Arts and Culture

Rizal as tourist, traveler, influencer

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Rizal as tourist, traveler, influencer
Behind the making of a new documentary on the National Hero’s time in Germany
STAR/ File

We submit to you a certain houseguest: Jose Rizal, who was on the cusp of something historic, a ripple in the soul of a nation. Outside the shuttered windows of the host-pastor’s house was Germany with its phalanx of ancient pines and promises, but inside, being impaled on paper with fire, sweat and blood, were the last few chapters of a subversive book about the goings-on in a colonized archipelago in Asia far, far away. Think about it: Noli Me Tangere was completed in a German vicarage. Quite a story that is dying to be told.

Loren Legarda was a student at The Assumption when Rizal’s words first made their mark on her. It must have been a yellowing page from a dusty hardbound in the quietude of a library, but the ideas glinted to an aspiring essayist such as Legarda like silver. She recalls, “In ‘A la juventud Filipina’ (‘To The Filipino Youth’), he described the Filipino youth as the ‘fair hope of the motherland.’ His poem’s verses — and the message they conveyed — deeply moved me. Rizal encouraged the young ones to reach the cusp of their potential and achieve great heights for love of country. Such a message made a mark in my consciousness, seeking to serve my country well to the best of my abilities.”




Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda beside the José-Rizal-Straße marker in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany: “Hopefully, Finding Rizal in a Time of Barriers will open our own eyes to the admiration that other countries, like Germany, have for our National Hero.” In Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld, there are markers everywhere that trace Jose Rizal’s journey, streets and plazas named after him, signs that bear his name. “As Filipinos, we should have that same appreciation for Rizal’s genius and contributions to world culture


A procession of time, events and epiphanies later, Legarda — a three-term Senator — found herself just before the pandemic in the German towns of Heidelberg and Wilhelmsfeld, where our National Hero stayed for a few months in 1886.

“I was the guest of honor at the inauguration of the new consulate in Frankfurt, and Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia mentioned to me the rare Rizaliana furniture donated by Dr. Fritz Hack Ullmer, a third-generation Ullmer who knew Rizal so well through the letters of his great grandfather, Pastor Karl Ullmer, and the stories of his grandfather, Friedrich.”

With Dr. Fritz Hack Ullmer, along the Neckar River in Heidelberg. The bench is said to be where Dr. Jose Rizal sat and wrote his renowned poem, “A Las Flores de Heidelberg.”




Rizal was a guest in Pastor Ullmer’s vicarage in Wilhelmsfeld for a few months. The memories of that stay, as well as Rizal’s correspondence and memorabilia, have since become part of the Ullmer family’s legacy through three generations. When Legarda met Dr. Ullmer, he satiated her curiosity about the man from Calamba.

Legarda at the former vicarage of Pastor Karl Ulmer where Dr. Jose Rizal stayed while in Wilhelmsfeld.

With her broadcast journalist sense tingling, Legarda whipped her cellphone out and started filming that part of the world where Rizal found himself once upon a time, oceans away from his land of origin. Legarda explains, “I thought then that, perhaps, the same videos could be recorded professionally for a documentary.”

Two years and an eternity of community quarantines later, a documentary on Rizal’s first trip to Europe finally premiered on ABS-CBN and ANC (with livestreams from the Facebook pages of the Department of Foreign Affairs, National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Office of the Deputy Speaker). Finding Rizal in a Time of Barriers was shown in June in time for our National Hero’s 160th birth anniversary.

Legarda together with the Officers of the Philippine Embassy in Berlin, Germany: Vice Consul Alvin Malasig, Vice Consul Marie Cris Chieng, Ambassador Maria Theresa Dizon-de Vega, Deputy Chief of Mission Lillibeth Pono, Consul Catherine Rose Torres

The idea for the documentary was almost snuffed out due to the pandemic. Legarda says they had to reimagine the way they could push through with the project. Obstacles were hurdled, barriers broken, and the lawmaker never imagined that video footage shot from her mobile phone could be used in telling little-known tales about Rizal. “Inspired by our hero, our team from Manila and Germany persevered and came through. In making this documentary, we broke barriers, too.”

Jose Rizal was fond of indigenous textiles. This collection had been donated by Rizal to his friends, Adolf Bastian, the founder of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, and Rudolf Virchow, an anthropologist and physician.

This story had to come home, according to Legarda. “It is so resonant for all of us whose lives have been changed by the pandemic. Tracing Rizal’s footsteps in Germany and in Europe made me realize how much he was admired in other countries. Rizal was our first goodwill ambassador. He was a culture bearer. He made lasting relationships. All of these, despite living in a time of barriers. And as Filipinos, we should have the same appreciation for Rizal’s genius, heroism and contributions to world culture.”

Rizal’s statue at the park named after him in Wilhelmsfeld
The marker along the Neckar River along the road that also bears Rizal’s name: “Rizal Ufer”

Floy Quintos, who gave the creative direction for the project, explains, “In a way, the process of completing this documentary was our own way of coming to terms with the barriers that the pandemic had imposed on all of us.”

In the documentary, historians and professors Ambeth Ocampo and Dr. Mila Guerrero annotate aspects of this significant journey of Rizal through Germany, giving context and meaning to the facts often regarded as mere trivia. But the documentary also becomes a more personal one through the voice of Dr. Fritz Hack Ullmer, who tenderly recounts the memories passed on to him by his grandfather, Friedrich, who was only 14 at the time of Rizal’s stay in their home.

How essential is it to “find Rizal” during our times, I ask, filled with much different, more modern, no-less-complicated barriers?

Rizal’s time was much different from ours, concludes Legarda. He was faced with a lot of hardships in expressing his voice. He made his quill and paper his armor and his protection, even his voice. Rizal articulated Filipino people’s sufferings and sentiments during the Spanish times through his writings.

“Today, we are faced with less complicated barriers when it comes to expressing our opinions,” she says. “We can speak our thoughts on the digital platform and one click just changes everything. In this day and age where we spend most of our time looking at our phones and gadgets, we sometimes forget to stay grounded and be present. We fail to establish the connection with our roots and history, even understand the nobility and humanity of our heroes. We are somewhat centered on the ‘I,’ but Rizal has always reminded us of the value of ‘we,’ of a nation, of an independent country with Filipinos caring for one another. We have to find this ‘Rizal’ in ourselves.”

* * *

Finding Rizal in a Time of Barriers was conceptualized and envisioned by Deputy Speaker and Antique Congresswoman Loren Legarda in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs-Philippine Embassy in Berlin led by Ambassador Theresa de Vega and Philippine Consulate General in Frankfurt headed by Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia. To watch the full-length documentary, click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=991frMkq9C4.



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