Feb 21, 2014

Kaspar Hauser: Too Beautiful for the Heterosexual World

As you know from the story of My Date with Richard Dreyfuss, I have always been fascinated by the paranormal, especially mysterious disappearances and appearances, like the puzzling case of Kaspar Hauser.

A handsome, "well-knit" young man appeared wandering the streets of Nuremberg on May 26, 1828.  He spoke only a few words of German, and was unfamiliar with many everyday objects.  Gradually, over many weeks, he told a story of growing up in a dark cell so small that he couldn't stand up all in it.  He saw no other people, but food and water appeared by his bedside every morning.

Kaspar became an international celebrity.  He made a strong impression on everyone who saw him, and several men vied to become his guardian with an urgency that suggest homoerotic attraction.

Finally the British nobleman Lord Stanhope fell in love -- um, er, I mean "took an interest" in the teenager, moved him to Ansbach, and promised to take him back to England.  But before he got the opportunity, on December 14, 1833, Kaspar was stabbed by an unknown assailant.  He died three days later.

Who was Kaspar Hauser?  A prince held captive so he could not inherit the thrown?  A charming con artist who made the whole story up?

Science fiction writers have speculated that he was an alien, a time traveler, and a genetic experiment.

Writers such as Herman Melville and Hans Christian Anderson have made him into a gay symbol, the man who is too beautiful to live long in the tawdry heterosexual world.

The most significant film version, by gay director Werner Herzog, is The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder fur sich und Gott gegen alle, 1974).  It does not shy away from the gay symbolism.  Bruno Schleinstein played Kaspar, and Walter Landengast played his main mentor, Professor Daumer.

A 1993 version, directed by Peter Sehr, stars Andrei Eisermann (top photo) as Kaspar and Udo Samel as Professor Daumer.

The town of Ansbach, about two hours from Munich by car, has erected two statues of Kaspar Hauser, one as he originally appeared, and the other as the "refined young man" he became.  There are also a number of artifacts from the case and other  memorabilia in the Markgrafenmuseum (on Kaspar Hauser Platz).