Saturday, May 7, 2016

Achtzehnhundertunderfroren

Eighteen hundred and frozen to death or 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer. In Wikipedia we read: Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years after the extreme weather events of 535–536.

An article in Freiburg's Sunday newspaper recalled the 200th anniversary of Europe's greatest famine causing the death of 200,000 people and described the situation in Switzerland and Germany's southwest. For the impact of the weather anomaly on North America consult Wikipedia.

Indeed the situation in Baden and Switzerland in 1816 was catastrophic, with constant rain up to the beginning of May and a midsummer with hailstorms and temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius. Until the end of April there was not a single day where when planting was possible, it was too cold for potatoes, fruit, and vegetables and in August a single hailstorm destroyed the pathetic crop entirely.

Food prices soared in 1817 (©Gustave Graetzlin/Wikipedia)
A Hungertafel (hunger tablet) from fall 1817 shows starving people grazing together with their cattle in Switzerland. Oft zählte man in einer einzigen Wiese, zur gleichen Stunde, 30 bis 40 Menschen, die unter dem Vieh ihre Nahrung aufsuchten (Often one counted in a single meadow at the same hour 30 to 40 people looking for food among the cattle). Their efforts resulted in meals composed of boiled bones with meadow herbs.

©Toggenburger Museum, Lichtensteig

Lord Byron wrote the poem Darkness while he was in Geneva in 1816:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went and came, and brought no day.


It was a bad time for a Europe still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars. In the winter of 1812/13 Freiburg in particular had to cope with allied troopes and their horses on the heels of Napoleon moving through the Breisgau at a rate of up to 20,000 per day eating up all the supplies.

Now in 1817 people wanted to leave Baden. In the vicinity of Freiburg nearly 14,000 Breisgauers sold their possessions for a ship passage to America. How many arrived? Some of them became victims of trafficking and eventually found themselves lost in Amsterdam without money and tickets.

Stories that refugees can tell have not much changed since then.

P.S.: 100 years ago during the last year of the First World War people not only in Germany's southwest but all over the country were hungry too.

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