FolkWorld Issue 39 07/2009

by Walkin' T:-)M

2009 - this is also the 2000th anniversary of the famous battle in the saltus teutoburgiensis, where the Germanic prince Arminius massacred three Roman legions under their leader Publius Quinctilius Varus. The furor teutonicus prevented further expansion into Germania, and our Germanic ancestors would be spared for the time being with aqueducts, theatres, baths, roads, schools and towns.


A hundred years after, the Germanic tribes still sang about Arminius, according to the Roman historian Tacitus. Some claim that the Roman-killing Arminius had been the literary archetype for the dragon slayer Siegfried of the Nordic sagas.

When the works of Tacitus were published in the 15th century, Arminius came back to mind and advanced under the name of Hermann to a German national hero. From the 17th century there was a surge of poems, songs, plays, novels, operas and paintings dealing with the subject of Arminius and his fight against the Romans. J.G. Herder said that the ancient Germans fought with chant as well as with sword, and their national spirit was unbeatable and their customs inextinguishable as long there were bards. F.G. Klopstocks threepart heroic epic as well put the Germanic singers and poets in the centre of attention. He called his patriotic plays - bardiete.

The opening ceremony of the Hermann Monument near Detmold in 1875, who addresses his sword against the arch enemy France, became a pompous obeisance to the kaiser. In 1909 a gargantuan Germanic train pulled through the streets of Detmold. The train was composed of 900 people with 200 horses, oxen and mules; in the musical part you could see a Germanic warrior blowing the horn, bards, boys and girls singing hymns, as well as Roman trumpet, tuba and aulos players.

After the collapse of the Third Reich the myth about Hermann only played a minor role. Herman Grote's Niedersachsenlied only, banned from the airwaves by NDR radio in the 1990s because of its rather right-wing lyrics, is sung once and again by sports clubs in Lower Saxony, or political events from the liberals to the extreme right. The 2000th anniversary only filled the book shelves. The public is more interested in the Deutschland sucht den Superstar casting show. Other times, other heroes.

An exhibition under the title of Imperium Konflikt Mythos tells the story at three original locations until the end of October. The Roman Museum at Haltern deals with the Roman empire; the museum at Kalkriese, where parts of the battlefield have been discovered, deals with the conflict between Romans and Teutons, and the Lippische Landesmuseum in Detmold deals with the Hermann myth. The Dutch singer-songwriter Hermann van Veen wrote a special musical for children, that is staged at a new arena beneath the Hermann Monument. The Folkfruehling festival in Venne near Kalkriese designed peace signs, according to the words of Luka Bloom: if the world goes to war, we have to play more music!

I only wonder that the film industry haven't taken to the subject yet. For sure, a heroic battle story would be out of place. However, there are other ways: you could tell the story from the view of the unfortunate Varus and his legions, who walk into doom a la Stalingrad. I would recommend here the novel Varus of Iris Kammerer. Anyway, let's hope that 2009 stays peacefully. Salve, T:-)M

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 07/2009

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