“We all carry the Castrum story in us. It has settled in the corners of memory, taken various shapes that we bring to the surface from time to time, from this we can piece a puzzle. And then it will gain a face and others will look at it as one does at a portrait. But everyone will see something else. “

Documentary maker Janina Pigaht uses this quote of Gisèle to end her film Herengracht 401’ a fascinating portrait of Castrum Peregrini in times where it needed to reinvent itself after the death of Gisèle in 2013. Janina followed Castrum Peregrini and its current and former inhabitants over the period of two years. Unfortunately not all former inhabitants that are still alive wanted to speak on film. But for instance Joke Haverkorn did and Christiane Kuby and it became clear that their relationship and their past with Castrum Peregrini was all but simple. Their living at Castrum Peregrini was a life changing experience,- in the very positive and the very negative sense they had experienced a community that cared and at the same time cut itself off from the outside world, that gave love, but also demanded love, that empowered its friends but also made it difficult to leave.

We supported the production of the film in whatever way we could and are happy that it is there as a starting point for a conversation and further research. It was premiered at the Nederlands Film Festival in 2016 and consequently screened at Castrum Peregrini, followed by a discussion with the audience and the maker chaired by prof. Rosemarie Buikema (UU). It was shown at the Stadsarchief Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Museum, again with a public discussion. Also in seminars at the University of Amsterdam, Lars has engaged in discussions with students about the film and about dealing with a difficult and multifaceted past.

Another quote in the film, by Andreas Burnier, sums up the absurdities and impossibilities of the community around Wolfgang Frommel, including its view on pedagogical eros. The quote ends “…still, it was nice there” / “…en toch was het er fijn” (read the whole quote in Dutch, p. 134 ‘Andreas Burnier. Metselaar van de wereld’- E. Lockhorn). This strangely beautiful but disturbing quote leads to an important insight: the past of Castrum Peregrini, like that of many war related communities, like that of many reform communities, of many communities around charismatic figures is a story of light and dark, of joy and suffering, of growth and stagnation.

For us at Castrum Peregrini today, this dytochomy became clear from the moment when we engaged in the community and the activities of Castrum Peregrini. Wolfgang Frommel (1902-1986) was already dead and his circle of mainly male disciples was determined to maintain a hermetic, closed community driven by the spirit of Wolfgang Frommel and Stefan George. In sharp contrast we found Gisèle who has always embraced change and looking forward. One of Gisèle’s main characteristics was her approach to friends: once a friend always a friend. She never broke with anyone and bridged all difficulties with her ability to see beauty and possibilities next to where others saw faults and impossibilities. Her vision was certainly also selective but she represented the light and playful where Wolfgang Frommel represented the dark and worrisome. At least in our perception. So as a role model, we put her centre stage in building the new Castrum Peregrini. Also we realised that the male dominated circle around Wolfgang Frommel had given Gisèle a marginal role in their story of Castrum Peregrini. There was some justice to be done,- as Gisèle has not only made the venture possible in financial terms, also as an artist, a networker, and a strong female voice she identified with ‘her’ Castrum Peregrini and struggled for it all her life.

Still it was obvious and is obvious that Wolfgang Frommel cannot purely be pushed to the archive, although this would be a valid move: the archive is there, as we know through Aleida Assmann (‘Seven forms of forgetting’ – 1 October 2014) a.o., to responsibly forget, that means to keep knowledge available for future generations and take ones institutional role of offering a canon on display that is relevant for the present day society. And we believe that Wolfgang Frommels story is not helpful to address the pressing social issues of today that we want to and have to deal with.

Nevertheless Vergangenheitsbewältigung as it is called in Germany, coming to terms with the past, is essential. In 2007 Thomas Karlauf, one of the former inhabitants of Castrum Peregrini and a disciple of Wolfgang Frommel, wrote his much acclaimed critical biography Stefan George Die Entdeckung des Charisma. This biography ends after the death of George in 1933 with the execution of the Hitler assassin Von Stauffenberg, from the George circle. In Kreis Ohne Meister. Stefan Georges Nachleben. that was published two years later in 2009 Ulrich Raulff sketches the development of the various communities around the globe in which George lead an afterlife in sub-circles of his disciples. About Amsterdam and Castrum Peregrini Raulff mentions only that he could not elaborate too extensively as he did not get access to Castrum ’s archives. The former director of Castrum Peregrini, Manuel Goldschmidt and his friend and central Castrum Peregrini figure Claus Victor Bock had always prevented historical critical use of the Castrum Peregrini archives. We, the current Castrum Peregrini generation, have always promoted open access and coming to terms with pasts. That was not taken well by the older male generation, that then still lived. Manuel Goldschmidt, on his personal title, took a big part of the archive, donated it to The Literature Museum in The Hague and legally locked it for free use: only a small circle of his friends can give access*. Castrum Peregrini has led for years a lawsuit against this action to get the archive back or at least achieve unconditional access for all serious researchers.


Ute Frevert

When these two books were published we immediately gave the authors Karlauf and Raulff a stage and provided for the possibility for all interested public to discuss these complex histories critically. And we did so whenever an opportunity occurred, such as when Joke Haverkorn published her Entfernte Erinnerungen an W in 2013. During the Symposium Freundschaft (December 2013) with a.o. a keynote by Ute Frevert director Max Planck Institute Berlin the panel discussion chaired by Nicole Colin (UvA), the elder generation of Castrum Peregrini friends present in the room fiercely opposed the critical narrative of Haverkorn and also attacked us for supposedly pushing Wolfgang Frommel from his pedestal. But that was and is not even the question for us. It is not about the iconic value of a figure, it is for us about a historic correct image and an open discourse about it, be it scholarly, artistically or in oral history.

Joachim Umlauf, Josef Früchtl, Ute Frevert

At the moment we await with great excitement the publication of the complete correspondence of Wolfgang Frommel and Buri Wongtschowski, which will be edited in our own imprint Castrum Peregrini – Neue Folge, in summer 2017, and which will shed a critical light on their relationship and its implications for Castrum Peregrini. We hope to engage the public in a debate during a public book launch in autumn 2017.

Early 2018 we also expect the biography that Annet Mooij writes about Gisèle. As Gisèle‘ s life will be presented in her own social context we expect insights and questions also about Wolfgang Frommel and the wider circle of Castrum Peregrini in that time.

Nicole Collin, Joke Haverkorn

As a disciple of the German poet Stefan George Wolfgang Frommel gave the impression that he tried to copy his masters form of living in a circle of friends that sustain his daily life, materially and mentally and also in terms of love and affection. But Thomas Karlauf has made it very clear in his essay ‘Meister mit eigenem Kreis’ that Wolfgang Frommel has built his own familia spiritualis, his own circle, with new rituals, rules and unspoken codes of conduct.

Karlauf ‘s historic analysis as well as the personal story of Joke Haverkorn, Anais van Ertvelde who published ‘The Many Manifestations of Castrum Peregrini and the film of Janina Pigaht are now supplemented by an essay (Vrij Nederland) of Frank Ligtvoet. We hope that there are more works to come and to create an opportunity to bring these voices, both the voices of the witnesses and those of the objective researchers, together in a (online) collection of documents. This will support public discussions and further research.

We found the Gisèle quote in the beginning of this text in her diary. She wrote it down at the moment when Claus Bock, one of her and Wolfgang Frommels youngsters in hiding, meanwhile Professor of Germanic studies in London, had taken a sabbatical to write his memoires of his time in hiding at Herengracht 401, in Amsterdam, code named Castrum Peregrini. Gisèle had high hopes in this story of the community at Herengracht 401 but was utterly disappointed when she first read the final manuscript. Claus had written, to put it mildly, a selective and rather ideological memory of the beginning of Castrum Peregrini. Wolfgang Frommel was clearly the protagonist and any difficult or problematic aspects of the time in hiding – power relations, use and abuse of dependencies, emotional, erotic, psychological tensions, were sublimated under the credo of art and poetry that had guided the group through the storms of persecution.

We have lived in the memories of all inhabitants for years. These are represented in the house, the interiors, the archives of Castrum Peregrini. In the last years of Gisèle’s life we have formed a close little family with her, until she died at the age of a 100 years in 2013. Gisèle was for us a living example of a life in friendship and in art. This is our legacy that we want to maintain. We do this as a learning organisation,- together with our public, with artists, scholars and critical thinkers. Our past, also the difficult and dark sides of our past, are our motivation to keep asking questions about today’s societies. We have to constantly deconstruct our past in order to construct new stories for the future. We labelled these activities with ‘Memory Machine’. It is a calling and a duty for us to deal with the past and we embrace all collaborators in these efforts.

July 2017 – Michael Defuster, Frans Damman, Lars Ebert


* The heir of Wolfgang Frommel, Manuel Goldschmidt, had donated the archive of Frommel to Literatuurmuseum Den Haag. The heir of Goldschmidt is the Wolf van Cassel Stichting, Utrecht, which can give permission to consult Frommels archive. The Wolf van Cassel Stichting publishes a  series of books called De Roos with the old Castrum Peregrini logo, which we stopped using when we set a new course.

The pending lawsuit is about contested ownership of parts of the archive and Castrum Peregrinis stance of radical openness.