On November 3, 1801, German publisher Karl Baedeker was born, whose guidebooks set the authoritative standard for any tourist. The name Baedeker one day became a synonym for travel guides and the Verlag Karl Baedeker still exists continuing to bear his name and became one of the premier and most successful travel guide publishing houses in the world.
Oxford is on the whole more attractive than Cambridge to the ordinary visitor; and the traveller is therefore recommended to visit Cambridge first, or to omit it altogether if he cannot visit both.
– Baedeker’s Great Britain (1887), “From London to Oxford”.
Karl Baedeker was born on November 3, 1801 in Essen, the son of a family of book printers and publishers. He began an apprenticeship as a bookseller at Mohr & Winter in Heidelberg in 1817. He then studied humanities at the University of Heidelberg from 1819 to 1822. From 1823 to 1825 he was an assistant to Georg Reimer in Berlin. On July 1, 1827 Karl Baedeker opened a publishing bookstore in Koblenz. Five years later he acquired the publishing house of Franz Friedrich Röhling, who in 1828 had published the Rheinreiseführer Rheinreise von Mainz bis Cöln, Handbuch für Schnellreisende first travel guide.
Mobility and Tourism in the 19th Century
The early 19th century was an era of a starting mobility of the people due to the new developments in the transportation industry. The railways and steamboats were now accessible to the public, even though they were more likely used by wealthier citizens due to the still high costs. However, the Europeans were willing to follow their urge to travel and to explore the continent not only for educational or business reasons, but simply for fun.
“Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker”
Tourists soon faced questions like: Where do I stay? What can I expect? What do I need to bring? and so on. Karl Baedeker, a passionate traveler himself noticed these problems. In 1835 he decided at publish an edited edition of the work “Rheinreise“. The book faced an immense success and even the steamboat between Cologne and Mainz began traveling on regular hours to handle the curious tourists.
Baedeker began traveling through Europe, he wrote books about Germany, the Netherlands, and also Austria and Switzerland. His readers very much enjoyed his accuracy and honesty. He only wrote what he had seen and refused to use second hand information. Every place he wrote about was a place he really visited. His costumers appreciated the detailed city maps, the actuality and the easy usability of his books.
To emphasize Baedeker’s accuracy, one story by the German Baron Gisbert von Vincke is to mention. He claimed to have seen Baedeker in 1847, climbing up the stairs of the Milan Cathedral, while Baedeker stopped every 20 steps, taking a pea out of his pants and putting it into a pocket of his jacket. When Baron von Vincke asked Baedeker about this purpose he explained that this is how he counted the stairs, assuring himself to only distribute correct information considering the amount of stairs to his readers. Baedeker really deserved his great reputation and due to this character treat he was even honored in Jacques Offenbach‘s operetta ‘La vie parisienne’ with the words: „Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker“.
Karl Baedeker passed away in 1859, but his sons Karl junior and Fritz resumed his works and even today you can purchase the famous Baedeker tourist guides.
References and Further Reading:
-  Baedeker Official Website [in German]
-  Baedeker at Britannica Online
-  [In German] Karl Baedeker in ‘Die Welt’, 2009
-  On the Road with Alexander von Humboldt, SciHi Blog
-  Marco Polo – the great Traveler and Merchant, SciHi Blog
-  Hoist the Sails! The Mayflower and its Journey to the New World, SciHi Blog
-  How High/Low Can You Go? – The Explorer Auguste Piccard
-  Karl Baedeker at Wikidata