Franco-Prussian War Memorial, Tuebingen

Pictures and text by Mark R. Hatlie

These pictures were taken on October 17, 2005, in the municipal cemetery at Tuebingen.

It commemorates fourteen German soldiers who died of their wounds while convolescing in Tuebingen during and after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Memorials to this war are rare and Tuebingen is no exception in not setting aside a special monument for men from Tuebingen who fell fighting France. Now over 100 years old, the monument shows obvious signs of aging.

The war had been raging only a few weeks when the local chairman of the Sanitätsverein (a kind of local Red Cross organization) suggested that space be made available in the Tuebingen city cemetery for soldiers who died in local hospitals and have a monument built. There were two years of discussions about the form the monument should take before it was unveiled on 6 August, 1872 (the second anniversary of the battle of Woerth). The unveiling began with a procession at 07:00 from the city hall to the cemetery. Participants included Turnvereine(sports clubs), students from the Gymnasium (higher school), veterans, including current students at the University of Tuebingen, professors, civil servants, the fire department, and other citizens as well as the members of the Sanitaetsverein itself. There was music from a local choir, speeches and prayers, and the monument was consecrated under Catholic rites (despite Tuebingen being overwhelmingly Protestant).

The memorial is part of the municipal cemetery.
The front of the obelisk reads, "Fourteen German warriors severly wounded in battle for the Fatherland cared for in our city until their deaths rest in native soil, 1870-1872".
Here a closer view of the front. The coat of arms reperesents Prussia, interestingly enough. The iron cross at the top was originally conceived as a medical cross, but later changed. The crossed swords were intentionally made straight, as were Greek and Roman weapons in classical antiquity, and not curved like more modern cutting weapons. Various plants were considered for the wreath with different symbolic implications before it was decided to include only oakleaves and laurels.
The sides of the obelisk list the names and ranks of the dead. The back lists more names and then reads, "Death has been swallowed by victory, but thanks be to God who gave us victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. I Cor. 15:55". The passage in the Bible, famous for the words, "Death, where is thy sting?", is not one phrase, but spread over several verses, from 55 to 58. The Sanitaetsverein chose to draw on the theology used in a famous sermon by the German military chaplain Heinrich Koestlin in December of 1870 in the church at Villers sur Marne,near Paris. He based his sermon on the same passage and depicted the fallen in the ongoing war was the "first martyrs of the new German Reich". The new Reich had not been officially founded yet in December of 1870, but it was already an expected outcome. That might also explain the use of the Prussian coat of arms on the front, as the new German Reich under the Prussian king was clearly a product of Prussian military prowess and Prussian initiative.
This picture was taken on 9 November, 2005. These three tea candles are probably left over from All Saints' Day eight days before. Someone is still thinking of the warriors who have been dead for 134 years.

Soon, veterans groups were dissatisfied with this. There was a wrought-iron slab in the main church down town (the Stiftskirche) which listed names of local killed, but it did not list all the names of Tuebingens fallen sons. (I have been unable to locate that list in the church itself. I suspect it no longer hangs.) They felt that the sandstone obelisk in the cemetery was more a gravesite than a monument of honor.

A Tuebingen-born sculptor living in Munich was given the contract to design something better. He submitted seven designs over the years up until 1912. The designs were for three different locations. The riding hall on Wilhelmsstrasse, the Holzmarkt (see the memorials now located there) and the current location of the Silcher memorial near the river Neckar.

In 1912, the artist who was responsible for approving a proposal, Konrad Lange, finally cancelled the project. He wrote, "Nor do I want to say anything about whether we need a war memorial at the present time, now that 41 years have passed since the great war, or whether we shouldn't wait until the next war, which does not seem to be long in coming, will again make it necessary to construct a memorial for Tuebingen's fallen sons."

He turned out to be right. Two years later, they did indeed have their war and eventually built a monument in the same cemetery.

Source: Hornbogen, Helmut: Der Tübinger Stadtfriedhof. Wege durch den Garten der Erinnerung. Verlag Schwäbisches Tagblatt: Tübingen, 19??.

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