Apel was born in Leipzig as son of the poet and town councillor, August Apel. After schooling
at the Nikolaischule where he made early and lasting friendship with Richard Wagner who
later wrote an early overture for his play, Columbus, he studied law at the universities of
Leipzig and Heidelberg. After graduation, however, he turned to poetry and drama.
He inherited property from his grandfather at Ermlitz near Schkeuditz, north west of Leipzig,
and married Marie Ploß (date unknown).
He erected 44 memorials on the site of the battle of Leipzig against Napoleon in 1813 and
also wrote a guide to the battle. The stones were dedicated to the memory of the soldiers
who had fallen at the scene but were also a record of the action.
Apel lost his sight almost completely in a fall from his horse in 1856 (some sources give
1836) but, with the help of his secretary, he wrote numerous lyrical poems and several stage
works in which he finally, in 1858, achieved great success with his Nähkätchen.
The Apelstraße in Leipzig was named in 1898 in honour of the contribution over more than a
century of the Apel family in Leipzig affairs.