March Revolution of 1848: Now it’s time for the fatherland

March Revolution of 1848: Now it’s time for the fatherland

Germany commemorates the March Revolution, Steinmeier builds barricades. This is only conceivable because the nation is no longer afraid of leftist uprisings.

Historical lithograph of people at barricades.  A black, red and gold flag flies in the middle

Here still without the Federal President: Berlin barricade fighting between March 18 and 19, 1848 Photo: Knud Petersen/SMB/bpk

At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to build barricades Expected in Berlin: Friedrichstrasse/corner of Jägerstrasse, just like back in 1848, with overturned wagons and rubble – a black, red and gold flag is also supposed to be in there. This is art, of course, and the start of the festivities commemorating the Republican struggles of yore. Well, the occasion may sound a bit odd: 175 years 1848. But it’s about the whole thing, or at least about a “milestone in the history of democracy,” as the Berlin Senate recently announced. One should celebrate the festivals as they come.

In this case, the hour of birth or the act of procreation of democratic Germany on the anniversary of the March Revolution of 1848. You first have to get the event out of the dustbin and into the public consciousness. it likes classic school material but it was also – to put it bluntly – quite a long time ago. Even viewed as a spectacle, at 48 it was not that far off: the 150th was still very much overshadowed by reunification and the “end of history” after the victory of capitalism. And around the 100th, people in this country had completely different things on their minds, which will be discussed later.

So what happened on March 18 and 19, 1848? In France, a few weeks earlier, the Second Republic had been proclaimed, giving momentum to the long-simmering democratic movements in the German states and principalities. Their demands actually read like the foundation of what is taken for granted today: a parliament, a free press, an independent judiciary, women’s rights – well, and the arming of the people, which is no longer so popular today.

It didn’t work without violence, not even outside of Berlin: in Vienna, the Estates had just been stormed and the state chancellor chased away. In Frankfurt am Main, people were already sitting in the Paulskirche, working on the constitution. And even out in the country – in the Odenwald, for example – farmers had stormed the town halls to burn mortgage and tithe bonds.

Waded in blood

In Berlin, the situation escalated on March 18th. Shots are fired, barricades are erected and within a few hours fighting is raging throughout the city centre. A deputy from Cologne noted after the slaughter at Alexanderplatz: “I always thought it was an exaggeration when you heard people saying, ‘We were wading in blood up to our ankles.’ Today, however, I am convinced of the possibility.”

The situation is opaque – and the content contradictory. The peasant uprisings in the Odenwald are not only directed against the nobility and landowners, but as a matter of course also against Jews. To this day, there is a dispute as to whether it was not the hated soldiers who ultimately prevented the announced pogroms.

What remains of the revolution, which was soon smothered, are its symbols: the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, for example, where the National Assembly meets until the following year, as the first representative body for all of Germany. That still has an impact today: After the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany took over various elements from the Paulskirche’s catalog of fundamental rights word for word. The seating order of the political camps from left to right still determines the coordinates of social debates today. And even the black, red and gold sashes of the students should be remembered almost a century later, when the black, white and red flag of the Nazis had become obsolete.

In general, the failure of the revolution seems to have been ignored in this return to its little big hour, as well as the brief victory of the much more drastic one that followed: which ended the world war and the monarchy in 1918. Not to mention National Socialism and the myth of the hour zero a little later.

Cultural revolution company

In short: There is more than enough material for the state-supporting, democratic operation that deals with the 1848 revolution this year. Berlin has organized an extensive program of events, various theaters are heaving Büchner’s pre-March drama “Dantons Tod” into the schedules – and from Frankfurt am Main to Dortmund and Wadersloh, large and small museums are presenting their respective regional perspectives on the revolution.

In any case, the interest in the 175th is surprisingly high, especially with regard to mediation. From Steinmeier’s barricade, you can immerse yourself in augmented reality with your smartphone and get in touch with insurgents along various stations: from artisans with no prospects to women’s rights activists.

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One can assume that this historical interest is also guided by state-supporting considerations. In fact, given the unrelenting world situation, the need for PR for democracy seems to be greater in Germany than it has been for a long time. What is more astonishing is the desire for riots, resistance and street fighting that was not only demonstrated by the Federal President. No comparison, for example, with Roman Herzog, who in his speech on the 150th anniversary in the Paulskirche was still very worried that in the end “not only the unemployed” could turn away and that there could be dissatisfaction and protests.

The shadowy existence of 1848 in the anti-communist West is probably mainly due to the element of violence – or the only vague threat of disrupted order. Because basically, even in the CDU, democracy was somehow quite good, but it actually stuck to authoritarianism when it came down to it.

In any case, it is curious that until well into the 1990s it was mainly leftists and left-wing radicals who honored the republican founding myth. Even the relevant songs had a permanent place in the repertoire leftist folk punk bandswho played the old songs in the intonation suggested by singer-songwriter Hannes Wader, wherever they were left: from the traditional Pentecost camp of left-wing youth to the heating up for the regular Castor riots in Wendland.

Of course, Christian Democrats also said “The thoughts are free” from time to time, but the bulk of the revolutionary folklore was clearly from the left. “sat in the dungeon, in Frankfurt am Main, for many years six students have been…” Scorn, ridicule and clenched fists against the authorities, their jailers and soldiers – subversive notes, which are primarily directed against the state and not for its democratic character were brought. That’s how it was meant and that’s how it was understood.

Conversely, however, it is also not free from irony that left-wing tradition-cultivation in particular found it extremely difficult to deal with the other side of its history. Just three verses later, when the song about the Free Republic was just intoned, it was necessary to cough away the “Up you German brothers, now it’s time for the fatherland” or at least to regulate the volume a bit. The leftist enthusiasm for 1848 symbolism finally reached its limits when it came to the flag. Some will remember: At the turn of the millennium there were still black, red and gold to be seen in exactly three places: on government buildings, on sports jerseys and in the run-down allotment gardens of old Nazis who had been left behind.

What is the left doing?

Basically, the most interesting thing about today’s fuss is what is reflected in the left-wing attitude towards the German state. And that has changed significantly over the quarter century since the last revolution anniversary.

Unforgotten in this context is Gerhard Schröder, who in 2000 after the arson attack on the Düsseldorf synagogue took the lead in civil society, the “uprising of the decent” proclaimed and actually managed to outstrip anti-national Antifa and the scattered remnants of the Autonomen. The sea of ​​flags at the 2006 World Cup may have been a little duller, but no less effective: a popular uprising without an uprising, against which the left rebelled briefly, but ultimately had to back down. Also towards yourself.

Is that the double pacification in the end? The bourgeois state has written a rebellious moment into its program and the left endures the nationalistic symbolism?

It’s probably not that simple. But what is remarkable is the kind of Germany today that draws the arc from itself back to revolution – that trivializes subversion and that mixes democracy, liberty, resistance and nationalism in a way that makes you dizzy.

And that really closes the circle with a president on a barricade against which no one who matters is storming anymore.

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