Until the end of the 1800s, coaches were used to get to Riva del Garda. Goethe came to Lake Garda shaken by the shay that had taken him to Nago passing by the San Giovanni pass. Rilke and Kafka were able to travel more comfortably because when they got there, the first in 1897 and the latter in 1909, the railway had already been invented some years before. During the Great War the railway service was interrupted for military reasons. After all, nobody would have use it, because the population had already been evacuated beyond the Brenner pass as a protective measure. The inhabitants of these dales were forced to move to Upper and Lower Austria, Bohemia and Moravia. Almost all the frontline areas, coinciding with the whole Trentino region, were evacuated. During the long exodus many of the citizens died before getting to the destination, because of the uncertain, or even brutal, conditions of the journey. Those who did it had to cope with some mistrust, at least at the beginning, but within a short time it turned into solidarity and friendship. The host communities soon realised that these people from Trentino were hard workers, and this considerably contributed to make them earn both affection and trust. At the end of 1918, once the war was over, it was time to get back home, but it wasn’t easy. Some took years before going back to their motherland, traveling on foot or by makeshift means. My mum, who was born in the 1900s, was 15 when she left for Moravia together with all her family, and was 19 when she got back. The village was very different from when she had left it four years before. The houses had been destroyed, the livestock had died and everything was covered with a grieving desolation. However, she survived not only that moment, but also the difficult time during the Second World War. This time, in 1942, precisely in the middle of the war, she got pregnant and had a baby son. That’s how I was born.
I describe myself as a storyteller, as British people call what I do (even if I don’t like it). I am rather a historian, a theater man and a clever talker, I have endless stories to tell. I owe this to my mother, who told me blow-by-blow hints of her life, with all the travails of that bloody period the two wars had represented. Actually, I feel like her secretary, the guardian of the family memory. I have treasured all her tales even more vividly since when she passed away, and I have made her come back to life so that the dramatically important historical and emotional heritage wouldn’t get lost. This love of mine for stories affects also the passion I have to pass them down to others. Since 1997, during the summer seasons, I have been taking those who want to follow me along what I’ve named “passeggiata Goethiana” (the Goethe promenade). With the help of the evocative vibes of the old path that joins Nago to Torbole and of an eighteenth-century costume, I help the visitors losing in the territory, making them relish the anecdotes about the visit of Wolfgang Goethe on Lake Garda during his voyage throughout Italy. It’s a niche show whose purpose is to involve people actively. I try to tell this place through the poet’s words and adding some Delikatessen, exquisite snacks based on typical products the guests can taste, but without the tour becoming a culinary trip.
The participants in this Goethe trek are quite always German, and my elocution is precisely in that language, even though a small part in Italian is essential. After all, even the guests seem to appreciate it: Italy starts here to them. At Empire times, this was the door to the Mediterranean Sea: different kinds of palm trees and agaves remind the steep shores of Sorrento and Positano. It’s no accident that, referring to the Alto Garda area, Rilke named it Sonnenland (land of the sun). German tourists perceive these places as overlooking the sea. From Torbole there is a perspective that seems to be without end, as an invitation to project towards the Po Valley and even farther, towards southern Italy. I know hundreds of scripts that tell the emotions of many German writers when they looked out the balcony in Nago. One of the most famous was Goethe. He arrived here on the 12th September 1786, three years before the French Revolution. When nobody imagined that such a devastation could be unleashed, as it was for the First World War. He spent the night in Torbole and in the early morning he left again for Malcesine by boat. In addition to being a sublime poet and academic, Goethe was also a botanist, archaeologist, biologist, geologist and anthropologist, and he devoted his first interest to the geology of these places, even before their poetry.
His trip wasn’t as idyllic as one could imagine. He came from Germany on a coach that wasn’t as comfortable as the berths of a modern train. The hospitality wasn’t very warm as well, because all the foreigners were treated with mistrust, even with antagonism sometimes. The fact of drawing and painting landscapes and castles made him even more unpopular among the villagers: all the ramparts were military, and those who painted or observed them too closely were considered as a snooper who tried to interfere with the others’ business.
The well-known German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe visited Italy between 1786 and 1788; from this trip, that involved the whole Bel paese, he drew inspiration for his Journey to Italy, the literary account of his Grand Tour.
The Garda Trek – Medium Loop circuit interlaces with the itinerary followed by the poet to reach Torbole, where he spent a night before heading south.
Those of you who would like to retread Goethe’s footsteps could join in one of the guided tours offered by professor Franco Farina, Germanist, translator and poet as well. As an enthusiast troubadour, with a slouch hat and a vintage suitcase he will tell the Altogarda landscape through Goethe’s words, switching between poems and little dramatizing, along the ancient Santa Lucia road.