January 27th, 1859 was the day the future Kaiser Wilhelm II was born. During the occupation of Alsace, it was evidently deemed fitting that parades were held in Strasbourg to mark great events and as the central of Strasbourg’s various squares and places, place Kléber would be an obvious choice for a birthday Mass.
Place Kléber is named after General Jean-Baptiste Kléber, whose statue dominates the space. He was assassinated in Egypt in 1800, but Napoleon refused to allow his body to be brought home to his native Alsace. Eventually Philippe Glass designed a monument which was inaugurated in 1840 and Kléber’s ashes lie underneath. (1)
The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1, brought to an end a peaceful, prosperous period for the city of Strasbourg. The inhabitants and buildings of Strasbourg suffered considerably during the war. German troops led by General von Werder intended to capture the city and France was unable to send help because of its losses at Sedan, so the small garrison at Strasbourg was effectively isolated. The city was heavily bombarded from August 1870 until it surrendered on 28th September. President Poincaré awarded the city the Légion d’Honneur in 1919 and his speech tracing that period is reproduced in Guides Illustrées Michelin des Champs de Bataille (1914-1918) : Strasbourg (2)
This postcard artistically depicts the terrible scene. General Kléber’s statue is clearly visible among the chaos.
From then on, Strasbourg was German. This card shows an open air service to mark the Kaiser’s birthday in January 1915. General Kléber’s snow-covered statue is surrounded by German troops. It is a massive statement of power.
There is a certain irony and poignancy in the next two cards, both featuring the same location, place Kléber. The first shows French troops re-entering Strasbourg after the Great War. General Kléber’s statue is in the centre of the photograph.
Here is the entry of Maréchal Pétain on November 25th, 1918.
Place Kléber seems to have changed little since that time and many visitors to Strasbourg in the Christmas period head straight to see the le Grand Sapin de Noël. (Unfortunately I didn’t capture Kléber in this photo.) Happy times.
Peace restored to the city: place Kléber in the era of trams where the troops once stood. Kléber and the cathedral pin the view to its past while business people, shoppers and travellers pass through to their work, the great department stores and the cafés as they do today.
All cards and the photo are my own.
(1) Information on Strasbourg’s architecture and monuments: http://www.archi-strasbourg.org/
(2) Guides Illustrées Michelin des Champs de Bataille (1914-1918) : Strasbourg, pp 5-7 and 8.