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National Monuments and Nationalism in 19th Century Germany


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 VII Monuments to German Arms 147


Chapter VII Monuments to German Arms National movements seek to find continuity and to justify their cause in history, even when they want to bring a new order.1 Zionism looked back to biblical times,2 Italian Fascism to the Roman Empire,3 and German Nazism to the Germanic, pagan past.4 The German national movement of the 19th century reached back to the Middle Ages and even further back to the Germanic past, without assuming an anti-Christian attitude. Into this context we must place the history of a major German national monu- ment, the Hermannsdenkmal, or monument to Arminius, the Germanic chief who in A.D. 9, in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, utterly destroyed three Roman legions under the command of Quintilius Varus. There is no need here to give details of the life of Arminius or of the battle.5 The site of that battle, however, is of some interest. Tacitus, rather vaguely, puts it in the saltus Teutoburgiensis (Teutoburger Wald).6 Archaeological explorations have now placed it at Kalkriese, ca. 15 km. 1 On this point see Thomas Nipperdey in Engelbert, Ein Jahrhundert 15–17. 2 Today ancient Masada is used by the Israel Defense Forces for swearing-in its recruits, who vow that “Masada shall never fall again.” The literature on the controversial subject of Zionism is substantial. In the interest of balance two books only, written from opposing points of view, shall here be cited: Avi Erlich, Ancient Zionism: The Biblical Origins of the National Idea (New York...

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