THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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129 posts categorized "Germany"

03 October 2020

German Reunification - Before and Beyond 1990

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On 3 October 1990, after over 40 years of division, East and West Germany became a single state. The breaching of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the opening of borders between the two states that followed had brought the question of a possible unification to the fore, but many assumed it would be a slow process over several years. However, the replacement of East Germany’s ruling Socialist party by a pro-unification coalition after the country’s first free elections, and the near-collapse of the East German economy, hastened the process, and the two states became one within less than a year.

The British Library’s holdings of material on the question of German reunification go back far further than the early 1990s. On its foundation in 1949 the West German Federal Republic established the Ministerium fĂŒr gesamtdeutsche Beziehungen (Ministry for all-German Relations; the word ‘gesamtdeutsche’ was later replaced by ‘innendeutsche’ (Intra-German’) to avoid accusations that the Ministry advocated a return to pre-1937 borders). Part of the Ministry’s remit was to manage formal relations with the East German Democratic Republic, since the Federal Republic refused to recognise it as a legitimate state and therefore could not handle relations through the Foreign Office. But the Ministry also published material on the East German state and on the prospects and practicalities of a potential reunification, such as a collection of documents reflecting the Federal republic’s efforts to restore German Unity.

Cover of 'Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands'
Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands durch gesamtdeutsche Wahlen: Dokumente und Akten 
(Bonn, 1952)  S.F.430/12.(2.)

As well as official government publications on the issue, individuals also published thoughts and reflections. We have several works by the politician and writer Wilhelm Wolfgang SchĂŒtz, starting with Die Stunde Deutschlands: Möglichkeiten einer Politik der Wiedervereinigung (‘Germany’s Hour: Possibilities for a Policy of Reunification’; Stuttgart, 1955; 8030.aa.28.). One of his later works, Reform der Deutschlandpolitik (Cologne, 1965; X.709/3138.) was translated into English as Rethinking German Policy: New Approaches to Reunification (New York, 1967; X.709/6290). A pamphlet edited by Klaus Otto Skibowski, a close adviser to the first Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, sets out what he sees as the moral case for reunification, but also considers practical issues around the process, not least the financial implications. Interestingly, the map on the cover shows a jigsaw-image of Germany including areas within its pre-1937 borders. The question of what territory would be included in a united Germany was not fully settled until 1970 when West Germany formally recognised the Oder-Neisse Line as the border with Poland, and reiterated in the 1990 reunification treaty.

Cover of 'Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands' with a stylised map of the divided Germany including former German territories in Poland
Cover of Klaus Otto Skibowski (ed.), Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Aschaffenburg, 1955) 08073.d.89.

Although most of the literature from the 1950s and 60s in our collections takes the West German line that East Germany is Soviet-occupied territory, there are some exceptions, such as a, Programm der nationalen Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Programme for German National Reunification; Stuttgart, 1952; 08074.f.12. The text is available online here), issued by the West German Communist Party, which depicts West Germany as a slave state of American, British and French imperialists, and an expansion of the East German system to the west as the most desirable form of reunification.

In the 1960s, the Federal Republic began to establish more formal and co-operative relations with the states of Eastern Europe, and in 1972 finally formalised relations with the German Democratic Republic. While the question of reunification did not go away, our collections contain fewer publications on the issue from the 1970s and 80s. But following the actual reunification, the number of publications naturally increases, from the formal reunification treaty signed on 31 August 1990 (S.F.583/476) to academic studies and political reflections.

Cover of 'Ein SchnÀppchen names DDR' with a drawing of snails
Cover of GĂŒnter Grass’s critical take on reunification, Ein SchnĂ€ppchen namens DDR (Frankfurt am Main, 1990) YA.1995.a.29449

Not all of these are positive. The Nobel Prize-winning author GĂŒnter Grass was one of the most prominent voices expressing concern and dismay at the way the West German Federal Republic effectively absorbed the former German Democratic Republic. Similar concerns are expressed in satirical form in a collection of sketches and cartoons, Das letzte Ende, from the East German Cabaret Distel (‘Thistle’), and find a poignant echo in the popular film Good Bye Lenin where the main character, having tried to keep the truth about the events of 1989-90 from his ailing mother, a former East German party activist, fakes a broadcast announcing the end of the German Democratic Republic in a way that he himself finds more acceptable and relatable than the reality.

Cover of 'Das letzte Ende' witj a photograph of one of the Cabaret Distel performers
Cover of Das letzte Ende: gibt es ein Leben nach der Wiedervereinigung (Berlin, 1991) YA.1994.b.4972

It is certainly true that after initial euphoria, Germans on both sides of the former divide found it difficult to adapt. Many East Germans lost their jobs as the infrastructure of their former state crumbled and was rebuilt according to capitalist principles, while some westerners resented the large amounts of money pumped into the east to tackle these problems. The concept of the ‘Mauer im Kopf’ (‘wall in the head’) was coined to describe lingering mistrust and misunderstanding among the citizens of the different former republics. Reunification also saw a rise in right-wing nationalist groups which identified and attacked immigrant workers as a scapegoat for their own dissatifactions (the website zweiteroktober90 examines the roots and early manifestations of this violence).

The many books – from Germany, Britain and beyond – in our collection published since 1990 examine these problems and contradictions, and examine the history of reunification and the new Germany since 1990. A search in our online catalogue using the keyword ‘Wiedervereinigung’ or, for more recent material, the  subject heading ‘Unification of Germany (1990)’ is a good way in to exploring the collections.

Despite the challenges and problems around reunification, for most who remember the days of a divided nation it is hard to see it as anything other than a positive step, and a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that ‘around nine-in-ten Germans living in both the West and East say that German unification was a good thing for Germany’ and that ‘life satisfaction in East Germany has skyrocketed since 1991’. Although today’s 30th anniversary celebrations will be muted due to the Covid pandemic, there is still every reason to celebrate.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

24 August 2020

Gutenberg Anniversaries - not all that they seem?

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The date of 24 August is often claimed as the anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible, the first European book printed with moveable type. The date is not in fact the anniversary of the printing being completed, but is based on a rubricator’s  inscription of 24 August 1456 in a copy of the Bible held by the French National Library. It’s the earliest dated evidence of a complete copy being in existence, but obviously made when the rubrication was completed rather than the printing (thought to be the previous year). But it’s become well established as a date to commemorate the Bible’s completion.

Opening page of the Gutenberg Bible, with hand decorated initials and margins
Opening of the Gutenberg Bible, from one of the British Library copies (Mainz, ca. 1455) C.9.d.4.

In fact this is not the only anniversary date connected with Gutenberg that is somewhat tenuous. Few exact dates in  Gutenberg’s life (and little precise chronology of the Bible’s printing) are definitely known. However, since the 16th century, various years have been chosen and commemorated as Gutenberg anniversaries, and the two most common (1400 and 1440) are based on guesswork.

The most frequently commemorated Gutenberg date is 1440, claimed as the anniversary of the invention of the printing press. This is based on documents from a legal case brought against Gutenberg in 1439 in Strasbourg, which implied that he was working on some new innovation and used terminology similar to that later used to describe parts of the printing process. But it is not until the early 1450s that we have any evidence of Gutenberg, back in his native Mainz, actually producing printed texts.

Gutenberg Strasbourg
Statue of Gutenberg in Strasbourg, erected in 1840 to commemorate the ‘400th anniversary’ of the printing press (Photograph: Susan Reed)

Nonetheless, 1440 was the anniversary date that stuck. As early as 1540 the printer Hans Lufft of Wittenberg is said to have held a commemorative feast, although no primary evidence of this survives. A Latin poem published in 1541 has been described as the first Gutenberg centenary publication, but can only claim the title by default since the author, Johannes Arnoldus doesn’t actually mention an anniversary, stating that a visit to Mainz inspired his work. He calls the printing press a new wonder of the world, and praises Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer as divinely inspired.

Title page of 'De chalcographiae inventione' with a woodcut of printers at work
Joannes Arnoldus, De chalcographiae inventione poema encomiasticum (Mainz, 1541) G.9963

In 1640 a handful of scholars and printers produced celebratory publications for the bicentenary of printing. One such was Bernardus Mallinckrodt, apparently the first writer to use the term ‘incunabula’, from the Latin word for cradle, to refer to books from the ‘infancy’ of printing’, now used for western books printed before 1501.

Title page of 'De ortu ac progressu artis typographicĂŠ' with portraits of Gutenberg and Fust and a picture of a printing workshop
Bernardus Mallinckrodt, De ortu ac progressu artis typographicé dissertatio historica 
 (Cologne, 1640) C.75.b.17.(1.)

Mallinckrodt’s chief aim was to defend Gutenberg’s reputation as the inventor of printing against Dutch claims that Laurens Janszoon Coster of Haarlem had first perfected the art. This debate continued for generations, becoming particularly fierce in the 19th century. It even inspired a play, staged in London in 1856, which depicted Gutenberg’s ‘theft’ of Coster’s idea.

First Printer
Playbill advertising The First Printer, a play by Tom Taylor and Charles Reade, as performed at the Princess’s Theatre in March 1856 (Playbills 161)

In the Netherlands Coster was long celebrated as the inventor of printing, with 1428 commemorated as the date of his breakthrough. The modern consensus has come down in favour of Gutenberg, and contemporary debates focus more on whether or not knowledge of older East Asian printing technologies influenced developments in Europe.

Portait of Coster holding a letter A and a printed sheet, with a church in the background.
Laurier-krans geflogten om’t hoofd van Laurens Koster, eerste uitvinder der boekdrukkunst binnen Haarlem (Haarlem, 1726.) Koning. 13. The scroll superimposed on the church spire may be intended to reflect the shape of an early press

1740 saw anniversary festivities in many German towns, usually organised by local printers and booksellers, but also involving scholars and clerics, whose lectures, speeches and sermons accompanied more entertaining events such as processions and firework displays. These celebrations often emphasised the role of printing in spreading Christianity. In a work commemorating the celebrations in Wernigerode, the printer Michael Anton Struck proudly claims to have printed 50,000 Bibles in 40 years.

Engraved title page with vignettes showing printers, presses, books and church scenes
Decorative title page of Michael Anton Struck, Wernigerodisches Danck- und Jubel-Fest, welches wegen der vor 300 Jahren 1440 erfundenen Buchdrucker-Kunst  
 celebriret worden ([Wernigerode, 1740]) 9930.ccc.59.(5.)

In the 16th-18th centuries, Gutenberg commemorations emphasised the invention of printing more than the inventor. Gutenberg was praised, but there was little interest in his character or motivation. 19th-century Romantic notions of the hero were among the factors that helped move Gutenberg himself into the limelight in 1840. For the first time, fictional and dramatic portrayals of his life and work were presented, as well as biographies aimed at a wider popular audience.

Allegorical image of Gutenberg and a spirit
A tormented Gutenberg confronts the spirit of the past. From Franz Dingelstedt, Sechs Jahrhunderte aus Gutenbergs Leben: kleine Gabe zum grossen Feste (Kassel, 1840) 839.m.11.

The Gutenberg of 1840 appeared in many different guises, often with a particular political colour. To some he was still the man who had brought God’s word to the masses and facilitated the Reformation. To others, and particularly to radicals who used the anniversary to call for freedom of the press, he was a more secular apostle of enlightenment, pushing aside mediaeval darkness and superstition, and creating a technology to unite the peoples of the world.

Allegorical image of printing uniting the world
Printing unites the peoples of the world. From Heinrich Meyer (ed.) 1840: Gutenbergs-Album (Braunschweig, 1840). 819.l.15

1900 saw the first major celebrations of Gutenberg’s supposed birth date (as determined in the previous decade) of 1400. By this time Germany had become a strong unified state and the emphasis was more on Gutenberg as national hero. A spectacular pageant in Mainz placed him and his achievement in the specific context of German culture and history alongside figures such as Luther, Goethe, Schiller and Frederick the Great.

Frederick the Great and his soldiers as shown in the 1900 centenary procession
Frederick the Great and his army as depicted in the 1900 celebration pageant, marching past the Gutenberg Statue in Mainz. From, Gutenberg-Feier, Mainz 1900: Offizielle Darstellung des historischen Festzuges ... (Mainz, 1900) 1858.a.6.

With the advent of cheap mass-production, popular souvenirs such as postcards, ornaments and pictures were another feature of the 1900 celebrations. However, the anniversary also gave rise to a number of serious scholarly publications on the early history of printing which had become an important area of research in the previous century.

The idea of celebrating Gutenberg as a German hero was, of course, taken to extremes by the National Socialist regime, which instituted annual ‘Gutenberg Celebration Weeks’ in Mainz. However, with the country at war, plans for grandiose celebrations in 1940 were replaced by more modest events. It was among academics and bibliographers in the USA that the anniversary received perhaps the most attention. Their serious studies of early printing were complemented by humorous offerings such as M.B. Cary’s The Missing Gutenberg Wood Blocks (New York, 1940; 12332.bb.15.), purporting to be newly-discovered 15th-century illustrations of Gutenberg’s early life and work, and A.W. Rushmore’s ‘The Mainz Diary’, which portrays Gutenberg’s wife as the true inventor of the press.

Cartoon of a mediaeval woman working a printing press
Mrs Gutenberg at work. From: A.W. Rushmore, ‘The Mainz Diary: 1437-1440. In which new light is shed upon the cradle days of the art and mystery of printing.’, in Print: a quarterly journal of the graphic arts, Vol. 1 no.3 (December 1940). PP.1622.bfg.

It was not until 1968 that Gutenberg was commemorated on a verifiable historical date: the 500th anniversary of his death. Wider commemorations were held for his ‘600th birthday’ in 2000, again with a mixture of scholarly and more frivolous activities. Alongside exhibitions, conferences, and printed and digital facsimiles, there were new fictional retellings of Gutenberg’s life, and such souvenirs as Gutenberg chocolates and candles.

It will be interesting to see if 2040 is marked as the 600th anniversary of western printing. It wouldn’t necessarily be historically accurate, but it would continue centuries of tradition. As for today, 24 August 2020, surely even the most hard-nosed pedant can at least say, ‘Happy 564th anniversary of a Gutenberg Bible rubricator laying down his pen’. After all, he too was making history in his own way.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Vignette 011899.h.515
Vignette showing Gutenberg at the press, from Paul Goldschmidt, Gutenbergbuch: Festgabe zur 500jÀhrigen Geburtstagsfeier (Halle, 1900) 011899.h.15

28 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

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This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. This week, Susan Reed, Lead Curator of Germanic Collections, shares her selections. 

The book I have inherited is one that I have never actually read in the form in which I have inherited it, but which was indirectly responsible for my interest in the German language and, by extension, for my choice to study German at university and the path of my career ever since. It is a 1930s adaptation of Emil KĂ€stner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive, simplified for English-speaking learners of German. Why have I inherited it? It’s a slightly long story.

Cover of the 1933 edition of Emil und die Detektive

Erich KĂ€stner, Emil und die Detektive, adapted and edited by Dorothy Jenner (London, 1933). W.P.8659/4

On the outbreak of war in 1939 my mother Jean, then 12 years old, was evacuated from her home in North London. Like many early evacuees, she returned home after a few months as the feared attacks on cities failed to materialise, although ironically the family house was in fact bombed early in the Blitz. Thankfully the whole family – including Tanner the dachshund – survived, but that’s another story. The point of this story is that, while Jean and others were away, the pupils at her school who had not been evacuated had started learning French. Those returning were simply given a textbook and told to catch up. It was Jean’s first experience of learning a language and she did not enjoy it. She always remembered being baffled by the teacher repeatedly saying what she heard as ‘on cauliflower’ – in fact ‘encore une fois’, the request to repeat a sentence.

So when Jean started learning German from scratch in the following school year, it was a bit of a revelation. Her textbook was the long-lived Deutsches Leben by A.S. Macpherson (first published 1931-34; 12964.de.4.) but what really stuck in her mind was that, as early as they were able, they started reading the simplified Emil und die Detektive. Even in a much abridged and simplified form it made her realise that it was possible to read something in another language that was a real story and genuinely entertaining.

Although Jean never pursued language studies beyond school, her stories of the difficulty of French and the relief of learning German must have planted a seed in me. Although I actually found French initially easier to learn at school, I was far more excited about starting German, and German was the language that I pursued and still love. In a strange and indirect way, the Second World War, with help from Emil und die Detektive and my mum, made me a Germanist.

After 27 years in the BL there are many books I could pass on, and the one I have chosen is perhaps over-familiar, having often been featured in blogs, in exhibitions and on the website, but it remains the most memorable and exciting acquisition of my career.

When I started researching the history of German-language printing in 19th-century Britain, I was surprised to discover that the first edition of the Communist Manifesto was published in London by a group of German radical exiles and immigrants in February 1848. I was less surprised (although disappointed) that the BL didn’t have a copy: it was after all a clandestine publication and none of those revolutionaries in neighbouring Fitzrovia would have thought of dropping a copy off at the British Museum Library to comply with legal deposit legislation (then not particularly rigorously enforced even for mainstream publications). Also, the Manifesto quickly faded from view after its first publication following the outbreak of European revolutions based on more moderate calls for change and largely led by middle-class liberals rather then the united proletariat. It was only in the 1870s and 80s that European socialists rediscovered the Manifesto and started to spread its message.

Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto

First edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1848). C.194.b.289

Ironically, by the early 21st century the few surviving copies of the first edition of the Manifesto were highly expensive and sought-after items – potentially luxury purchases for rich collectors. The then Lead Curator of 19th-Century British printed books and I kept our eyes open for copies on the market, and in late 2008 we spotted one that fulfilled all our requirements regarding condition, printing and provenance. It was to be sold at auction in Paris and, by a fortunate coincidence, I was travelling to Paris shortly before the auction date for a work-related visit, so was able to go to the auction house and meet the agent who was going to bid on our behalf in order to inspect the book together. Auction houses near the Champs-ÉlysĂ©es are not my usual stamping-ground and I had mixed feelings of excitement and heavy responsibility as we examined the book and agreed that the BL would go ahead with our bid.

On the day of the auction I was back in the office doing routine things when my 19th-century British collections colleague came rushing in to say “We’ve got it!” Uncharacteristically for two rather restrained Brits, we hugged each other for joy, and I remember feeling thrilled that this important piece of world history and Anglo-German publishing history was finally going to find a home in the BL. And I was the one who got to catalogue it!

Since then my path has continued to cross with the Manifesto. It was featured in the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation, and readers in the UK can hear me (among other more expert voices) talking about it in the accompanying radio series here. And of course it had to be part of our own Russian Revolution exhibition in 2017. There it was displayed at the start of the exhibition between two large maps showing the extent of the Russian Empire at the start of the 20th century. We wanted to illustrate the fact that this flimsy, obscurely-published pamphlet was like the pebble that started the avalanche that would destroy that vast empire.

Photograph of the Manifesto displayed in the BL's 2017 Russian Revolution exhibition
The Manifesto as displayed in the 2017 BL exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (Photograph: Sam Lane Photography)

Whatever you think of the Communist Manifesto and its legacies, it was probably the most influential (for good or ill) foreign-language work ever printed in Britain, and I will always remember the excitement and pride I felt at bringing a copy of the original, London-printed edition to the BL.

12 June 2020

The Fall of the Berlin Wall from a Child’s Eye View

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On the night of 9 November 1989 the Berlin Wall was opened and East Berliners flooded through to visit the western sector of the city. In the following days more crossing points appeared, sections of the wall began to come down, and a city divided for 28 years began the long process of growing back together.

Among the many books in the British Library about the fall of the Wall and its aftermath, there is slim A4 booklet, reproduced from typewriting and illustrated with black-and-white photographs. It contains reactions to the events of 9-12 November 1989 from the children of a West Berlin school, written in the weeks following 9 November. The photographs were taken on a walk along the wall on 28 November, and three days later the children conducted interviews with passers-by, asking their opinion on events; these round off the booklet.

Front cover of the booklet, Mauer 89, with a photograph of a watchtower

Front cover of the booklet, Mauer 89 (Berlin, 1989). YA.1992.b.888

The children’s accounts of the weekend are grouped around different themes. Some just record events, others mention reunions with family members: one, whose East Berlin relatives came to visit, touchingly reveals that “I saw my father cry for the first time”. Two describe the experience of hearing the news when away from home and four children choose to write as if describing things for their own grandchildren forty years on.

Despite these slight differences there are recurring themes. Most of the children mention the 100 Deutschmark ‘Welcome Money’ (‘BegrĂŒĂŸungsgeld’) which the East Berliners received. Some describe the long queues at banks to collect the money, and many talk about what the East Berliners bought. Fruit is the thing most frequently mentioned, especially oranges and bananas. The idea of East Berliners rushing to spend their welcome money on fruit and clearing the shops of bananas has become something of a clichĂ©, so it’s interesting to see that it was already the Westerners’ perception at the time. One piece also mentions that a popular brand of American jeans sold out and that McDonald's almost ran out of hamburgers.

Heavy crowds are another familiar theme, particularly in the West Berlin shopping street KurfĂŒrstendamm or around the Brandenburg Gate. A couple of writers mention visitors going from west to east – through the divided Potsdamer Platz or to visit Alexanderplatz in the east of the city. Another form of congestion was the number of East German Trabant cars suddenly filling the streets of West Berlin. One of the children’s regular interview questions is about what westerners think of the number of ‘Trabbis’ coming through – the cars emitted higher levels of pollution than were permitted in the west, and this was of concern to some.

Back cover of the booklet, Mauer 89, with a photograph of the Berlin Wall and children's signature

Back cover of the booklet

In some interviews the children also ask for opinions about a potential German reunification. The respondents are cautious, thinking that it needs time and, in one case, recognising the economic risks involved, but most are fundamentally in favour of the idea.

The school is named only as ‘KG 71’ and the individual pieces are unsigned. The children’s forenames are reproduced on the back cover, but no surnames. It’s not even clear how old they were, though the handwriting and the style of the pieces suggest between about 10 and 12, and if the G of ‘KG’ stands for ‘Grundschule’ (Primary School), they could have been in their last primary year. If by some remote chance one of them is reading this and remembers making the book, we’d love them to get in touch!

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

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As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry’s contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde’s collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of ShchasÊčlivy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of ShchasÊčlivy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. KhvalÊčko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from ShchasÊčlivy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from ShchasÊčlivy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from ShchasÊč livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135–136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (ShchasÊč livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. KhvalÊčko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamitėt).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book ‘for the Belarusian family and school’ (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhytsÊčtsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, “Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92–114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

09 April 2020

PhD Studentship Opportunity - Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune

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We are delighted to announce that The British Library, in collaboration with The Department of History at Royal Holloway, is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship (fees and maintenance) on the theme: Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, 1870-71. The project will be co-supervised by Sophie Defrance and Teresa Vernon (British Library), and Robert Priest (Royal Holloway).

Caricature of a French soldier looking in a shop window

French caricature from the Franco-Prussian War, British Library Collections

The British Library holds a world-class collection of (mostly) French and (some) German caricatures in three separate collections bound in 55 volumes. There is also a small number of war-themed Italian, Swedish and Dutch illustrations and caricatures. The successful student will develop a PhD project that draws on this rich resource of over 5,000 caricatures and images produced during the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune. Part of the collection was discussed in two blog posts here and here

This fascinating primary material represents a wealth of visual sources dealing with the War and the Commune. The caricatures, most of them coloured, touch on a wide variety of subjects, making fun of famous people and politicians, soldiers and civil populations. The project will add a new dimension to our understanding of several processes at key moments in French (and German) history: the development of French (and German) national identity, the creation of a modern popular culture, and the development of caricature as a medium. The forthcoming 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune in 2020-21 offers us the chance to promote and foster scholarship based on an exceptional collection of visual primary sources. Students will be invited to propose a project that uses one or more of the following themes to bring this rich collection into a wider European context, such as ‘Prints as sources for a Franco-German history of 1870-1’ or ‘the international public for printed satire’. The project will also investigate the provenance and formation of the British Library’s collections: there are other known sets in the world, are in the V&A, Cambridge, Oxford, Heidelberg, Baton Rouge (Louisiana) and Minneapolis, and perhaps more to be discovered.

Drawing depicting the arrival of French prisoners

Arrival of French prisoners at Ingolstadt, 10 August 1870, British Library Collections

The project is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, which offers doctoral studentships as part of collaborations between a Higher Education Institution and an organisation in the museums, libraries, archives and heritage sector. The doctoral grant will cover fees and pay the student a stipend; the British Library will also provide a research allowance of up to £1,000 a year for agreed research-related costs. In addition to being able to draw on the researcher development opportunities and postgraduate community in both the Department of History and the Doctoral School at Royal Holloway, the successful student will become part of a vibrant cohort of collaborative doctoral researchers at the British Library, and benefit from staff-level access to its collections, resources and training programmes such as the Digital Scholarship Training Programme

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 4 May 2020. All applicants must have a good reading knowledge of French and meet the standard UKRI residency requirements for Training Grants. The successful student will be expected to begin on 1 October 2020.

For further details of the studentship, and the CDP programme, see the British Library Research Collaboration page or download the advert directly on the Royal Holloway website.

To discuss the project further, potential candidates are very welcome to contact Sophie Defrance (sophie.defrance@bl.uk) or Robert Priest (robert.priest@rhul.ac.uk) in advance of submitting an application.

Additional reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, 2005.

Bettina MĂŒller, ‘The collection of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group Annual Review, 8 (2011-2012), p. 39-42.

W. Jack Rhoden, ‘French caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and Commune at the British Library’, French Studies Library Group Annual Review, 6 (2009-2010), p. 22-24.

03 April 2020

Bringing the News in Revolutionary Berlin

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During the revolutionary year of 1848 printed placards and broadsides were a vital means of communication, both official and unofficial. The British Library holds collections of such material and other ephemera of the period from various European cities, including four volumes from Berlin (1851.c.4-7). Obviously such placards – particularly the official proclamations – were intended for posting on walls for public information, but they were also sold in the street.

In Berlin the ‘flying booksellers’, boys who hawked broadsides along with newspapers, journals and pamphlets around the city, became a familiar sight, detested by some, but viewed by others with affection. The writer Robert Springer later described them as:

Boys of the lower class, who used to sell cakes, flowers or matches, or simply to beg 
 would surround the printing-shops 
 in order to deliver the fresh goods as quickly as possible. 
 Thus the refined spirit of the Berlin street-urchins came into close contact with ephemeral literature, and it was not uninteresting to see the little good-for-nothings now, out of political and commercial enthusiasm, using their wares to practise the reading that they had never settled to at school before selling them in the most original way.

A verse parody of the flying bookseller’s ‘most original’ selling technique suggests the mixture of advertising, patter and exaggerated claims that the boys might have used.

Satirical verses with a picture of a ragged boy
Parody of a flying bookseller, Berlin 1848. Reproduced in Ruth-Esther Geiger, Zeitschriften 1848 in Berlin: die Zeitschrift als Medium bĂŒrgerlicher Öffentlichkeit und ihr erweiterter Funktionszusammenhang in den Berliner Revolutionsmonaten von 1848 (Berlin, 1980) X.808/35196

In translation: ‘Manifestos to our voters / Ewige Lampe und Krakehler / The Pope has taken a wife / Kladderadatsch – the Russians are coming / Open letter to the Mayor / Duke Johann’s Imperial Regent / Menagerie of bloodthirsty beasts / Monecke, a high traitor / Neuer Berliner Struwwelpeter / Löwinsohn, Korn, Urban, Sigrist / Civic guardsman, see what you’re like  / New extra edition of the Vossische / The cholera’s raging, for one groschen / One groschen, hand it over!’ / That’s what they call: flying bookseller.

As well as the tall stories about the Pope’s marriage and a Russian invasion, the verse reflects real events and can be dated from these to sometime in the first half of July 1848. The Austrian Archduke Johann was appointed ‘Reichsverweser’ (Imperial Regent, i.e. the provisional head of the new government to be created by the Frankfurt Parliament), on 29 June. Eduard Monecke, a student, was imprisoned for lĂšse-majestĂ© on 30 June, while Löwinsohn (or Lövinsohn), Korn, Urban and Siegrist (or Siegerist) were tried in early July for instigating the previous month’s attack on the Berlin Arsenal, with sentences passed on the 15th. The verse also quotes the titles of genuine political or satirical journals: Die ewige Lampe, [Berliner] Krakehler, Kladderadatsch, Freie BlĂ€tter and Neuer Berliner Struwwelpeter, and the ‘Voss’schen’ refers to the venerable Vossische Zeitung, the oldest newspaper in Berlin. There are even references to two broadsides Grosse Menagerie blutdĂŒrstiger Thiere and BĂŒrjerwehreken, siehste wie De bist? The first is a satire depicting European monarchs as ‘bloodthirsty beasts’ on display in a zoo, and the second is a comic ‘curtain lecture’ in Berlin dialect, supposedly addressed to a member of the recently-formed Civic Guard (BĂŒrgerwehr) by his wife, who is unimpressed with his new status.

Masthead from the broadside 'General-Versammlung der fliegenden Buchhändler Berlins'
Masthead of a satirical broadside, General-Versammlung der fliegenden Buchhändler Berlins (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.4.(68.). Digitised copy available from the Kujawsko-Pomorska Digital Library

The life of the flying bookseller was not an easy one. As some of the material they distributed could be classed as seditious, the boys risked being stopped by the police and having their wares confiscated. In a satire imagining a meeting of flying booksellers to discuss their rights, one of the speakers calls the police ‘our greatest enemy’. Another satire, this time on the daily life of a policeman, shows two constables accosting a flying bookseller as he leaves a stall carrying broadsides to sell: however, the constable who narrates this tale in a supposed letter to his sweetheart says that he is enclosing some of the confiscated literature for her as it is ‘very nice to read.’

A constable stopping a boy by a makeshift bookstall
Two policemen stop a flying bookseller, detail from Adalbert Salomo Cohnfeld, Constablers Leiden und Freuden, geschildert in einem Briefe an seine Jelübte
(Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.5.(293.) Digitised version available from the Library of the Humboldt University, Berlin 

When the revolution was defeated in November 1848, the number of satirical and overtly anti-government broadsides and journals fell sharply. A cartoon published the following year in the satirical weekly Kladderadatsch, one of the few such titles to survive, shows a figure representing the journal in a graveyard among the tombs of his deceased contemporaries. Three other titles named in the verse quoted above are among them: Freie BlÀtter, Die ewige Lampe and Berliner Krakehler

A mourner in a graveyard where the tombs are inscribed with the names of failed newspapers
‘Kladderadatsch in der Sylvesternacht’, cartoon from Kladderadatsch, 23 December 1849, P.P.4736.h. (The entire run of the journal is available online via the University of Heidelberg.)

With the vibrant print culture of the revolution quashed, the flying booksellers no doubt returned to selling their previous wares, but perhaps with a raised political conscience and a greater enthusiasm for reading.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further reading:

Robert Springer, Berlin’s Strassen, Kneipen und Clubs im Jahre 1848 (Berlin, 1850) 9385.a.10 and available online 

Die ewige Lampe, no. 1-48 (Berlin, 1848) P.P.3378.e.

Berliner Krakehler (Berlin, 1848) LOU.FMISC307

Freie BlÀtter: illustrierte politisch-humoristische Zeitung. No. 9 (Berlin, 1848). 1851.c.7.(117)

Der Neue Berliner Struwwelpeter: ein politisches Bilderbuch fĂŒr Reactionaire und Revolutionaire und solche, die es werden wollen. No 1. (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.7.(123)

Grosse Menagerie blutdĂŒrstiger Thiere (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.4.(151), and a variant at 1851.c.4.(152)

Adalbert Salomo Cohnfeld, BĂŒrjerwehreken, siehste wie Du bist? Eine Gardinen-Predigt, ihrem Gatten Ludewig bein Schlafengehen gehalten von Madame Bullrichen (Berlin, 1848) 1851.c.7.(42)

Susan Reed, ‘Printing the Revolution: Berlin Broadsides from 1848’, in The Book in Germany, edited by M.C. Fischer and W.A. Kelly (Edinburgh, 2010) YC.2011.a.8954

Major collections of broadsides, pamphlets and other ephemera from the 1848 Revolution in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany are available online from the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin and the Goethe-UniversitÀt Frankfurt am Main

20 March 2020

Friedrich Hölderlin

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Friedrich Hölderlin, whose 250th birthday we mark today, is in many ways the very model of a tragic Romantic poet and tormented genius, his life marked by loss, hopeless love, struggles for recognition, and eventually madness. Born in the Swabian town of Lauffen am Neckar in 1770, he lost both his father and stepfather at an early age. His mother hoped he would enter the church and he studied at seminaries in Denkendorf, Maulbronn and TĂŒbingen, where his friends included G.F.W. Hegel and Friedrich von Schelling.

By the time he began his studies at TĂŒbingen Hölderlin had already begun to write poetry and to reject the idea of a church career. After graduating in 1793 he instead sought employment as a private tutor, and moved to Jena to be close to Schiller, whom he had revered since first reading Don Carlos. His first job did not last long and he then enrolled at the University of Jena for a short time, before leaving the town in haste in 1795. He next found work as tutor to the son of a Frankfurt banker, Jakob Gontard, and fell in love with Gontard’s wife Susette. Their relationship played a crucial role not only in Hölderlin’s personal life but also in his creative work. Susette is idealised as ‘Diotima’ in a number of his poems and in his novel Hyperion.


Title-page of the first volume of 'Hyperion'Title-page of the first volume of Hölderlin’s epistolary novel Hyperion (TĂŒbingen, 1797)

When Gontard discovered the relationship, Hölderlin was dismissed and fled to Homburg where he tried to make an independent living as a writer. Schiller helped him to place some poems in literary journals and supported the publication of Hyperion, but later turned against Hölderlin’s work. A plan to start a literary journal foundered, and Hölderlin remained largely dependent on his mother for funds. Eventually he again took on teaching posts, first in Hauptwil in Switzerland and then in Bordeaux, but neither lasted more than a few months. The reasons are unknown, but his increasingly fragile mental health might have been a contributory factor: on his return from Bordeaux in June 1802 his friends were shocked by his confused and neglected state. Around this time he was further distressed by the news of Susette’s death.

Hölderlin moved back to his mother’s house where he translated works by Sophocles and Pindar and, under the influence of the latter, started to compose a series of hymn-like poems whose imagery combined the religion of ancient Greece with Christianity. In 1804 he returned to Homburg, nominally as court librarian, a sinecure acquired for him by an old TĂŒbingen friend, Isaac von Sinclair. When Sinclair was tried for treason the following year, Hölderlin also fell under suspicion, but by this time his mental health had irrevocably broken down, and he was deemed unfit to stand trial, and was committed to an asylum. In 1807 he was released, and taken into the home of Ernst Zimmer, a carpenter in TĂŒbingen, who had read and appreciated Hölderlin’s poetry. Hölderlin remained in the care of the Zimmer family until his death in 1843, occupying a room in a small tower overlooking the river Neckar, now preserved both as a museum and a monument to the poet.

 

Title-page of Hölderlin's poems  1826
Title-page of the first edition of Hölderlin’s poems (Stuttgart & TĂŒbingen, 1826) 11526.e.32

For most of his own life Hölderlin’s work was largely unknown and unappreciated. Although some of his poems appeared in literary journals and almanacs, they were generally not well received. His only independent published work was Hyperion. It was not until 1826 that an edition of his poems was published, partly thanks to the advocacy of Wilhelm Waiblinger, a young writer who visited Hölderlin while studying in TĂŒbingen. In the years that followed, Hölderlin became something of a tourist attraction, due not least to Waiblinger’s published depictions of him, but his own work remained largely neglected.

It was only in the early 20th century that interest in both the writer and his work began to grow. After the rediscovery and publication of some of his Pindar translations in 1911 Hölderlin’s work was eagerly taken up by the circle of writers around the poet Stefan George. The first complete critical edition of his works was published between 1911 and 1923 (BL 012251.f.3). Writers and critics began to truly appreciate the power and beauty of Hölderlin’s poetry and the originality of his fusion of ancient religion and Christianity with a Romantic evocation of nature.

Opening of 'Der Tod des Empedokles' with woodcut illustration of a young man sitting in a grove surrounded by animals
Opening of Hölderlin’s dramatic fragment Der Tod des Empedokles in an edition illustrated with woodcuts by Gustav Eichenauer after drawings by Heinrich Holz (Offenbach a. M., 1925) 11745.h.23.

Hölderlin’s frequent themes of alientation and loss, and of the longing to restore a harmonious relationship between man, nature and divinity perhaps spoke more to the 20th-century mindset than to the poet’s own contemporaries, and the fragmentary and much-revised nature of his later works seemed to 20th-century poets and thinkers less the products of a confused mind and more a reflection of the difficulty of communication. Composers and artists have also drawn inspiration from his work, including the short and fragmentary pieces he wrote during his years with Zimmer. As well as being recognised for his literary works and translations, Hölderlin’s influence on philosophy, especially that of his TĂŒbingen friend Hegel, has been increasingly acknowledged.

In an echo of his own life, Hölderlin’s anniversary this year has been somewhat overshadowed by the celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. Beethoven never set any of Hölderlin’s works to music, although in 2018 the composer Dieter Schnebel combined the work of both, linking the ‘Schiksalslied’ (‘Song of Fate’) from Hyperion with the concept of fate in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But the British Library will be celebrating Beethoven in style later this year, so let today be Hölderlin’s alone.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

30 December 2019

Theodor Fontane’s British Wanderings

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Theodor Fontane is one of those authors who gives hope to middle-aged would-be novelists who have yet to take up their pens: his first novel, Vor dem Sturm, was not published until he was 59. However, middle-aged would-be novelists should also be warned that, before embarking on the novels for which he is now most famous, Fontane had served a long literary apprenticeship as a poet, critic, journalist and travel writer. In these last capacities, he wrote in some detail about the three visits he made to Britain in the 1840s and 1850s.

Born in the town of Neuruppin in Brandenburg on 30 December 1819, Fontane initially followed his father’s career as a pharmacist, serving an apprenticeship in Berlin where he also began to develop his literary interests. It was during his year of compulsory military service that he was invited to join a friend on a two-week trip to England in the summer of 1844. Thanks to a sympathetic commanding officer, he was able to accept.

Portrait of Theodor Fontane in 1844
Theodor Fontane during his first stay in London in 1844. Sketch by J.W. Burford, reproduced in Josef Ettlinger, Theodor Fontane: ein Essai (Berlin, [1904]) 011852.ff.16/18.

On this first visit to England, Fontane was very much a tourist, making planned visits to the sights of London – a city which impressed him with its size compared with the still relatively provincial Berlin – and going on an excursion to Windsor. However, he also made some more independent trips, including a visit to fellow German pharmacist Hermann Schweitzer in Brighton. Schweitzer apparently promised to look for a possible job in England for Fontane, suggesting that Fontane was interested in settling here, although nothing came of this.

A side-effect of this first visit to England was Fontane’s increased interest in historical ballads, and ballads on English and Scottish themes were among the poems he published in 1851, by which time he had given up his pharmaceutical career to live by his pen. The following year, he returned to London as a correspondent for a Prussian newspaper, with a brief to write about conditions in England. This time he stayed for five months, writing articles on a range of subjects from the streets and sights of London to an election in Brentford, which were later collected into the book Ein Sommer in London. During this stay he again considered making a more permanent home in England, possibly by acquiring his own pharmacy business. However, the only work readily available appeared to be as a German tutor and, after some weeks of dithering about whether or not to seek employment in London, he returned to Berlin.

Cover of 'Aus England'
Cover of Theodor Fontane, Aus England (Stuttgart, 1860) 10348.d.3

Three years later he returned again on a longer-term basis with a mission from the Prussian Government to promote a more pro-Prussian line in the British press. He remained until 1859, and once again wrote about England for the German press. A selection of this journalism was also later published in book form as Aus England. Unlike the varied and shorter sketches of Ein Sommer in London, this collection focuses in three longer sections on the London theatre, British art and the British press. The second section was inspired by a visit to the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester, and Fontane adds some impressions of Manchester, which he found ‘not quite so dreary a place as it had been described to me in London’, and Liverpool, where he was very impressed by the docks on the River Mersey’s ‘vast expanse of water’.

These excursions are rare exceptions to the usual focus on London and its surroundings in Fontane’s published accounts of Britain. However, in the summer of 1858 he and his friend Bernhard von Lepel set off on a 14-day tour of Scotland which Fontane described in his book Jenseits des Tweed, again compiled from articles originally written for newspapers. Although his anglophilia had become somewhat jaded by the realities of London life, Fontane described himself setting off for Scotland with much of the same excitement that he had felt on first leaving for England 14 years earlier. The travellers fitted a lot into a short time, starting in Edinburgh before travelling on to Inverness, their northernmost stop, via Stirling and Perth. They then travelled down the Caledonian Canal to the West Coast, taking in the Islands of Iona and Staffa before returning to Edinburgh.

Map of Fontane's Scottish tour
Map of Fontane’s Scottish tour, from Theodor Fontane, Beyond the Tweed, translated by Brian Battershaw (London, 1998) YC.2001.a.8037

Like many Germans, Fontane’s idea of Scotland had been shaped by the works of Sir Walter Scott, by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, by romantic tales and legends, and by picturesque historical anecdotes, several of which he repeats in his descriptions of the places he and Lepel visited. However, a ‘pilgrimage’ to Scott’s old home at Abbotsford, the final visit on their tour, and perhaps saved until last as a particular treat, left Fontane somewhat underwhelmed. He found the house, preserved as a museum, something of a ‘waxwork show’ without the living writer’s spirit to animate it.

Despite this rather anticlimactic end to the trip, Fontane retained fond memories of Scotland, and his Scottish tour inspired him, on his return to Germany, to start writing similar travel pieces about his native Brandenburg. His Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg ran to five volumes and played a role in the development of his writing style towards that of a novelist.

Portrait of Fontane as an older man
Fontane in later life, reproduced in Josef Ettlinger, Theodor Fontane

After leaving London in early 1859 Fontane never returned to Britain, but he wrote at least one more piece about Scotland, a poem in response to the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. Harking back to his love of Shakespeare and Scott, he wrote it in the style of a ballad, framed by three Macbeth-style witches who plot and rejoice in the bridge’s destruction. Sadly, this is less well known in Britain than William McGonagall’s hilariously inept verses on the same theme, but in the year that marks the 140th anniversary of the disaster as well as the bicentenary of Fontane’s birth, it seems an appropriate note on which to end our look at Fontane in Britain.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Theodor Fontane, Ein Sommer in London (Berlin, 1854) 10350.c.1.

Theodor Fontane, Jenseits des Tweed: Bilder und Briefe aus Schottland (Berlin, 1860) 10370.c.26

Theodor Fontane, A Prussian in Victorian London, translated by John Lynch (London, 2014) YC.2016.a.11501

Petra E. KrĂŒger, Fontane in London (Berlin, 2012) YF.2017.a.16769

Gordon A. Craig, Theodor Fontane: literature and history in the Bismarck Reich (New York, 1999) YC.1999.b.9426

09 November 2019

The Revolutionary Year of 1989

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Thirty years ago today the crossing-points between two German states opened, marking the end of the Berlin Wall, demolished in the following months. The concrete barrier, separating East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989, has been a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. It was also a stage of dramatic escapes and a topic frequently explored by artists and writers. 

The demolition of the Berlin Wall generated high hopes about the new order emerging in 1989, after the collapse of authoritarian regimes across Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. Timothy Garton Ash gave one of the most compelling accounts of these events and the spirit of the period. He went to Berlin to study the archival sources on the German resistance to Hitler, but found himself in the middle of a political upheaval in the region and embarked upon writing what he himself described as “history of the present”. He witnessed, among others, the first partly free election in Poland, the celebratory reburial of Imre Nagy (the executed prime minister of the revolutionary government in 1956) in Hungary, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Blog on 1989 - Timothy Garton Ash - We The People
Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: the Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge, 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: the Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London, 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (a revised and updated fourth edition of We the People)

As a major turning point in European history, the events of 1989 have been repeatedly revisited by historians and social scientists. What exactly happened? Did the transition to democracy and free-market economy bring the expected results? Did the end of communism live up to the expectations of the people? Answers to these pertinent questions can be found in two volumes (co-)edited by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian-American political scientist, who invited leading scholars in the field to rethink the meaning and impact of what is often called an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year.

The issue of bringing to justice people involved in authoritarian regimes has been hotly debated long after the transition to democracy. These debates are particularly vivid around the anniversaries of the revolution. In a large comparative study, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik, the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the changes are analysed in 17 post-communist countries. The authors looked into how the memory of the historical events was shaped by various parties in order to serve their political agenda and concluded that the fractured memory of 1989 undermines democracy in the region.

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

The most recent attempt to rethink the changes of 1989 is a freshly-published book, The light that failed: a reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They critically assess the belief prevalent after 1989 that the liberal democracy was destined to expand worldwide. The book begins with the sarcastic assertion that “the future was better yesterday”.

Andrzej Sadecki, British Library PhD placement student working on the topic ‘Politicisation of commemorative practices in Eastern Europe’ 

References

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The light that failed: a reckoning (London 2019), DRT ELD.DS.455162 (EPUB)

Timothy Garton Ash, We the People. The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Timothy Garton Ash, The magic lantern: the revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (EPUB)

Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London 1999), YC.1999.b.2118

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Antohi (eds.), Between past and future: the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath (Budapest, New York 2012), YC.2002.a.8579

Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893