hidden europe 62

Who was Friedrich Oswald?

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Friedrich Oswald’s 1840 essay on landscape captures the mood of the Lüneburg Heath pictured here (photo © Thomaspicture / dreamstime.com).


Friedrich Engels is not someone we would normally associate with travel writing. But, as a young man, he wrote a number of articles in the travel genre; they were all published under the nom de plume Friedrich Oswald.

We would wager that the name Friedrich Oswald is not one you’ve come across. But, take it from us, Friedrich had an eye for landscape and wrote some very compelling prose. So we mark the bicentennial of Friedrich’s birth with some rare insights into the work of a man who has a town in Russia named after him and could easily, had he so wished, have made a mark as a fine travel writer.

Friedrich was the son of a Wuppertal mill owner and this bright young man was only 18 years old when he had a series of six articles published about the valley and region where he had spent his entire short life. These essays appeared over a two-month period in the periodical Telegraph für Deutschland – and it was very clear in the first letter that here was a writer who didn’t mince his words. In the opening paragraph of Friedrich’s first Letter from the Wupper Valley , he bemoans the fate of the former museum in Elberfeld, now downgraded to a casino, noting that “the building is so clumsily proportioned that at night it looks like a camel.”

Also in that debut paragraph, Friedrich introduces the reader to the “smoky factory buildings and yarn-strewn bleaching-yards” and he then goes on to remark on “the dull streets, devoid of all character.”

If travel writing begins at home, then Friedrich Oswald was dealt a fairly poor hand, having lived in a rather dour industrial valley in Germany.

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