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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 X The Iron Chancellor 217


Chapter X The Iron Chancellor Among the leading personalities in nineteenth century Germany, Otto von Bismarck, often called “the Iron Chancellor,” was unquestionably the most important. So many honors were bestowed upon him that one is jus- tified in speaking of a Bismarck cult.1 Some 450 German cities made him an honorary citizen.2 Four localities in the United States bear his name.3 His importance and stature are reflected, above all, in the unprecedented and staggering number of monuments erected to him. Already in the years 1869–1898, i.e. before his death on 30 July 1898, he was honored by sixteen towers or columns bearing his name4 and by a statue designed by Fritz Schaper and erected in Cologne in 1879.5 It is difficult to keep track of the literally hundreds of monuments which memorialized him after his 1 Hans-Walter Hedinger, “Der Bismarckkult: Ein Umriß,” in Gunther Stephenson, ed., Der Religionswandel in unserer Zeit im Spiegel der Religionswissenschaft (Darmstadt 1976) 201–15. Hedinger, “Bismarck-Denkmäler” 277–314, gives an excellent account; a brief summary ibid. 279. Lothar Machtan, “Bismarck-Kult und deutscher National- Mythos 1890–1940,” in id. ed., Bismarck und der deutsche National-Mythos (Bremen 1994) 15–67. Alings, Monument und Nation 128–29. And cult can degenerate into Kitsch. See Konrad Breitenborn, Otto von Bismarck: Kitsch und Kult um den Reichsgründer (Frankfurt and Leipzig 1990). 2 Körner and Weigand, Denkmäler 20. Epkenhans, “Otto von Bismarck und sein Mythos” 161–62. 3 In Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, and North Dakota...

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