The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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Royal travels (an occasional look at the various Kaisers’ visits to Elsaß-Lothringen*)

One of the first public buildings built by the new Reichsland authority was the fine central station in Strasbourg (1883), designed by Jacobstahl, an architect from Berlin. In the departure hall, two fabulous gold-framed murals by Knackfuss celebrated the integration of Alsace and Lorraine into the Empire while reminding the traveller of a past period of unity.

One depicted the arrival of Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa in Haguenau in 1164, the year he awarded a city charter to this small town which he had fortified and where he had chosen to site his imperial residence. Haguenau (Hagenau in German) is north of Strasbourg. “Im alten Reich”

Visit of Kaiser Barbarossa 1164 Hagenau

The other shows Kaiser Wilhelm I and Crown Prince Friedrich arriving in Strasbourg in 1877 to inspect fortifications. “Im neuen Reich”

Visit of Kaiser & Crown Prince to Strasbourg 1877 posted 1910

(Above: Card posted April 1908. The two women in the centre welcoming him are wearing regional costumes of Alsace and Lorraine.)

The murals were an assertion of historic unity and German authority. Naturally, they were taken down when the city was restored to France and I believe they are lost. The SNCF station now includes the TGV hub.

The arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II at a station clearly involved flags, bunting, grand motor cars and assorted worthies. Here he is making his way to a car at the station of the small wine-growing village of St-Hippolyte (St Pilt in German).

St-Hippolyte Emperor arrival at station posted Aug 1912 (Card posted August 1912)

The station is now derelict and rather intimidating with large barking dogs roaming the grounds. I photographed it almost exactly one hundred years later in July 2012.

St-Hippolyte station July 2012 35cm

The card gives no indication about where the Kaiser and his entourage were travelling to, but St-Hippolyte is very convenient for his castle, Hohkönigsburg, in French Haut-Kœnigsbourg, which overlooks St-Hippolyte and the surrounding villages and vineyards. When Kaiser Wilhelm II took ownership of Hohkönigsburg, it was in ruins after fires and failed restoration projects. The nearby town of Sélestat owned the castle but, unable to fund its reconstruction, it offered to the Kaiser in 1899.

Haut Koenigsburg Hoh-Konigsburg Hotel mit ruines (Before – castle ruin at the summit)

Haut Koenigsburg posted 1901 (Before – card posted 1901)

After:

Haut Koenigsburg posted pre WW1

The potential to restore a fabulous castle on a magnificently prominent site was irresistible and Wilhelm II embarked on an ambitious project which would signal to all that Alsace was again part of the Empire. Between 1900 and 1908 this potent political symbol was painstakingly rebuilt in the style of a fifteenth century mountain fortress. Like the station in Strasbourg, it was yet another public building powerfully reinforcing the vision of Alsace aligned within his Empire – permanently.

Today it is an immensely popular tourist attraction: vast numbers of visitors go there each year. For this reason, I have not been inside Haut-Kœnigsbourg: I consider it’s best viewed from a distance.

Haut Koenigsburg sunset 35cm (Left and below, photographed from St-Hippolyte)

Haut Koenigsburg sunset 2

Wilhelm II never lived at Haut-Kœnigsbourg: I believe he never intended to. Locally it was a much criticised symbol of distrust and dislike. Even the pageant of its official opening took place in a deluge. It was not entirely finished in his reign: within five years of its completion, the storms of war were breaking across Europe.

Lightning

( Storm, June 2012. St-Hippolyte church lit up; Haut-Kœnigsbourg on top of hill to right)

All postcards and photographs my own.

*Note: Elsaß-Lothringen – Alsace and Lorraine

More historical information on the Haut-Kœnigsbourg website: http://www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/


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The Kaiser’s Birthday, place Kléber, Strasbourg

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.

Strasbourg Place Kleber bombardment 1870

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.

Strasbourg Place Kleber Kaiser's birthday & open air service 1915

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.

Strasbourg Place Kleber entry of troops after War

Here is the entry of Maréchal Pétain on November 25th, 1918.

Strasbourg Place Kleber Petain troops 25.11.1918

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.

Sapin

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.

Strasbourg Place Kleber (Card undated)

 

 

 

All cards and the photo are my own.

Notes:

(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.