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
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
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
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
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
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
The later part of this period
marked the influx of Germans to America.
~ K C Kuenzel
Teaching Resources and Units
Two German Settlements in America: Salem, NC and Hermann, MO
Men of 1848
und Kongressgesellschaft Dresden