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Everything is related to Naples
Number 61 in this series. Link to all items here.


Alfred Krupp & via Krupp on Capri

Friedrich "Fritz" Alfred Krupp (1854-1902) (photo insert)—the "Cannon King" and bearer of a name tenaciously associated with German industry and militarism—was taken with Capri and is, in a sense, still present on the island in the trail that bears his name, the Via Krupp, a spectacular footpath leading down the sheer south side of the island to the sea (photo below). 

Krupp made his first visit to the island in 1898, on his doctor's orders. This otherwise practical man became the incurable romantic on the island, palling around with local fishermen and sitting in small taverns listening to Neapolitan songs. He also indulged his amateur passion for marine biology by assisting the great German naturalist (and founder of the Naples Aquarium), Anton Dohrn, who was doing research in the Bay of Naples. 

Other than marine biology, 'Fritz' devoted much of his time on Capri to a grotto that had been the abode of a 16th century religious recluse, one Fra Felice. Krupp turned the cave into a "pleasure palace," replete with golden keys for the gates, keys that he gave to his close friends on the island, young fishermen, waiters, etc. He referred to his grotto as the "holy place of a secret fraternity," thus doing little to allay rumours about the nature of the pleasure being pursued by himself and his young male friends. Krupp built a path to the cave and then offered to expand it to lead from the certosa (a 15th-century monastery) down to the Marina Piccola, the small harbor. The project was accepted by the island authorities, and it was this path that became the Via Krupp. It was finished by the spring of 1902. A few months later, apparently driven to it by the scandals surrounding his alleged perversions on Capri, Krupp, ruler of the giant German industrial dynasty, this richest man in Germany, died by his own hand. 

(Fritz left the world's most impressive munitions factory to Gustav von Bohlen-Halbach, his daughter Bertha's husband. A few years later, Gustav built the largest artillery piece in history, a 43-ton howitzer, to lob shells into Liege from 10 miles away in WWI. That weapon was nicknamed "Big Bertha," which tells me more than I really want to know about life in the Bohlen-Halbach household!)

As for the Via Krupp (photo, right), it was closed in 1978 but as of 2009 has reopened to the public. The safety concerns were not recent. It was a difficult path to build, and there have always been problems with falling rock. Nevertheless, for over sixty years, it was kept clear by the practical expedient of a man on the end of a pulley going down the side of the cliff and knocking down dangerous bits of the cliff face before they fell.  

There were a number of plans for dealing with the problem. One called for the application of that 'natural-looking' concrete spray (the kind that generally draws comments like, "Say, that almost looks real, doesn't it?"). Then, some wanted to build a sheltered passageway, a tunnel, along at least parts of the trail to protect hikers from falling rock. The solution finally adopted was to cover the rock-face with the same type of metal netting that one sees in similar terrain all over the world (and on Capri, itself, on the cliff-face as you wind up the road to Anacapri) 

It is really a two-fold problem. One involves the safety of the trail itself. That is hard, but not that hard. They did it for decades. Two is somewhat more intricate. It is the perception that the Via Krupp is somewhat of a metaphor of not only the entire island, but of similar places that depend on a tourist economy throughout the world. Cultural historian Paul Fussel's term 'pseudo-place' comes to mind, a description of those formerly small towns and villages that today have the sole function of luring in tourists and selling them things. Many are worried that Capri has become—or is becoming—just such a 'pseudo-place', a process that will only be accelerated by applying concrete or building sheltered passageways along the island's most famous path. 

It's a hard compromise to find. Certainly, one should not fall for the myth that before the Isle of Capri was invaded by hordes of tourists, it was some idyllic gem set in the sea, a paradise for inhabitants and visitors alike. Our impression of Capri as the "Isle of Pleasure" has been formed largely by foreigners who had enough money to enjoy the island on their own terms, and who, it might be noted, were greatly resented by the local population, farmers and fishermen whose harsh lot improved only with the beginning of tourism on Capri at the turn of the 20th century. On the other hand, the Via Krupp has always been a strange combination of nature and the hand of man, somewhat like Japanese Bonsai. Maybe a bit of falling rock isn't such a bad idea. 

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