Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Georg Herwegh

Georg Herwegh (©Wikipedia)

Red Baron must apologize to Georg Herwegh, a German poet of liberty. A recent article in Die Zeit announcing the edition of Herwegh's complete works changed my attitude that had been greatly influenced by Heinrich Heine satirizing Georg's flowery words in a poem Die Tendenz written in 1841:

Deutscher Sänger! sing und preise
Deutsche Freiheit ...
... aber halte deine Dichtung
Nur so allgemein als möglich.
German singer! Sing and praise
German liberty ...
... but just keep your poetry
as general as possible.

Emma Herwegh (©Wikipedia)

However, Georg Herwegh was more than just a flowery poet. German craftsmen and workers chose him as their, although untalented, military leader in 1848 to guide them via Strasbourg into Baden to support Friedrich Hecker's uprising, his fighting for a republic. Needless to say that Herwegh's support operation was a failure, a military disaster. Georg and his beautiful wife Emma escaped and fled to Switzerland. In his exile Herwegh kept the flag of freedom flying. In particular, he supported the underprivileged workers of his time writing 1863 his famous socialist verses called Bundeslied:

Mann der Arbeit aufgewacht!
Und erkenne Deine Macht!
Alle Räder stehen still,
Wenn Dein starker Arm es will.
Awake you working man
And discover your potency!
All wheels will stand still
When your strong arm decides.

Referring to the many German territories with borders between them and ruled by princes and privileged groups with the help of undemocratic constitutions the professor for constitutional law from Freiburg, Karl von Rotteck, had declared in 1832: Ich will die Einheit nicht anders als mit Freiheit, und will lieber Freiheit ohne Einheit als Einheit ohne Freiheit (I want unity but not without liberty, and I prefer liberty without unity to unity without liberty).

Back in Baden - due to an amnesty in 1866 for political refugees of the 1848/49 uprisings - old Herwegh saw Bismarck forge the Second Reich in 1871 according to his declaration: Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden – das ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen – sondern durch Eisen und Blut (No declaration or majority decisions will decide the big problems of our time - this was the big mistake in 1848 and 1849 - but iron and blood).

Following German unification as the result of the War of 1870/1871 against France Herwegh wrote in protest in January 1871 his Epilog zum Kriege:

Schwarz, weiß und rot! um ein Panier
Vereinigt stehen Süd und Norden;
Du bist im ruhmgekrönten Morden
Das erste Land der Welt geworden:
Germania, mir graut vor dir!
Black, White and Red! Around one flag
South and North now stand united.
You became the first country in the world
In murder wreathed with glory.
Germania, you terrify me!

In writing these lines, did Herwegh augur the murderous wars of the coming century? At the beginning of World War One in August 1914, Friedrich August von Kaulbach painted a  gruesome Germania. Some art expert say that her distraught looks reflect Germany's preparedness to fight the war others her patriotic martial inebriation. To me Germania's eyes are just full of German angst.

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