A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Danube Trip - Well, We're Here #3

Inside the private chapel at the palace of Thurn und Taxis, Regensburg
Trouble at Regensburg (Ratisbon) - then and now

First thing to understand about the history of the City of Regensburg is that it is complicated. This is also the second and third things you need to understand.

In 1809, the city, though lying squarely within the Kingdom of Bavaria, was independent of it. Regensburg was an independent city, and please don’t ask me to explain whose it was. I think I knew at some point yesterday, but now I am not so sure. The Prince of Thurn und Taxis may well have had something to do with it, but much of its independence was based on the fact that it was the seat of the Permanent Diet of the Holy Roman Empire. Confusingly, the suburb on the north side of the Danube, Stadt-am-Hof, at the north end of the vital bridge, was part of Bavaria.

These days the city includes this suburb, and they are both part of the region of Bavaria, within the federal state of Germany. No problem there, then, though there appears to have been a little trouble during the recent bicentennial, in 2009. As part of an extensive programme of events to commemorate the unpleasantness of April 1809, a noted local historian and re-enactor was to ride over the bridge, dressed as Napoleon.

All sorts of difficulties were raised to stop this happening. Some well-intentioned soul with pacifist leanings declared that warfare and (especially) Napoleon were not suitable subjects for commemoration, though the counterargument, that approximately 1/3 of the city was destroyed, would suggest that the event had at the very least been significant.

On health and safety grounds, the Napoleon impersonator was banned from crossing the bridge, in case he and his horse fell off into the river – this despite the fact that there are no recorded cases of horses falling off in the previous 850 years. The ban was overturned, but there was a small retaliation in that a strange inscription appeared on the old gate pillar in Stadt-am-Hof, which, translated, says something like

To commemorate the dreadful day in April 1809,
all due to Napoleon, which befell the people of Regensburg.

This piece of official graffiti caused further anger, since

(1)   defacing an ancient piece of the city in this way is inappropriate, not to mention illegal

(2)   the destruction of the northern suburb where the inscription was placed was entirely caused by Austrian artillery prior to 18th April, though the French did cause a lot of damage when they attacked the south side of Regensburg on 23rd April.

(3)   The conflict in the area was initiated by invasion by the Austrian army, not by the French, who were fighting in support of their Bavarian allies.

(4)   Strangely, the local authorities refused to name either the author of the inscription, or the identity of the engraver, in case of reprisals. Hmmm.

We spent much of yesterday touring the city of Regensburg – and a very fine place it is, too – focusing on the key locations connected with the French storming of the place on 23rd April. I was intrigued to note that the French attacked at a strong part of the walls, though a portion of the walls a short distance away had been demolished.

The celebrated tale of Marshal Lannes seizing the scaling ladder and having to be restrained by his aides (notably Marbot, who else?) would have been unnecessary if the attack had been made closer to the palace of Thurn and Taxis, where the walls had been removed as part of works to the gardens – the French should, in theory, just have walked in if they had attacked a little to the west. There were a good many Bavarians with the attacking troops, but it is likely that they came from other parts of the country – Regensburg was, in any case, not in Bavaria, and the main recruiting centres were Munich, Ingolstadt and Nuremberg.

As before, I’ll include some pictures to give an idea of areas we looked at.

Napoleon was decent enough to get wounded within a few metres of our hotel,
though halfway up a wall is an odd place for it to have happened

One of the few areas where the walls can still be seen - here you see the
medieval wall, with the ancient Roman wall behind it. This is in the area where
the French made their attack. The artillery made a hole in the town
which was rebuilt as a street - Maximilianstrasse

The day after the assault, Napoleon appeared on the balcony at the home of his
friend Karl Theodor von Dalberg, erstwhile Archbishop of Mainz and noted
mover and shaper in the Rheinbund. Ths was to show the townspeople that his wound was trifling

The stone bridge - a horse would probably be safe enough there

The gate pillars at Stadt am Hof, where the mysterious new inscription appeared
We are now in Vienna. If we get to the Heeresgeschichtemuseum I’ll try to put a post together. First priority is to get some homemade apfelstrudel.

I am pleasantly surprised to note that my hotel here in Vienna, when it was a private house, was the birthplace (in 1888) of Max Steiner, the composer, who is maybe best known for the scores to “Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca”. As a sincere tribute from one Max to another, I have to say, “Play it again, Max!”.

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