Rhineland


I’m a little astounded to learn that the Historische Archiv der Stadt Koeln (Municipal Archives of the City of Cologne) simply collapsed yesterday, perhaps due to subway construction in the area.  From the photographs, it looks like the front of quarter caved in (it is a square with a courtyard in the middle).  To the right of the courtyard is where the reading room is.  The collapsed part held, on the ground floor, the entryway, reception area and lockers–not necessarily a lot of people.  But I don’t know where the files are physically.

The archive was unique–very different from other municipal archives I’ve visited.  In my work I found records concerning Germany’s early nationalist movement (particularly the correspondence of the Reichenspergers), documents on the Catholic Democratic movement, and of course, the mayoralty of Adenauer.  From what I can tell, the losses  may not be extensive: copies of documents were held in another location in the Black Forest.  However, it seems that Heinrich Boell’s papers were just purchased.

Joel from Far Outliers, who is traveling through Europe to visit his academic relatives flung throughout the continent, was kind enough to leave this observation about crossing the Rhine from France into Germany:

I just tried booking train reservations to Bucharest in the SNCF office in the center of Grand Ile. They couldn’t confirm anything past Wien. International airlines do much better in that regard.

And when we crossed the “border” to Kehl, the DB travel counter agent would only use German or English, forcing the French speaker ahead of me in line to struggle along in German no better than mine. EUnification seems to have a long way to go on the ground.

Yep. I’ve had those experiences. Once I was one of two links between a SNCF agent and a pair of Moldavians (he spoke French and some English, I translated into German for a Russian woman, who translated into Russian for the Moldavians). The French still don’t speak German (or English, for that matter), though SNCF agents should. Germans don’t speak French (though DB agents should), but ply you with their English at the drop of a hat. (To be fair, I’ve also translated for Swiss border agents from French and German into English so they could speak to a Japanese woman.)

What I think is more ironic is that it is still really hard to cross the Rhine by rail, whether internationally at Strasbourg or within Germany at Cologne. Since the construction of the railways in the mid-19th century, the rails on the left side ran one way (generally toward Belgium), the rails on the right another (generally northeast). From the records I’ve read from the Rhenish Railroad, businessmen stalled as much as possible when it came to linking their cities to thos in Central an Eastern Europe. The East held no economic interest for them. Year after year, rail officials hesitated to invest in right bank projects, claiming that the terrain was poor or incentives were low, and connected more of the left bank together instead. The Alsatian Railroad was almost no better.

Nothing that has happened since has improved the rail infrastructure connecting both sides of the river. Crossing is a slow process. The technology can often be less sophisticated. As the right side is underdeveloped, traveling east-west leads to convoluted courses. Why did it take so long to go from Strasbourg to Mannheim or Stuttgart, when Basel was a short trip? EUnification hasn’t built many real bridges.

Well, I hope Joel filled up on Flammkuchen when in my beloved Strasbourg.

\Ralph Luker forwarded this post by Jeff Weintraub, wherein he discusses Brad DeLong’s reflection about war and peace in Europe: no one has crossed the Rhine River “with fire and sword” for more than sixty years, the longest such period since antiquity (meaning in all written history.) It led Prof. Weintraub to write:

On the other hand, it’s also true that we now live in a world where the prospect of a major war between, say, France and Germany really is inconceivable. Why is that?

I didn’t worry about fact-checking DeLong’s assertion. There were always enough German lords on the east side of the Rhine who had to suppressed revolts in small territories (or wanted to annex them) on the left side that, at least since 1000, this statement is bound to be true. The notion of hereditary Franco-German antagonism, however, was rather new to the 19th century, something German nationalists conjured up in the 1810s and 20s, and the French adopted after the disastrous war in 1870.

Furthermore, between 1818 and 1870, the most significant Rhine crossing by an army was 1849: the Prussian army into Bavaria’s Palatinate to suppress the revolutionary democratic uprising, and crossing would not be the best description because they used steam ships from the Prussian Rhine Province to get there. And in the 1880s, French politicians did want an entente with Germany because their hereditary conflict with England was heating up again. At least until Boulanger hit the scene. But I ramble.

The more interesting point that DeLong makes is about the durability of integration, particularly between France and Germany. As I recently notes, French and German scholars collaborated, without much conflict, on a textbook on the two countries common history–that’s history in the singular. The two nations have worked well together at least since the mid-1960s, and probably since the Saar question was resolved. And I would not be the first to opine that at the heart of the EU is Franco-German cooperation.

Going back to Weintraub’s question: is a Franco-German war unimaginable? If Norman Angell was wrong in 1911 that economic integration made European war ‘inconceivable,’ why should it be now? If Angell had read the political tea leaves, he might have concluded differently, especially given the German military classes disregard for economic necessities. There is no social class or intellectual movement that sees war as right, revenge or renewal. Were Adenauer, Monnet and Schuman farsighted in making this once unholy union? Monnet might have to be removed from the formula, since Adenauer and Schuman’s Catholicism may have been the most significant element in overcoming hesitation to cooperation.

[ETA] Given the nature of most incursions across the Rhine–to suppress the independence of cities and communities–this era of peace might say something more about how European nations are patient with democracy and less rash in their use of military force.

For some time I have been meaning to post about the Rhenish Museum and the debate in German cultural politics that it stirred. In 1926 Konrad Adenauer proposed the creation of a museum in Cologne after the success of the millennium exhibition of 1925.The proposal looked like a matter of course. The original exhibition was the central attraction of the Jahrtausendfeier — the millennium of the attachment of Lothringen (hence the Rhineland) to Germany. The event that was remembered — an obscure treaty that had almost no political relevance, even in the Middle Ages — had been latched onto by nationalists and regionalists alike to express the dedication of Rhinelanders to the Reich. The museum intended to turn the millennium into a permanent institution.

What seemed like a sure thing was instead contentious. First, the mayors of various cities contested the details of the plan: Dusseldorf, Koblenz, and Trier argued that they had better claims to a museum that would encompass Rhenish history, economy, and culture.

Second, the idea at the center of the proposal — the meaning of something called “Rhenish history” — was called into question. The millennium exhibition was carried forward by the emotions of the participants: their desire to show that the Rhine region was not just German, but a leading contributor of German culture overpowered critical judgement and historiography. Plus, the French occupation gave Rhinelanders something to thumb their noses at.

When Adenauer proposed making the exhibition permanent, scholars from various fields chimed in. Critic asserted that the Rhineland was not unified, had never been unified, and could not be presented by a singular institution. Proponents asserted that the decentered nature of the Rhineland does no deny it a history.

The Rhenish Museum is an example of the difficulties of inventing traditions. Eric Hobsbawm describes invented traditions as rituals that give the impression of continuity with the past. In modern times, invented traditions are abstract and ambiguous, integrating individuals into the community (especially the nation).

The Jahrtausendfeier could be described as such a practice. However, it failed when politicians and scholars attempted to turn it into an institution. The continuity of the German Rhineland was in doubt.

I will continue with this in two more parts. In the second part I will look at the Jahrtausendfeier itself. In the third part I will look at the debate in historiography.

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