© Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer
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© Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer
On May 27, 1832, as many as 30,000 people gathered on the mountain of Hambach Castle to advocate for a unified Germany, basic political rights, and a Europe united in solidarity. Why was there so much discontent notably in the Palatinate at the time? Who organized the Hambach Festival? What were the demands of the speakers at the Festival? On this page, which we are going to add to regularly, we would like to provide brief answers to key questions about the Hambach Festival and its most important figures.
Europe was reorganized after the defeat of Napoleon, and this also impacted the Palatinate. After the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Austrian Empire agreed in April 1816 that the Palatinate as „Rhine District“ (referred to as the Rhenish Palatinate as of 1837) would fall to Bavaria. While the accomplishments and reforms from the time of the French occupation of the Palatinate from 1792 to 1814 were to be officially kept as the Rhenish Institutions, in fact, as of the 1820s, the Bavarian royal house wanted less and less to do with the unique political and administrative position of the Rhine District. A policy of paternalism and oppression gave rise to tremendous dissatisfaction in large parts of the Palatinate. This was magnified by the targeted economic discrimination of the Circle of the Rhine that did not have a direct land connection to its Bavarian mother state on the right bank of the Rhine River.
There was a close relationship. In many places in Europe, a desire was growing among the populations to found nation states; dissatisfaction prevailed toward the oppressive measures of the then authorities, and this fact spawned protests given the economic and social hardships. The revolutionary spark in this situation once again came from Paris, where the July Revolution of 1830 led to the fall of the Bourbons.
A short while later, there was a revolution in the south of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium. In Poland, there was a revolt in November 1830 against Russian rule; however, this was quelled by the military dominance of the Czar. As a result, around 30,000 Poles had to flee their country; they travelled through Germany to France, and one of their routes went through Neustadt. The turmoil in which European countries found themselves—national uprising, political protest, and social and economic hardships—can be very clearly understood at the Hambach Festival.
The Rhenish Institutions describe those progressive accomplishments of legal, state, and societal order, which come from the time when the Palatinate belonged to French territory (1797/1801–1814). These include, but are not limited to, equality before the law (thus abolishing the privileges of the aristocracy), economic freedom and freedom of movement, liberation of the peasants, abolition of the manorial system, separation of the judiciary and administration and of church and state, jury court, verbal and public nature of court proceedings, and freedom and security of property.
The Bavarian Constitution of 1818 did not abolish the Rhenish Institutions in the Circle of the Rhine area, thus allowing the region to assume a unique legal and administrative position. In fact, some of these individual accomplishments were leveraged in the following years by the government in Munich.
In the Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine, the Rhenish Institutions were “popular because they established a transparent legal system based on civic freedom and equality and, at the same time, a liberal economic model“ (Markus Meyer). Unlike the backward areas on the right bank of the Rhine, the Institutions favored the emergence of a Palatinate self-confidence, which was also reflected in the Bavarian parliament; most of the representatives from the Palatinate belonged to the liberal–democratic opposition. From them emanated a strong impetus for the Hambach Festival.
The dissatisfaction had political, economic, and social causes. Politically, increasingly restorative and authoritarian government policies from Bavaria provoked firm opposition of the Palatinate liberals. In particular, the attempts to prevent critical opinions or political demands through censorship boosted the solidarity of the Palatinate members of the opposition, many of whom were lawyers and journalists. Such attempts of suppression would be a thing of the past in a united German national state based on a constitution that is valid for everyone.
Economically, it was not just the failed harvests that threatened the existence of many famers and wine growers at the start of the 1830s in the agriculturally based Palatinate. In particular, the unfavorable customs regulations for the Circle of the Rhine significantly reduced the opportunities for the Palatinate to sell its most important exports (wine and tobacco).
Socially, the Palatinate was impacted by “pauperism“ (the Latin word pauper means “poor“). The confluence of population growth and industrialization in parts of the Circle of the Rhine brought impoverishment and mass poverty. Notably, the West Palatinate cloth industry suffered under the massive imports of considerably lower-priced products from Great Britain. The so-called “Holzfrevel“ or “Forstfrevel“—the illegal collecting of wood and brushwood—was a huge phenomenon at the start of the 1830s, which the state pursued with thousands of charges.
The combined political, economic, and social discontent contributed to the great mobilization of the Hambach Festival.
The most important seedbed of the Hambach Festival was the “Deutsche Vaterlandsverein zur Unterstützung der Freien Presse“, which, as its German name suggests, had two main political goals: national unity and freedom of the press. This press association was founded on January 29, 1832 in Zweibrücken-Bubenhausen, and the occasion was a celebration to honor the Palatinate citizen, Friedrich Schüler, who, as head of the liberal opposition, achieved success in Bavarian parliament in the struggle against Bavaria’s policy of censorship. At this celebration, the decision was made to financially support the publication of oppositional texts or the fines/penalties of editors and journalists by establishing a press association. The heads of this press association were lawyers, and they felt obligated to protect the Rhenish Institutions, especially freedom of the press. In addition to Friedrich Schüler, these included the journalists Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer, Johann Georg August Wirth, Ferdinand Geib, and Joseph Savoye. It did not take long for the press association to grow to 5,000 members within German Confederation, many of whom were from Neustadt.
It was Siebenpfeiffer who, at short notice, rededicated the original celebration planned in honor of the Bavarian constitution on the mountain of Hambach Castle for May 26, 1832. In a frequent and wide-spread call entitled “Der Deutschen Mai“ (the German May), he extended an invitation to a Festival of Hope on May 27, which “was to aid in the struggle to shake off inner and outer violence and to strive for lawful freedom and German national dignity.“
The call was signed by 32 citizens of Neustadt, who from then on were involved in the organization and running of the Festival, including Johann Philipp Abresch, Friedrich Deidesheimer, the doctor Johann Adam Philipp Hepp, and Johann Jakob Schoppmann.
The attempt of the Bavarian government to stop that Festival with a ban failed due to the journalistic outcry of the liberal–democratic opposition. Munich’s attempt to intervene unintentionally led to a further mobilization of everyone who was dissatisfied with the political, economic, or social situation.
The formation of a unified German national state, the granting of basic political rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press, limiting the rule of the princes through increased ways for the people to participate in politics (meaning the male, educated and/or property-owning citizens of the population), and the invocation of a Europe united in solidarity. Most of the over 20 speakers at the Hambach Festival supported these demands.
The nature and extent of the demanded “popular government“ and the ways and means for reaching the set goals were the main disputed points. To put it bluntly, at the Hambach Festival, the fault lines between liberal and (radical) democratic objectives emerged. The liberals sought the reform route to bring about political improvements within the constitutional monarchy. The democratic commitment to popular government, on the other hand, demanded a revolutionary change to the system, which, according to a few radical democrats, would have to be brought about with violence, if necessary.
The Hambach Festival was therefore not a revolutionary beacon for societal and political changes with a national reach because its leading figures were, for the most part, not of the opinion that they had the necessary political mandate for this.
The majority of the close to 30,000 visitors to the Hambach Festival came from the Palatinate and its environs; around 500 participants came from Dürkheim, and over 200 students came from Heidelberg. However, participants also came from more distant parts of the German Confederation; be they from Kiel or Munich or Leipzig or Freiburg, their presence contributed to the national character of the Hambach Festival.
The Hambach Festival owes its European character not just to the pro-European calls of certain speakers (Wirth: “Three, three cheers to the confederate republican Europe!”; Siebenpfeiffer: “Fatherland, sovereignty of the people, and league of nations—cheers!“) but also to the presence of French people and Poles with their flags, greetings, and speeches that characterized the image of the Hambach Festival. The Poles were emigrants. They had to flee their country after the Russian Czar Nikolaus I had the 1830 November revolt for Polish independence quelled. On their journey to France, the Polish freedom fighters were greeted with tremendous solidarity and enthusiasm, also at the Hambach Festival.
The remarkable thing is that they played a role! Even in the invitation drawn up by Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer, women were expressly encouraged to participate, something that was by no means a matter of course at the time. The invitation read:
German women and maidens, whose political disregard in the European order is a mistake and a stain, adorn and enliven the gathering with your presence!
Many women accepted the invitation, as one can see from the most famous pictorial representation of the Hambach Festival, a lithograph from the pen of Erhard Joseph Brenzinger (https://rlp.museum-digital.de/object/6712). For most of them, it would have been the first time they took part in a political gathering. The Hambach Festival thus marks an important stage at the start of the long road to politically mobilize women in Germany.
Nevertheless, certain limits to the notion of equality typical for the time were apparent in Hambach. There was not one woman among the over 20 speakers. Furthermore, the men stopped short in their demand for equal treatment of women when it came to the political equality of women; women were not supposed to “rule“.
Women played an important role after the Hambach Festival. Considering the systematic persecution and imprisonment of the organizers of the Hambach Festival, women founded associations to support families of the imprisoned and banished German patriots.
“The wine growers have to mourn!“ Under a black flag with this heading, numerous wine growers from the Palatinate walked up to the castle. The most prominent one among them was Johannes Fitz, a vineyard owner from Dürkheim. The failed harvests of the early 1830s, which had heavily impacted agriculture in the Palatinate, were not the only reason the wine growers had to mourn. In particular, the detrimental customs regulations of the unloved Bavarian motherland put the livelihood of many wine growers on the line. In order to protect local Franconian wines (Franconia is in Bavaria), the government in Munich enforced a duty on the export of wine from the Palatinate to Bavaria (on the right bank of the Rhine). In the wine grower’s song that was sung at the Hambach Festival, one verse is as follows:
Wir wohnen in dem schönsten Land auf Erden,
Von Gottes Segen voll;
Doch müssen wir noch all zu Bettlern werden
Durch den verdammten Zoll!
Paraphrased: We live in the most beautiful country on Earth, full of God’s blessing. Yet, we all must become beggars because of the damned customs duty.
The last verse of the song illustrates that the wine growers also stood up for freedom of expression and freedom of the press:
Die freie Presse, Brüder!, sie sollen leben,
Sie macht vom Zoll uns frei,
Denn wo man darf die Stimme frei erheben,
kommt alles noch in Reih!
Paraphrased: Brother, the free press shall live; it will free us from the customs duty because wherever one can voice opinions freely, all will be in order.
It comes from the Hambach Festival! Ever since the Wars of Liberation in 1813–1815, black, red, and gold have been the colors of the German national movement because the uniforms of a popular Prussian volunteer unit (Lützow Free Corps) combined exactly these colors. However, these colors were ordered and designed differently on the flags of the freedom and unity movement. At the Hambach Festival, however, Johann Philipp Abresch, a businessman from Neustadt, carried a very special flag up to the castle and hoisted it on the tower of the castle’s ruins for all to see. With its evenly colored stripes in black, red, and gold, it was to become the original German flag. On the middle red stripe, there was the inscription “Deutschlands Wiedergeburt“ (Germany’s Rebirth). This preserved original flag is at the heart of today’s permanent exhibit Up, up to the Castle! in Hambach Castle. To this day, the colors black, red, and gold stand for a free, democratic, and unified Germany.
Among the German princes, there was fear that as a result of the Hambach Festival, democratic demands would catch like wildfire. Thus, the immediate and subsequent repressive measures were even more drastic. The Bavarian king sent one third of his army to the Palatinate to restore “peace and order“. New laws passed at the federal and state levels were intended to destroy the liberal and democratic opposition. Freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and association were further restricted, and associations for political purposes were just as forbidden as political speeches at public events. From then on, it was also forbidden to wear the colors black, red, and gold.
The organizers of and speakers at the Hambach Festival were charged and arrested. In the population, they nevertheless enjoyed tremendous popularity and sympathy. Many liberals and democrats fled abroad after the Hambach Festival, partly to avoid a looming prison sentence and partly out of disappointment over the political circumstances.