Tag Archives: 1848 Revolution

Historic Frankfurt

Early last Saturday, when in Frankfurt, Germany, my very kind host Mia asked me what I wanted to see. The Saturday market? The older, historic part of town? It had been a long week, and quite frankly, my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It was my last day there. I’d just spent three days and very long hours browsing the huge, international Frankfurt Book Fair. Foremost in my mind now was locating the airport in time for my departure flight the next morning. So I shrugged.

“Anything’s fine, whatever you think.”

Mia hesitated, then suggested we visit the Römer Platz. She said first we’d pass by an old church I might like to see. “Although it might not be open today — there might be a private Book Fair event or something. But Paulskirche is historic. The outside is still like it used to be, but inside it was renovated in the 70s.”

st pauls tourists

As we approached the cathedral, its entrance was blocked by a busload of tourists. Still, something about the place felt oddly familiar. I stopped in my tracks.

“Wait, did you say Paulskirche? The Paulskirche where Germans held their first ever freely elected parliament?”

Before Mia could answer, I’d dashed across the street, backing up against a building until I could go no farther, tipping the camera sideways to capture the very tall steeple. Mia followed, grinning.

“You’ll be able to get a better picture of the whole church over there, across the park,” she said.

“Oh, but I want this angle! I think I have the same image on file at home, showing this very vantage point at the time of the 1848 Parliament.”

st pauls kirche 1848st pauls kirche

st pauls plaque

Oh my goodness, I was delighted to come to this place. I took photos of the outside of the church (it was closed, as Mia had predicted) and also of the historic plaque by the door that gave dates and an explanation of that historic year.

st pauls claire“Give me your camera,” Mia said, holding out her hand. I shook my head, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “C’mon, be a tourist.” How could I say  no?

My whole trip was like this, serendipity, surprise, astonishment and joy.

Wine trails and a delightful surprise

When I visited the Pfalz region of Germany, I especially enjoyed the wines. The Rieslings are crisp, not cloying, the Spätburgunder is as fine as a good Pinot Noir, and the sparkling Sekt is equal in quality to French champagne.

19th century sparkling wineWine-making is so ubiquitous to the culture and lifestyle of the Pfalz, the entire cellar of the Bad Dürkheim Heimatsmuseum is dedicated to a viticulture exhibit. The rack shown here is an example of the traditional method of fermenting champagne. According to the Heimatsmuseum curator, it was an iffy proposition — 10- to 20-percent of the bottles could be counted on to explode, the champagne wasted.

Wines from the Bad Dürkheim region were exported to Cleveland in the 19th century, thanks to the Dürkheimer wine-makers George and John Fitz and a Cleveland wine importer named Leick of Kirchheimbolanden. (Apparently Leick and his brother married the Hege sisters from Dürkheim, so a connection was made.)

In particular, the Fitz brothers produced the 1848 Dürkheimer Firemountain label especially for export. Records show the wine was also exported to New York City, Cleveland and New York City being areas with high Palatine immigrant populations. While the year on a label normally indicates the vintage, in this case, all wines carried this year. The year 1848 was a reference to the 1848 Revolution for democracy, the Fitz brothers reaching out in solidarity to exiles forced to immigrate to America after the revolution was crushed. It’s not clear how long the 1848 label lasted. But wine exports continued until Prohibition  brought an end to the once lucrative trade.

These days, the Mosel region seems to dominate German wine imports to the U.S. However, I recently stumbled on a delightful surprise. The Fitz wine-makers of Bad Dürkheim are still in business. Now called the Fitz-Ritter Winery, the history of their revolutionary 19th century activities is even posted proudly on their website:


In 1837, the Fitz estate founded the first “Champagne“ Production in the Palatinate (second in all of Germany). Johannes Fitz, known as “the Red Fitz,” had imported the necessary know-how from the Champagne region of France which had been his exile home following his activity for the German Democracy movement at the Hambach Festival in 1832.

Five years later the first „Palatine Champagne“ emerged from the Bad Dürkheim winery.  …Just as it was back then, today the Sektkellerei Fitz (Sekt is the German word for sparkling wine) still produces “Sekt” from Burgundy and Riesling wines by traditional bottle fermentation.

No wonder the Fitz wine-makers reached out to those suffering exile in 1848–John Fitz had been an exile himself in 1832. I checked into it, and the Fitz-Ritter wines are again being exported to the U.S. Oh happy day!

Heimatsmuseum viticulture display

1848: It’s complicated

I just finished reading The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, wherein I was reminded that European history is … complicated.

Case in point, the 1848 uprisings in Europe. Or should I say, revolutions? Rappaport calls it 1848: Year of Revolution in his 416-page (not counting index and footnotes) book on the subject.

Several times now, after I’ve read excerpts of my novel to one audience or another, someone invariably comes up afterwards and says: “I had no idea there was a revolution for democracy back then.”

Back then? Right, mid-19th century Europe, the time in the U.S. of Emerson and Thoreau, of Alcott and Margaret Fuller, the transcendalist movement and antebellum period of President Zachary Taylor. Back in 1848, Germany was not even a country. That didn’t happen until 1871. Back then, the German-speaking regions of Europe were comprised of around 60 feudal states left over from the Holy Roman Empire, each with its own king, prince or duke.

The revolutions for a 1848 1849 rebellionconstitutional government, the right to assemble, freedom of the press, the right to vote, etc. spread not only in those duchies, but all across Europe. I’ve read many different accounts of that time, but a book I encountered recently: The Illustrated History of the 19th Century, puts it most succinctly:


Revolution characterizes the 1840s. … Nationalism and liberalism … simmer until, in 1848, they finally erupt in simultaneous revolutions throughout Europe. Famine and hardship too are key causes, often generated by the harsh social effects of industrialization. … [Revolts against King Ferdinand II in Sicily and Louis-Philippe in France] spur on a revolt in Austria leading to the resignation of Prince Metternich (1773-1859), the conservative and repressive chancellor of state. Further revolts erupt in Venice, Prussia, Poland, Milan, Hungary, and Parma against Austrian rule, as a revolutionary mood spreads throughout Europe. Pope Pius IX is forced to grant a constitution to the Papal States, but eventually has to flee to Rome. … The ending of the liberal movement in the German states sends a wave of immigrants to Wisconsin.

And Ohio, Illinois, and other U.S. States, I might add. These “liberal” scholars, lawyers and intellectuals came to the U.S. just in time for the anti-abolition fervor that would give rise to the Republican Party. 1848 revolutionary Carl Schurz was a key friend of Abraham Lincoln. So the year of revolution may have occurred across the Atlantic, but its after effects helped transform our country.

Celebrities of the 1848 Revolution

The “1848 Revolution” in Europe was a formative political event of the mid-19th century century. Beginning in late February, 1848 with an uprising in Paris, the foment of peasants against rulers played out across the many countries, duchies, and principalities of the day. It took over a year for all of the different revolutions to be crushed, the rebels scattered in exile. Here are a few persons who went on to make a name for themselves, who were active in some part of the 1848 struggles:

Richard Wagner was active in the rebellion in Dresden
Robert Schumann and his wife Clara were witnesses to the Dresden violence, and Schumann fled the scene rather than be conscripted in the city’s civil guard
Karl Marx was especially active in France in 1848; the failure of the rebellion convinced him of the need for a more radical society
Frederick Engels wrote about his role in the Palatinate in 1849, in a document called “The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution
Otto von Bismarck was a young landowner who rose to power and influence on the monarchist side
Carl Schurz was a leader in the rebellious provisional governments army, who escaped from the Prussian troops through a sewer from a village under siege, sailed to America, and later became an active advocate of the newly formed Republican party and an attorney and friend of Abraham Lincoln
Jacob Müller was a provisional government civil commissioner of Kirchheimbolanden who immigrated to Cleveland, eventually becoming the tenth Lieutenant Governor of Ohio from 1872-1874.

Perhaps you know of others? If so, do tell.