– edited by Dr. Manish Bhatia
I am walking on a deserted lane covered with paved stones. On both sides of the street, the Gothic styled houses stand very close to each other. Most of them are old, small two-story buildings with gable roofs. The windows are all closed. The smell of smoke, horse and chicken manure mildly fills the air. The smoke from the chimneys gives the houses a melancholic look. We are quite close to the centre of this city; still, the streets are deserted. Only every now and then a person passes by, gives friendly greetings, and then rushes forward to reach his destination. It is cold outside…soon it will snow. I have been here since few weeks and this dreary picture is the same since I arrived.
We are in the city of Torgau, Germany, about 50 km north-east from the next large town Leipzig. It is December, just a week to go until New Year’s Day.
Even though the city is pretty large and spaciously structured, there are less than 6000 inhabitants. The houses are almost entirely surrounded by the water of river Elbe.
Suddenly, the eerie silence of this sleeping town is broken by the sounds of hoofs stepping on the ground, and of carriages clattering along the street.
A small procession came up the lane where I was walking and stopped in front of one of the larger houses. This was one of the oldest houses in the town. The site seems to be located perfectly: only a few steps away from church, castle and town hall. The history of the property reaches back to 1447 when it served as a free farm. Documents tell that there was a property even before the disastrous fire of the town in 1442. In 1804, this property not just felt old, it felt ancient…as if standing since eternity.
Intrigued by its history, I meet its care-taker and he invites me in.
I find out that this building has seen several architectural and structural changes, especially at the end of the 16th century, and again in the second half of the eighteenth century. The property covers around 800 square meters. To the left of the building, I see a passage and a gateway to the courtyard, which is located behind the house. Stable, cowshed, chicken coop, pigsty cover, and the vegetable garden are at the back of the house. I also see fruit trees and grapevine.
At the sides of the entrance and towards the courtyard, the house has barred windows. Towards the courtyard, there is a door leading into the house, and a second one to the basement stairs. The entrance door to the house opens to a lobby-like front room. Separated by a wooden wall, there is the kitchen with a stove with an iron top, an oven for baking below and one for roasting above.
A door leads from the front room to the dining area. This floor has a living room and a chamber next to it. On the first floor, most of the family life takes place. A spiral staircase, built in the 16th century, leads to the second floor. Upstairs, the front room, which we reach first, has two windows and a large fireside. Towards the direction of the street are two more rooms and towards the courtyard is another room with two windows and a stove.
We return downstairs and watch what goes on in front of the house, where the carriages and carts have just arrived.
Aside from a few helpers, I see an aristocratic person about 50 years of age. Beside him, are his wife, 41, and nine children, between 5 to 21 years old. The name of the head of the family is Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the new owner of this house. He will use three rooms and 4 chambers for his family and one room and one chamber for his private homeopathic clinic. The area used for the family seems just sufficient for a living in cramped conditions.
Time flies… It’s 1811 now.
Dr. Hahnemann and his family are leaving Torgau for good. The main reason is that a war is getting closer. Torgau has been made into a fortress.The appearance of the town has completely changed by the erection of new fortifications. To give space to them, the town gates and walls, together with the outer suburbs have been destroyed; this needed to be done so that the approaching enemies cannot hide and be fired at. The fortifications have enclosed the town by a series of outer redoubts, entrenchments, walls and forts. Dr. Hahnemann knows that he cannot grant safety to his family any more.
And he was so right: In 1813 siege, firing and bombardment, as well as epidemics, hit the city of Torgau. About 30000 French soldiers and 1122 peaceful inhabitants lost their lives.
It’s the year 2014… another lifetime for me… and I am once again standing near Hahnemann’s house thinking about the times that he spent here.
The years Dr. Samuel Hahnemann spent in Torgau from 1804 until 1811 will go down in medical history. Hahnemann had the most transformational period of his life in Torgau. It was exactly here, where Dr. Hahnemann developed a new system to treat the sick people. His method was completely different, even contradictory to medicine practised at the time. It was in this house, the term ‘homeopathy’ was used for the very first time! Here, the most fundamental work in homeopathy, the Organon of the Rational Healing Art (as it was generally translated into English language) got written (and published in 1810 in Dresden, Germany).
Another fundamental work, which got published between 1811 until 1821 was begun within the walls of this building: The development of the Materia Medica Pura.
But all of it began with a series of important essays. As Haehl (author of one the most detailed Hahnemann biographies) would say: “His chief works were produced in the Torgau period, within which every detail of his new system was taking shape. Into these essays were instilled everything he had discovered in his restless wandering, deriving from his provings, his thinking and his studies. His ‘Fragmenta de viribus medicamentorum positivis (in Latin, 1805) presented the first published details of 27 provings, including Pulsatilla, Ignatia, Aconite, Drosera and Belladonna. This two-volume work gives us, for the first time, an insight into the remarkable and so far unknown methods of investigation, which he employed. It supplies reports on the tests of twenty seven medicines, the results of years of experiment on himself and his family.” From the considerations he had arrived at in his wandering years, Hahnemann had sought to develop a medical system that relied solely on single drugs in harmless doses and based upon pure observation, empiricism and experiment.
Then came The Medicine of Experience in 1805, which was in every respect a forerunner of his Organon. His other essays of 1805, 1808 and 1809 amount to magnificent critiques of every mode of medical treatment and discussions of why similia and single drugs are superior, and always have been.
In 1806, his last translation from the Latin, Albrecht von Haller’s Materia medica, signalled the end of the first phase of his life: the study of the views of others, and the beginning of a new phase: of being his own man, and of formulating and defending his own views.
During his stay in Torgau, Hahnemann, through his detailed and exhaustive studies, laid out a systematic and point-by-point demolition of every element in ancient and medieval medicine, leaving single drugs and similars as the only useful remnants. He was able to build brilliant essays leading directly to the Organon, which is his detailed exposition of the whole conceptual and practical realm of homeopathy.
The people of Torgau forgot about the stay of Hahnemann in the city for the next two hundred years.
Recently (around 1990) documents were found, which prove without doubt that the building at Pfarrstr. 3 in Torgau was the house of Dr. Hahnemann and his family. When this discovery was made, the house was in a dilapidated state and was about to get floored, but the discovery about its historical importance, and the fact that the historic fabric of the building and interiors still existed, helped to avoid that wrecker’s ball.
Now, as the building was considered a historic monument, it was put under a preservation order. From 1992 to 2007, the house got completely renovated and improved with the help of a new organization and support from many homeopaths and homeopathic organizations. One of the objectives for the project was to rebuild the house to restore its architecture according to Hahnemann’s time. The renovation of the rooms was deeply influenced by the functional demands of their public use after completion. Preservation of original elements wherever possible was an important task to follow.
The room which is located to the north-east was the room where Dr. Hahnemann stored his equipment and medicines. The room has remained unchanged since 1485. The remaining room on the ground floor seems to have been the private clinic of Dr. Hahnemann. Large window recesses with the conspicuous console dominate the room together with the late-Gothic ceiling made of beams. Since this has been the study and working room of the founder of homeopathy, the character of the room had to be preserved. This was probably the room where Hahnemann wrote the first edition of his Organon of Medicine.