The Hambach Festival in the History of Democracy

On May 27, 1832, around 20,000 to 30,000 people gathered together at Hambach Castle for a grand festival.

Hambach Castle (2017)Hambach Castle

Today, the Hambach Festival is regarded as one of the greatest milestones and most important places of remembrance in the history of Rhineland-Palatinate and German democracy. 

Hambach Castle: The Cradle of German Democracy

On May 27, 1832, 20–30,000 people gathered at Hambach Castle for the Hambach Festival. Passionate speeches called for civil liberties and German unity. But the Hambach attendees also wanted European solidarity and friendship between nations. 

History of the Construction

Settlement tracks from the 4th C. can be found at the Castle. In the Middle Ages, the building was named "Kästenburg" ("Kästen" means chestnuts) and was popular among the nobility.  Later on, the castle became less important and fell into disrepair. At the time of the Festival, it was a ruin.

The Hambach Festival in the History of Democracy [EN version] by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

The Hambach Festival: A European Event

The Hambach Festival brought people together from both near and far. Most came from the surrounding area, but many also came from Bavaria, Württemberg, the Rhine Province, Poland, and France. They desired the creation of a nation state, as well as a mutual understanding between European nations.

The Goals and Desires of Hambach Attendees by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

The Goals and Desires of Hambach Attendees

The German Confederation, founded in 1815 consisted of many small German states which were governed differently. In most of these states, people had very few rights. 

The Hambach attendees wanted to discuss how these political conditions could improve, for example, freedom and a united fatherland.

A Europe Torn Between the Old Order and New Ideas

At the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15, the princes rearranged the political map of Europe and sought to restore the old order from before the French Revolution. 

Most of the princes did not accept the people's political rights of participation and freedoms demanded in this revolution. A united Germany, desired by most citizens, was also not created. Instead, the German Confederation was founded in 1815.

The Palatinate and Bavaria by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

The Palatinate and Bavaria

From 1816, the current region of the Palatinate belonged to the Kingdom of Bavaria. Border signs like this were symbolic of the economic conditions at the time. 

Cross-regional trade was made difficult due to the existence of many small German states with their own economic areas and high tariffs.

The Palatinate and France

The Palatinate became part of French territory from 1797 to 1814, which greatly influenced the region. By being part of France, it belonged to a single economic area without tariff restrictions. 

The Palatinate and France by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

A code of civil law was also introduced in 1804—as well as across France—with the Civil Code. 

Restoration versus Revolution by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

Restoration versus Revolution

The Palatinate valued these new freedoms. However, Napoleon partially limited them again. When the Congress of Vienna demanded to move toward the old order, the Palatines fought to preserve their freedoms, with some success. As a result, the region had a particularly liberal political climate.

Censorship and Press Freedom

One of the most significant demands of the Hambach Festival was freedom of speech and of the press. Liberal newspapers demanded political change. Rulers saw this as a threat to their restorative policies.

They therefore banned texts with democratic tendencies or demands for civil liberties and censored the press. The war between liberal-minded newspaper publishers and censors raged on for decades, particularly in the Palatinate.

Printing Press

In the 19th C., the manual and rapid press allowed people to print high volumes at low cost. At the same time, more people were able to read. 

For the first time, large parts of the population started to come face to face with themes such as political involvement, civil rights, and state affairs.

The Press Landscape in the Palatinate

The censorship laws in the Palatinate were a wild mix of French and Bavarian laws. They were therefore highly complicated. Apart from that, censors often tended to apply these laws loosely. 

As a result, a lot of journalists settled in the region from 1830 and established new newspapers.

Allegory of Civil Liberties by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

Allegory of Civil Liberties

Cartoons or allegories often expressed dissatisfaction with authorities. In this case, they described the defense of civil liberties against the restoration.

Gaps in Censorship by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

Gaps in Censorship

After the French Revolution of 1830, criticism from Palatinate newspapers of political conditions became more and more open. Then the censorship was tightened and the press therefore became an unusable channel for liberal ideas. This increased the importance of collective gatherings and festivals.

The Procession to Hambach Castle

Thousands of people accepted the invitation to the Hambach Festival. On May 27, 1832, they gathered in the Neustadt market square in the morning and moved up to the castle. At the head of the procession was the Neustadt civil guard, along with a group of women. 

Many wore black, red, and gold sashes and cockades. Neustadt local Johann Philipp Abresch also wore the Hambach main flag: a black, red, and gold flag with the inscription "Deutschlands Wiedergeburt" (Germany's Rebirth). 

Black, Red, and Gold: Symbols of Freedom and Unity

The Hambach main flag was the first to show the colors black, red, and gold in their current accepted arrangement. 

The color combination had become the symbol of the opposition movement in the "Vormärz" (pre-March) period, and stood for the demands for freedom, civil rights and German unity. 

Women at the Hambach Festival

In the 19th century, women were not allowed a say when it came to politics. However, the festival organizers explicitly invited women to attend the Hambach Festival. In a time before the introduction of women's suffrage and before social emancipation, this was extremely unusual.

The Participants of the Hambach Festival

Around 20,000 to 30,000 people took part in the Hambach Festival. This was incredible, considering the travel conditions at the time. The social make-up of the attendees was particularly astounding.

Students, property-owning, educated middle classes, farmers, winemakers, day laborers, and servants.

Hambach Festival

After the procession had arrived at the castle ruins, the Polish and the black, red, and gold flags were hoisted up the tower. The speakers denounced the political, economic, and social conditions in the German states, and demanded German unity and freedom. 

Over 20 speakers spoke in total, including a Frenchman and a Pole. The festival speakers' demands were only put into action many years later, but the Hambach Festival was still a milestone for the spread of liberal demands.

Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer

One of the most famous liberals in the Palatinate, he worked as a journalist and editor for different magazines, writing many articles and songs. His speech is one of the most important documents of the Vormärz. 

After the Hambach Festival, he was politically persecuted and fled to Switzerland.  

The Speeches at the Hambach Festival

The numerous speeches brought many different ideas to light. They were united in their central demands for German freedom and unity. There were different visions in terms of the form of government of this nation state. Some placed more emphasis on social and economic themes.

The Event of the Festival

Political events and demonstrations were banned in German states at the time of the Hambach Festival. The organizers of these meetings often disguised them as festivals. 

There were stalls and carts all across the Schlossberg selling bread, sausages, beer, and wine. Even carousels were set up.

A European Festival? by Stiftung Hambacher Schloss

A European Festival?

Johann Georg August Wirth ended his speech with this final note: "Hoch! Dreimal hoch das conföderierte republikanische Europa!" (Cheers! Three cheers for the Confederate Republic of Europe!) He was expressing the solidarity of all peoples who fought for their freedom and national independence.

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