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National Monuments and Nationalism in 19th Century Germany

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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 III German Nationalism in the 19th Centuryfrom Heinrich von Kleist to “Die Wacht am Rhein” 51

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Chapter III German Nationalism in the 19th Century from Heinrich von Kleist to “Die Wacht am Rhein” Heinrich von Kleist was born in 1777 in Frankfurt/Oder into a noble Prussian family of Junkers and officers.1 He became a soldier at the age of 15 and a lieutenant at 18, but quit the service two years later. He attended the University of Frankfurt/Oder for three semesters only, studying among other subjects philosophy, particularly that of Kant. He also spent consid- erable time traveling and in literary pursuits. He seldom had a permanent abode. In 1804 he obtained a minor government post in Königsberg. In 1807, in Berlin, he was arrested by French authorities on suspicion of being a spy and held for almost a year. For the remaining years of his life he felt an intense hatred of the French occupiers, an intense patriotism, and an intense desire to see Germany liberated, as he was intense in all of his views and activities. He lost his parents early and was beset by financial difficulties most of his life. He was unhappy in love and emotionally unstable, even suffering a nervous breakdown at one point. He received much support, both financial and emotional, from his sister Ulrike. In 1811 he ended his life and the life of a woman whom he loved in a murder-suicide pact at the banks of the Wannsee in Potsdam, where the couple was also buried (ill. 3).2 Of his many literary works two shall be...

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