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National Monuments and Nationalism in 19th Century Germany

Series:

Hans A. Pohlsander

No century in modern European history has built monuments with more enthusiasm than the 19th. Of the hundreds of monuments erected, those which sprang from a nation-wide initiative and addressed themselves to a nation, rather than part of a nation, we may call national monuments. Nelson’s Column in London or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris are obvious examples. In Germany the 19th century witnessed a veritable flood of monuments, many of which rank as national monuments. These reflected and contributed to a developing sense of national identity and the search for national unity; they also document an unsuccessful effort to create a «genuinely German» style. They constitute a historical record, quite apart from aesthetic appeal or ideological message. As this historical record is examined, German national monuments of the 19th century are described and interpreted against the background of the nationalism which gave birth to them.

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CHAPTER I What is a National Monument? 13

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Chapter I What is a National Monument? Monuments assume many different forms, from humble and simple tomb- stones to imposing public structures. But how are we to define a national monument? In want of clearly established criteria Thomas Nipperdey, in 1968, offered this: “A national monument is what is accepted as a national monument.”1 Reinhard Alings, in 1996, phrased it differently: “A national monument is what has become a national monument.”2 Nevertheless some characteristics of national monuments may be discerned: A national monument is one which honors a revered leader or hero of a nation, keeps alive the memory of a significant event in the history of a nation, or expresses the ideals of a nation. Such a monument serves to maintain cherished traditions and to evoke patriotic sentiments. A monu- ment may be regarded as a national one from the beginning, or it may take on a nation-wide significance at a later time. Thus Karl Friedrich Schinkel “concentrated more on Prussian than national identity,”3 but some of his buildings have clearly become national monuments. A monument may help to define a nation, to shape its national identity and consciousness. Nelson’s Column and the Cenotaph in London, the Pantheon and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the monuments to Victor Emmanuel II and to Giuseppe Garibaldi in Rome, the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., and the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York, meeting one or more of these criteria, are prime examples of national...

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