Tunnel over the Spree

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The tunnel over the Spree was a literary society that was founded on December 3, 1827 under the name "Sunday Association of Berlin". The last minutes available are dated October 30, 1898. In total, this society had 214 members over the course of time and shaped the literary life of Berlin for over 70 years . In its statutes, the association imposed strict restraint towards the public and essentially limited its association life to internal activities. In the course of the revolution of 48 , plans were discussed to open up to the outside world, to publish a separate paper and even to point the way for the whole of Germany. In the end, however, the old, pre-March standpoint remained.

The writer and satirist Moritz Gottlieb Saphir , together with the court actors Friedrich Wilhelm Lemm and Louis Schneider, started this association in his private apartment and also became its first director. Saphir had recently been refused membership in the ' New Wednesday Society ' by Julius Eduard Hitzig , and he probably wanted to create an opposite pole.

The members did not say “the”, but “The Sunday Society” in order not to be associated with the court opera singer Henriette Sontag . The slogan Infinite irony and infinite melancholy and Till Eulenspiegel as the patron saint were chosen as the motto .

The designation “tunnel over the Spree” was intended to indicate that Berlin did not yet have a tunnel under the Spree . At the same time, the name was a parody of the construction of the first tunnel under the Thames in London by Marc Isambard and Isambard Kingdom Brunel . For contemporaries, the name seemed all the more ironic when in 1828, three years after it began, construction work had to be interrupted for seven years for financial reasons.

According to a bon mot from Theodor Fontane , Saphir only wanted to gather a personal “bodyguard” with this foundation. Another member, Emanuel Geibel , referred to this society as a "small poet custody".


The board of directors of the association was elected on May 1st and November 1st of each year and served six months. It consisted of three people:

  1. Head or worshiped head .
  2. Substitute (each head immediately elected a deputy after being elected).
  3. Secretair .

Club life

In the regular Sunday meetings, mostly literary works - which had to be unpublished - were presented by the members. This work was called "shavings" and mostly documented by the secretary in the meeting minutes. But there were also “chips” in other disciplines: for example Adolf von Menzel's painting “The Tunnel in Olympus” or Wilhelm Taubert's “Boot Servant Song”.

You became a member if you had attended a meeting at least three times as a guest (called “rune” in club jargon). For this you had to be invited by a member. The member introduced the guest to the incumbent head, and the guest had to enter himself into the guest book at the secretary. In 1860, Berthold Auerbach and Friedrich Gerstäcker were guests of the tunnel.

If the guest then expressed his desire to become a member, this was discussed in detail. Upon admission, the new member chose his tunnel name. This name should always be borrowed from "a famous man" of the respective discipline and was used at meetings, in correspondence with one another, etc.; class differences should thus appear unimportant.

The last minutes of the meeting are dated October 30, 1898. When the last “adored head”, Oskar Roloff, died in 1911, the entire estate of the association went to the Berlin University, which had been called Humboldt University since 1949 . Since then it has been administered and analyzed by the university library.

Club activities

Every December 3rd, the "Tunnel over the Spree" celebrated its annual foundation festival and in the carnival (without a fixed date) the "Till Eulenspiegel Festival".

After the death of Friedrich Eggers in 1872, the tunnel was administered by the Friedrich Eggers Foundation .


Fontane made this association so well known that the Berlin Literary Colloquium has given its writers' meeting, which has been taking place since 1991, of the same name.

Members (name, life data, club name, profession)














  • Nabehl









Fontane's representation in "From twenty to thirty"

The following information is based on the chapter “The tunnel over the Spree” in Fontane's autobiographical work “ From twenty to thirty ” (1898). However, it does not correspond to the exact wording of Fontane's text, since names are sometimes reproduced more completely or in a different form than in Fontane to make them easier to recognize.

The tunnel, its members and its facilities

The tunnel, or with its more prosaic name the "Berliner Sonntagsverein", was founded in 1827 by MG Saphir , who was then living in Berlin . In his eternal literary feuds, a personal bodyguard seemed to him urgently desirable, indeed necessary, what service the tunnel was supposed to render to him, morally and almost physically. At the same time, in his capacity as editor of the "Schnell-Post", he was interested in a tribe of young, not famous employees who, because they were not famous, did not think about fee claims and were happy to be feared under a dreaded flag. So it was a lot of people who were "in the making" every Sunday that the tunnel gathered in a coffeehouse pervaded by tobacco smoke: students, auscultators , young merchants, to whom, with the assistance of the court actor Lemm (an excellent artist) on the one hand, and the from the beginning on the other, the Ludwig (Louis) Schneider, who moved a lot of advertising, was soon joined by actors, doctors and officers, as well as young lieutenants who at that time were preferably amateur poets, like musicians and painters now. By the time I entered, seventeen years after the tunnel was founded, the society had already changed its original character and transformed from a society of poetic amateurs into a real poets society. Even now, in spite of this transformation, "amateurs" predominated, but mostly belonged to that higher order, where playing with art either turns into real art or often serves it better than professional business through accommodating understanding.

And so around the year 1844 and about fifteen years after that, the tunnel consisted of the following people, who were categorized here and also given their tunnel names ( tunnel names in Heinrich Seidel ): s. Members (top)

Club life

Each session was opened by stamping the owl scepter three times, then the "head" set aside the sign of his power, and, on the right the secretary, on the left the cashier, asked the former to read the minutes of the previous session. These protocols were written in proper tunnel jargon and were often very funny. By far the best were those of Wilhelm von Merckel, which is why he, with short interruptions, was elected secretary again and again for more than two decades. Merckel lived completely in these things and remained a mainstay of the association until his death. Every now and then the protocol was also objected to. But this had to be done by a man of spirit, if someone else took it, he was dropped.

When the minutes were done, the head asked the question: "Shavings there?" This meant the contributions intended for the lecture - mostly poems - each of which was either put on the table of the head or at least with the secretary before the session began had to be registered. If the question: "Are there any chips?" Was answered in the affirmative, the head determined the order for their lecture and the author then sat down at a table with two lights, from which the lecture had to take place. Applause or even a judgment was seldom heard immediately. The common thing was to be silent. "Since no one answers, I ask Platen to give his opinion." And now Platen spoke (Captain W. von Loos). The person invited to express his opinion in this way was almost always someone who was considered a good critic, and now, as is the case everywhere, the well-known mutton jump followed; all jumped after, if not accidentally and usually very exceptionally this or that had the courage to counter the certain opinion given with a certain different judgment. But all of this only happened when it was about something "real," that is to say, a poem by Scherenberg or Lepel or Eggers; if "little people" were "little people", not much trouble was made and the vote went straight to the vote without any motivation. The tunnel template knew only four judgments: "very good", "good", "bad" and "failed". The latter was particularly popular. Out of five things, four were always wrong.

See also


  • Fritz Behrend: History of the "tunnel over the Spree" , Wendt, Berlin 1938
  • Roland Berbig : The tunnel over the Spree. A literary association in its public behavior , in: Fontane-Blätter , 16. Jg. (1990), H. 50, S. 18-46
  • Karin Bruns u. a .: Research project "Literary-cultural associations, groups and associations in the 19th and early 20th centuries". Development, aspects, priorities , in: Zeitschrift für Germanistik , Lang, Berlin 1994, no. 3, pp. 493–505
  • Karin Hannusch: On the sociology of members of the Sunday Literary Association “Tunnel over the Spree” , in: Fontane-Blätter , 17th year (1991), H. 51, pp. 55-58
  • Ernst Kohler: The ballad poem in Berlin "Tunnel over the Spree" , Kraus, Nendeln, 1969 (repr. Of the Berlin 1940 edition)
  • Joachim Krueger: The tunnel over the Spree and its influence on Theodor Fontane , in: Fontane-Blätter , 4th Jg. (1978), H. 3, S. 201-225
  • Elke-Barbara Peschke, Ralf Golling: Unexpected hub of a network of people and ideas. Development of the association archive "Tunnel over the Spree". Contributions from the conference in the university library of the Humboldt University in Berlin on October 9, 1998 . Berlin: Humboldt-Univ., 1999 (series of publications of the university library of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; 61), urn : nbn: de: kobv: 11-100101938 (PDF)
  • Anike Rössig: Jews and other Tunnelians . Society and literature in the Berlin Sunday Association . Heidelberg 2008.
  • Wulf Wülfing: Art. Tunnel over the Spree . In: Wulf Wülfing / Karin Bruns / Rolf Parr (eds.): Handbook of literary-cultural associations, groups and groups 1825–1933 (Repertories on German literary history 18), Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1998, pp. 430–455 (there further Lit.), ISBN 3-476-01336-7

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Wulf Wülfing: The "Tunnel over the Spree" in the revolutionary year 1848. On the basis of "Tunnel" protocols and with special consideration Theodor Fontane. In: Fontane leaves. Potsdam. No. 50, 1990, pp. 46-84; esp. Section 5: "The discussion about a 'reorganization' of the tunnel from October 1848", pp. 63–72.
  2. A tunnel over the Spree . In: lcb.de . Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Theodor Fontane: From twenty to thirty in the Gutenberg-DE project

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