Places: Immensee

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1850; final version, 1851 (English translation, 1863)

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Pastoral

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Places DiscussedImmensee

Immensee Immensee (Imm-uhn-ZEE). Site of the estate from which Reinhard Werner’s former schoolfriend Erich sends Elisabeth the canary that replaces the linnet he gave her before going away to university. Erich was given the estate by his father. When Reinhard first visits the Immensee as Erich’s guest, some years after Elisabeth’s marriage to Erich, the estate is blue and calm, surrounded by green sunlit woods. The red roof of Erich’s house rises out of foliage speckled with white blossom. It is accompanied by vineyards, hop gardens, and a vegetable garden–a perfect image of domestic self-sufficiency, as further exemplified by a stork (a symbol of good luck in German folklore) that flies up from the chimney before settling in the garden. The bees swarming there are a metaphorical reflection of Erich’s own industry; he has added a distillery to the farm buildings erected by his father to supplement the dwelling built in his grandfather’s time, emphasizing the progress as well as the continuity of family life.

Switzerland has a region called Immensee, but Theodor Storm uses the name in this novel because of its symbolic significance. The word means “lake of bees” in German.


Lake. Body of water on the estate. A path along the lakeshore, where the troubled Reinhard walks, leads through a birchwood to a small promontory where there is a bench that Elisabeth’s mother has named the “sunset seat.” While returning along the path one day in the rain, Reinhard thinks he sees Elisabeth among the trees, but she vanishes before he can catch up with her. The family’s favorite room overlooks the garden; there Reinhard and Elisabeth rediscover their feelings when they sing folk songs together. Afterward, while walking along the lakeside, Reinhard sees a white water lily on the lake and impulsively wades in after it; he soon finds himself in deep water, and the lily seems to recede as he tries to approach it. On the following day, after Reinhard and Elisabeth have been walking on the opposite shore, Reinhard detects signs of repressed suffering in the reflexive gestures of Elisabeth’s hand as it trails in the water–but Reinhard goes back across the lake alone, obsessively revisiting the places where he and Elisabeth had paused together, incapable of positive action.

Reinhard’s home

Reinhard’s home. Old Reinhard lives in a single upstairs room in a high-gabled house; one wall is occupied by book and display cases, another is hung with pictures. He sits in an armchair with red velvet cushions, with books beside him on a green baize-topped table. His long reverie ends with a vision of dark waters ceaselessly stirred by black waves, while a single white water lily floats forlornly.


Meadow. Field where Reinhard and Elisabeth build a turf house when they are children. Reinhard sets out to make a wooden bench for the house on an unexpected holiday, while Elisabeth gathers mallow seeds to make a necklace.


Woods. Setting of a picnic before Reinhard’s departure for university. The road to it leads through a gloomy pine grove to a brighter beech wood, where the young folk search for edible berries. After Reinhard rescues Elisabeth from brambles they follow a brook and get lost; the sound of church bells enables them to get their bearings, but they find no berries.


Rathskeller. Basement barroom in Reinhard’s university town, where Reinhard and his fellow students spend Christmas Eve drinking, while a gypsy fiddler and zither player reluctantly play and sing for them. When Reinhard returns to his lodgings after dark, he finds a package of Christmas cakes ornamented by Elisabeth with his initials, but he gives them away and sets himself to work.

Elisabeth’s home

Elisabeth’s home. Although Reinhard calls on Elisabeth regularly on his first return from university, she spurns the gift of his poems chronicling their childhood, after fastening chickweed on the gilded cage where Erich’s canary has replaced his linnet.

BibliographyAlt, Arthur Tilo. Theodor Storm. New York: Twayne, 1973. The most helpful source for the English-speaking student of Storm. Discusses Storm’s life and character and analyzes all his major works, including Immensee. An annotated bibliography.Bernd, Clifford A. Theodor Storm’s Craft of Fiction. 2d rev. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. A reading of two of Storm’s novellas. Outlines a methodology that casts light on Immensee, although it contains no extended discussion of the book. Bibliography covers everything written on Storm until 1965.Jackson, David A. Theodor Storm: The Life and Works of a Democratic Humanitarian. New York: Berg/St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Emphasizes social and political perspectives in integrating Storm’s life and work. Provides a new context for such works as Immensee.McHaffie, M. A., and J. M. Ritchie. “Bee’s Lake: Or, The Curse of Silence. A Study of Theodor Storm’s Immensee.” German Life and Letters 16, no. 1 (October, 1962): 36-45. A close reading of Immensee. Compares the novella with Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger (1903).Mare, Margaret Laura. Theodor Storm and His World. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Aids to Learning Limited, 1970. Overview of Storm’s work. Places his work in the context of his time.
Categories: Places