Wilhelmine Propaganda: Claiming a Pfalz

The imperial residence and hunting lodge in Goslar, Germany dates to the 900s. It protected ( and kept an eye on) the mines nearby, and on the Saxons. The conversion of the Saxons to Christianity and loyalty to the imperial Ottonian and Salian Dynasties, ahem, didn’t take as well as the emperors had hoped, and the ended up garrisoning soldiers to chase people away from old worship sites. Old habits died very hard, and in the 1100s the palace was re-modeled and refurbished. The lower floor could be heated and was used in winter. The upper floor saw service only in warmer months.

The core of the building is a pfalz that dates to the 800s and has been expanded and restored over the centuries.

One of those places Saxons were supposed to leave alone.

The pfalz was abandoned for the most part after 1200, used for building material, burned, and not really appreciated again until the 1800s, when old “Germanic” things became very, very important to the kings of Brandenburg-Prussia. They needed old traditions that they could bend to their goals, and claiming the Goslar pfalz fit the bill neatly. The Ottonians were the first “German” dynasty to hold the crown of Holy Roman Emperor, and since the Prussians were trying to establish German Empire that did not include the Habsburgs, tidying up, restoring, and claiming old imperial sites within the new German Empire suited their purposes quite well.

As a result, the upper floor was glassed in, and a cycle of paintings from “German” history and legend painted to cover the walls and to impress upon visitors who held the greatest claim to the title of German Emperor.

The windows face east, letting in all the long summer morning light, and putting glare on everything. This is the central painting.

Look at the seated man on the left, and what is in his hand.

Kaiser Wilhelm is refusing the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. It is offered to him, held out for his inspection, and he is not reaching for it. The message is clear – he has a greater empire, and the old, outdated, Holy Roman Empire that the Habsburgs held for so long and that was dissolved in 1807 by a vote of the members is not needed. His is the new, greater empire that should have been, and was forestalled for so long by the Austrians. Bismarck is between the two, hammering something into shape. The formal title is the Apotheosis of the German Empire – the rebirth of the German empire.

Yes, it is very heavy-handed. It is Wilhelmine. They did not believe in subtle when it came to the new German nationalism. Fredrick Barbarossa is prominent in the painting cycle, even though he visited once and then went on to focus on more important things. The legend of the sleeping Barbarossa had gained great popularity and so the paintings include that, and his waking, as the final image in the cycle.

Wachet auf, Not ist nähe!

There are also paintings of Luther, lest the non-Catholic [non-Habsburg] story be forgotten.

I confess, the enormous lengths the Hohenzollerns went to persuade everyone that they were the true and only inheritors of the legacy of the Ottonians, Salians, and Staufens amuses me. It was Prussian historians who developed the idea that “Germany” would have been unified and have become a strong, modern, just nation-state a lot earlier if only the Habsburgs/ Holy Roman Emperor hadn’t gotten in the way and blocked the Proper Course of History. They didn’t go quite as far as the sneer about “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” but it is hard to miss the idea that the “Germans” were meant to be brought together as a nation in the Middle Ages, and only Luther started putting things back on track.

As you know, I’m far more sympathetic to the school that looks at the H.R.E. as a functional institution that lasted from the 900s-1807 because people wanted it and it filled needs. There was no “right side of history,” just an institution that served a purpose until it was dissolved to keep Napoleon from asserting a claim to it. Wilhelmine propaganda amuses and entertains me, and I can sympathize a little with them trying to assert that they have every right to be considered a great power even though the empire only formally appeared in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War. “Who is a German?” was a fraught question, and still is.

But some times, there’s such a thing as overdoing it. Here, in my opinion, they overdid it.

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10 thoughts on “Wilhelmine Propaganda: Claiming a Pfalz

  1. But they overdid it beautifully, and that counts for something.

    I’m admittedly weak on Continental History, but the more I learn, the more amazed I am that the rest of Europe wasn’t freaked out by the emerging threat of a unifying German volk.

  2. It’s one thing to listen to your Inner German. It’s an entirely different thing to obey your Inner Prussian.

    I have the book where the preface notes Prussian was not a state in search of an army, but an army in search of a state. This explained so much, and gives a reason why everything in the pfalz was overdone. First, recruit training. Second, … er, it was orders.

  3. “The core of the building is a pfalz …” The word ‘pfalz’ is unfamiliar to me. I’ve poked around the internet and found definitions, but none of them seems to fit an architectural feature. Note does a metaphorical interpretation fit, since you say the pfalz was abandoned and used for building materials (unless the metaphor is quite sophisticated). What am I missing?

    • A pfalz could be a palace, or a fortress, or a designated manor owned by the emperor, or even associated with a monastery or other religious institution that owed feudal duty to provide food and shelter to the Holy Roman Emperor. The pfalzes that survive today tend to be forts or palaces, because those were put to other uses after the emperors stopped being so mobile. In the early days, through about 1250 or so, the emperor had no set capital and so the imperial court constantly moved. The pfalzes provided stopping places roughly a day’s march apart, places where the court was not dependent on the good will (and provisions) of a local lord.

      So the kaiserpfalz at Goslar was both a stopping place and a large complex of buildings that included a palace (for 10th Century ideas of what a palace should be). Then it became an administrative center once the emperors stopped visiting Goslar on a somewhat regular basis. Then it was gradually abandoned once the H.R.E.’s center of administration moved full-time to Vienna.

  4. But most importantly, what type of cat rotation schedule was employed in the pfalz?

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