The Gray-Haired Romantic

From his books and articles, from the praise of others, I could make out what a dedicated professional my great-grandfather Dr. Wettendorfer had been. But how little I knew about his personal life. On July 16, 1906, the 25th jubilee of his practice, the local newspaper hailed him for his service to Baden, extolled his publications and saluted a medical reputation that had attracted patients from near and far. Nothing was said about his family. Even the dedication to his recently deceased wife that graced the 1912 edition of his book on Baden focused on his public endeavors. The doctor wrote “In memory of his unforgettable life companion and adviser Josefine Wettendorfer (1860-1911), whose unique understanding provided essential support to his years of striving in the interest of the spa .“

But in 1914, age 64, Dr. Wettendofer fell in love again and threw discretion to the winds. He publishing a collection of romantic poems titled First Ones (Erstlinge). One of them read:

Your hair, so wonderful,

Enchanted me:

But it is since I looked into your eyes

That I am,

Despite gray hair,

In love—madly.

(Dein Haar,

So wunderbar,

Hat mich entzückt:

Doch seit ich dir ins Aug’ geblickt,

Bin ich sogar

Trotz grauem Haar

Verliebt—verrückt.)

Nonetheless, the doctor did not entirely give up on propriety. The first poem was dedicated to the memory of his “unforgettable” wife.

It is amusing to compare Dr. Wettendorfer’s 1904 article on “The Kiss from the Standpoint of Hygiene” with his attitude to the same physical gesture in his poem “The ABC of Love.” In the former,  he reminded readers that “the lips are particularly sensitive to the slightest excitement. For that reason, the inclination to increase the number of kisses is understandable.”  The poem, too, had a pedagogical tone:  it offered step-by-step instructions on seduction (flowers, promenades below her window), and concluded:

You can risk several kisses in the dark

Even if she calls you a “naughty gentleman,”

To keep up your courage, remember,

“In the darkness, all women like to kiss.”

(Kannst im Dunkeln viele Küsse wagen,

Mag schelten sie dich einen “schlimmen Herrn”,

Und lass’ dir zur Ermuntrung hoch sagen:

“Im Finstern küssen alle Frauen gern!”)

Dr. Wettendorfer lived a full life until his death age 75 in 1924.  He had three daughters from his first marriage.  Olga, the youngest, born in 1891, was my maternal grandmother.

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One Response to The Gray-Haired Romantic

  1. Peter Prokop says:

    Dear Monica,

    the Wettendorfer story makes fascinating reading. I hope to find out from the archives of the Vienna University, if he studied in Vienna. You might also find the odd notice on him in “Badener Zeitung” (online at http://anno.onb.ac.at).

    I’ m eagerly waiting for the continuations !

    Best wishes

    Peter

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