectful, smoke at fourteen, fall in love at fifteen, can be found at sixteen hanging out in bars, read forbidden books, write scandalous essays, occasionally stare down a teacher in class, are marked in the attendance book as rebels, and are budding candidates for room-arrest. A schoolmaster will prefer to have a couple of dumbheads in his class than a single genius, and if you regard it objectively, he is of course right. His task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk.”

“In young beings there is something wild, ungovernable, uncultured which first has to be tamed. It is like a dangerous flame that has to be controlled or it will destroy. Natural man is unpredictable, opaque, dangerous, like a torrent cascading out of uncharted mountains. At the start, his soul is a jungle without paths or order. And, like a jungle, it must first be cleared and its growth thwarted. Thus it is the school’s task to subdue and control man with force and make him a useful member of society, to kindle those qualities in him whose development will bring him to triumphant completion.”


More info:

Hermann Hesse 1906: Beneath the Wheel. Find it in your local bookstore.

Website of the Maulbronn Monastery

5 comments on “Hermann Hesse and the Maulbronn Monastery

  1. Maulbronn, a monastery close to where I live, most likely also served as backdrop for his Magnum Opus: The glass bead game – Das Glasperlenspiel. Here, the rigid structure of human interface is striking. Knowing that Hesse was born in Calw, l can’t help but wonder whether the (still) very conservative circumstances shaped him that rigidly, or if other writers from larger surroundings (Auster, Franzen, et al) had a better chance at finding a lifelong subject other than the one attempting to free their creativity/soul.

  2. Great post. Loved the photos. Pleasure to read too.

  3. Interesting post, with the info about Hesse’s early life. Give the Steppenwolf his due! Great photos, too.

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