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Rahel Antonie Frederike Levin was born in Berlin, Prussia, into a prosperous German-Jewish merchant family. She and her childhood friends Dorothea Schlegel, Fanny von Arnstein, and Henriette Herz were among the first generation of emancipated Jews to assimilate into German society. She established a famous literary salon that was attended by many of the Romantic writers of her era, most famously Heinrrich Heine. After the death of her domineering father in 1806, Rahel travelled and lived in Paris, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Prague, and Dresden. In 1814, she married Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, a diplomat and author 14 years her junior, after converting to Christianity. She accompanied him on his postings to Vienna and Karlsruhe before the couple returned to live in Berlin. Besides her accomplishments as a salonnière, Rahel Varnhagen von Ense is remembered for her voluminous correspondence. Six thousand letters have survived out of an estimated 10,000 written in the course of her lifetime. Her husband edited and published her correspondence in the years following her death, and more were published later. Some of her essays and other writings also were published by her husband in two memorial volumes in 1834 and 1836. There is also an asteroid named in her honor.
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