Heine's River, Prussia's Border (Heine's Germany part I)I had thought that I would use my reading of Heine's Germany. A Winter's Tale. to talk about difference between native and travel views of the Rhine. The material is much richer than I expected, and I plan to devote several posts to Heine.
Heine returned home to Germany in 1843 after years of exile in France. His path took him eastward, through Aachen to Cologne, down the river to Munster and Westphalia until he reached the city in which he was raised–Hamburg. Before he reaches Aachen, Heine experiences the presence of Prussia at the border in the guise of the Zollverein. It is here that he experiences (what he would consider to be) and unnatural border.
Historically, the Zollverein was a customs union that allowed for tariffs to be regularized between German states. Free movement of goods was possible between these different states. German nationalist (and many subsequent historians) described the founding of the Zollverein as a definitive step in the creation of a unified Germany. This attribution is exaggerated: the customs union was a diplomatic arrangement, and any state could put pressure on the system to renegotiate its terms or even leave the union. There was also discussion about expanding the Zollverein to non-German nations like Belgium and Netherlands (David Hansemann being one of the leading proponents of expansion into northwestern Europe). Furthermore, it affected the lives of only a small number of Germans, only the elite merchants.
Heine experiences the Zollverein as more than a customs union. On the one hand, it is the arbiter of what will be allowed into Germany and, by extension, what is German. On the other hand, it enforced Prussian power in the West. When he comes to the border, Heine is approached by Zollverein officials, whom he identifies as Prussians (preußischen Douanièrs). The search through his belongings for contraband–lace, jewelry, books. Heine remains smug as the customs officials disturb the clothing in his suitcases–they will not find “the twittering birdnest of confiscated books” that he keeps in his head.
More than an arrangement to smooth over differences between tariffs, the Zollverein was defining borders. It denied the influence of foreign ideas by preventing them from entering German states. Enforced by Prussian officials, the Zollverein created a territory based on the threat of force by the state. It is within the territory that Germans should find themselves and coalesce into one people. According to a nationalist with whom Heine travels:
It gives outer unity to us
The so-called material;
We get spiritual unity through censors,
The real ideal.
It gives us inner unity,
The unity of thought and mediation;
A united Germany is what we need,
United on the outside and the inside.
What Heine experiences and hears is out of harmony with his ideas of what Germany is and how it should come together. The ideas that the Prussians wanted to keep out were of bourgeois revolution: civil upheaval that would displace the landed aristocracy–the group that Prussia defended–and replace them with the people–the group that Heine championed. Heine does not want a hegemonic state to create Germany. It should form organically as an expression of popular sovereignty. He opposes the concept of Germany as a territory that can be drawn and delimited:
The land belongs to the French and the Russian
The sea belongs to Britain
But we possess in the imaginary realm (Luftreich) of dreams
Here we practice our hegemony
Here we are undivided
The other nations have developed themselves
On the flat earth.
But Heine had trouble with borders in general. He recognized the existence of different nations, but the differences between them were undefined and unenforced. In his preface to the French version of Germany, a Winter’s Tale, Heine addresses his French readers by defending his Rhine as a German land, one that was his by right of birth, not one that could be made French (as some wanted to do in the 1840s). But he had to temper his nationalism with assurances that his desire for a German Rhine did not extend to designs on Alsace and Lorraine (something that German nationalists wanted). In his opinion, the Alsatians and Lorrains were French because they were attached to the rights that they won during the French Revolution. But as soon as Germany achieved its own revolution the differences between France and Germany would be eliminated, and Alsace and Lorraine could be “annexed”:
The Lorrains and the Alsatians will reunite with Germany when we finish that which France began (the great work of the Revolution: universal Democracy!)
Heine allowed for the Alsatians and Lorrains to remain part of France so long as the political rights were superior in France. As soon as those political differences were effaced–when all men enjoyed freedom–the cultural nation could find expression.