Karl Ludwig Johannes Baedeker (1801–55)

Karl Baedeker and his successors initiated a brand, which 160 years after his death remains instantly recognisable.

He was born in Essen to a family of printers and booksellers whose assets included a publishing house established by his grandfather Zachariah Gerhard Baedeker (1750-1800). He studied at the University of Heidelburg, and for two years from 1823 worked for a leading bookseller in Berlin. He then joined the family business run by his father Gottschalk Diederich Baedeker (1778-1841) where he remained until 1827 when he moved to Koblenz. In 1832 he took over the publishing house of Franz Friedrich Röhling, which in 1828 had produced Rheinreise von Mainz bis Cöln ein Handbuch für Schnelreisende (Journeys on the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne: a handbook for travellers on the move) by Professor Johannes August Klein. In 1839, after Klein’s death, Baedeker brought out a new edition with practical information for tourists on such matters as tipping, accommodation, restaurants, railways, steams and road transport. To some extent he consciously imitated the English-language guides published by John Murray III (1808-1892) but he soon introduced new features, most notably star ratings of hotels, restaurants and sights of interest which appeared in 1846 in his first ‘red guide’, the  Handbuch  für Reisende durch Deutschland und den Oesterreichischen Kaiserstaat (Handbook for travellers through Germany and the Austrian Empire). His first guide to Switzerland appeared in 1844 and was followed by 38 new editions by 1937. Guides were published to France in 1852, to England in 1863, to Italy in 1860, to Norway and Sweden in 1879, to Greece in 1889 and to Spain and Portugal in 1898, by which time the company’s coverage was global, and included guides to the Near East, North Africa and North America. In all the company produced 500 editions in German, 266 in English and 266 in French.

The company was continued after Baedeker’s death by his sons Ernst (1833-61), Fritz (1844-125) and by Fritz’s son Hans Baedeker (1874-1959). The company moved in the mid-1870s from Koblenz to the centre of the German publishing industry in Leipzig. Perhaps no company did more to encourage the habit of travelling across Europe and gaining understanding of the lives of those who lived in other countries.