Schweitzer’s granddaughter pays Aspen a visit
July 10, 2010
ASPEN – Sixty-one years after renowned humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s landmark visit to Aspen, one of his descendants is visiting the town he helped put on the map.
Dr. Christiane Engel’s first order of business after she arrived in Aspen Thursday was a visit to Paepcke Park, where a bust of her grandfather was erected in July 1989, 40 years after Schweitzer delivered the keynote speech at the seminal Goethe Bicentennial. The 1949 event spawned the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.
“I was deeply touched,” said Engel, who wasn’t aware the commemorative sculpture existed before her arrival.
Engel, like her grandfather, is a musician and physician. She was unable to attend events in Aspen last year to mark the 60th anniversary of Schweitzer’s appearance here, but will take part in activities at the Aspen Chapel on Sunday and Monday.
Her visit is the first by a member of Schweitzer’s family since his historic, sole visit to the Western Hemisphere, when he was invited to the Goethe Bicentennial. The event was organized by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke to honor the German humanist and literary figure 100 years after Goethe’s birth. Schweitzer also visited Boston, Chicago and New York City during that trip, but his visit to Aspen, then a tiny, little-known town, has become a revered part of local history.
“Aspen was the mystery place that everyone was told was so beautiful,” Engel said. “As a child, Aspen was already a notion to me, but it was a faraway place.”
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Though she worked alongside Schweitzer before his death in 1965, and has read the speech he delivered here, Engel said she doesn’t remember if her grandfather spoke about Aspen to her.
She does remember reading that he joked about the town being “a little close to heaven” – a reference to its altitude.
“I must say, I experienced that last night, too. It’s a little different,” Engel said on Friday.
A native of France who grew up in Switzerland, Engel is married to an American and now calls Los Angeles home.
Schweitzer, born into an Alsatian family (in a region alternately connected to France and Germany) was a philosopher, theologian, physician, musician and Nobel laureate. He founded a hospital to serve the impoverished in Africa and spent much of his time there. Engel worked beside him, spending her summer vacations in Africa.
“After the first time I went there – I had already decide I wanted to be a pianist – I decided if I wanted to work with him, I would have to study medicine,” she said.
Devoted initially, like her grandfather, to the music of Bach, she later embraced Mozart, and will perform during her Aspen visit.
On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., the worship service at the chapel will feature Engel and Dr. Lachlan Forrow, president of the Schweitzer Fellowship. On Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Forrow presents a seminar on “The Reverence for Life and the Reverence for Death,” inspired by Schweitzer’s philosophy.
Also on Monday, at 7 p.m., Engel will perform in concert at the chapel along with the Chimeng Quartet and Sybarite5 Quintet; the program includes works of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. The suggested donation is $20.
Engel’s Aspen visit will also include opportunity for her to swap stories with Paula Zurcher, daughter of the Paepckes and an Aspen resident.