The Hambach Festival

Hans Mocznay, The Hambach Festival on 27th May 1832, replica 1977, oil an wood, 108,5 x 151,5 cm

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On a sunny Whitsunday on the 27th May 1832 around 20.000 people gathered to demonstrate for freedom, unity and democracy.

The festival lasted until the 1st June and although it was conceived as a festivity with wine and dancing it soon turned into a political demonstration.

Now it is regarded as the high point of civil opposition at the beginning of the period leading up to the 1848 revolutions.

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The famous picture of the "Hambach Festival“ by Hans Mocznay depicts Hambach castle shining against the horizon. In the middle of the picture thousands of people are marching joyfully towards the castle waving flags in "black, red and gold", and "white and red". The picture was so famous that a special stamp was even issued by the German post to mark the 175th anniversary of the festival.

On a sunny Whitsunday on the 27th May 1832 around 20.000 people gathered to demonstrate for freedom, unity and democracy. The festival lasted until the 1st June and although it was conceived as a festivity with wine and dancing it soon turned into a political demonstration. Now it is regarded as the high point of civil opposition at the beginning of the period leading up to the 1848 revolutions.

The demands for national unity, freedom and democracy were rooted in the resistance to the outdated attitudes of the German Confederation.

The Hambach Festival also marked the birth of the now traditional colours of black, red and gold. But why were German flags waved alongside the Polish flags?

After the 1830 November uprising was put down by the Russians the rebels were forced to leave their homes and travel through German states into exile in Western Europe. The German people, who were increasingly suffering from absolutist rulers in their own states, welcomed the rebels against the powerful Czar with open arms. This led to a wave of enthusiasm towards Poles.

Germans organised themselves into so-called "Polish clubs" in order to coordinate donations of money and articles more efficiently. In some towns the Poles were welcomed by masses of enthusiastic citizens. They are even alleged to have chanted the Polish national anthem "Poland is not yet lost as long as Germans are alive!"

Around 11.000 Poles settled in German states as a result of the failed uprising. The wave of newcomers was given the name "the huge emigration". It influenced the image of Poles and Polish life in Germany in many different ways. To give but one example, thousands of so-called Poland songs glorifying the resistance and the Pole’s demands for freedom were written during this period.

Enthusiasm for Poles cooled remarkably after the Frankfurt National Assembly on the 18th May 1848. Nonetheless the symbolic power of the "Hambach Festival” remained. On the 27th March 2001 there was a meeting in Hambach Castle of representatives of the Weimar Triangle, including Gerhard Schröder, Jacques Chirac and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

Adam Gusowski

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A special postage stamp issued by the German Postal Service to mark the anniversary of “175 Years Hambach Festival”
A special postage stamp
A special postage stamp issued by the German Postal Service to mark the anniversary of “175 Years Hambach Festival”
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Hambacher Fest - Hörspiel von Polski Magazyn Radiowy des Funkhauses Europa
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