WILHEMSFELD, Germany – Tucked in a quaint, mountainous village of Wilhemsfeld is a park named after the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
The park, with the statue of Rizal at the center sculpted by Filipino artist Prof. Anastacio Caedo of the University of the Philippines, was the venue for the celebration of Rizal’s 150th birthday. The Rizal Park in Wilhemsfeld is an important pilgrimage site for Pinoys and German alike, especially during commemorative rites for Rizal.
The occasion on Sunday was attended by the Knights of Rizal, Kababaihang Rizalista from various parts of Germany, representatives of the local government of Heidelberg and the Philippine Embassy, and various Filcom groups in Germany.
“The one hundred birthday of Rizal was celebrated here, 50 years ago and it was organized by my father who fell in love with Rizal, so to speak. So we thought it would be good to continue this tradition,” said Rainer Weber, chapter commander of the Knights of Rizal-Wilhemsfeld-Heidelberg.
He added, “Rizal is alive here in many minds.”
Jose Rizal spent a significant period of his life in Heidelberg as a student. In 1886, he completed his ophthalmological studies at the University Eye Clinic Heildelberg under the tutelage of renowned professor Dr. Otto Becker, the director of the University Eye Clinic at the time.
He later moved to Wilhemsfeld, a small village, some 30 minutes by car from Heidelberg, where he lived with his friend Pastor Karl Ullmer.
Against the idyllic setting of Germany’s countryside, Rizal finished writing the last chapters of his first novel, Noli Me Tangere. The place also touched his poetic side and he penned the poem “To the Flowers of Heidelberg.”
First Secretary and Consul Robert Manalo of the Philippine Embassy in Berlin said the Germans recognize Rizal's imprint in some German cities and towns.
“It was in Berlin where he edited the last chapters of Noli and it was also in Berlin where he published Noli Me Tangere,” said Manalo.
He added, “It’s because of the fact that Rizal wrote and finished his novel here and that book really inspired our revolution in the Philippines, that’s why Germans look up to that as Rizal’s best contribution both in Philippine history and Philippine-German relations.”
The mayor of Heidelberg Dr. Joachim Gerner takes pride on the historic contribution of the city to the life of the national hero.
“Our former mayor became a member of the Knights of Rizal. From that time onwards, there is a close relations between the city of Heildelberg and the Rizal movements,” he explained.
He also added: “The city is proud that Rizal is one of the people in the 19th century who lived and studied in Heidelberg, later on becoming a leader in his country in the movement of liberation, against colonialism.”
The program during the commemoration of Rizal’s 150th birthday on Sunday was punctuated by Filipino folk songs rendered by the Ateneo de Manila College Glee Club, under the baton of Prof. Maria Lourdes Hermo. The group was travelling in Europe to compete in various choral competitions and was invited to partake in the event.
“Not everyone can have this opportunity to celebrate his birthday, especially here in Germany. Natutuwa kami dahil nakita namin ang mga tagahanga ni Rizal,” said Will Nelson Lim-Tan, president of Ateneo College Glee Club.
The whole day celebration ended with a salo-salo, Pinoy-style.