Rezension über:

Martin Krieger: Patriotismus in Hamburg. Identitätsbildung im Zeitalter der Frühaufklärung, Köln / Weimar / Wien: Böhlau 2008, 223 S., ISBN 978-3-412-20121-0, EUR 29,90
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Rezension von:
Tim Blanning
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Andreas Fahrmeir
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Tim Blanning: Rezension von: Martin Krieger: Patriotismus in Hamburg. Identitätsbildung im Zeitalter der Frühaufklärung, Köln / Weimar / Wien: Böhlau 2008, in: sehepunkte 9 (2009), Nr. 7/8 [15.07.2009], URL:

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Martin Krieger: Patriotismus in Hamburg

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This scholarly and attractively written monograph started out in life as a Habilitationsschrift at the University of Greifswald. It presents a 'collective biography' of self-styled patriots at Hamburg during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. This was not a large group, comprising only a dozen or so, but it punched above its weight through a number of successful publications. The periodical Der Patriot, which appeared between 1724 and 1726, was distributed throughout German-speaking Europe, from Regensburg to Reval. One member of the group, Barthold Hinrich Brockes, scored the first big popular success of enlightened literature in Germany with his Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in Physicalisch- und Moralischen Gedichten, the first volume of which appeared in 1721. By the time the ninth and final volume was published in 1748, the collection had gone through forty-two editions.

In many respects, the history of the group is a classic example of the development of the public sphere. The formation of the first group - the Teutsch-übende Gesellschaft - in 1715 was the institutionalisation of an informal group of friends meeting to exchange information and opinions on issues of the day. Its preferred medium for advertising its views was the written word, disseminated both through print and an ever-growing network of correspondents. Michael Richey, for example, who taught at the Akademischen Gymnasium, kept up a lively correspondence with sixty-odd former pupils scattered across the Reich. In their periodicals they fostered the sense of belonging to a 'republic of letters' through readers' letters, not all of them fictitious.

As the title of the Teutsch-übende Gesellschaft implied, at the centre of the patriots' concern was the German language. This was building on a long Hamburg tradition, dating back to the Teutsch gesinnte Genossenschaft of 1643 and the Elbschwanenorden of 1658, both of which had sought to counter pollution by Fremdwörter. By the early eighteenth century, the cultural hegemony of France lent new urgency to the task of maintaining linguistic purity. But along with a sense of threat went a countervailing pride. Anticipating Hoffmann von Fallersleben's Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, in 1727 Christian Friedrich Weichmann sketched out the following generous boundaries for the German tongue:

Von Welschland an bis zu dem Eismeer hin,
Vom Nordmeer an bis Lieflands äussern Gräntzen
Sieht man ihr Gold und ihren Purpur gläntzen;
So, weit, ja weiter noch herrscht sie als Königinn,
Und England selbst, wohin sie längst gekommen,
Hat sie von Alters her als Mutter angenommen. (154)

'Never mind the width, feel the quality' was the message of Georg Philipp Telemann when lauding the achievements of German composers in a poem published in Weichmann's anthology Poesie der Niedersachsen:

Zeigt Kuhnau seine Pracht in reinen Kirchen-Stücken;
Lässt Kaiser seinen Geist in hundert Opern blicken;
Bemüht sich Hendels Fleiß in ändernden Cantaten;
Setzt Petz die Feder an zu schmeichelnden Sonaten;

Lässt Pepusch seine Kunst in Concerten spüren,
und weis't sich Patalon in netten Ouvertüren:
So muß Venedig, Rom, Paris und London sagen,
Die besten Meister sind in Teutschland zu erfragen. (174)

Modestly, Telemann did not include his own name, an omission corrected by Der Musikalische Patriot:

Müssen selbst die Italiäner, die vorhin derer Deutschen Lehrmeister waren, anjetzo unser Deutschland wegen seiner bewundernswürdigen Componisten beneiden, und heimlicher Weise bey ihnen in die Schule gehen, ja muß das große Paris, das sonst die Geschicklichkeit derer Deutschen für so kleinstädtisch angesehen, von einem Hamburgischen Telemann Lectiones annehmen, so sollte ich fast auf die Gedanken gerathen, daß noch ferner unsere Deutschen denen Ausländern ein Beyspiel geben könnten, wie sowohl die Music zu einem noch größern Wachsthum zu bringen sey, als ihnen bereits von unsern Landsleuten, besonders von dem großen Leibnitz und Wolfen gewiesen worden, wie die philosophischen und mathematischen Wissenschaften noch immer einer mehrern Vollkommenheit fähig sind. [1]

On the other hand, as Krieger is at pains to point out, patriotic discourse in Hamburg was not confined to the German nation. Patriotism could find its unity in city, region or language as well. Der Patriot, for example, was dedicated to 'der werthen Stadt Hamburg als seinem dermaligen geliebten Vaterlande'. It even designated the family as an important centre of patriotic activity, where the father could contribute to the Fatherland's welfare by setting a proper example to his children and the mother could do her share by running the home efficiently, avoiding luxury and being an obedient and attentive wife. The Reich was also an important focus of loyalty, not least because it offered protection against Danish designs on the city's treasured reichsunmittelbar status.

Yet it seems evident that cultural nationalism was also an important element. In view of the evidence to the contrary he delivers, it is odd to read that Krieger sees his book as a 'Plädoyer für das Bemühen, den Patriotismus-Begriff aus einem nationalen Bezugsrahmen zu lösen, in dem jener in der Wissenschaft wie auch in der öffentlichen Wahrnehmung heute weitgehend gesehen wird' (11). 'If only!' one is tempted to comment. In reality, the book reads more like an advertisement for pluralism - clearly it was possible for a Hamburg patriot to entertain warm feelings for his family, city, region, confession, empire, language and nation. It was the identity of 'the other' at any particular time and in any particular context that dictated which of these took priority.

Although their views were broadcast widely across the Reich, the impact of the patriots inside Hamburg was limited, not that they ever had a radical agenda. Indeed, Krieger emphasises several times that they neither sought nor mounted a challenge to the existing order, whether political or religious. Their influence on the city's school ordinance of 1732 proved to be short-lived: by the 1760s there had been a reversion to the traditional curriculum and strict Lutheran orthodoxy. Although there was a direct line from the Patriotische Gesellschaft of 1723 to the Hamburgische Gesellschaft zur Beförderung der Künste und nützlichen Gewerbe of 1765, by then most of the patriots were drawn from the merchant community and were concerned mainly with promoting practical economic reforms.

In summary it can be said that this a well-researched, well-presented and well-written study which adds a good deal to our understanding of both Hamburg and the German-speaking world during the early eighteenth century and should be read by everyone interested in the period.


[1] Der musikalische Patriot, Braunschweig 1741, 19.

Tim Blanning