Michel Weidemann ( Aquarell )
Wilhelm Bode was born on October 20, 1860, in Lüneburg, in Germany,
as the third of ten children. His rather was a teacher at the seminary
in Lüneburg. There is a legend that the father, on the night of
the birth of each or his sons, took the child and, placing hin in
the wide pocket of his coat, diaper and all, walked up the nearby
Kalkberg hill. There, he held up the child facing the town spread
out peacefully below, and said, "Behold, my son! This is your home
country! Remain true to it, hold it dear to your heart, and protect
it!" Wilhelm, the third son, inherited his father's inclination
towards nature and his enthusiasm for it, and indeed for everything
unspoiled and free, more strongly than any of the other children.
Wilhem often accompanied his father on the long excursions he habitually
took in the school holidays. And he showed from the first a particular
love of nature lore and science. The youth grew up in a tightly
knit family. The father's favorite saying was, "The rich man is
not the one with many possessions, but the one with few needs."
In 1880, upon fishing school, the 19-yearold Wilhelm started theological
studies, first in Göttingen, then in Strasbourg. Even as a student,
his interests ranged wide: zoology, botany, history, and German
romantic literature fascinated him in addition to his main subject
of study. For several weeks during one holiday, he even joined a
wandering circus. After completing his theological studies, he was
assigned to the parish in Egestorf, six miles to the east of Wilsede
Hill. This was to become the scene of his life's work. His first
serom, on August 15, 1886, was delivered on the theme We together.
"You are my parishioners," he said, "and I am your pastor; and if
two people are going to live together, and take up housekeeping
together, it is a good thing for each to have a clear notion of
the rights and duties that each has towards the other." "Do not
demand that I demonstrate all the social graces," he went on, "or
that I be worldly wise, or a flashy speaker, or anything else other
than a servant of the true Teaching! Take care what is said from
this, your pulpit, and watch jealously that it not be profaned!
The parish that requires nothing of its pastor is asleep; but the
one that requires much is alive. ..The first premise for beneficial
cooperation is an unreserved and mutual give and take between us.
We shouldn't say; 'Here are the parishioners, and there is the pastor,'
but rather 'We together!' This is may task." Pastor Bode tried to
make lessons in the schools more interesting, and checked to see
that the teachers really began lessons on time. He himself organized
programs for official school celebrations; he arranged for the children
to be provided with their school books, with the exception of Bible
and psalm book, at the cost of the school district. He advocated
putting an atlas and a book on science and languages in the hands
of each pupil; and he considered sports, gymnastics, to be one of
the most important subjects. It was Pastor Bode, with his farmers,
who in 1888 founded the first savings and loan bank in the Lüneburg
Heath. Later, a cooperative for the insurance of farm animals, the
Kuhkasse or "cow found," was added. The cooperative purchase of
feed and fertilizer was organized, followed by a water cooperative,
which used wind power to provide the village with running water.
This was the one side of his work: practical, active help so that
the people entrusted to him could improve their standard of living.
Pastor Bode's other side seems marked by a sort or natural piety:
his sermons breathe the air of freedom and nature. His passion for
the heath is not an ideology; rather, it was a part of his pastoral
teaching to win each of his farmers to an appreciation of the land
that he farmed. On a walking trip with his father, the young Bode
had passed from Egestorr via Aue and Radenbach to Wilsede, through
the untouched natural beauty of the open heath with its juniper
bushes, with the lustrous dark green of the bordering pine woods.
At one point, his father said, "My son, if a man could preserve
this landscape for future generations, he would have accomplished
a great work, a good work." Many years later, when Bode found that
a considerable parcel of land, the Totengrund, was to be sold and
used for construction, he tried to prevent the sale. After many
fruitless attempts, he found a valuable ally in Professor Thomsen
from Münster: this man was prepared to supply funds for the purchase
of the Totengrund, thus saving it from the development that threatened
it. After very difficult negotiations, Bode succeeded in purchasing
the Totengrund in 1906 for the sum of 6000 marks. This piece of
land was to become the seed from which the Lüneburg Heath Nature
Park was to grow. Bode carried out his next project in cooperation
with a Herr Dageförde, a teacher from Tangendorf. This teacher had
assembled an extensive anthropological collection which filled the
schoolhouse to overflowing. On the initiative of Pastor Bode, apiece
of land was purchased in Wilsede. Thus, Bode became one of the founders
of the Wilsede Heath Museum Society. Dageförde acquired (quite cheaply,
as it was going to be torn down) a fine old farmhouse in Hanstedt
dating from 1750. This house was disassembled, and then rebuilt
on the lot in Wilsede. It opened on August 15, 1907, as "The Old
House", or in the North German idiom, "dat ole Huus." Tourism increased.
The Society, only recently formed, enthusiastically erected an inn,
the "Inn at the Heath Museum." Pastor Bode wrote the advertising
pamphlets himself, and argued: "No paved road! No nickelodeon!"
As Pastor Bode learned that a dance hall was to be built on Wilsede
Hill, he managed to delay the sale of the land. District Counsellor
Ecker from Winsen/Luhe, a member of the Nature Park Society, sent
the author of Kosmos, Dr. Curt Floericke, to look over the situation.
Impressed, Floericke wrote a decisive report. Ecker, as representative
in the Prussian Legislature, succeeded in arranging for public funds
to be made available: the Nature Park Society was then able to purchase
this parcel as well. When Pastor Bode died on June 10, 1927, he
was mourned by large numbers of people. It was his request that
his ashes be scattered to the winds from the top of the Wilsede
hill. This wish was granted him.
I thank Griffin Andersen for the English translation.
1. Walter Gröll. "Durch die Lüneburger Heide". Verlag Hans Christians,
2. Walter Brauns: "Der Heidepastor"". Verlag des Vereins Naturschutzpark
e. V., Stuttgart und Hamburg, 1983