Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

Goethe-Schiller Monument

by Nicole Meldahl

Statue Stats

Location: Golden Gate Park, Music Concourse

Artist: Ernst Fredrich August Rietschel

Benefactor: Charles Bundschu & various German societies

Subject: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller

Dedicated: August 11, 1901

Inscription:   "Dedicated to the City of San Francisco by Citizens of German Descent of California in the Year Nineteen Hundred and One. Renovated and Rededicated in the Year 2001 by the United German-American Societies of San Francisco & Vicinity."


Located just off the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park, near a pathway that leads to the John McLaren Rhododendron Dell, is a large statue featuring two friends from foreign shores. It shows Germany's most famous philosopher poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, in heroic scale. Standing on a giant pedestal of red granite, Goethe and Schiller look over us in bronze: Schiller holding a scroll, Goethe a laurel wreath, the two men embracing each other in common bond. It's an exact replica of a monument created by Ernst Friedrich August Rietschel at the request of Karl Alexander August Johann, the Grand Duke of the Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach Duchy, that was installed in front of the Court Theater in Weimar, Germany in 1857.

Our replica of the Goethe-Schiller Monument was erected in San Francisco by various German societies in August 1901, and first imagined by a man named Charles Bundschu. If you're a local wine connoisseur, you'll recognize the name of this renaissance man as one-half of Gundlach Bundschu, a joint family winery in operation since the 1850s. Bundschu came to California from Mannheim, Germany and quickly became Jacob Gundlach's business partner as well as his son-in-law. They were successful, producing 150,000 cases of wine a year in the 1870s with a sales office in New York shipping mostly fortified wine around the world. Described in his obituary as a "wine grower, merchant, poet, and artist," Bundschu was a community-focused citizen who spent his life devoted to arts and culture in San Francisco.[1] Certainly, the right man to get a monument erected in Golden Gate Park.

This idea came to Bundschu following the success of German Day at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. He subsequently became president of the Goethe-Schiller Monument Association, created to oversee the erection of this celebration of two of Germany's foremost cultural figures. At the Association's final fundraising event held in the Mission District in 1897, Bundschu's address spoke to immigrant impacts on America and the reason why San Francisco should have a monument to Goethe and Schiller:

"The seeds for all that is great, good and noble...were laid in the hearts and minds of the people by the old philosophers, great thinkers and cherished poets of the old country and transplanted by immigrants to the new world, and used in the service of elevating and upbuilding the land of their adoption... Every civilized nation owes a debt of gratitude to those great and noble minds, and the Germans of all countries feel justly proud of the two great poets whose talent and genius are acknowledged in every country, and whose songs have been translated in every tongue and transplanted in every zone and clime."[2]

Despite the noble intent of Bundschu and the Association's gift to San Francisco, it was met with resistance from local artists and arts philanthropists who resented the monument's origins and fabrication abroad. Ultimately, the monument we see today in Golden Gate Park is a compromise befitting a statue that features two men connected by a laurel wreath.

Fundraising with a Festival

Parade during German Day at California Midwinter International Exposition. Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building behind. [8436 Procession on German Day, June 10, 1894], Jun 10, 1894 - Isaiah West Taber

Planning for the monument began in earnest in July 1895 between representatives from various German societies in the San Francisco Bay Area. They focused on public subscription instead of private endowment, and used a $300 surplus from German Day at the Midwinter Fair as seed money. The Goethe-Schiller Monument Association was formed with Charles Bundschu as President, presiding over a group of prominent local German men (women participated through a separate auxiliary group called the Ladies of the Goethe-Schiller Monument Association). The group's first meeting was appropriately held in Beethoven Hall at the corner of Post and Powell in August 1895. Their first decision was to throw a themed fundraising festival based on the lives and writings of Goethe and Schiller on November 5-9, 1896 at the old Mechanics' Pavilion at Grove and Larkin.

The festival they planned feels reminiscent of The Great Dickens Christmas Fair held now at the Cow Palace, and also sounds like a reflection of Charles Bundschu's particular interests. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "German life, manners and customs, its history, ancient, medieval and modern will be illustrated. The progress of the arts and sciences, literature, discoveries, etc. will be illustrated by living characters in appropriate costumes."[3] Janos Gerenday, a Parisian artist, created all the Hungarian costumes worn by women at the festival. The Ladies' Auxiliary oversaw the distribution of booths and characters, but artists were commissioned to draw up plans and arrange designs for the booths under the direction of E.A. Otto. Naturally, booths were patterned as illustrations pulled from the life and works of these great German writers.

In September 1895, plans were coming together and subscriptions began coming in. Bundschu was careful to explain that their festival was "conducted on somewhat different lines from the usual festival. There [would] be no attempt on the part of the attendants to fleece the visitors or shame them into making purchases. It is our idea to give the people who pay 50 centers admission, $1 worth of amusement."[4] Season tickets cost $2 for all five evenings and the Association's goal was to raise money from the sale of admission, not necessarily the concessions, in order to discourage overcharging.  

On November 3, 1895, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an advertisement for the Goethe-Schiller Festival and the San Francisco Examiner was on site, capturing the scene of final preparations. "Yesterday there was little rest in the pavilion. Rehearsals went from morning until eve; carpenters and painters were busy, and the men who had to give directions and see that they were executed found that a myriad details required their attention. With all the noise there was no confusion. Everybody knew what he or she was had to do, and though the sound of hammers resounded in part of the building, while dances and songs were being rehearsed in another and while the synopsis of dramas were being presented on the stage, there was no clashing."[5] A good sign for a successful festival.

While organizers were adamant that they would not fleece visitors, they weren't above tempting them. In total, 20 booths at the festival were staffed by between 400 and 500 women; as the Examiner noted, "pretty girls will be met wherever the spectator turns."[6] There was a William Tell booth that looked like a Swiss cottage and, of course, included a recreation of the famous apple and arrow scene, with attendants dressed as soldiers, officials, and peasants of the republic selling ice cream. Robbers Inn sold beer, the Faust booth had an adjoining wine garden, and cigars were sold at the Don Carlos booth. At the Grecian temple, you could purchase a commemorative souvenir that featured poems and essays from prominent academics as well as autographs from German cultural figures collected by George Ebers, a well-known Egyptologist and German novelist. A main stage built to resemble a Greek temple featured rotating performances, which changed every night. Opening night on November 5 included musical performances and addresses from Association President Charles Bundschu, Mayor Adolph Sutro, and Park Commissioner Irving M. Scott.

The festival was such a huge success that it was extended an extra three days by popular demand. The San Francisco Chronicle thought its popularity was due to the fact that "it was a glimpse of the old Fatherland and they did not want the curtain to fall sooner than absolutely necessary."[8] As popular as the event may have been, it wasn't exactly profitable. They Goethe-Schiller Monument Association closed its offices at 120 Sutter Street on November 19, 1895, having only raised $8,000-just short of their $10,000 goal. The festival had cost $12,000 and they received $8,000 through in-kind donations. The scenery and decorations, which cost $3,500, were sold for only $125-mostly to the managers of the Columbia Theater, which bought many of the paintings and canvases-while the staging was purchased by the Mission Turn Verein for $6.50. Plans for the monument moved forward, nonetheless.

The First Grand Fight

On November 22, 1895, the Association announced that the bronze statue would be placed on a marble pedestal with a granite foundation, constructed in Germany. The fact that the monument was to be created abroad, however, angered many locals-particularly sculptors, like Otto Dobbertin, and their benefactor, James D. Phelan, who was then President of the San Francisco Art Association. Phelan and his sympathizers took issue with money raised by public subscription in San Francisco funding work abroad, and they also thought it in poor taste to use that money for artwork that wasn't an original creation. True to men of their day, Bundschu and Phelan argued their differences in heated yet excessively polite letters that were printed first in the German language newspaper, California Demokrat, and later picked up and translated by the English language press in San Francisco. We'll summarize the issues discussed, but the articles on what was described at the time as San Francisco's "first grand fight" against outsourcing art commissions to Europe are incredibly entertaining in their pettiness and worth a deep read.[9]

Bundschu claimed the Association didn't raise enough money to pay for a locally commissioned monument. The Francis Scott Key and James Lick monuments, for example, were very expensive, and any new commission created for $10,000 wouldn't hold up to the "criticism of this intelligent community."[10] Phelan responded simply by saying, "Then build a cheaper monument made by California artists from California materials."[11]

Bundschu pointed out that many statues in San Francisco had international origins. Local artists often studied their crafts abroad, "drawing the inference that certain classes of art creations here are not as well developed as in older centers of art."[12] In addition, many "original" works of art commissioned in San Francisco were actually made in foreign countries, from foreign material, or by foreign artists. But his most important point was that national boundaries weren't applicable to the merit of art and to apply them reduced the artist to an unconscious laborer. "The higher conception of art makes it international and universal. We may stand by our home industries and purchase none but homemade shoes and brooms, but art and literature occupy a higher level. This remark I make because I have not been able to shake off a feeling of indignation, which came over me on reading an article contributed by one of our local artists to one of our dailies a few weeks ago wherein he makes the attempt to lower art to the level of a ‘trades union' and manufacturers association."[13]

Phelan thought producing a copy of an old monument was tantamount to appropriation and would be a "confession of incapacity to create an original work. Instead of patrons of art we would be aiding in its humiliation."[14] To him, creating a monument in California would be a "far nobler tribute to Goethe and Schiller than the mere duplicate of any monument."[15] He also took issue with Bundschu's use of the word replica. "I beg to call your attention to the fact that a replica is a reproduction by the artist who created the original. I am informed, however, that your intentions are to have merely a copy made by a mechanical process without the aid of the original master."[16] In this fact, Phelan was mistaken.

Bundschu was adamant that supporters always expected a replica of Rietschel's monument, since that was chosen prior to fundraising. This meant the Association was responsible for commissioning what was advertised, and, he believed, "nothing less [would] satisfy them than a statue of heroic size."[17] Again, he accused Phelan of reducing an artist to the level of a laborer. The relevance of true art, he argued, was not diminished by age, so the fact that the original monument in Germany was over 50 years old did "not detract from it unless we place art on a level with mechanical vocations."[18] Beyond that, it would be a resource for those not wealthy enough to visit Germany. He explained further that "a copy of the Rietschel monument would surely recall to us and all well-educated people the historical ground and surroundings where Goethe and Schiller lived and died, would more strongly remind us than could the most marvelous art work."[19]

Phelan unconvincingly apologized, saying he hadn't intended to argue, then reaffirmed his belief that using a local artist would be better. He recommended hiring Douglas Tilden, professor of sculpture at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art and also a member of the San Francisco Association, despite failing to ask Tilden if he was even interested in the project. Bundschu (astutely) pointed out that Americans trying to erect an ode to American culture in Berlin wouldn't listen to similar advice. He gave a curt note of thanks for his consideration and then informed Phelan that he was handing the matter over to the Goethe-Schiller Monument Association, and that, by the way, he intended to have all their correspondence published in the California Demokrat (*metaphorically drops microphone*). Tired of arguing, Bundschu was "all the more unwilling to continue this controversy because existing circumstances oppose a speedy consummation of our project," and expressed hope that their feud didn't diminish enthusiasm for the monument-like the Grant monument, which, he points out, was also made in Europe. [Stay tuned for a future article on the dramatic erection of the Ulysses S. Grant Monument in Golden Gate Park.]

When the Association met in January 1896 to discuss funding and how to move forward, they wholeheartedly expressed support for Bundschu in this "epistolary discussion" with Phelan.[20] They then read letters confirming that replicas of famous statues adorned public parks and buildings throughout the East Coast, and then got on with the business of erecting a monument in Golden Gate Park.

Goethe and Schiller statue on original location on Music Concourse. Two horse-drawn carriages with passengers. Statue was installed with donations from the German community on the west side of the Music Concourse, (current site of the de Young Museum Sculpture Garden) on August 11, 1901. It would be moved to the current east side of the Concourse in the early 1920s. [GGP-20] (G810 GGP-020) (GGNRA/Behrman GOGA 35346), Sep 4, 1908 -

Movement on the Monument

Now in the home stretch, the Association still had some loose ends to tie up. About 700 souvenirs, 260 calendars, and 1,010 prizes were left over from the Goethe-Schiller Festival, so the Association organized another festival at the Verein Eintracht Hall on 12th Street in the Mission District to make use of these remnants and raise extra money. Set for March 8, 1896, the program consisted of literary exercises, gymnastics exhibitions, music, singing, and dancing, with tickets costing 50 cents. Everyone in attendance received a prize, and now the Association had the money they needed to erect the monument.

In October 1897, John McLaren, Superintendent of Golden Gate Park, met members of the Association at the west end of the Music Concourse. The monument would be erected on the main drive leading past the Memorial Museum, about 100 yards from the music stand and near the Japanese Tea Garden. Permission to make a replica of Rietschel's piece was obtained from the King of Saxony, and original molds were provided by the artist's family. However, it took two years before the statue was en route from Germany to San Francisco in February 1899. It was brought to New Orleans by the Hamburg-American Packet Company, free of charge, and the Southern Pacific Company, which covered the cost of bringing it overland. On top of these generous donations, the piece was also admitted to the country duty-free.

Although the bronze statue was cast in Germany, the pedestal was a "purely California product" made of marble quarried and cut here-a compromise with Phelan and members of the San Francisco Art Association.[21] The donated shipping costs saved the Association $2,000, allowing them to commission a more elaborate pedestal for the replica Rietschel bronze. Submissions to a call for designs were approved by Professor Simering of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and architect J.E. Kraft was hired in July 1900 to prepare drawings of a pedestal "in accordance with the design of the original monument at Weimar."[22] Costs ran over, because the Association decided to use a more expensive material: polished red granite. Seregni & Bernieri were awarded a builder's contract to erect the monument for $4,210 in October, but the dedication would not be staged until the summer of next year.

On August 11, 1901, the Goethe-Schiller monument received its public debut. The San Francisco Chronicle published a massive article by Association member Albin Putzker that waxed poetic about Goethe and Schiller's lives and the monument's meaning to San Francisco-from its origins at the Midwinter Fair to its purpose as "a further link between the new and the old fatherland... strengthening ties of friendship... to make us see that humanity should be one."[23] The weather was perfect and, depending on which newspaper you read, crowds numbered between 10,000 and 30,000. It was covered with a white cloth suspended between two flag poles flying German and American flags. A temporary platform, decorated by small American flags and palms, was built in front of the bandstand where the Golden Gate Park Band played the jubilee overture as invited guests and Association officers took their seats.

Among others, Bundschu, McLaren, and Phelan were there, as well as Park Commissioners, German Consul General Rosenthal, and Mission High School Principal Joseph O'Connor. Music was performed by German societies, poetry was read, and speeches were given. Despite arguing against the importation of artwork from Germany, James Phelan praised its presence in the park with, perhaps, some overreaching patriotism-claiming victory for California artists by claiming immigrants as her own.

"This gift will suggest many things to the casual observer who seeks these shades for recreation. He will realize that San Francisco is a little world in itself. Men from every land have made it their home. They bring their culture and their skill as contributions to the city of which they have become by right of citizenship an active and patriotic part... A new country [like the United States] has the splendid advantage of enjoying the thought and the work of all men who have gone before... .From [this] exalted position... native genius may soar, and on the sure foundation of past accomplishment native skill may safely build. To appropriate, however, the work of other men or even to take the legacy which is ours without expressing obligation to our benefactors, would prove us selfish and unworthy. So today we are assembled to pay a tribute, which is the due of genius, to the great master minds of Germany, Goethe and Schiller. They are ours because we make them ours."[24]

Bundschu got the final word by explaining the depth of this gift to San Francisco, outlining German contributions to American culture in the process. He said, "This work of art transplants to these beautiful grounds of our adopted city a soulful and historical reminiscence of the greatest period of German literature-a period that enlightened and advanced their people and strengthened their sons and daughters in the fulfillment of their sovereign duties towards themselves and towards their fellow men."[25] Then Anna Priber pulled the shroud and the statue was revealed! A few more speeches were followed by music, and the German Krieger Verein (ex-soldiers of the German Army) stood guard as dignitaries proceeded past them to lay flowers on the monument's steps.

Final Thoughts

Although it was moved to its current location sometime after 1932, the Goethe-Schiller Monument is still an enduring presence in Golden Gate Park-shining even brighter since refurbishment for its 100th anniversary in 2001. San Francisco was the first American city to erect a replica of Rietschel's sculpture, with others boasting vibrant German communities following suit: Cleveland, Ohio in 1907; Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1908; and Syracuse, New York in 1911. As it turns out, history has proven James Phelan wrong: replicas, this one in particular, do have merit.

As we consider immigrant impacts in this "Monumental Golden Gate Park" series, we're exploring art as artifact, treating statues as historic relics. They're things of beauty to admire, but they also speak volumes about the people who put them there and the people who tried to prevent them from doing so. We as historians are cautious not to politicize a past that did not play by contemporary rules, but, within this monument's history, it's worth noting the undercurrent of nativism that masqueraded as the protection of workers' rights. We still see these undercurrents in the modern era.

The bigger story, however, is about the resounding impact of German culture on our city and also our country. German in origin, the philosophies of Goethe and Schiller greatly contributed to the Age of Idealism that influenced our founding fathers, American enlightenment, and freedom thinkers throughout the world. Counterculture movements that have defined San Francisco would have been impossible without free thought and free speech. And this is, quintessentially, why the monument was emplaced in Golden Gate Park. At the dedication ceremony, Association member Dr. C.M. Richter said, in German, "that whenever a German emigrates, Goethe and Schiller emigrate with him."[26] This group of various German societies gave us "a monument to the liberty of the human mind, a monument to the liberty of human thought."[27]

Honestly, what could speak with more volume than that?

[1] "After Long Illness, Dies at his Home," San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 1910

[2] "Goethe-Schiller Festival and Ball," San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 1896

[3] "A Grand German Festival," San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 1895

[4] "Goethe-Schiller Festival," San Francisco Examiner, August 28, 1895

[5] "To Honor Two Poets," San Francisco Examiner, November 4, 1895: read HERE.

[6] Ibid.

[7] "Temple for the Goethe-Schiller Monument," San Francisco Call, September 30; 1895

[8] "Will Close To-Day," San Francisco Chronicle, November 19, 1895

[9] "James D. Phelan Defends Local Artists," San Francisco Call, January 1, 1896

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] "Indorsed His Action," San Francisco Examiner, January 4, 1896

[21] "Lasting Memorial to Goethe and Schiller," San Francisco Call, February 10, 1899

[22] "Goethe-Schiller Monument," San Francisco Call, July 2, 1900

[23] "Goethe and Schiller to be honored in San Francisco," San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1901

[24] "Unveiling of the Goethe-Schiller Monument in the Presence of a Multitude of German-Americans," San Francisco Call, August 12, 1901

[25] "Geothe-Schiller Monument is Presented to the City," San Francisco Examiner, August 12, 1901

[26] "Unveiling of the Goethe-Schiller Monument in the Presence of a Multitude of German-Americans," San Francisco Call, August 12, 1901

[27] Ibid.

Sources not cited in the text:

  1. "A blend of history and whimsy at Sonoma's Gun Bun," San Francisco Chronicle, January 2, 2009
  2. A New Wine Country Rose from the Ruins," San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 2006
  3. "Adaption is key to success," San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2002
  4. "Estate of the Art," San Francisco Chronicle, October 10, 1993
  5. "Let Bygones Be Bygones," San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1999
  6. "Schiller-Goethe Monument," San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 1895
  7. "Plans for the Festival," San Francisco Examiner, September 12, 1895
  8. "Goethe-Schiller Festival," San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 1895
  9. "Goethe-Schiller Fete," San Francisco Call, September 29, 1895
  10. "Germans Well Pleased," San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 1895
  11. "Goethe-Schiller Festival" advertisement, San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 1895
  12. "Close of the Festival," San Francisco Call, November 10, 1895
  13. "The Festival Finances," Alameda Daily Argus, November 14, 1895
  14. "A Goethe-Schiller Festival," San Francisco Chronicle, February 29, 1896
  15. "Goethe-Schiller Festival and Ball," San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 1896
  16. "Selecting a Site for Two Monuments," San Francisco Examiner, October 18, 1897
  17. "Goethe-Schiller Monument," San Francisco Call, March 18, 1899
  18. "Another Monument to Adorn the Park," San Francisco Call, March 31, 1899
  19. "Builders Contracts," San Francisco Call, October 9, 1900
  20. "Goethe-Schiller Monument," San Francisco Call, June 16, 1901
  21. "Arrangements Complete for Unveiling Ceremony," San Francisco Call, August 11, 1901
  22. "Glowing Tributes to the Memory of the Two Famous Poets," San Francisco Call, August 12, 1901
  23. "Twenty-Five Years Ago Today," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1934
  24. "Schiller's Anniversary will be Observed Here," San Francisco Call, February 26, 1905
  25. "In Memory of German Poets," Oakland Tribune, March 17, 1905
  26. "Will Observe Schiller Day," San Francisco Call, May 5, 1905

Contribute your own stories about western neighborhoods places!

Golden Gate Park 150 Years
On the Map (click marker for larger map)
More by Nicole Meldahl
Related Content
  • Podcast # 443: Santa Claus Association

    Unlike today's SantaCon, Mabel Hawkin's Santa Claus Association does not involve scores of drunken Kris Kringles. Instead, the Association was a charity group that distributed thousands of gifts to San Francisco's children. This week, Nicole and Michael provide the inspiring story behind this groundbreaking endeavor. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Dec 25, 2021)
  • Streetwise: Windmill Walk

    Designed to pump 40,000 gallons of water an hour for the park's irrigation needs, the Murphy Windmill was a gift from banker Samuel G. Murphy back in 1905. ( Jan 1, 2005)
  • Golden Gate Park Children's Playground

    Yes, there were grizzly bears in Golden Gate Park, near the Children's Playground. ( Jan 1, 2005)
  • Dutch Windmill

    Sometimes referred to as the "North Windmill", the first Golden Gate Park windmill stands 75 feet tall. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • The Gjoa and the Roald Amundsen monument

    A famous ship that spent decades in the Golden Gate Park ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Murphy Windmill Caretaker Cottage

    designed by the Reid Brothers ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Murphy Windmill

    A gift to the city from banker Samuel G. Murphy, the now sail-less windmill was the largest in the world when it was built. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Strybing Arboretum

    The plan for a botanical garden on this site came from Park Superintendent John McLaren back in the 1890s. ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Streetwise: Abbey Patio

    12th century church in Golden Gate Park ( Jan 1, 2006)
  • Monastery Stones of GGP

    A monastery chapel's odyssey in Golden Gate Park ( Jan 29, 2007)

Save SF History