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“Shortcut?" I thought, eyeing a barely visible gate obscured by dense bushes while hurrying to my neuroscience lecture in the Biolabs.
The familiar red hues of Annenberg Hall and the sheer height of William James Hall had always guided my walk to class, but a few days before midterms, that discreet invitation to detour was too tempting. I gave in.
Slipping through the gate, I was met with Adolphus Busch Hall, its meticulous stonework standing out boldly against familiar surroundings. Crafted by the renowned architect German Bestelmeyer of Dresden, Adolphus Busch Hall’s presence is both intriguing and oddly out of place. But right then, it felt like I'd gate-crashed a private courtyard, perhaps reserved for a swanky Center for European Studies barbecue. With no one else in sight, it took me a bit to realize that this haven was not an elite club, but a gem open for all.
Constructed in the early 20th century with support from St. Louis brewer Adolphus Busch, the building initially played host as a Germanic Museum. In 1989, the hall transitioned from holding a collection of Germanic reproductions to being the seat of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.
CES’s presence in Adolphus Busch Hall serves as a fitting homage to the cultural bridge-building ideals of its predecessors. Further, with its intricate carvings and etched quotations, it serves as a living chronicle of Harvard’s engagement with European scholarship.
But there’s no need to get too wrapped up in these details here — there’s a whole courtyard to explore, and trust me, it's the kind of place that makes you want to whisper, even though there's no librarian shushing you.
Initially, you are greeted by a dominating bronze lion, which stands so regally that you half expect it to roar. This impressive feline figure, graciously presented by the Duchy of Braunschweig in 1913, is a faithful replica of a Romanesque monument erected almost 800 years earlier in front of the Braunschweig Cathedral. While our lion might not have witnessed medieval Europe firsthand, you can’t help but think about the fascinating courtyard gossip it has been privy to over the past century.
Nature, too, has claimed its space here: Ivy tendrils, especially vibrant in the fall, paint the neutral walls with deep reds and oranges.
Amongst this greenery, animal heads playfully adorn the windowsills, a detail that might be missed in a casual glance; flowers and rose bushes punctuate the green expanse with bursts of pink; benches, strategically placed, invite contemplation; the fountain reflects sunlight like something out of a postcard; and large oak doors silently guard the medieval plaster casts housed in the building.
Adjacent to the verdant foliage in the courtyard, the wisdom of Goethe’s “Faust” is immortalized on the stuccoed walls with the profound etched words “the deed is everything — glory nothing.” The Cabot Way entrance, too, is touched by Goethe: The figure of an imposing centaur, which beautifully embodies the writer’s penchant for blurring the lines between reality and imagination, sits right above the “Italienische Reise”-derived phrase “Kunst ist Können,” meaning, “art is skill.” But Goethe's contributions aren't the sole artistic narratives present.
The entrance also boasts heads and figures from Wagner’s legendary opera cycle, “Ring of the Nibelungen.” This cycle is celebrated for its masterful blend of Norse mythology, epic sagas, and intriguing characters, chief among them Alberich. The dwarf’s insatiable lust for power and control may remind some of the average Harvard Econ bro — I guess you can say that the courtyard reminds us that some ambitions are universal, across time and myth.
Jokes aside, the essence of these inscriptions and sculptures provides a direct line to a past rich in storytelling, music, and artistry. The courtyard doesn't just offer a visual treat but also a journey through centuries of German culture.
The Adolphus Busch courtyard is not just a space but an experience. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity, you really have no excuse not to venture into this gem, whether it's for a study session, a quick respite between lectures, or just to soak in some art and history. And even if you’re a tad bit late to class, do take this seemingly out-of-the-way shortcut.
Aneesh C. Muppidi ’25 is a Computer Science and Neuroscience concentrator in Lowell House. His column, “Leafing By,” runs biweekly on Thursdays.
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