Friedrich Ritter was a 43-year-old veteran of World War I when he met his patient, Dore Strauch, fifteen years his younger. She was an artistic bohemian who’d supported the German Revolution of 1918 and read Nietzsche regularly; it should be noted that Friedrich and Dore were students of the philosopher before his Nazi-sympathizing sister edited his texts to fit her own anti-Semitic worldview. They bonded over the philosopher’s embrace of individual human freedom, no matter the cost, and Friedrich shared his own philosophical system, titled “Relations of the All to Categories of the Reason.” He confided his dream of escaping to a foreign land to realize his “great ideal of solitude.” His dream became Dore’s. As she would later reminisce, they pretended “that the clouds that drifted by were our remote island of refuge, and the blue sky the ocean where our earthly Eden was set.”
The Galápagos Islands, 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, perfectly suited their dark Nietzschean fantasy and its eventual violent unraveling, as the Islands themselves were fomented by violence; they are the tips of a series of enormous volcanoes sprouting 10,000 feet from the bottom of the ocean. Friedrich also appreciated the Galápagos’ association with Charles Darwin, whose exploration of the islands greatly informed his Theory of Evolution. For their new home, Friedrich and Dore chose a small island in the southwestern part of the archipelago named Floreana (sometimes called Charles Island) that had a disquieting history of its own: starting in the 16th century, pirates made Floreana their headquarters, looting passing ships and constructing grotesque stone monuments hoping to deter visitors. Its natural landscape was foreboding enough. Darwin described Floreana as “a broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves and crossed by great fissures… everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt-brushwood, which shows little signs of life.”
Over the centuries Floreana had other settlers, most recently a group of twenty-two Norwegians who had arrived in 1925, lured by the prospect of money to be made through hunting, farming, and fishing. Each contributed $900 to the enterprise, which covered fare from Norway and the right (approved by the Ecuadorian government) to 100 acres of land. By the time Friedrich and Dore arrived four years later, the settlers were gone, defeated by the challenges of life on Floreana. “It was impossible to suppress a qualm of fear,” Dore wrote, “at the thought of all the disappointed hopes of our predecessors on this island.”
Despite their apprehension, the couple began building their island home.