The Hambach Festival of 1832

By Hambach Castle

On May 27, 1832, around 30,000 people came
together for a large festival at 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.

Playmobil depiction (2018) by Bruno PeetersHambach Castle

Freedom | Unity | Equality |
Friendship Between Nations

Civil liberties and German unity were called for in numerous passionate speeches. The event was profoundly marked by solidarity with people from neighbouring European countries and the promotion of European integration. Even though the people here were committed to the national unity of Germany, they were not nationalists. On the contrary, the notion of Europe was all over the Hambach Festival.

In a time without formalized civil rights, free elections, or equal rights, liberal, democratic, and revolutionary ideas were discussed in public for the first time at the Hambach Festival. That in itself was something special.

How did this happen?

Code Civil (1804-03-21)Original Source: Pfälzische Landesbibliothek Speyer

"Rhineland Institutions"

The Hambach Festival took place in what is now the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, or more precisely in the Palatinate.

For almost 20 years at the beginning of the 19th century, the Palatinate had belonged to France rather than to a German state. While it belonged to France, a code of civil law was first introduced in the Palatinate in 1804 with the Civil Code. This included, among other things, the abolition of guilds, freedom of trade, and the freedom and legal equality for all citizens.

The name "Rheinische Institutionen" (Rhineland Institutions) developed in the Palatinate for such liberal regulations. The people of the Palatinate became familiar with many new things as a part of France; in addition to civil liberties, there was, for example, a unified economic area.

Congress of Vienna, 1814–15 (1819) by Stich von Jean Godefroy nach einem Gemälde von Jean Baptiste Isabey (1767 - 1855)Original Source: ALBERTINA Wien

The Palatinate Becomes Bavarian

Overview map of the Kingdom of Bavaria after the division of November 29, 1837 (1854) by Johann Baptist RoostOriginal Source: Atlas des Königreichs Bayern: in 9 Blättern nach der neusten EIntheilung vom 29. Nov. 1837 vorzüglich zum Gebrauche bei Cammerers Königreich Bayern.

In 1816 the area of the Palatinate became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria during the reorganizations of areas by the Congress of Vienna. The Palatinate was not only geographically separated from the "main state" Bavaria...

... it also had a completely different political history.

Border signHambach Castle

For the Palatinate, it was now, all of a sudden…

…restoration instead of revolution.

…customs barriers instead of free trade.

…social problems instead of social reforms.

Border signs like this defined what
it was like in many places, as well as the economic conditions that were now in
force in the Palatinate. In contrast to France, the smallest German states had
numerous minor economic areas with high customs surcharges, which made
trans-regional trade more difficult. The beginning of industrialization at the
start of the 19th century also presented people with new challenges. In this
environment, liberal and free thought began to flourish.

Deutsche Tribüne (1831) by Johann Georg August WirthOriginal Source: Pfälzische Landesbibliothek Speyer

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Palatinate developed under the considerable influence of the French Revolution, the liberal legislation during its affiliation with France, and the special political, social, and economic conditions in one of the strongholds of liberalism in the German states. This was expressed, among other ways, in a flourishing liberal media landscape.

By the July Revolution of 1830 at the latest, however, the restorative government had turned its focus to the liberal forces. When large-scale censorship (as here on the cover of the "Deutsche Tribüne" of July 17, 1831) made the newspapers unusable for free expression of opinion, the press and leaflets no longer offered an independent forum for the political public.

The public festival culture now developed as a new way of developing political opinion.

Invitation to a constitutional celebration (1832) by Herr ThumOriginal Source: Stadtarchiv Landau

The First Invitation

The Kingdom of Bavaria had a constitution from 1818. The "Neue Speyerer Zeitung" (New Speyer Newspaper) of April 18, 1832, published an invitation to a "constitutional festival." The invitation came from a Neustadt businessman who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of the Bavarian Constitution (May 26). These celebrations were not uncommon at that time, and such a celebration had also taken place at Hambach Castle the year before.

Invitation to the Hambach Festival (1832-04-20)Original Source: Landesarchiv Speyer

The Second Invitation

But in the eyes of the Palatine liberals, the constitution was no cause for celebration. A group of Neustadt citizens changed the invitation. The new invitation to "The German May" was created by one of the leading Palatine liberal publicists, Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer. On April 20, 1832 it appeared in various newspapers in the Palatinate. Instead of the existing constitution, people wanted to celebrate a festival of hope — hope for "legal freedom and German national dignity." The message of the second invitation was clear: the liberal forces wanted to express their dissatisfaction with restorative politics and their desire to continue working towards liberal reforms.

A milestone of political equality was the explicit address to women in the invitation text, whose (quotation): "disregard in politics is a mistake and a stain on the European regime." In a time before the introduction of women's suffrage and before social emancipation, this statement was extremely unusual.

Ban of the Hambach Festical (1832-05-09)Original Source: Landesarchiv Speyer

The Ban

The public invitation to such a celebration of course also made the authorities aware of the plan. A political and social protest on such a scale was something completely new, and the government simply could not deal with its demands.

In keeping with the strictly anti-revolutionary policy of oppression and restorative counter-movement, which had been pursued primarily since the July Revolution of 1830, the Bavarian government now also took firm action against the planned Hambach Festival. On May 8, 1832, Palatine president Andrian-Werburg banned the event, because he feared that anarchy and acts of violence would be triggered as a result.

In his justification he wrote, among other things, "A party of evil-minded people wants to lead the inhabitants of this blessed land to anarchy?"

Lifting of the ban on the Hambach Festival (1832-05-18)Original Source: Landesarchiv Speyer


The reaction of the population and the political public to the ban was enormous. Liberal lawyers such as Friedrich Schüler drafted legal opinions on the invalidity of the ban. The district government in Munich was flooded with remarks like this. This increased the pressure on the government to such an extent that the ban had to be revoked. On May 17 this decree was published in the "Amts- und Intelligenzblatt" (Official and Intelligence Gazette), which allowed the festival to go ahead again.

Parade to the Hambach Castle (1832) by unknownOriginal Source: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer

Up and onwards to the castle!

About 30,000 people ultimately took part in the Hambach Festival. This was an unimaginably high number—especially considering the communication and travel conditions at the time. The mystery story about the approval of the event had led to an even greater degree of popularity.

Festzug auf das Hambacher Schloss am 27. Mai 1832 – eine Illustration von Jonas Greulich by Jonas GreulichHambach Castle

Up and onwards to the castle!

An illustration by Jonas Greulich.

To look around, click the video and swipe.

Walking sticksOriginal Source: Leihgabe des Historischen Museums der Pfalz, Speyer und des Museums der Stadt Neustadt an der Weinstraße

Ein (fiktiver) zeitgenössischer Journalist erzählt von seiner Anreise zum Hambacher Fest.

The Participants

The majority of the visitors came from the Rhine region and the surrounding area, but also from Bavaria, Württemberg, Rhine Province, Frankfurt, Poland, and France. Students and members of student associations made up a large number of the visitors.

The social make-up of the festival attendees was particularly astounding. In addition to many attendees from the property-owning and educated middle classes, there were also smallholders, winegrowers, skilled workers, and even day laborers and servants. And last but not least, many women also accepted the invitation.

Reception of the first section of Polish heroes in Neustadt an der Haardt on January 19, 1832 (1832) by Lithographie von C. M. ThumOriginal Source: Stadtarchiv Neustadt a.d.W.

Things Start to Heat up in Europe The Hambach Festival was not a local or regional event—many attendees came from abroad. A large group came from Poland, for example, where a struggle for freedom was waged against Russian rule in 1830 with nationwide unrest.

Der Polen Mai - 1791/1831Hambach Castle

Song about the Polish people's desire for civil liberties and constitutional legislation, which had been achieved there for a short period of time at the end of the 18th century, but was then abolished again in the course of the Second and Third Partition of Poland.


Bomb-proof tower in Thebes (1833)Original Source: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer

The same was true of the Greek struggle for freedom. In the Greek Revolution (1821–29) the Greeks fought for independence from the Ottoman Empire and for an independent Greek republic. To support them, the German press regularly published the calls to summons of the Palatine "Philhellenes" (friends/admirers of the Greeks).

Pamphlet (1832-04-29)Original Source: Landesarchiv Speyer

The Festival

Eventually, the organizers started planning. The main items of the day of the festival were to be the joint departure of the participants from Neustadt from the market square, a collective lunch, then various speeches on a stage.

Playmobil depiction (2018) by Bruno PeetersHambach Castle

Der Festzug

At around 8:00 a.m. the participants gathered on the Neustadt market square and went up to the castle one hour later. The procession of festival participants was accompanied by bells ringing, gun salutes, and singing.

Nur Freiheit oder Tod - Das Lied der freien Wöllsteiner (Friedrich Lehne 1793)Hambach Castle

In songs or texts from this period we often encounter words that sound strange to today's ears. Such concepts and also the demands of the early democrats must be seen in a historical context. At that time, their use had no nationalistic background.


The "Hambach flag" (1832) by Johann Philipp AbreschHambach Castle

Germany's Rebirth 

At the head of the procession was the Neustadt civil guard, which played music, together with a group of women and someone bearing the Polish flag. This was then followed by a group of festival stewards adorned with black, red, and gold sashes and cockades. Neustadt local Johann Philipp Abresch wore a black, red, and gold flag with the lettering "Germany's Rebirth." This flag was the first of its kind, and combined the colors of Lützow's Free Corps—namely the colors of the opposition—in the design of the French tricolor. This makes it a kind of prototype of today's German federal flag.

Viticulture flagHambach Castle

The original black flag with the inscription "We, as winegrowers, are here for we must face our sorrows" was carried to the Hambach Festival by a group of winegrowers from Dürkheim. The background to this was the difficult economic position in which many viticulturists found themselves.

Participants dining at the Hambach Festival (1832)Original Source: Stadtarchiv Neustadt a.d.W.

The Hambach Festival as a Public Festival

Although the Hambach Festival was a political festival, it also had the feel of a public festival. This was not only noticeable during the joint procession to the castle, where gun salutes were fired, and where the people sang and played music together.

The Festival programme also included a communal lunch, with enough tables and chairs set up for 1,000 people. The organizers had determined this number in advance and assumed that this high number would mean they would have a place for each participant. What a mistake that was!

Lunch card (1832-05-27)Original Source: Historisches Museum Frankfurt

You could buy a lunch card for 1 guilder, 45 kreutzers. That was a reasonably hefty price that not everyone could afford. However, all over the castle hill and the castle grounds, stalls, cookshops as well as mobile carts were set up, selling bread, sausage, beer, and wine. Even carousels were set up.

Wine and beer barrelsOriginal Source: Leihgaben des Historischen Museums der Pfalz, Speyer und Privatbesitz

Blue and white sash (1832)Original Source: Leihgabe des Museums der Stadt Neustadt an der Weinstraße

Blue and white sash of the Festival stewards

Shako (1832)Original Source: Leihgabe des Museums der Stadt Neustadt an der Weinstraße

Shako (military headgear) of the Neustadt citizen guard from 1832

Hambach Festival programHambach Castle

The most important part of the festival was, of course, the more than 20 different speeches given by the leading opposition members. Because of the volume at the Festival, the speakers could barely be heard (after all, there were no microphones or amplifiers yet), so often spoke several times in different places in order to reach as many participants as possible.

List of speakers, addresses, and songs...

...that spoke at the Hambach Festival, were read out...

...and were sung.

Trailer "Hambacher Fest-Bankett"Hambach Castle

Excerpt from the "Hambacher Fest-Banquet" of the Chawwerusch Theater. The Hambach Castle and the Chawwerusch Theater build on the cheerful democratic and enjoyable Palatine tradition and invite you to a rebellious and entertaining "Hambacher Fest-Banquet" of a special kind.Thus, the visitors themselves are part of an exciting and entertaining, but also informative game in which the place (Hambach Castle), the related history, the lively theater scenes, atmospheric songs and the food are part of a unique production.


Hambach Castle (2018-09-16)Hambach Castle

Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland? - Ernst Moritz Arndt 1813Hambach Castle

Song about the desire for a unified German state. At a time when the German territories still consisted of dozens of small states, many wanted a common "fatherland." This was also one of the central themes and demands of the liberal and democratic participants of the Hambach Festival.


In songs or texts from this period we often encounter words that sound strange to today's ears. Such concepts and also the demands of the early democrats must be seen in a historical context. At that time, their use had no nationalistic background.

Black, red, and gold cockadeHambach Castle

After several days and various other meetings, the Hambach Festival came to an end on June 1. It did not result in concrete political upheavals (apart from the reaction of the authorities). The demands of the Festival speakers for German unity and civil liberties were not put into practice until many years later. However, the great significance of the Hambach Festival—both for the liberal and democratic opposition and for general socio-political developments in the following years—is beyond question.

Participants dining at the Hambach Festival (1832)Original Source: Stadtarchiv Neustadt a.d.W.

Ein (fiktiver) Teilnehmer am Hambacher Fest spricht über dessen Bedeutung

Hambach cloth (1832) by Heim & Sohn, St. GallenHambach Castle

A wide selection of merchandise sprang up overnight as a result of the Hambach Festival. Cloths and dirndl-style aprons with Hambach designs, even pipe bowls and other everyday objects came into circulation. People used these to show their political convictions, and at the same time expressed their solidarity with the organizers and spokespersons who were now being legally persecuted.

Hambach dirndl apron (1832)Hambach Castle

Contemporary dirndl-style apron depicting the procession.

Hambach dirndl apron, 1832, From the collection of: Hambach Castle
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Hambach dirndl apron, 1832, From the collection of: Hambach Castle
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The National Festival of the Germans at Hambach (1832)Original Source: Leihgabe der Pfälzischen Landesbibliothek Speyer

"The National Festival of the Germans"

 Just one day after the Hambach Festival, it was decided at a follow-up meeting (known as the Schießhaus Meeting) that an official description of the Festival should be published. Johann Georg August Wirth was appointed head of the editorial committee. "The National Festival of the Germans at Hambach" was published in the same year, and contained more than 100 pages of information about the motivations and the festivities, as well as large portions of the speeches given at the Festival. A handful of speakers were not included. In some cases, the manuscripts were allegedly not available in time, in other cases their wording was probably too radical for the political mood of the time. In spite of these missing parts, Johann Georg August Wirth created one of the most important documents in the history of German democracy with his description of the Festival, and the reproduction of the numerous liberal, democratic, and republican demands.

Credits: Story

Special thanks go to all companies, institutions and people who have provided pictures or material.

We have made every effort to obtain the permission to print all illustrations. Should further claims exist, please contact us.

Exhibition Curator:
Sarah Traub, Institut für Geschichtliche Landeskunde an der Universität Mainz e.V. (IGL)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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