german history

The Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden

The Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden
© Pixabay

While this superb boutiquey museum was established in Baden-Baden eight years ago (2009) to honor the renowned Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, it houses much, much more than examples of and information about Fabergé’s spectacular creations between 1885 and 1917 for Tsar Alexander III (1845-1894) and Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1917).  Of course, Fabergé is best known for his bespoke Easter eggs, but his artistic expertise extended well beyond those unique annual bespoke creations.

Various Works on Display

The museum also proudly includes some distinctive and unique works of 19th-century competitors and colleagues of Fabergé, including Carl Edvard Bolin, who joined Andreas Roempler as a full partner upon marrying Roempler’s daughter Ernestine Catherina.   In the late 1900s, Fabergé’s creations eventually surpassed Bolin’s in imagination, creativity, and popularity; Frederic Boucheron, whose mid-19th-century founding in Paris prompted Boucheron’s spectacular creative successes in the early years, especially the corsage he created in 1878 for Russian Prince Felix Youssoupoff which led to Boucheron’s establishing a branch in Moscow in 1893.  The Youssoupoff corsage included six detachable diamond bows; Louis-François Cartier, who held his first exhibition and sale at the Grand Hotel Europe in Saint Petersburg in 1907.  Shortly thereafter, Tsar Nicholas II appointed Cartier an official purveyor to the House of Romanov;  Pavel Akimovich Ovchinnikov, who founded his firm in Moscow in 1853.  Ovchinnikov, preceding Fabergé by almost 20 years, was named a purveyor to the Tsar’s court in 1868.  Ovchinnikov combined traditional shapes with cloisonné enamel and with the then-modern shaded-enamel technique in which colors and tints were blended naturalistically, with no metal separating the colors; Ignaty Sazikov, established as a court supplier by the Tsar in 1846, specialized as a silversmith and his works included silverware, cast silver, and cloisonné enameled silver pieces.  Of particular interest is the magnificent 27-piece Sazikov punch set, created in 1874-75 by command of Tsar Alexander III and weighing 12.45 kilograms; Ivan Khlebnikov bought the Sazikov firm from his heirs in 1887.  Khlebnikov was a world-renowned specialist in enameled silver as well as in silver chasing, trompe-l’oeil imitative castings, and cloisonné and plique-à-jour enameling.

The most popular features of the Fabergé collection

Among the most popular features of the Fabergé collection, be sure to see the chameleon fashioned in bowenite, a pale-green, semi-precious stone traditionally identified with the Māori of New Zealand, who used it for tools, weapons, and jewelry.  This unique piece once belonged to King George V of Greece.  The chameleon’s eyes are delicate Siberian rubies ringed with gold.  The collection also includes a marvelously detailed rabbit family with a large doe and six kits.  All are in silver with inset eyes of rubies.  In addition, there is a beautiful horse-race trophy, a cloisonné cup created by Fabergé in 1911 on behalf of Tsar Nicholas II for the World Exhibition in Rome.  It is primarily turquoise-colored enamel and gilt on silver.  Be on the lookout also for a brooch designed specifically for Tsarina Alexandra in 1913 (part of a larger brooch collection).  It is the imperial Russian eagle in full wingspread fashioned of gold and platinum with numerous diamond and ruby accents.  There is a late-19th-century figure of Buddha created by Fabergé from bowenite, gold, brilliant-cut diamonds, Siberian rubies, and Guilloche-Emaille, i.e., a mechanical technique employed to apply a delicate, meticulous, elaborate, and duplicative design on a metal base.  Fabergé perfected this technique with his bespoke Easter Eggs and applied it as he deemed appropriate to other creations as the opportunity arose.  A lovely Guilloche-Emaille, gilded desk clock of silver from the early 20th century (after 1903) fashioned by one of Fabergé’s chief workmasters, Henrik Immanuel Wigström, under Fabergé’s aegis.  There is a small stemmed bowl created by Michael Evlampievich Perchin, perhaps Fabergé’s premier workmaster until replaced by Wigström following Perchin’s death in 1903.  The bowl incorporates topaz, gold, diamonds, and enamel in its formation with a snake winding around the stem from its base to beneath the bowl proper.  One of the most significant collections within the overall Fabergé collection is that of the more than two dozen brooches commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty (1613-1913) fashioned of amethysts, rose-colored diamonds, brilliant diamonds, and gold.

The Fabergé egg in the Collection

The museum comprises more than 700 items whose display are rotated regularly on a so-called mix-and-match basis and includes a regrettably unfinished Easter Egg with the working title Blue Constellation Easter Egg made for the Tsarina Alexandra in 1917, but never presented due to the Communist Revolution.  There is also an extensive assortment of luxurious cigarette cases with humorous animal miniatures in precious and semi-precious stones.  The collection is a superb representation of the abundant wealth that furthered the artistic creativity and imaginations of jewelers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and associated artisans from the mid 19th century to the very early 20th century.

Directions and opening Hours

The museum is at Sophienstraße 30 in Baden-Baden, between Stephanienstraße and Vincentistraße, where Sophienstraße bears off north as an undivided side street.  Sophienstraße is a wide shopping boulevard, commencing at Leopoldsplatz, with a wide, tree-rich landscaped median strip that enhances the charm of the area.  The museum’s normal hours are from 1000 until 1800 daily; however, it’s closed on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  The telephone is 49 (0) 7221 970890—call ahead to confirm the hours and to ask the time of the next exhibition change.

The Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden
german history

Gutenberg and the Invention of the Printing Press

Gutenberg and the Invention of the Printing Press
© Pixabay

The market of printed books might still be strong and the rise of e-books might be slower than many expected. But printed papers and magazines already feel the heavy burden of the digital age increasing the more electronic mobile devices spread around the globe. As we still are in the early stages of this new – maybe the digital – century, this could be the adequate time to look back on an earlier transformation of the means we convey written information. A transformation that helped to shape the last 550 years: printing.

Cultural Reading Habits…

Even when we read books or magazines on our digital devices, most of the time, they still mirror pages and printed structures. May the digital age be one of enormous pace, some cultural practices still take longer to change than others. With your tablet computer, your costly designed hardcover, and your paperback novel in mind, imagine that 600 years ago, a book was usually made from animal skin (both cover and pages) and had to be hand written. Picture, it would be your job to copy, say, the Bible, maybe ten times, and others should be able to read it. And even though books and written products were more widespread than we usually think, try to conceive of the sheer explosion of written language throughout Europe that must have occurred after the invention of the printing press.

And how Gutenberg changed them!

The time is around 1450, and on to the stage steps Johannes Gutenberg. To relieve you of your strenuous duties as a copier of Bibles, he, of course, made his breakthrough with printing and selling of Bibles. But, while created using a brand new technology, the books themselves were designed to pretty much look like a Bible the customers were used to. To be able to print series of different books, Gutenberg not only had to invent a moveable set of type, he also had to find a new kind of ink, as traditional water-based ink would not work in the printing press. What he eventually used was actually not ink, but varnish. In his inventions, Johannes Gutenberg drew inspiration and even borrowed techniques from the arts and crafts that surrounded him and his resident city of Mainz was fertile grounds for his undertaking.

Not to take away from his well-deserved fame, but Gutenberg did, of course, not actually invent printing itself. There had been other forms before, but as his predecessors did not use moveable type, any mistakes made could not be corrected. Gutenberg came up with moveable metal letters, that would be pressed onto the paper with the exact same pressure, resulting in a text that would be much clearer and even than handwritten words could ever be. This is another brilliant feature of Gutenberg’s idea of using a press. To use his invention he even had to overcome such hurdles as creating a multitude of absolutely identical copies of each letter of the alphabet, meaning: the different letters as well as all the copies had to have the same height if you didn’t want to risk damaging the paper. Further, using the printing press, one could make sure that the text would be printed in the exact same place on both sides of a page.

Being a talented entrepreneur and salesman, as well as a great inventor and craftsman, Gutenberg not only helped to create the basis of our written communication, he also spread his works and thus the technology. What he sold were actually not bound books, but packets of loose pages. That is why most of the early printed books do not look alike.

german history

The Bauhaus Museum in Weimar

The Bauhaus Museum in Weimar
© Pixabay

Walter Gropius (18 May 1883—05 July 1969) was a renowned German-American architect and academic authority who founded the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919.  The Bauhaus was an advanced academic institution focusing on applied arts, architecture, and design which conflated the teachings of the Weimar Academy of Arts and the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts.  Gropius’s overarching principle stemmed from and developed the ideas of the so-called arts-and-crafts movement of the late 19th century and of the English designer, reformer, and poet William Morris, who objected to the tastelessness and banality of the mass-produced products of the Industrial Revolution. The movement eventually gave rise to Art Nouveau (der Jugendstil) and later to the sublimity of Gropius’s Bauhaus, which blended art with technical expertise.

Gropius was a dreamer who summoned fellow dreamers with the closing paragraph of his manifesto:  “So let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavored to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us strive for, conceive, and create the new building of the future that will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.”

The Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1925 and from Dessau to Berlin in 1932, but was ultimately banned by the Nazis.  Early on 11 April 1933, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus just as the then director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, arrived for work.  The reason given was that the Bauhaus contained a secret printing press used to oppose the Nazi regime.

Gropius ideas

Gropius promoted the idea that good design should be part of every aspect of daily living and rejected the notion that the creation of individual luxury goods should be paramount.  Gropius realized that, if the combination of art with technical expertise were to influence all society in the 20th century, it would have to be combined with mass production, i.e., practical and beautiful objects for all society had to be designed with mass production in mind.  Toward that end, Gropius included in-depth workshops—wall painting, carpentry, weaving, metal, graphics, pottery, typography, stained glass, and stagecraft—taught by accomplished, respected artists and craftsmen, e.g., Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer, Gerhard Marcks, and Georg Muche.  The entire undertaking was exhilarating and impressive and the more than 200 exhibits in the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar chronicle the intellectual fulfillment of Gropius’s farsighted ideas.

Highlights of the Bauhaus Museum

Given the size and diversity of the museum’s exhibits, I will highlight some of the more unusual and distinctive ones; however, bear in mind that my selection is highly subjective and that all the exhibits should be evaluated by visitors.
First on my list is the Tower of Fire, a glass sculpture by the abstract painter Johannes Itten.  It is a glass spiral using leaded glass of the primary colors red, yellow, and blue and is an insightful attempt to represent the manifestation of a version of an ancient Persian religion, Mazdaznan, revived at the end of the 19th century by Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha’nish and is concerned with thought, emotion, and behavior.  The sculpture is quite a bit more than that.  It also signifies the unification of all the artistic and craft disciplines Gropius sought to link.

Gelmeroda XI by the German-American painter Lyonel Feininger is one of several Feininger studies (13 in oil over a fifty-year period) of the church in Gelmeroda, a suburb of Weimar.  Feininger’s works are superb examples of German Expressionism, with their almost melodic coloring and seemingly uncontrolled orderliness (a seeming oxymoron that well describes a significant artistic ploy) and are fundamental examples of Feininger’s incorporating and furthering a sense of science, art, and technology in all his works.

Wilhelm Wagenfeld was an industrial designer known particularly for his sleek glassware and streamlined table lamps.  His “Bauhaus Lamp” is still produced as is his glassware.  He famously said that necessary household objects should be “. . . cheap enough for the worker and good enough for the rich.”  Probably Wagenfeld’s most significant contribution to the classic elegance of the homes of both the rich and the not-so-rich is his teapot, which Jenaer Glass still produces (€142.50).  As soon as you see it, you will recognize it.

The classic baby cradle of Peter Keler continues to awe and amaze new parents almost a century after Keler designed it in 1922―he was only 20 at the time―as a project given him by his Bauhaus tutor Wassily Kandinsky to incorporate the three primary colors: blue, red, and yellow, with the square, the triangle, and the circle―the geometric forms Kandinsky felt corresponded to the primary colors.

Finally, there are several examples of Bauhaus architectural plans.  Take particular note of the plans submitted by Walter Determann in response to Gropius’s competition to provide a larger environment for the Bauhaus, which was always short of both workspace and living space.  The campus designed by Determann came a cropper, but they incorporated every aspect for an ideal learning and living environment.  Farkas Molnár contributed fascinating plans for an alternate Bauhaus campus on so-called Am Horn estate, just above Goethe’s Garden House.  Gropius built a house on the site and it’s worth a visit.  It is as modern as anything you might encounter in the world.

The Bauhaus Museum in Weimar
german history

Grades of Separation – Church and State in Germany

Grades of Separation – Church and State in Germany
© Pixabay

The Situation of Church and State in Germany

In times of religiously legitimized fundamental terrorism, religion is obviously still playing a big role in the ways of the world. Though it’s easy to think the world would be quite secularized, the great religions are in fact gaining in numbers. And despite every society usually viewing itself as the norm, Germany is indeed one of the exceptions when it comes to its religious make-up. Taking into consideration that having a denomination doesn’t necessarily mean you are a particularly religious or faithful person, still more than half of the German population is a member of either the Catholic or the Protestant churches. In addition, circa 5,5 % of Germans is part of another confession, such as the Islam or Judaism. The rest of the population is undenominational, that means roughly 30 Million of 80 Million people. What makes Germany one of the exceptions is that above all the two large Christian churches have continuously been losing members, and are going on to do so. In any case, the churches are still of utmost importance in Germany. So, let us take a look at the relationship of church and state in the country.

Bound by Contract

In Germany, the relationship between the state and the two major churches is defined by a contract. The foundation of this contract is the separation of church and state, which in turn can be traced back to the French Revolution and the development of laicism. The term laicism is derived from the French word “laïc”, which originally meant anyone who was not part of the clergy. A laical state is thus one that bases its values not or at least not only on religious commandments and that ultimately places religion in the private life of its citizens. Germany is almost a laical state, in that there is an official separation of church and state. Churches should not have a say in state matters. As it usually goes with us humans, things are, of course, not quite so clear. For one, the Bundesrepublik is collecting a special church tax (though only from those who actually are church members) for the churches. In return, churches compensate the tax authorities for their efforts. Additionally, Christian holidays are statutory in Germany. But, Churches, respectively organizations that have equal contracts with the state, profit, even more, form German law. They legally are charitable organizations, which has an impact on the taxes they have to pay. Further, the salaries of bishops and religion teachers (who are not allowed to teach without the consent of their respective church) are being paid by the state, not through church taxes but out of the budget that pays civil servants. At the same time, the churches are able to dictate the rules of the working environments. The maintenance of buildings owned by the church is also financed by all taxpayers. In numbers, that’s a sum of about 450 Million Euro each year (not including the church tax). Thus, the Christian churches in Germany are definitely privileged in comparison to other religious organizations.

As mentioned before, the details of these issues are defined in state contracts, the so-called concordats with the Vatican and the Church-State Treaties with the Protestant Church. A very few other representative religious organizations, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, have coherent contracts with the Bundesrepublik. As there are many smaller religious organizations that do not have equivalent contracts with the state and merely count as e.g. non-profit associations, it is noteworthy, that these kinds of contracts are very special. As you see, we can’t really speak of a complete separation of church and state.    

Grades of Separation – Church and State in Germany
german history

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam
© Pixabay

The Location of the Palace of Sanssouci

Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) (24 January 1712―17 August 1786), a strong supporter of benevolent despotism, built his magnificent rococo palace in a 290-hectare park in Potsdam, just southwest of Berlin, between 1745-1747 as a respite from the official court in Berlin.  Its very name comes from the French phrase sans souci, which means “without a care” and “carefree,” i.e., “sorgenfrei” and “unbeschwert.”  It’s important to know that rococo was an 18th-century art movement that emphasized lissome, clever, and witty ornamentality, and is more or less the antithesis of and a reaction to baroque.

The most important Features

The palace is within the larger park (“Park Sanssouci”) and the picture gallery, the “Bildergalerie,” built between 1755-1763 and formerly a tropical greenhouse, is just east of the palace proper.  So, when you visit, and you must visit, be sure to allot at least three days to immerse yourself as much possible in the Sanssouci experience, i.e., at the absolute minimum, you need to visit the grounds adjacent to and behind the palace, the “Weinbergterrassen,” the “Lustgarten,” and the “Neptungrotte.”

The Wish of Frederick the Great

“Old Fritz,” as he was lovingly called, said “I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendor.  I want to be neither opened nor embalmed.  Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself . . . .  Should I die in time of war or whilst on a journey, I should be buried in the first convenient place and brought to Sanssouci in the winter.”  It took a long, long time―205 years―for people and events to honor his wishes.  His tomb is now finally where he wanted it to be and it is certainly worth a visit―a modest resting place for one of Germany’s two or three greatest leaders.

The Highlights of the Picture Gallery of Sanssouci

The Picture Gallery is not the only reason to visit Sanssouci, but it should be your primary reason.  Beyond that, there is the Sanssouci Park and all its buildings that are works of art, in and of themselves and in their own right.  I will provide a somewhat detailed listing below; first, however, a few highlights of the Picture Gallery.

Among the artists and styles favored by “Old Fritz” were Antoine Watteau, history paintings, renaissance art, so-called mannerism art, and baroque art.  The Picture Gallery includes superb representations thereof as well as many, many additional works.  Five representative works of the Picture Gallery are Anthony Van Dyck’s The Descent of the Holy Spirit, oil on canvas; Johann Christoph Frisch’s Frederick the Great at his Tomb at Sanssouci with the Marquis d’Argens;  Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas; Anton von Werner’s The Opening of the Reichstag; and the extravagant profusion of all the so-called Fridericianum Baroque.

Going for a stroll in the Lustgarten of Sanssouci

Sanssouci Park is open every day from 0600 until sunset and entry is without charge.  The Evangelical Church of Peace, dating from 1845, behind which is the Lagoon of Peace, is just within the Green Gate, which is the park’s main entrance and quite near the Potsdam city center.  Within the church’s apse, look for the spectacular 13th-century Venetian mosaic of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, St. Peter, and the martyred St. Cyprian of Carthage.  Stroll west several meters and turn north through a bower and across a peaceful stream towards the Palace.  Your first stop is the Garden of Delight (“Lustgarten”).  Beyond this point is the Weinbergterrassen and the Sanssouci Palace proper, while off to the right are the Picture Gallery and, slightly farther east, the Neptune Grotto.  Beyond, i.e., just north of the Sanssouci Palace, the path will take you to the relaxing Steed Fountain and then on to the historical Sanssouci Mill and the Weinstube, across from the Neue Kammern.  Farther along Maulbeerallee on the right is the famous 300-meter-long Orangery.  The central building of the Orangery, from which two wings extend, contains numerous paintings (almost 50) by Raphael in the so-called Raffael Hall.  The building also accommodates government offices, luxurious living quarters, and, in the dead of winter, sensitive plants that need a bit of succor.

Other sights in the Park

Additional sights include the New Palace, Charlottenhof Castle, Dragon House, the Roman Baths, the Chinese Teahouse, the Belvedere, and the Ruinenberg, a 74-meter high hill that continues to play a significant role in drawing visitors to Sanssouci, particularly for the incredible view from the top of the artificial ruins commissioned by Frederick the Great afford over the surrounding area.  When contemplating your visit to Sanssouci, remember that it is all a museum and that the museum we know as Sanssouci contains a significant treasure in its core:  The Picture Gallery.  For additional information, go to http://www.potsdam-park-sanssouci.de/home.html.

The Sanssouci Picture Gallery of Potsdam
german history

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
© Pixabay

 

It is a wet morning in September of either 7 or 9 AD, and the might of Rome is on the move. In response to a series of reports of unrest by their ally Arminius, chieftain of the Cherusci and trained veteran of Roman campaigns, Governer Publius Quinctilius Varus marshals the three powerful legions under his command- the XVII, XVIII and XIX- and heads out from his fortified stronghold and deep into the Teutoburg forests of Germania. Around them trees rise up into the sky, and there is a fine rain falling, coating the forest in that dreamy quality reminiscent of fairy tales. His men are of good spirit- some have brought along their wives or merchants- to show them the unstoppable power of the legions when brought to bear against inferior forces. It will be a glorious march, and at the end a vicious battle. Nothing the legionnaires had never experienced before. Nothing they had never defeated before. Business as usual.

 

Varus’ strategy

Varus was following the standard protocol for dealing with instances of unrest. Despite the relative small size of the legions proportional to the population of the Empire, Rome asserted control often through an early form of “shock and awe.” Mobilize the largest force it could, march straight into the offending region, and completely slaughter whomever was challenging the sovereign right of Roman rule. This is how Rome maintained control, how she gave experience to her career soldiers, and how she funded her military forces in times of peace and consolidation. And, with a few exceptions, it worked wondrously.

 

The special Features of the Teutoburg Forest

The legions moved slowly, almost single file, through the forest, their supply train trailing far behind them. Bird called to one another. Animals cleared a path. The legionnaires laughed and joked as they made their way into the forest at Teutoburg Wald. Sure the rain was becoming annoying, and the constant pressure to keep marching was uncomfortable at best, but these were skilled fighters, a true career force, and such nuisances were just that- nuisances. Even when the heaven opened up several days into the march, and soaked through them, loosening straps and adding undue weight to their armor and shields, the warriors kept pace, moving ever further into the forests. The mighty legions were on edge, growing anxious, but nothing more. Nothing they were not trained for, or at least that was the general line of thought.

 

Arminius makes his cunning move

When Arminius took his men and rode off ahead to “clear the forest” for Varus and his legions, they were already sapped by fatigue. Trusting their Germanic allies, the column slowed to a crawl, stuck in both literal and mental mud. The thousands of German warriors moving off ahead might have seemed like a relief, perhaps a lucky moment of rest for the Romans.

What happened next might be obvious to us, aware of its place in history. But for the arrogant Varus and his men, it was a surprise on the same level as the Parthian massacre at Carrhae, when the equally arrogant General Crassus made the same mistakes for the same reasons, and ended up with the same outcome.

 

The Cherusci attack

The Teutoburg forest came alive with the battle cries of the Cherusci and their allied tribes. Up and down the column, German warriors poured from the trees and tore into unprotected Roman flanks. Unable to form up into a battle position, and missing pieces of armor and arms that had become ungainly due to the rain, the Roman legions buckled, with some fleeing into the trees, and right into the arms of the waiting “barbarians.” As death spread, and blood was shed, the legions broke and ran, eager to put distance between themselves and the attackers, for some open ground to fall back to a defensive stance, and maybe salvage the remainder of the expected battle.

 

The Legions fall apart

But this was not to be. Alone in the forest, with enemies flooding from all sides, Varus made the decision to press forward still, leaving behind supplies, wounded legionnaires, and noncombatants in a fortified campsite. The position would be lost by nightfall, and the proud tribesman would remain on his tail. For days the massacre continued as the energized and enthusiastic tribes meted out their frustrations and their anger on the Romans who had mistreated them, and ultimately underestimated their strength. They picked off column after column, harassing the soldiers who were unable to bring their tactics to bear, tactics Arminius was well versed in himself. The legions split, with some finding sanctuary in a small fort, but with most cut off and eventually wiped out.

 

Varus’ end in the Teutoburg forest

Who can say what Varus was thinking in those moments before his position was overrun, and he committed suicide rather than fall to his “allies” in the forest of Teutoburg. Did he reflect on how gullible he had been to trust a man who was native to the province and skilled in both terrain and tactics? Did he regret his treatment of the local people, who had joined Rome through reputation, but he treated as conquered subjects? Did he question his own abilities as a soldier, politician, and governor, and how all this had failed because he had never stopped to think about what he was doing and how he was doing it? Or did he curse the forests and their unending stream of warriors that defeated three of Rome’s finest legions?

 

The Consequences for the Roman Empire

This we will never know. But on that day in Teutoburg Wald, Rome suffered a blow to its pride that would take years to avenge, and a wound that never quite healed. It forced Rome, the principle power of its day, to pull back its expansion and set a solid border along the Rhine river. It exposed the folly of overconfidence, and the value of respect. And it was reminded that despite its power and reach, the determination of people can have far-reaching consequences to the arrogant and unprepared.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
german history

Germania – Germany during the Roman Empire

Germania - Germany during the Roman Empire
© Pixabay

The Relationship between Rome and Germania

When we typically think of relations between Rome and the Germanic peoples across the Rhine, it tends to be colored by warfare, conquests, and the eventual fall of the western empire around the fifth century. Popular media and popular thought tends to depict those Germanic tribesman first as literal tribesman, complete with animal skins and a bestial mentality, and more as a rampaging horde that trampled science and progress beneath its heels as the more “progressive” people were driven out of their homes and cities.

Germania as a Roman Province

So I suppose it might come as a surprise when I tell you that there was once a point where Germania was a roman province. And that they welcomed the empire with open arms into their forests and lands. They fought in the Roman armies. And they accepted Roman learning and culture, at least for a time. Sound out of place? Well it definitely was, and this period of Roman expansion into what is now modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and North Rhine Westphalia was equal parts experiment and expansion, and set the stage for the collapse of the powerful empire centuries later.

The Beginning of the Roman Germanic Connection

Roman concerns with Germania stretch all the way back to Julius Caesar, who spent quite a bit of time exploring and beating up people who weren’t like him. The term Germania itself (which may or may not have been directly used by Caesar) was used more as a catchall for the collectives of people who lived beyond the Roman borders on the Rhine, the Germani cisrhenani– literally “this side of the Rhine.” These peoples included the Teutonics, the Cherusci, the Seubi, the Chatti, the Goths, and a bunch of other colorful names, and possessed their own diverse culture. They were often considered by the Romans to be relations to the Gauls who emigrated into Rome, but over time assumed a sense of “othering” that would set them apart from the Empire to their east and south.

Now Julius (and later his nephew Augustus) saw these peoples are a further source of income and land. The Roman legions were famous for using warfare to generate profit, and would conquer and assimilate outside peoples for financial, as well as tactical, advantage. And these Germani cisrhenani were seen no differently. Starting as early as 12 BC, Augustus began a series of campaigns to defeat the tribes and unite all of Germania into a single province, Germania Magna, much as his uncle had desired to do. So one by one, the armies of Rome began to defeat the tribes and bring them to heel.

Germanian Tribes which joined the Empire

Historian Bill Fawcett, when exploring Roman Germania, brings up a very interesting point right about now. While Germania was the subject of limited military conquest by Rome, as it was not a single, unified political entity, there were a fair number of tribes that simply joined Rome entirely due to the Empire’s reputation. While Germanicus and Tiberius were busy wiping out those that resisted Roman incursion, tribes like the Cherusci were more than willing to “sign on” to the Roman way of life, even taking part in sending their young men to Rome as hostages, where they would be educated as Romans, with some even serving in the legions and becoming citizens in their own right.

As the timeline shifted over, and BC became AD, Germania became a rough province governed by Publius Quinctilius Varus, former Governor of both Africa and Syria, and all-around politician from a political family. Upon receiving an assignment from Rome to govern this new province, Varus took three legions and his own Roman arrogance across the Rhine and set up shop in these new lands, where he proceeded to levy taxes and run his “kingdom” like he had run both Africa and Syria.

Varus’ misscalculation

This would be a mistake, and one that Varus wouldn’t fully understand until his death several years later. Fawcett points to his distinctly Roman style of governance as leading to his downfall- he treated the Germanic people in his province as subjugated foes, a common Roman practice in provinces that had been beaten down by force. Rome comes in, Rome defeats your military, Rome upends your government, and you pay taxes for the privilege of being conquered. This is how it had worked when Varus was in Africa. This was how it worked when Varus was in Syria. This was one of the staples of the Roman economic machine, which allowed it to grow as large as it did.

Unfortunately, much of Varus’ “court” was comprised of Germani who had willingly allied with Rome. People who has joined the Roman cause because they either did not want to be wiped out, or because they saw Rome as the future and wanted to be part of such a storied, and respected, Empire. The chieftain of the Cherusci, Arminius, was himself a naturalized Roman citizen who had grown up in the Empire and learned a great deal about their way of life. He had fought for Rome, and now was being treated by Varus as if he were less than human, there only for Rome’s treasury and nothing more.

Mix the pride of the Germani in with this blatant mistreatment by a career politician, and you can only imagine what comes next: The disastrous defeat at Teutoberg Wald. Tune in next week to see how badly that turned out.

Germania - Germany during the Roman Empire
german history

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?
© Pixabay

The brief answer to this would be “because Ashkenazim” – Jewish people who settled in the lands of Germany, Austria, even Poland who kept the predominately Eastern European rites and traditions of Jewish practice.

In history, Jewish people settled into the Holy Roman Empire and were even invited to England by William the Conqueror, partly as a way to jump-start education and boost the local economies. They were physicians, translators, administrators, merchants, lenders, and more, even with religious and secular restrictions imposed on their communities. Over time, the Jewish communities that had been based primarily in continental and eastern European lands became known as the Ashkenazim, and they primarily used the Yiddish language (a language which developed from Hebrew, German, as well as languages like Russian and Polish) as a method of communication. They developed their own rites, traditions, literature, and customs. When naming laws were implemented throughout Europe, many Ashkenazim took on surnames that reflected the language of their location – most often, the German-speaking areas they were already based in. By the time of World War II, estimates place Ashkenazim at about 92% of the Jewish world population (and consequently as the vast majority of Jews in Europe) with Yiddish speakers worldwide at approximately 11 to 13 million, with Poland and Germany as major cultural centers.

With the advent of the Holocaust, many Ashkenazim (along with Jews practicing other rites such as Mizrahi and Sephardim), as well as ethnicities, other religions, and other people deemed a danger to the Nazi regime, perished. Jewish people sought refuge in other countries, such as the United States. With the end of World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, and consequently the establishment of Israel’s Law of Return in 1950, the newly established Israel saw a flood of Ashkenazim.

Further Reading: Non-Jewish Victims of Persecution in Germany (Yad Vashem)

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?
german history

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg
By 4028mdk09 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kurpfälzisches Museum, i.e., the Palatinate Museum, in Heidelberg possesses some of the finest examples of archeological artifacts as well as superb examples of paintings, graphic arts, sculptures, and applied arts in the greater Heidelberg area.  The museum occupies the Morass Palace, named after its first owner, the attorney Johann Philipp von Morass, who was briefly the rector of Heidelberg University in 1700-1701.  Von Morass contracted with the renowned baroque architect Johann Adam Breunig to build the palace on the site of the former “Elende Herberge” (Hotel of Woes), which had been a hospital for the poor since 1693.

In the mid 1870s, Heidelberg city authorities purchased the art and antiquities collected by Count Charles de Graimberg, which were to become the initial pieces of the museum’s collection and established the Kurpfälzisches Museum.  In 1906, the museum relocated its collection to the Morass Palace, where it has remained to this day.

The graphic arts collection can be considered the jewel in the crown of all graphic arts collections in southwest Germany.  It contains more than 7,000 sketches and watercolors and more than 13,000 prints, all of which date from ca. the late 8th century through the 20th century.  The collection has a strong section emphasizing Romanticism, including such artists as Andreas Achenbach, Philipp Otto Runge, Anselm Feuerbach, Eugene von Guerard, Christian Ezdorf, and Carl Friedrich Lessing.  The collection also includes many unique and imaginative items and memorabilia commemorating Heidelberg.
The museum’s sculptures include items dating from the mid 12th century all the way to modern times.  This collection is especially known for the many early 17th-century baroque statuaries collected from houses in Heidelberg’s old town, a narrow strip of land beneath the magnificent Heidelberg Castle ruin on the Neckar’s left bank.  Perhaps its two most famous pieces are The Altar of the Apostles (1509) by Tilman Riemenschneider and Rückblickende (Retrospective), a profoundly evocative cast-stone statue of a woman on foot, hesitating, then turning to look back.  For many people, the woman represents Lot’s wife just before she was turned into a pillar of salt.  In addition, the collection even has gravestones from a now defunct Augustine monastery and sculptures both of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom (indicating how wise it was to build the bridge), and of Prince-Elector Charles Theodore (the ruler who exercised his wisdom in so many ways) from the so-called old bridge across the Neckar.

The applied arts are an important part of the overall collection and occupy many rooms in the palace.  Indeed, four rooms are dedicated to a recreation of the 18th and 19th centuries’ “feel” and have been specifically furnished to represent that time period.  Some of the features in that portion of the collection include typical family costumes showing how individuals dressed from the mid 18th century to just prior to Hitler’s rise to power.  There are excellent examples of furniture of that time as well as bric–a–bracs and curios, e.g., cutlery, glassware, medallions, coins and buttons, porcelain, especially Frankenthal porcelain, remind us of the important, but simple, components of everyday life more than two centuries ago.  Do not miss the Frankenthal pieces, for Frankenthal was, without question, one of the premier porcelain manufacturers in Germany in the late 18th century.  To top it all off, there are portraits of select Price-Electors of the time and Countess Palatine Elisabeth Auguste’s household silver.

The museum’s paintings include works spanning the centuries from the 15th through the 20th, particularly of renowned local prominent individuals, e.g., Perkeo, the dwarf and favorite court jester of Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine in Heidelberg and who, because he was also the official guardian of the Great Heidelberg Tun, a huge wine barrel with an original capacity of more that 221,000 litres, he became Heidelberg’s unofficial mascot.  Other paintings include Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate, works by the Dutch painter Rogier van der Weyden and the German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder, many Dutch still lifes, numerous rococo paintings, works by the German landscape painter Carl Rottmann, the leading German classicist painter Anselm Feuerbach, and the German realist Wilhelm Trübner.  It also includes notable 20th-century works by Alexander Kanoldt, a so-called magic realist and an important figure in the New Objectivity school of art.  Two of Kanoldt’s more distinguished works are The Red Belt and Still Life II; the Russian expressionist Alexei Jawlensky whose 1905 self-portrait and Young Girl in a Flowered Hat stand out as a particularly fine example of Jawlensky’s synthesis of the post-impressionist avant-garde artistic principles espoused by Jan Verkade and Paul Sérusier and the rich use of color advocated by Wassily Kandinsky and others caught up in the Munich New Artist’s Association; and the multi-talented German painter, draftsman, sculptor, and printmaker, Max Beckmann, a post-expressionist and also a proponent of New Objectivity.  Beckmann’s 1940 Self-Portrait with Horn is a justifiably popular piece, as are The Night and Carnival (a triptych).

Seven rooms in the museum’s ground floor are devoted to its archeological collection and traces Heidelberg’s history from about 600,000 years ago through modern times.  Naturally, an entire room and a great deal of attention is paid to the presence of the Romans in Germany.  The next most popular archeological section is the Heiligenberg, a low sandstone mountain east of Heidelberg, atop of which are the ruins of an early Romanesque church and two monasteries:  the Monastery of St. Michael (1023 A.D.) and the Monastery of St. Stephen (1094 A.D.).  The mountain is about 440 above sea level and the so-called philosopher’s way leads up the mountain about two kilometers.  If you plan to explore the mountain, be on the lookout for remains of a Celtic fort, the Heidenloch, a 55-meter deep pit, the Heiligenberg Tower, built as a lookout from the stones of the razed Monastery of St. Stephen, the Bismarck Tower, a 1903 monument to Otto von Bismarck, and the Thingstätte, an open-air theatre created by the Nazis in 1935.  The notion behind creating the Thingstätte or amphitheater (400 were planned, but only 40 were built) was that they be community gathering places as much for entertainment as for the neighborly exchange of gossip and as opportunities for government officials to ballyhoo their propaganda.  Artefacts from the dark ages round out the museum’s archeological exhibitions.

The Morass Palace, i.e., Kurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg, is at Hauptstraße 97, 69117 Heidelberg; Tel. 06221 58–34020.  It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1000 until 1800 and is closed on 24, 15, & 31 December and 01 January & on Shrove Tuesday and 01 May.  Entry fees vary based on many criteria.
Visit the museum’s website for further information .  Go < a href="http://www.museum-heidelberg.de/pb/site/Museum-Heidelberg/get/params_E360325778/1274233/Eintrittspreise%20ab%201%204%202009.pdf" target="_blank">here to get a list of fees.

The Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg
Culture german history

Die Berliner Luftbrücke – The Berlin Airlift

Die Berliner Luftbrücke - The Berlin Airlift
© Pixabay

Berlin is a city full of rich history, culture and diversity. It has witnessed many deep impacts, was severely destroyed during WW II and separated afterwards. But nothing might have influenced the city more like the Berlin Blockade and the Luftbrücke: From June 1948 until May 1949, the Western Part of Berlin was blocked by the Soviet Union.

 

 

The Berlin Blockade

 

To understand the meaning of the Berlin Blockade, you have to know about the geographic situation and the history. The allied forces and the Soviet Union split the city into four occupation zones: The three western zones of the US, Great Britain, and France and the eastern zone of the Soviet Union. The last one was later also a part of the GDR and its capital, whereas the western parts of Berlin became part of the western Federal Republic of Germany.

 

 

 

To rebuild the country after the war, the three western occupants decided to introduce a new currency in the western sectors: The Deutsche Mark. The introduction of the new currency happened in 1948 without the Soviets knowing about it. The eastern occupants then feared the flooding of their zone being with the old currency, the Reichsmark. To prevent this, they had to introduce a new currency in the East, also called Mark. But the standing of Berlin was yet unsolved: The Russians planned to introduce their currency in whole Berlin, the French, British and Americans refused: The Deutsche Mark should also be the currency of West-Berlin. The tension between the Allies and the Russians grew in the following month and Berlin became more and more a game point of world politics once again.

 

 

 

But the Russians had one big trump in their hands: Because Berlin was just an enclave inside the eastern zone, the Soviet Forces just blocked all the entries to the western part of the city. They could do so because Berlin was still a big field expanse of rubble and was not able to take care of itself or the two million inhabitants in the western sectors. The Russians cut all entries on the land, the rivers and also railroads and the electric cables.

 

 

 

The establishment of the Luftbrücke

 

The Allies now had two possibilities: To give up the city and make the Russians overtake their sectors or to try everything to supply the inhabitants. They did the last one. They could to so because there have been three air corridors to Berlin that had been guaranteed by a particular treaty – to be in sharp conflict to the land and the rivers where there wasn’t any treaty like that.

 

 

 

The Allies and especially the Americans then decided to use those corridors to supply the city by airlift. It was a huge duty for the pilots and their stuff and also for the political decision-makers. Over 8.000 tons of goods had to be delivered to the city each day: Not only food but also common products like coal or gasoline. The allied managed to do over 200.000 flights in one year to save the inhabitants of starving – and also to prove the Russians their stamina. Over one year later, they reached their goal: The Soviet Union stopped the Blockade, all the necessary goods could be delivered by land and water again. The Berliners thus are still thankful to the Americans that they have never given them up.

Die Berliner Luftbrücke - The Berlin Airlift