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Dresden, Saxony

Dresden, renowned for its beauty, culture, and education, was first mentioned in literature in 1216. As early as 1287, a bridge crossed the river at Dresden. This baroque city spread along the Elbe Valley, to the north of which are the Lossnitz ridges, the woods of the Dresdener Heide and the steep slopes of the Lausitz plateau, while to the south are the foothills of the Erzgebirge. Nestled in a valley, it seem to lie at the crossroads of a warring Europe throughout history. It was subjected to a destiny of destruction, and rebuilding, due to the ever changing occupations brought on by war.

Once called "Florence on the Elbe" and numbered among the most beautiful cities in the world, Dresden was noted for its architecture and great art treasures. A city of culture and music, it was home to many of the great paintings of the Italian, Dutch, and Flemish schools. Both Weber and Wagner conducted here, where the operas by Richard Straus and others were first performed. The city has a long tradition of learning, particularly in the scientific and technical fields, and housed a library containing 3,000 manuscripts and 20,000 maps.

The latter years of eighteenth century Europe was marked by a lack in general stability. The middle class had become numerous and wealthy, and aspired to political power. The peasants, many of whom owned land, had attained an education and acquired an improved standard of living, wanted to discard the last traces of feudalism. They now wanted the full rights of landowners and freedom to increase their holdings. 

The "Industrial Revolution" added to the social upheaval. Between 1715 - 1800, the European population doubled, causing a greater demand for food and consumer goods. A general escalation in prices gave rise to a feeling of economic prosperity. However, by 1770, this trend slackened, and economic crises, provoking alarm and even revolt, became frequent.

The hereditary elector of Saxony at this time, Frederick Augustus I, born in Dresden on Dec. 23, 1750, succeeded to the electorate in 1763 and was declared of legal age to rule in 1768.  He sided with Prussia against Austria in the War of the Bavarian Succession which ended in 1779, for which he was compensated with both land and cash. 

Following the French Revolution of 1789, ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity became popular among the educated classes, and soon after,  French emigrants arrived in Northern Germany, permitted to enlist and arm volunteers to attack France.  Though Frederick Augustus I joined Prussia's league of German princes, the "Furstenbund," in 1785, he took no part in the Austro-Prussian quarrel of 1790, and refused to join the Austo-Prussian league when France declared war on April 20, 1792. 

However, when war broke out, he remained loyal to the league and so entered the hostilities (the French Revolution, 1789 - 1899, and the Napoleonic Wars, ) and a era of ever changing alliances which was to dominate Europe until 1814.

By 1797 all of Germany had come under French rule, and was divided into 112 states. In 1806, Saxony joined Prussia in an unsuccessful war against Napoleonic France. After the Peace of Posen, (Dec. 11, 1806), in which Frederick Augustus I retained rule of Saxony, and gained membership in the Royal Confederation of the Rhine. Though not occupied by the French, as was Northern Germany, Saxony remained bound to Napoleon by its membership in the Royal Confederation of the Rhine, and would become one of Napoleon's most loyal allies.

With the demise of the Holy Roman Empire on Aug. 6, 1806, complete autonomy of the individual states that had come to exist within its boundaries was legally recognized. Germany became a geographical entity without any political or national unity.

In 1812, Napoleon led a disastrous campaign against Russia, and when, upon his return reached Dresden, Frederick Augustus I received him well. By 1813, it was questionable whether or not Russia would bring war to Germany. In March of 1813, Northern Germany joined Prussia in war against France and headed for the Saxony region. May 3, 1813, the Russians retreated on Dresden. Coming to the aid of his allies, on May 8, 1813, Napoleon entered Dresden and made the town a center of military operations. 

On Aug. 11, 1813, Emperor Frances II of Austria also declared war on France. And, after considerable discussion,  the allies (Prussia, Russia, and Austria) decided that the Bohemian army, under Schwarzenberg, consisting of 127,000 Austrians together with 82,000 Russians and half as many Prussians, would advance on Dresden up the western bank of the Elbe. It was here, on Aug. 26 and 27 of 1813, Napoleon won his last great battle, the Battle of  Dresden, leading 70,000 men against an army more than twice its size. 

Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in October 1813, during which much of the Saxon Army went over to the enemies and Frederick Augustus I was taken prisoner, marked the end of Saxony's luck. Russia occupied Saxony until September of 1814, when the task was transferred to Prussia, who would not leave for another year.

Thirty-nine states now remained in Germany, thirty-five of which were monarchies. In June of 1815, these states formed a non-binding union, the German Federation, in which all states retained full autonomy. Though restored as king in May of 1815, Frederick Augustus I had to give up two-fifths of Saxony due to his loyalty to Napoleon. The remainder of his life, from 1815 - 1827, was spent in the rehabilitation of what was left of Saxony. The dismantling of the medieval fortifications of Dresden, begun by the French in 1810, was completed by 1830, and gardens and promenades were made.

A call for German unity came from the universities from 1815 - 1819. Severe economic difficulties and strict adherence to the conservative policy of the Restoration as laid down for Germany by Austria in 1819, accompanied the political inactivities of the 1820's. The Carlsbad decrees of 1819 called for uniform press censorship of all periodical publications, removal of university teachers suspected of subversive doctrines, suppression of groups agitating for German unity, and establishing a central commission to investigate the supposed revolutionary movement. This caused much frustration among German intellectuals as it often repressed liberty of thought.

The dark shadows of political storms to come, along with the social unrest arising from the beginning of industrialization, were keenly felt. A sense of disillusionment with man's capacity to achieve noble ends, and a pessimistic appraisal of man's role in the universe dominated imaginative literature and thoroughly changed it's mood, which once reflected a solidly constructive attitude. It had become only too evident that earlier political and cultural ideals were not being realized.

A wave of revolution swept over Germany in 1830, calling for political and economic revolution. Riots in Dresden and Leipzig (September 1830) forced King Antony to accept Frederick Augustus, son of his Brother Maximilian, as co-ruler, who in part, was responsible for the constitution of 1831 establishing a legislative assembly composed of two branches. While this attempt to compromise between conservative and liberal aspirations of the middle classes satisfied neither, a responsible ministry took the place of the Privy Cabinet and the peasant serfs were emancipated.

Further measures of repression were issued in June of 1832 (the Six Articles), and in 1835 a ban was imposed upon writers dedicated to "Young Germany" and its political and social problems. Severe censorship and authoritarian government influenced these writers, who preached individualism. For those who dared to criticize the established political and social order, exile was often the fate. Many were forced to flee.

On Antony's death in 1836, Frederick Augustus (II) became king. Political discontent was aggravated by Liberal demands for the publicity of judicial proceedings and for a free press. With the dismissal of seven professors in 1837 by the new King of Hanover, the movement for national unity and constitutional government continued to gather strength. 

With rumors of a possible French attach on Germany in 1841, the opportunity for demonstrating this feeling for nation unity presented itself. The artisans and apprentices wanted to rid the last of medieval restrictions on their professional freedom. The peasants wanted to be freed from their remaining feudal obligations. The intellectual classes -- lawyers, professors, students -- wanted freedom of speech, trial by jury and a representative system of government as well as the satisfaction of their desires for a German national state. Non-German nationalities in the empire wanted freedom and constitutional government. Germany was getting ever closer to revolt.

The year of revolution came in 1848. Initially, Frederick Augustus II had favored the plan for German unity put forward at Frankfurt in 1848, though refusing to acknowledge the democratic constitution of the Frankfurt assembly. This attitude led to the May insurrection in Dresden in 1849, when the last risings of liberal thought were suppressed with the aid of Prussian troops in Baden and Saxony in May and June of 1849.

The later part of this period marked the influx of Germans to America. 

~ K C Kuenzel

Other Links:

German-American Teaching Resources and Units
Two German Settlements in America:  Salem, NC and Hermann, MO
 
The Men of 1848
Dresden City Information 
Konzert- und Kongressgesellschaft Dresden
Stadt Magazine

 

 

 

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