Franco-Prussian War: Watch on the Rhine


Figure 1.--German national spirit was aroused by the French invasions during the Napoleonic War. Demands for unification countinued growing throughout the 19th century. This drawing is entitled, "Die Wacht am Rhein" (Watch or Guard on the Rhine). The caption reads, "Ave princeps, futuri te salutant! A HBC reader tells that this means, "Hail leader, the future salutes thee!" The illustrator was C.W. Allers. I believe the flag is the Imperial German flag. Since the drawing was done in 1900, the image is set some time after the Fanco-Prussian War between 1972-1900.

"The Watch on the Rhine!" or "Die Wacht am Rhein!" is one of the most famous patriotic songs in German history. Max Schneckenburger wrote "The Watch on The Rhine" in 1840. It became very popular among Prussian and other German troops duting the Franco Prussian War (1870-71). The Rhine is obviously the great natural barrier between France and Germany. Today given German behavior in two world wars, it is difficult to understand the imporatnce of the Rhine in the German psyche. The Germans has for several centuries been under attack from the French. First Louis XIV and then the French Revolution and Napoleon. Earlier of course the Rhine was the great natural barrier prorecting the Germans from the Romans. Agter the German tribes beat back Roman efforts to conquer them by destroying two entire Roman legions that had crossed the Rhine at the Teotoburg Forrest, the river became the great cultural divide in Germany. Napoleon III led an agressively expanonist France, but was just not very competent. Thus the song "Watch on the Rhine" took on great national importance as a defensive stand on the Rhine to protect Germany. Hitler in World War II had hoped to use the Rhine to stop the Americans and British, but when the Remagen Bridge fell into the hands of the Amricans, the Rhine was breached in only a few days.

The Rhine

The Rhine is a River of great commercial and strategic importance. As a result, the river gradually developed almost mystical importance to the German people. The Rhine is the longest river in Europe. Through most of European historry, rivers were the major means of transporting goods. The Rhine rises in the Alps a flowed through northern Europe to the Norh Sea. I was navigable for much of its length. It was not only of great economic importance, but the size of the Rhine made it one of the most important natural barriers in Europe. It became the frontier of the Roman Empire. To the Germans it was at first their natural barrier to prevent conquest by the Roman Legions. This was setlled at Tutenberg Forest (9AD). Later it became Rome's barrier from the German tribes. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD feudal kingdoms graually formed. Subsequently the evolving French kindom pushed east and there the great natural barrier was the Rhine. Great French kings like Francis I and Luis XIV pushed steadily east as did Naoleon. Hitler in World War II had hoped to use the Rhine to stop the Americans and British. He succeeded at Remagen (October 1944), but when the Remagen Bridge fell into the hands of the Amricans (March 1944), the Rhine was breached in only a few days.

The Song

1. Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,
Wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
Wer will des Stromes Hüter sein?
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

2. Durch hunderttausend zuckt es schnell,
Und aller Augen blitzen hell;
Der deutsche Jüngling, fromm und stark,
Beschirmt die heil'ge Landesmark.
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

3. Er blickt hinauf in Himmels Au'n,
Wo Heldengeister niederschau'n,
Und schwört mit stolzer Kampfeslust:
Du Rhein bleibst deutsch, wie meine Brust! |: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

4. So lang ein Tropfen Blut noch glüht,
Noch eine Faust den Degen zieht,
Und noch ein Arm die Büchse spannt,
Betritt kein Feind hier deinen Strand!
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

5. Und ob mein Herz im Tode bricht,
Wirst du doch drum ein Welscher nicht,
Reich, wie an Wasser deine Flut,
Ist Deutschland ja an Heldenblut!
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

6. Der Schwur erschallt, die Woge rinnt,
Die Fahnen flattern hoch im Wind:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
Wir alle wollen Hüter sein!
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

7. So führe uns, du bist bewährt;
In Gottvertrau'n greif' zu dem Schwert,
Hoch Wilhelm! Nieder mit der Brut!
Und tilg' die Schmach mit Feindesblut!
|: Lieb' Vaterland, magst ruhig sein, :|
|: Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein! :|

Translation

Some of the stanzas translate as:

A cry resounds like thunder-bolts,
Admist thrashing waves and clang of swords:
The Rhine, the Rhine, go to our German Rhine!
Who watches today our holy Rhine?
Chorus: Beloved Fatherland, no danger thine;
Your watch is true, the guard stands here.

A hundred thousand harts beat fast,
The eyes of all to you are cast,
The German youth, loyal and strong.
Protects you, as he has so long.
Chorus: Beloved Fatherland, no danger thine;
Your watch is true, the guard stands here.

The dead of an heroic race
From heaven look down and meet this gaze;
He swears with courageous heart, "O Rhine,
Be German as this breast of mine!"
Chorus: Beloved Fatherland, no danger thine;
Your watch is true, the guard stands here.

While flows one drop of German blood,
Or sword remains to guard thy deluge,
While guns rest in patriot hands,
No foe shall tread thy sacred strand!
Chorus: Beloved Fatherland, no danger thine;
Your watch is true, the guard stands here.

Our oath resounds, the river flows,
In golden light our banner glows;
Our hearts will guard thy holy stream:
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine!
Chorus: Beloved Fatherland, no danger thine;
Your watch is true, the guard stands here.

Poem

There is a little poem in the upper left corner of this illustratiomn (figure 1). It reads:

Sind wir auch noch schwach und klein,
Gibt man uns bessre Waffen
Schuetzen wir, was Du geschaffen
Halten treu die Wacht am Rhein.

This translates as:

Even when we are weak and small
give us better weapons
we guard what you have created,
remain loyal to the watch on the Rhine

The Flag

Dating images is always a problem. This image was drawn about 1900, but we were unsire as to went it was set. The one's boy's military hat looks decidedly old fashioned so we thought that it might be set in the Franco-Prussian War era (1870-71). The flag here, however, is a tri-color which would mean black-white-red. Also notice the Imperial German eagle. This was the Imperial German flag (1872 until 1918). The old Prussian flag was black-white. So we know that the omage is set some time after the Franco-Prussian war. The present German flag black-red-gold dates from the 1848 revolutions in Germany and was again used by the Weimar Republic (1918-33) and by both Eastvand West Germany after World War II and the fall of the NAZIs. I believe it began to be used about 1949. In Wast Germany (DDR) they added a hammer and cycle in a circle of [?spikes] as a symbol of communism and the working classes.

Modern Usage

I am not sure how popular the song was after the Franco Prussian War during World War I and II. The favored German soldier's song was "Lily Marlain", Lady of the Lamp light. American movie goers will be familiar with "Watch on the Rhine". It was the song that the German soldiers were singing at Rick's Bar in the movie Casablanca. They were drowned out by the French singing the Marseillaise. This was not just Hollywood imagination. A German reader confirms that the song was still popular in Germany during World War II. He writes, "I remember this song very well, but I do not remember from where I knew it. Anyway, during the NAZI era and in the Hitlerjugend we sang it. It was heroic and nationalistic and I remember that as a boy, it created great pride in our souls." Another reader writes, "In Casablanca, although "Die Wacht am Rhein" was still sung in World War II, there were never any official NAZIs there let alone any uniformed ones, despite what the movie with the city's name portrays." Here HBC is unsure. The Germans were present in Libya (an Italian colony) and Tunisia (a French colony) as the Afika Corps operatd there. Morocco and Algeria were contolled by Vichy and never occupied by the Germans. we wonder though if there was no some sort of German legation or other German officials there working with the Vichy police and other authories. we know for example that interment and work camps were set up for Jews in all of the North African colonies. (Some information her is available on the HBC Holocost country page.

Franco-Prussian War

The Franco-Prussian War is the 1870-71, conflict between France and Prussia that permitted the unification of a united Germany under the Prussian kingdom, overwealming the more liberal traditions of some other German states. The War was largely provoked by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor) as part of his carefully crafted plan to unify German under Prussian leadership. This result was a huge, poweful state imbued with Prussian militarism and with the power to aggressively persue the new Germany's imperial ambitions. This fundmentally changed the European power ballance. The resulting defeat of Louis Napoleon by the Prussians in 1870 brought the Third Republic to power in 1871. One of the reforms they introduced were smocks for schoolboys, part of the new Republican ideal to reduce the influence of class and privlidge. The two northeastern provinces of France, Alsace-Loraine, were ceded to Germany in the Treaty of Frankfurt. These were both border provinces and there were already large numbers of German-speakers in both provinces, especially Alsace. The population was, however, largely French orientened--even some of the German families. The loss to France was so heart-felt in France that it almost made another war inevitable. One impact on boys' clothing was that when the Third Republic in 1871 mandated smocks in French schools, Alsace-Loraine were no longer part of France.

Assessment

At that time boys already were being poisoned with super-patriotic propaganda. I am sure on the French side of the Rhine also, perhaps a little less since the French had been patriotic and nationalistic since the French Revolution. For the Germans in the mid-19th century it was something relatively new. Interesting, the impetus for the unification of Germany through most if the 19th century came from the liberal, democratic sector of society. It was largely Otto von Bismarck's genius and Wilhelm I's strenthening of the military that was respionasibe for unifying Germany under Prussia which emparted such a miluaristic tone to German nationalism.

Movie

A movie was made with the title "Watch on the Rhine". It was not a German film, but an American film made in 1943 during World War II. The German patriot depicted un the film, however, was not the kind of German patriot envisioned in the poem. Lillian Hellman's used the title for her World War II drama which was turned into a movie in 1943. A German patriot active in the anti-NAZI underground. He manages to escape to Washington, D.C. where he is taken in by relatives. While in America he raises money, but is twarted by an extornist. Than NAZI agents target him.

Sources

Allers, C.W. and Hans Kraemer. Unser Bismarck "Our Bismarck" (Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1900).






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Created: September 25, 2002
Last updated: May 21, 2004