Prussian Rhine Province

Coblenz, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, Heine
Coblenz, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, Heine

The Rhineland around 1815. After the victory over Napoleon, the whole of the Rhineland, Westphalia, and some other territories had fallen to Prussia, so also the Seven Mountains now belonged to the State of Prussia under King Frederick William III (in German Friedrich Wilhelm III., 1797-1840). At first, there were two Prussian provinces, Lower Rhine and Jülich-Cleves-Berg. In 1824, both were combined into the “Rhine Province” with the capital Coblenz.

Romantic Rhine and golden age of culture

The decades after the victory over Napoleon in 1815 were a golden age of culture, art and science. Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the great architect and painter, gave us not only many buildings of the “classical Berlin”, he also took care of small and large buildings and monuments all over the Prussian State. In the Rhine Valley, he helped rebuilding Stolzenfels Castle near Koblenz.

It was the time of Rhine romanticism. Around 1820, the first steam ships cruised on the Rhine, and a little later one by one railway lines came into being. The Drachenfels mountain with the medieval ruin on top inspired Lord Byron and Heinrich Heine, both dedicated it a poem. Back then, Heinrich Heine was a student at Bonn university, and already as a young man he got in trouble with the Prussian authorities.


At the beginning of the 19th century, the damages done to the Drachenfels had become alarming. In 1826, part of the walls of the ruin crumbled. Two years later the Prussian authorities (since the Congress of Vienna, the Rhineland belonged to the Prussian Empire) ordered all the Drachenfels quarries closed. In 1829, the Drachenfels was classified as historical monument and thereby put under preservation order. In 1835, the Prussian Government bought the upper part of the Drachenfels with the ruin, for its protection.


Yet, in spite of all beauty and Rhine romanticism it was a time of political oppression and bitter poverty. Therefore, the years between 1815 and 1848 are referred to as “The Time of Restoration” or “Pre-March” (in German Vormärz), referring to the March Revolution of 1848. And yet, the hopes for democracy and national unity remained alive.

More than anyone else, the Austrian statesman Prince Metternich dominated this time. In his eyes, freedom of opinion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly as well as the struggle for national unity meant agitation and a threat to security – therefore, he and other princes oppressed them by might and main. The Burschenschaft student movement, who struggled for a unified German nation and a progressive, liberal political system, was prohibited, professors and students were put under supervision by the state, newspapers and books were censored. When Heinrich Heines poem “The Nacht auf dem Drachenfels” was published, his work was already censored. Suspicious persons were considered demagogues and prosecuted. Among them were men of great merits like the Prussian statesman and reformer Freiherr von und zum Stein, General Gneisenau and Professor Ernst Moritz Arndt from Bonn.

The July revolution in France 1830 made a difference in Europe. On May 27, 1832, about 25.000 people from all circles of society, among them French, Polish and Italians, celebrated a national democratic festival on the Maxburg Castle in Hambach, Rhineland-Palatinate. Cheered by the crowd, the speakers demanded democratic rights and the fraternization of all free people. That was political dynamite. New demagogue prosecutions began and literature was censored even more strictly. After protesting against a breach of the constitution, seven highly respected professors of the university of Göttingen were expelled from the state of Hanover, among them the brothers Grimm. Hundreds of people emigrated for political reasons to the United States, they are called “Dreißiger”, referring to the 1830ies.

Great Need, Emigration

The pre-march also was a time of great need. After 20 years of war particularly the rural life was very hard: many floors were ruined, the income is barely enough to live, there were almost no medical care and infant mortality was very high. In winter 1816/17 it came after several bad harvests to a famine. The emergency drove many people away from their homes, in those years there was the first mass emigration to America.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, more and more industrial products from England came to Germany, and also here industrialization began. Back then, many people worked in the home industry, they made nails and knives, span and wove to make a living for themselves and their families. Also small scale farmer families whose land did not feed them all earned money by working at home. But the home industry could not withstand industrialization. The more machines were developed and in use, the more people lost their work. One mechanical loom replaced 200 workers, that was a catastrophe for the weavers, and starvation wages, women or even child labor could not change anything. Many craftsmen impoverished, especially those whose products competed with industry.

Moreover, for centuries the guild system had over-regulated trade and thus inhibited progress and innovation. Only in the medium term, it could adapt to the new conditions, for example a shoemaker would repair industrially produced shoes rather than make new ones by hand. Countless impoverished peasants and jobless craftsmen moved into the industry cities, hoping to find work in the factories, what again forced down the wages. Working conditions were generally terrible, laws to protect the workers did not exist, and the conditions of living were disastrous. Despite strenuous art work, many people could not make a living for themselves and their families and became destitute. We speak of a time of pauperization.

Poets and artists wrote about the great need and misery, among them Heinrich Heine in his “Weberlied” that soon was prohibited by the Prussian Government. Friedrich Engels translated it into English. Since 1827, Heine’s work was censured, since 1833 it was forbidden in the State of Prussia, and thereby in his native Rhineland. Heine had left Germany in 1831, to spend the remainder of his life in France. He only once came back, in 1843, and he wrote “Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen” (Germany. A Winter’s Tale).

After poor harvests in the years 1845 and 1846 there was a great famine in 1847. The communities did not have the means to help needy families. For many people in need, emigration was an option worth considering. Since 1820, the number of emigrants increased. In the years from 1845/1847 until 1855 the biggest mass emigration of the 19th century to North America occured, 80,000 people alone in 1847.

The picture is from the German Wikipedia, public domain section.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.