Freiburg's History for Pedestrians






















































































































Emperor Napoleon






























































Her Imperial Highness Stephanie Beauharnais






Queen Louisa of Prussia

































































































Epitaph at the Russian church St. Alexij near the Battle-field of the Nations.

Note the severe losses among the fighting men with the Russians paying the highest toll


The French Revolution


With the Houses of Habsburg and Bourbon linked by marriage the people of Freiburg and its surrounding Breisgau hope for a lasting peace in the region.  However the peace only holds for 21 years when in 1789 the French revolution and its aftermath change the European landscape. In the beginning German intellectuals are over-enthusiastic about this turn in history. At the University of Tübingen the philosophers Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling plant a freedom pole and dancing around sing revolutionary songs.


Goethe's water painting of a freedom pole with an orthographic mistake: Passan(t)s, cette terre est libre*

*Passers-by, this land is free


Initially those who hold power in German territories are not worried by the development. In distant Vienna Emperor Leopold II sees no danger for a revolutionary movement whatsoever, since our nation is neither so corrupt, nor so pressed, and not so enthusiastic. The Jena philosopher Carl Leonard Reinhold calms down the authorities with another beating argument: Germany among all remaining European states is rather in the mood for revolutions of the spirit but not for political uprisings. This coincides nicely with Lenin's observation more than a hundred years later. He completely denied us Germans any ability for a revolution: When Germans want to make a revolution on a railway station they first buy a ticket for getting access to the platform.


In the Declaration of Pillnitz of 1791, Austria and Prussia favor a military intervention in France to ensure an appropriate monarchic government and conserve the rights of the sovereign and the interests of the nation. This leads to France's declaration of war on Austria. Besides the defensive protection of its natural borders, the offensive export of the achievements of the revolution into neighboring countries becomes France's main objective of the war. Consequently the revolutionary armies threaten the Habsburg possessions on the Rhine.


When in Paris in 1792 Robespierre's terror regime takes over intellectuals who had previously hailed the revolution become disillusioned. Aesthetes like Klopstock, Wieland and also Goethe turn away nauseated by the bloody excesses. Germany's national-poet writes short and to the point in his Venetian epigrams:


 France's sorrowful fate, those having power shall consider.
The man in the street however shall consider it even more.
The powerful perished but who guarded man against the crowd?
The crowd became tyrant of the crowd !



The First Coalition War


When Leopold II dies in 1792 his son Franz II is elected German emperor. The two German big-powers (Austria forming the First Coalition with Prussia) want to end rapidly the horrific episode in the neighboring country. Not expecting any resistance from the army of the Sansculottes they speak of a walk to Paris. However, following the famous cannonade of Valmy (a village in Northern France) the zest of the badly organized and inadequately equipped allied mercenaries has gone. Goethe, who had to accompany his Duke Carl August as an imbedded reporter into France, tells about the retreat of the allied forces and portrays the campaign as a nightmare that kept me imprisoned between excrements and desperate straits, lack and worry, danger and pain, between debris, corpses, rotten carcass and piles of shit. In this nightmare, however, our national poet recognizes the historic significance of the event, although his famous sentence: A new epoch of world history originates from here and today, and you can say that you were part of it, he only formulated later in his life.


Indeed. The French revolutionary army rapidly occupies the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) as well as Savoy, advances on the Rhine and occupies Worms, Speyer (Spires), Mainz and Frankfurt. In view of this rally Spain, Great Britain, Holland, Sardinia, Naples, Portugal and the German Empire join the anti-French coalition. The allied forces re-conquer the Netherlands but when the revolutionary regime orders the levée en masse (general mobilization) the luck in war turns again. In 1793 the French eventually occupy a bridge head on the east bank of the Rhine, the key to the Empire Old-Breisach.


The mercenary armies are not only numerically but also ideologically inferior to the army of the soldiers-citizen. Particularly in Prussia, more interested in increasing its territory in the Third Polish Division, the defense of the ailing Empire in the west is unpopular.  Consequently in 1795 Prussia retires from the anti-republican coalition and concludes a separate peace treaty with France.


In the summer of 1796, the revolutionary army occupies Freiburg. This however only after a heroic resistance of its citizens as their General Freiherr of Duminique certifies. The table still visible at the Martinstor is one of the rare cases where a commander commemorates the braveness of his soldiers


Memorial at the Martinstor: To the volunteers of Freiburg fighting under the command of Major and City Councillor Caluri and to all brothers in arms of the Austrian Breisgau distinguished in loyalty and braveness fighting on July 7th 1796 for Emperor and Fatherland dedicated by their General Freiherr of Duminique.


The French superiority compared to their own inability awakens nationalistic feelings among the German people. However, regarding France where in the name of an over boarding nationalism freedom and humanity are trampled upon Goethe and Schiller write the following Xenia into their compatriots' history book:


Germany in vain you hope to form a nation;
Rather form, for you can do it, your people to freer men.



The Second Coalition War


When in 1799 Austria forms a Second Coalition against the French Republic all regular Habsburg troops hastily leave Freiburg.  The remaining landsturm (local troops) in vain tries to repulse the invaders and in April of the following year the French eventually occupy the city.


 As war progresses Austria suffers her second defeat in Northern Italy, this time at Marengo. With the conquest of this region France's new Commander-in-Chief, Napoleon, makes  Francis' I dream come true. Furthermore, the following Luneville Peace Treaty confirms the transfer of all territories located on the left bank of the River Rhine to the French Republic. Consequently, Napoleon implements Louis' XIV intention of the Rhine becoming France's natural border too.


The German princes dispossessed of their territories in this way ask for compensation. This works the French Republic way in expropriating Church property.  Since, however, the Habsburg Emperor would feel greatly embarrassed ordering the secularization in his Catholic territories Franz II assigns an Imperial Committee to the task. Napoleon's own interest in these redistribution of territories is the creation of moderate-sized German buffer-states. Furthermore, in being generous he wins allies for his future ambitious plans. 



 As Usual: the Big Swallow the Small


In 1803 the Imperial Committee publish their verdict: 112 estates mostly ecclesiastical but also free cities and small counties disappear. With those "gained surfaces" the German princes are generously compensated for their losses on the west bank of the Rhine. Napoleon concedes considerable territorial gains to Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria. Even fractious Austria that lost Belgium, the Breisgau, and the Ortenau is compensated with the bishoprics of Trient, Brixen and Salzburg. In these rearrangements also the three ecclesiastical principalities of Cologne, Mainz and Trier disappear together with their clerical Electors.


Without these reliable Catholic votes the election of a Habsburg as German Emperor is no longer assured. Under these circumstances and also feeling that the German Empire is no longer viable Franz II takes on the title of an Austrian Emperor. In 1804 he mounts the Austrian throne as Franz I. As he advances Napoleon's coronation the still merely general is beside himself with anger. Napoleon calls Franz a skeleton who only happens to be on the throne due to the merits of his predecessors. In December of the same year Napoleon crowns himself Emperor of France with Pope Pius VI just standing by and watching.



The Third Coalition War


Eventually Austria concludes an alliance with Russia and starts the third Coalition war in 1805. This time the clash between Austrian and French troops takes place deep in German territory near the city of Ulm on the Danube River. The princes of Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria had formed an alliance with the French emperor in contempt of their responsibility for the Empire allowing the French troops to march through their territories.  While the Austrian corps is still waiting for Russian support to arrive Napoleon makes short work of the enemy forces. The Austrians rapidly surrender and he proclaims: Le jour d'Ulm est un de plus grand de l'histoire française*.

*The day of Ulm is one of the greatest days in French history


Rapidly the French move in the direction of Austerlitz where Napoleon inflicts a crushing defeat to the allies in the so called Three-Eemperor-Battle, actually a Battle of Four Emperors with Franz still carrying two imperial crowns. Triumphantly, Napoleon marches into Vienna. In the Peace Treaty of Bratislava (Pressburg) Austria loses her upper-Rhineland and upper-Swabian provinces to Baden and Württemberg respectively. The city of Lindau, Tyrol and Vorarlberg are transferred to Bavaria while Venetia, Istria and Dalmatia are annexed to the already Napoleonic Italy.



The End of the Holy Roman Empire


 In rewarding the loyal services of his vassals Napoleon distributes decorations and the title-inflation continues too. More important: Bavaria and Württemberg are promoted to kingdoms and declare their resignation from the Holy Roman Empire together with sixteen other German states including Baden. With those renegades Napoleon forms the Rhine Confederation of 1806, a third Germany to counterbalance the big powers (?) Austria and Prussia. This association is the death-blow to the Holy Roman Empire. Consequently the last of the Habsburgs Franz II steps down as German Emperor but remains Austria's Emperor Franz I.



The Grand Duchy of Baden. The original territories are painted red and yellow. Of the new acquisitions, Palatina  with Heidelberg is dark gray, the former Austrian possessions with Freiburg are dark rose. and the light rose colored parts were mostly ecclesiastic property before they were attached to Baden.


In Napoleon's general reshuffling of territories Baden only becomes a grand duchy. However, following the acquisition of the Breisgau with Freiburg in the south and Palatina with Heidelberg in the north Baden plays the important role as a defensive wall due to its longish shape. Baden also serves as an area for military deployment on the right bank of the River Rhine. To strengthen the ties between the two countries Napoleon arranges the marriage between his 17-year old adoptive-daughter and Imperial Highness Stephanie Beauharnais and young Karl Ludwig, heir to the throne of Baden.


The integration of the mostly Catholic Breisgau into the originally Protestant north of Baden is not without problems. Great Duke Karl Friedrich is "sold" to his new subjects as the regional father and upright man, who has reigned showing virtuous restraint and applying philanthropic laws for 60 years. Furthermore historians hurry to point out that Karl Friedrich’s ancestors were the Dukes of Zähringen and so the Breisgau eventually is back to its roots. Nevertheless Freiburg is degraded from Austria's western outpost to a provincial city. It is on the brink of even loosing its Catholic University as two universities seem to be too costly to the Grand Duchy. Furthermore the university in Protestant Heidelberg is ideologically closer to the Karlsruhe government.



 The Fourth Coalition War


Generally not interested in the Empire's fate Prussia is shocked by the French domination of Central Europe. The Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III demands Napoleon to withdraw from all German territories and together with Russia declares the Fourth Coalition war on France. The Battle of Jena and Auerstedt turns into a debacle for the once glorious Prussian army although the government just claims: The King has lost a battle. Now it is the citizen's first duty to remain quiet. In the aftermath of the defeat Prussia's Queen Louise clearly states: We reposed on the laurels of Friedrich the Great who was a master of his time. However time has surpassed us. Napoleon amputates Prussia's territories both in the west and in the east. Following Prussia's total defeat the French respectfully call their Emperor: Le grand mécanicien de la victoire.



French occupation in Freiburg in 1810. The graffiti on the wall of the Münster Choir by the drums-man from Alsace Hagenbuch can still be admired.



The Fifth Coalition War


 Emperor Franz I sees another chance against Napoleon when a rebellion against French occupation rages in Spain. In declaring the Fifth Coalition War in 1809 Austria opens a second front. What a blue-eyed decision! Caesar rapidly arrives, analyses the situation and humiliates the Austrian forces in the Battle of Wagram. As a consequence of the defeat Habsburg’s territories are further trimmed losing Salzburg and North-Tyrol to Bavaria and South-Tyrol to Italy. In this hopeless situation Franz I recalls an old Habsburg tradition. In 1810 he nobles the Corsican upstart in marrying his daughter, Archduchess Marie-Louise, to him. When Napoleon fathers a son the boy is proclaimed King of Rome already at his birth. The French call him Napoleon II following his father's abdication although the young man is raised and lives as Duke of Reichstadt in the Vienna palace of Schönbrunn until his early death at the age of 21.


Marie-Louise and the Roi de Rome



Le Grand Empire


 Nothing stops Napoleon anymore. People give up in resignation: Fiat voluntas domini Napoleonis* and so in 1811 he draws up the new map of Europe. Many territories simply become part of France like the Netherlands (Département des Bouches du Rhin), the south of Switzerland (Département du Léman et du Simplon) and northern Germany forming a land bridge to the Baltic Sea with Bremen (Département des Bouches du Weser), Lübeck and the city of Hamburg as the Préfecture du Département des Bouches de l'Elbe. Officially it rumors are spread that Napoleon plans to build a navigable canal between Paris and the Baltic Sea. This will avoid the shipment of goods between France and the north of Germany in the unfriendly waters of the Channel dominated by the British fleet. Primarily this northern platform will serve as the French deployment area for the planned military campaign against Russia.

*Lord Napoleon’s will shall be.


Napoleon’s Grand Empire in 1811


About 150,000 Germans serve Napoleon's Grand Armée of 412,000 men marching into Russia.  The soldiers are beaten by Father Frost and lost in the vast planes of Mother Russia. Among those who survive and return there are only 1000 Germans and just 145 soldiers from Baden. Whilst the satellite states  moan about their heavy financial contributions to the Napoleon wars it is the high blood toll they pay that becomes unbearable. Volunteer Corps roam the German countryside like those of Schill and Lützow fighting against French occupation and carrying for the fist time the colors of German liberty: black, red and gold. The more of those volunteers die in open fighting or in front of French firing squads the more German resistance grows.



Napoleon's retreat from Russia



The Battle of the Nations at Leipzig


 It is a tragic fact that in 1813 in the great Battle of the Nations at Leipzig soldiers of the Rhine Confederation and in particular mercenaries from Baden fight on Napoleon's side against other Germans. Under great losses Austria, Prussia and their allies eventually win the battle and Karl Friedrich of Baden together with his mentor is the looser.


Therefore nobody is surprised that unknown persons tear down the Baden coat of arms from the government building in Freiburg and install the Habsburg double eagle instead. As late as November 1813, Karl Friedrich eventually sends his troops against Napoleon. Men from Baden had died in the Napoleonic wars apparently on the wrong side when the Grand Duke suddenly declares: Now our big goals are Baden's conservation and the battle for German freedom and independence. The defense of the fatherland may fill your hearts with the most sacred enthusiasm. My call will inspire you with glorious eagerness while you place yourself under the flags of your brothers in arms undivided in the field of honor.



The Restauration


Following Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo the Vienna Congress restores most of the old territories except for the Habsburg possessions on the upper Rhine. Austria is tired of fighting the French and the Austrian Emperor Franz I. rather prefers to compensate the territorial losses in the far west with land in easy reach of the capital. The decision that the mostly Catholic Breisgau will remain with Baden and its predominantly Protestant north is a shock for the majority of Freiburg's inhabitants. One of the most fervent supporters of Austrian rule is Karl von Rotteck. When Emperor Franz I. on his way to France passed through the city in 1813 he wrote a leaflet describing the profound affection of the Breisgau inhabitants to the Habsburgs.


The Vienna Congress restores most of the old rulers too. Many people with the ideas of the French revolution still in mind had hoped for some liberalization and are deceived by the Federal Diet at Frankfurt under Austrian leadership.







That's not all folks. This is only half the story. Stay tuned and read further revelations about Freiburg's fascinating history as time goes by. Continue with the  Revolution of 1848.


This page was last updated on 22 June, 2022