In the late 1700s, literary legend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote an influential travelogue about his two-year trip to Italy that helped cement a long German romance with the southern European country. “Oh, how happy I am in Rome!” Goethe wrote poems inspired by his travels. In the post-war years, well-travelled German nationals holidayed in Italy by the millions, from Sicily to the Amalfi Coast, enjoying the sea, sun, regional cuisine – and, of course, gelato.
However, the German fascination with Italy is widely shared by the 65 million from the planet who visit each year. And this allure is ably captured by the Netflix series “Summertime,” which enters its third and final season this month.
Set in the resort of the Romagna Riviera on the Adriatic coast in the middle of a blazing summer, “Summertime” evokes the tourist’s Italian imagination with a modern twist.
The series follows Summer (Koko Rebecca Idogamhe), a young woman who says she hates the summer and is forced to help her mother with work at a hotel during this beach holiday. But then she meets Ale (Ludovico Tersigni), a handsome young motorcycle racer from Rome. Both find love and coming of age on the beach amidst their personal struggles, trials and tribulations.
‘Do you know the country where lemons grow?’
Also taking center stage is an Italian tourist paradise, one of the many attractive locations that have maintained the nation’s place among the top travel destinations for Germans. But why Italy?
Goethe fulfilled a lifelong dream when he traveled to Italy between 1786 and 1788, and memories of his trip likely laid the foundation for German longing for Italy.
The poet escaped from his official duties at the Weimar court while traveling south under the moniker of Johann Philipp Moller. He pretended to be a painter as he explored Venice, Rome, Naples and Sicily and spiced up the journey with some sensual adventures.
In the novel “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre” (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), Goethe famously referred to Italy when he asked: “Do you know the land where lemons bloom?”
This sentiment was the basis of the 1874 waltz “Where the Lemons Blossom” by Johann Strauss II, originally titled “Bella Italia” (Beautiful Italy).
Italy inspired pioneer souvenir
Tourists with a slightly literary bent learned about Bella Italia through picture postcards after 1870.
The Stedel Museum in Frankfurt am Main has an entire exhibition dedicated to early photographs of Italy, which were a popular souvenir from the mid-19th century, even before picture postcards.
In the era of the selfie, the iconic Italian scenes depicted 150 years ago are not so different today.
Bursting the bubble
But a deeper and darker reality often lies within this imagined vision of a southern paradise.
Italy has suffered badly during the COVID pandemic, as reflected in harrowing images of an army convoy in the northern city of Bergamo moving the coffins of coronavirus victims as the city’s cemeteries overflowed.
Other fans of Italy have been put off by its political appeal, most recently included by Giorgia Meloni, and by the unbridled machismo of the likes of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Then there are the scars of organized crime, recurring political instability and Italy’s various economic crises.
But because of the pandemic, tourists are returning for sun, sand and limoncello – and the legendary vision of romance on the Italian coast is being revived on the small screen in the third season of “Summertime.”