54. Community in Germany during 1650 to 1700
JUN. 23, 2022
Commune with Pete and Ryan as they discover Germany between 1650 and 1700, and the aftermath of possibly most destructive war Europe has ever seen. Discover the remarkable story of Simplicimuss and the tremendous achievements of Frederick, the man behind the rise of the mighty state of Prussia.
This episode sees Pete take Ryan on a fairy tale journey to the Federal Republic of Germany, a central European country and the largest economy in Europe.
The nation’s national anthem the hymn "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser", written in 1797 by the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, but don’t sign the first verse.
After World War II, whilst the national anthem was not changed, only the third stanza has been used and singing the first two is frowned upon.
That stanza's "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" ("Unity and Justice and Freedom") is considered the unofficial national motto of Germany.
In the north, the landscape is a wide plain that stretches to the North Sea whilst the South of the country is alps, with hills and mountains and valleys and forest, notably the Black Forest. This is a mountainous forest covering 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi), and is believed to have inspired the tale of Hansel and Gretel. This was, of course, one of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, who collected and retold traditional German fairy tales
Germany is also the home of Oktoberfest, which takes place in September of course, this year lasting from 17 September to 3 October. This is just one example of a volksfest, held in Munich and is the largest beer festival in the world. In 2014 7.7 million litres of beer were dispensed during the festival, which begins when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at noon.
History of Germany
In 1907 a bit of human mandible was found near Heidleberg indicating people living in Germany at least 600,000 years ago. Also found in 1980s were eight 380,000-year-old wooden javelins, the oldest weapons ever found.
In fact the country also gives Neanderthal man its name. In 1856, the fossilized bones of an extinct human species were found in a cave in the Neander valley near Düsseldorf, the first evidence of Neanderthal man, about 40,000 years old.
In the 1st Century BC Germanic people start to arrive – down from Scandanavia spreading out around the area. Then in Roman times, Julius Caesar, referred to the unconquered area east of the Rhine as Germania. Some Germanic tribes some cooperated with the romans, others fought and eventually Rome kind of gave up, creating the Limes Germanicus (Latin for Germanic frontier) fortifications that divided the Roman provinces of Germania Inferior, Germania Superior and Raetia, from the unsubdued Germanic tribes.
By the 3rd century the Germanic speaking peoples began to migrate all around Europe including several large tribes – the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards, Saxons and Franks all playing their part in diminishing Rome.
Then stem duchies started to appear – small states including the Duchy of Swabia, the Duchy of Saxony, the Duchy of Franconia and the Duchy of Thuringia, Duchy of Bavaria.
476 saw the fall of Rome! and the subsequent rise of the Frankish empire. By 500, Clovis united all the Frankish tribes, to rule Gaul and in 768, Frankish king Charlemagne came to power. He expanded to the East including overtaking tribes, such as the Saxons and the Bavarians.
By 800 AD, Charlemagne was crowned Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans). This is the start of the Holy Roman empire.
Voltaire, French writer/philosopher said of this land "The Holy Roman Empire was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” Whatever it was, it existed form the 9th or 10th century to 1806 and was a loose confederation of independent German and Italian territories under an emperor.
This loose collection worked for a long time, but other nation states in Europe solidified around it and it gradually became less and less powerful. Then Napoleon invaded the area and in the fear that he could take the Holy Roman throne, on 6 August 1806, the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, abdicated his title and released all imperial states from their obligations to the empire.
This left the region a collection of states and the biggest powers in the area become Prussia (Germany and Poland) and Austria Hungary (the Habsburgs).
In 1871 King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared German Emperor unifying the area’s states into a German empire and in World War One Kaiser Wilhem was kaiser of Germany and King of Prussia.
Germany lost the first world war, signing the treaty of Versailles with big reparations and a lingering sense of unfairness resulting in Germany.
From 1919 to 1933 – Germany was the Weimar republic until the rise of one Adolf Hitler who created Nazi Germany, which started, then was destroyed in World War II.
After this, Germany was divided into East and West Germany throughout the cold war until 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin wall and in 1990 Germany was reunified.
Today, it is the largest national economy in Europe, and the fourth-largest GDP in the world. So it all worked out ok in the end.
What happened in the run up to 1650 to 1700.
In 1517, a monk named Martin Luther marched up to the castle church in Wittenberg and nailed his 95 Theses to the door. Although this is a dramatic event in history, the actual event itself may not have seemed it, as some historians believe the church door was the local noticeboard of its day.
But still – the theses were a momentous event because they called into question the authority of the Pope. In particular he was opposed to the sale of indulgences and believed that faith alone, rather than cash payments to the church, would bring salvation.
His beliefs established a direct relationship between the believer and the bible, saying "Neither the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture," and adding "A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it."
This was not popular with the Catholics, but his ideas took Europe by storm, and sparked what is known as the Reformation, beginning an enduring division between Catholicism and Protestantism.
On April 17, 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms in Germany. A diet being a parliament, and Worms, rather disappointingly being a place.
Martin Luther was asked to renounce his works, and refused. Things around Europe were getting tense. Some of the states are catholic, some become protestant and they start to fight between and within themselves.
The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 eventually put an end to it, with the famous policy of cuius regio, eius religio, "whose realm, their religion" – meaning that the religion of the ruler was to determine the religion of the people – a basic religious freedom
But in 1619 Ferdinand II’s king of Bohemia declares everyone is going to have to become Catholic and in Prague, stops construction of a protestant church. The people take Ferdinand’s representatives and throw them out of a window – an event known as the defenestration of Prague.
Protestant states form a mutual support group, Catholics do the same and fighting breaks out. Gradually foreign powers, spotting a chance to take a bit of land whilst supporting their religious brethren pitch in. So the states of the Holy Roman Empire fight, Sweden and Denmark join the fight, France joins the fight, Spain gets involved, and it becomes a European free for all in what becomes the 30 years war.
The 30 years war rages from 1618 to 1648 when what known as The Peace of Westphalia is implemented. The result of a the war was that the Holy Roman Empire was pretty much devastated.
Somewhere between 4,5 and 8 million people died. Fighting, famine and disease combined to collapse populations- 50% loss of population being not untypical. Farmland was destroyed and people weren’t around to operate farms leading to famine. Contemporaries record people eating grass, or too weak to accept alms, while instances of cannibalism were common
Lutheran theologian Joachim Betke, exclaimed, ‘how miserable is now the state of the large cities! Where in former times there were a thousand lanes, today there are no more than a hundred. How wretched is the state of the small and open market towns! There they lie, burnt, decayed, destroyed”
1650 to 1700
In 1668 a book was published, authored by Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. It was called Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus, and is considered one of the great picaresque novels in history.
Simplicissimus made its first appearance, it is suspected, at the Frankfurt spring book fair of 1668, then it went through five editions, at least two of which went into a second printing.
The book tells the tale of a humble man Simplicius, and his life, but it is also the story of the 30 years war.
We start with our hero, living at home when his house is raided by wandering soldiers and he has to run off.
He meets a hermit who asks
“What did thy mother call thee?”
“She called me "Lad," ay, and "rogue, silly gaby, and gallowsbird."
Realising he doesn’t even know his own name, the hermit calls him Simplicissimus and takes him into his hermit shack in the woods, teaching him to read.
The hermit dies and Simplicissimus goes to the village where a bunch of soldiers have been raiding and destroying things again – then a bunch of angry peasants show up and drive the soldiers off
Simplicius sees this violence and says
This sport took from me well-nigh all desire to see the world, for I thought, if 'tis all like this, then is the wilderness far more pleasant.
He joins a band of soldiers, witnessing acts of violence and vengeance between peasants and soldiers. This makes him think.
“I pondered not so much upon my food and my sustenance as upon the enmity which there is ever between soldiers and peasants. Yet could my foolish mind come to no other conclusion than this--that there must of a surety be two races of men in the world, and not one only, descended from Adam, but two, wild and tame, like other unreasoning beasts, and therefore pursuing one another so cruelly.”
He also has a dream in which:
“all the trees which stood round my dwelling suddenly changed and took on another appearance: for on every tree-top sat a trooper, and the trunks were garnished, in place of leaves, with all manner of folk. Of these, some had long lances, others musquets, hangers, halberts, flags, and some drums and fifes. Now this was merry to see, for all was neatly distributed and each according to his rank. The roots, moreover, were made up of folk of little worth, as mechanics and labourers, mostly, however, peasants and the like; and these nevertheless gave its strength to the tree and renewed the same when it was lost: yea more, they repaired the loss of any fallen leaves from among themselves to their own great damage: and all the time they lamented over them that sat on the tree, and that with good reason, for the whole weight of the tree lay upon them and pressed them so that all the money was squeezed out of their pockets,”
Just above these the trunk of the tree had an interval or stop, which was a smooth place without branches, greased with all manner of ointments and curious soap of disfavour, so that no man save of noble birth could scale it, in spite of courage and skill and knowledge,
After the dream, Simplicissimus decides again to head out into the world
He goes to Gelnhausen, where the gates are burned and the streets are strewn with dead, soldiers have been here too. But he continues his travels.
Simplicissimus becomes a jester in the local court, then a soldier, a singer and a seller of snake oil. He has a rich and storied life, all in.
But throughough his life, it seems the world is upside down as the thirty years war rages and this can be seen in his descriptions of battle.
“Some of them [horses] one could see falling dead under their masters, full of wounds which they had undeservedly received for the reward of their faithful services: others for the same cause fell upon their riders, and thus in their death had the honour of being borne by those they had in life been forced to bear:
The earth, whose custom it is to cover the dead was there itself covered with them, and those variously distinguished: for here lay heads that had lost their natural owners, and there bodies that lacked their heads: some had their bowels hanging out in most ghastly and pitiful fashion, and others had their heads cleft and their brains scattered:”
Simplicissimus graduates to robbery, falling in with a band of thieves who defend their way of life.
“My brave Simplicissimus, I assure thee that robbery is the most noble exercise that one in these days can find in the world. Tell me how many kingdoms and principalities be there that have not been stolen by violence and so taken.
Yea, what could be named more noble than the trade that I now follow? I well perceive … how many have been hanged, drawn, and quartered for murder and robbery: … for so the laws do command: yet wilt thou see none but poor and miserable thieves so put to death, … when hast thou ever seen a person of quality punished by justice for that he has oppressed his people too much?”
Finally he discovers he is in fact the child of a long lost child of a noble family, showing the family mole for validation but even this is not the life he seeks and in the end he returns to the simple life of a hermit for the rest of his days. with the very last line of the book reading:
“God grant us all His grace that we may all alike obtain from Him what doth concern us most, namely, a happy END”
Building a new community
One of the states in the Holy Roman Empire was a place called Brandenburg. It’s a small, not very respected place described as a ‘sandbox’ partly because the soil is not very fertile. There’s not very much here at all.
In 1640 Frederick William became Elector of Brandenburg. He was a member of the ruling family of the Hohenzollerns. But the problem was, the true power in Brandenburg were the Junkers. landowners who ruled like feudal masters.
Frederick William inherited a state where the previous ruler had been held in very low regard by the real power base in Brandenburg-Prussia – the Junkers. If Frederick William was to establish himself, he needed to impose his authority and control over the Junkers.
He had an army, but they were mercenaries who had no real loyalty to him, just his wallet. So Frederick William made a deal with the Junkers – cash for independence. They granted Frederick William 530,000 thalers in return for them having the right to rule their estates as they wished, free from any interference from Frederick William.
Then Frederick Wiliam used the money to start building up a Brandenburg army, not of mercenaries, but an actual standing army with an emphasis on quality and professionalism.
he paid them properly, and made is so that a young man could have a career in the army, rather then it be for the desperate. So he built up his army – and then turned it on the Junkers.
He also improved his state internally. He positively encouraged religious toleration as he believed that it would benefit his state. Jews and Roman Catholics were welcome as long as they offered Frederick William’s state some useful skills.
He also imported skilled immigrants - Huguenots about 100,000 Huguenots, French protestants came to Brandenburg-Prussia ands greatly assisted in her modernisation.
By 1700, one-third of Berlin’s population was Huguenot and their skills allowed Brandenburg-Prussia to develop a flourishing candle and paper-making trade, mirror and glove manufacturing.
Frederick William himself estimated that religious toleration increased Brandenburg-Prussia’s population by 33%.
He also gave a six year tax exemption to peasants who worked farms that had been abandoned in the Thirty Years War. The government sent seed and livestock to these farms and he overall did great work to redevelop the economy.
He also joined in various wars, but was canny enough to swapping sides as necessary, playing one side against the other. Thus he won victory with the Swedish at the battle of Warsaw then won another victory against the Swedish in the Battle of Fehrbellin.
He also masterminded the Great Sleigh Drive. There was a raid by the Swedish army when his forces were many miles away. They didn’t want to battle, so raided and retreated. Rather than let them go, he commandeered thousands of sleighs from local peasants, drove over heavy snow and several frozen lakes and cut the retreating swedes off from the coast, leading to their destruction.
He united multiple separate domains that his family had acquired, and built the powerful unified state of Prussia out of them.
Which is why he is also known as ‘the great elector’.
He also had a son, called Frederick who wanted to be king of Prussia and managed to convince the Holy Roman Emperor to allow it.
This in 1701 Prussia became a Kingdom – creating a whole new community that would last for over a century.