Germany

by Chaim Harry Heine

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Identify the disguised guest in "Germany: A Winter's Tale" CAPUT VI-VII. What is Heine's conversation with a picture of Christ in CAPUT VIII? How does Heine view the Kyffhäuser saga and Friedrich Barbarossa in CAPUT XIV-XVI? What are his thoughts on restoring the Middle Ages in CAPUT XVII?

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The phantom that accompanies the speaker is a doppelganger figure that appears elsewhere in Heine's work (including one very well-known poem that is itself entitled "The Doppelganger") and in much dark Romantic literature. This figure, he says, is the one who will act out what he, the speaker, is merely thinking. In his dream he sees the doppelganger take an axe to the "Three Kings" whose skeletons inhabit the cathedral.

This dream sequence and its implications have a bearing on the other parts of your question. The entire poem is a portrayal of Heine's ambivalence about his native Germany. What Heine observes and indirectly criticizes is an uncomfortable melange of German nationalism, conservatism, and religion. The speaker's imagined conversation with Jesus is especially poignant because Heine himself was Jewish. In my view, the speaker seems to suggest a correlation between a misunderstanding of Jesus, in the Christian tradition, and these negative elements in the old world of the German states. A further symbol is, as your question indicates, the image of Friedrich Barbarossa, who is emblematic of this mystical German ethnic feeling that seems both to attract and to repulse the speaker.

The latter feeling, one of near revulsion, is dominant in the mind of the speaker. Elsewhere in Heine's writings there is the implication that German nationalism is rooted in a retrogressive tendency, a wish to restore some primitive, ruthless type of society that existed in the Middle Ages. It would be a bit too easy to suggest again (as others have done) that Heine saw into the future and prophesied the Holocaust with these criticisms of his native country. However, the fact remains that the newer, nationalistic forces sweeping Germany (and all of Europe) in the nineteenth century were somehow mixed together with a primitive, myth-based vision of a nation that would fulfill a supposed destiny of conquest. Much of "Germany: A Winter's Tale" expresses Heine's analysis of this dangerous trend.

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"Germany: A Winter’s Tale" by Heinrich Heine is a poem of rebellion against what Heine sees as the stifling and backward looking nature of German society. It describes an actual journey he made back to Germany to visit his mother after living in exile in Paris. His ideological positions are opposed to censorship, clericalism, nationalism, and nostalgia. 

The disguised guest is a sort of doppelganger. This character is introduced in Caput V and describes himself as follows:

I am your lictor, and I march
With a well polished axe
Behind you: your current thoughts
Will be my future acts.

A lictor was a Roman official who served as a bodyguard to a magistrate. Lictors carried axes and were responsible at times for enforcing decrees. This image of a second self as lictor suggests that Heine is talking about how a second self might translate his own beliefs into actions and poetic ideals into political realities. 

When Heine dreams of visiting the Cathedral at Cologne, he evokes images of the three kings held to be buried there as part of the edifice of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. He imagines the lictor smashing them with its axe, destroying "the poor skeletons of superstition." This emphasizes that the imagery of the lictor and the skeletons is meant to suggest that the Middle Ages were dark ages of superstition.

Himself born to a Jewish family, Heine also saw the Middle Ages as a period of rampant antisemitism and dominance of religion and superstition. Although Heine himself opposed official Christianity, he also in this poem sees Christ himself as a persecuted idealist and his Crucifixion as a cautionary tale for those who held to their ideals and rebelled against their societies.  

Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa, was a folk hero to many Germans, an image of the glory and power of medieval Germany. Heine, therefore, appears in the poem as arguing with him rather than sharing the nostalgia for him espoused by many of the German nationalists. 

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