„Walküre“ (Holzstich nach einem Gemälde von H. Knackfuss, um 1890)

Cabinet exhibition: Nationalism and the romantic area in the literature of East Prussia

19.6.2021 – 3.10.2021

What do a knight of the Teutonic Order, the Nibelungenlied, and Hermann the Cheruscan have in common? They were all supposed to legitimize the founding of the empire in 1871, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, this "unification from above", for which Prussia had previously waged three "unification wars".

Monument engineers, composers and writers should invent an honorable tradition for the empire: with the Hermannsdenkmal at the Teutoburg Forest, the Germania vom Niederwald or Richard Wagner's "Ring des Nibelungen" - which in reality criticized rule and violence. Romanticism had already rediscovered the Middle Ages and knighthood and painted them in the most beautiful colors.

The new cabinet exhibition of the East Prussian State Museum embarks on an associative search for traces, pinned to some examples of the literature of East Prussia, which had been able to set strong accents for this. From the poet of the Wars of Liberation Max von Schenkendorff to the romantic E.T.A. Hoffmann through to Johann Gottfried Herder were linguistically powerful authors at work whose literature provided later authors with ideas for more national tones.

Examples of this are writers in East Prussia such as Ernst Wichert (1831-1902) or Felix Dahn (“A Battle for Rome”). When he was appointed to the Albertus University in Königsberg, Felix Dahn apparently saw himself as a kind of knight of the Teutonic Order. He wanted to teach “German law in the most distant Ostmarkland” and, as an admirer of Richard Wagner still felt “Valkyries” on the Baltic Sea.

The exhibition shows the context of the founding of the empire, important sources from romantic literature, Dahn and Wichert as writers in Königsberg and in the empire, the monumentalizing invention of a supposedly great national past as well as its reception and consequences.