Monday, 23 June 2014

ad confluentes

We had the chance recently to visit the city of Koblenz, where the Moselle joins the Rhein, and survey the colossal monument to Prussian Emperor Wilhelm I, designed by the architect Bruno Schmitz who collaborated with other artists to build other gigantic monuments in the area, from high above on the cliff-top campus of Festung Ehrenbreitstein (Fort Honoured-Broad-Stone). This ruler wanted more than cooperation, strategic partnerships and petty tyrants but unity among the peoples of Germany.
Wilhelm never realised this goal during his reign and more democratic institutions were responsible for that, as for the Weimar Republic that followed soon afterwards, but the monument was erected originally to commemorate the decisive Battle of Sedan. Successive governments then used the monument as a call for unity.
It was the figure that is evoked in the patriotic song Die Wacht am Rhein and during the 1980s, an image of the sculpture was used in West Germany as a rallying point for unity, with the iconic symbol of the Deutsches Eck being the standard sign-off signal for television stations at the end of the broadcasting day (before the advent of 24 hour, continuous programming) shown, from this vantage point with the national anthem. Herman Melville, along with other contemporary writers, makes mention of the fortress above in Moby Dick, “this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold—a lofty Ehrenbreitstein,” and the massive installation is a venue for exhibits on art and history.
Though the fort was never taken in battle, the statue below was heavily damaged in 1945, less than fifty years after its dedication, by an American bomb-run and the French administration of the Trizone forwarded a proposal to demolish the giant completely and put a peace memorial in its place. Those plans were never realised and the decision to restore and rededicate the monumental statue at the head-waters was announced in 1990, just after Reunification.