Heidelberg, 15 June 2008. The Philippine Diplomatic Team in Germany joined the Mayor of Wilhelmsfeld, Hans Zellner, in celebrating Philippine Independence Day and Jose Rizal’s 147th birthday at a wreath-laying ceremony in “Noli Village”. Other groups such as the members of the Filipino community organizations, representatives of the various chapters of the Knights of Rizal and Ladies of Rizal in Europe, also attended the ceremonies.
Sir Rainer Weber, Chapter Commander of the Knights of Rizal, Wilhelmsfeld-Heidelberg, underscored Rizal’s close connection with Wilhelmsfeld and Germany and cited that Rizal looked up to Germany for ideas and knowledge—such as religious tolerance, hard work, modesty. Wilhelmsfeld, a small town of 3,000 inhabitants, became well-known due to Rizal’s stay there. He stressed that the Knights of Rizal are mandated to propagate the life and works of the national hero as well as keeping this great cultural heritage alive in Wilhelmsfeld.
Mayor Zellner also paid tribute to Rizal, regarded as an equal of Mahatma Gandhi. Mayor Zellner also announced a “new peak” in Philippine-German relations with the twinning partnership between Calamba and Wilhelmsfeld as an important symbol of the special relations between the Filipino and German peoples, a relationship initiated by Ambassador Albert. Mayor Zellner also acknowledged the presence of the former mayor, Mr. Manfred Holtzmann, who was responsible for the establishment of Rizal Park some 30 years ago.
The program was capped by the awarding of certificates and prizes to German school children who participated in the Rizal art contest sponsored by the Knights of Rizal and Wilhelmsfeld, including handing out the Karl Ullmer Prize. Karl Ullmer was the vicar of Wilhemsfeld who hosted Rizal in their house where the final chapters of “Noli Me Tangere” were written.
Rizal traveled to Germany between 8 February 1886 and 31 May 1887, leaving many indelible marks in German villages, towns and cities, particularly in Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld. Altogether, these places that Rizal visited are documented as “Rizal’s Heritage Trail in Germany”.
The Team, as part of its familiarization program, visited some places of the trail in Wilhelmsfeld and Heidelberg. In Heidelberg, the delegation visited the memorial for the eye clinic of Dr. Otto Becker on Bergheimer Strasse 20 where Rizal worked from February to August 1886. A golden plaque decorates the old University of Heidelberg building where the eye clinic was once located. In another Heidelberg address on Grabengasse 12, formerly Ludwigsplatz 12, a marker announces Rizal’s residence from 18 February till June 1886. Rizal had previously resided in a pension located in Karlstrasse 16 near the Heidelberg castle.
In tracing Rizal’s footsteps, the Team noted the remarkable features of Heidelberg, the Neckar River and the Castle which inspired Rizal to write his poem, “Ode to the Flowers of Heidelberg”. A “Rizal Ufer” (Rizal Embankment), forming part of the Neckar River, is named after him.
In Wilhelmsfeld, some 30 minutes away from Heidelberg, a life-sized bronze statue of Rizal, in a moment of introsprection, stands in a small park dedicated to the Philippine national hero. The Rizal Park serves every year as the focal point of festivities in Germany and in Europe to commemorate Rizal’s birth anniversary as well as his visit to Germany. A Filipino sculptor, Prof. Anastacio Caedo and himself a member of the Knights of Rizal in the Philippines, worked on this masterpiece which was donated to the people of Wilhelmsfeld by the Philippine-German Association based in Mainz.
Today, the park’s added attraction are the busts of Pastor Ullmer, Otto Becker, Rudolf Virchow, and Ferdinand Blumentritt, all persons of distinction who Rizal met during his travel to Germany and Austria. These busts also highlight those cities and towns which have a special place in Philippine history: Wilhemlsfeld (Ullmer), Becker (Heidelberg), Virchow (Berlin) and Blumentrit (Austria). In Berlin, Rizal met Dr. Rudolf Virchow, a prominent scientist who pioneered in cellular pathology, who was instrumental in Rizal’s becoming a member of the Berlin Society for Antrhopology, Ethnology and Pre-History. Rizal made a presentation in German on the art of Tagalog poetry and impressed the members with his grasp of the German language and scholarship. Rizal also impressed Professor Blumentritt of Leitmiritz, in the Czech Republic with his talents, patriotism and with “Noli Me Tangere”. Their friendship is documented in the exchange of letters.