Wednesday, 30 December 2009

HROSSHARSGRANI > 'Convenit Dimicare Pro Liberate' t-shirt

Item: Black cotton t-shirt sporting the new band logo on the front, and "Convenit Dimicare Pro Liberate" on the reverse side.
Edition: only 20 shirts made

This black and gold t-shirt was released in March 2009 exclusively by Beverina & War to mark the 2000 year anniversary of "Varusschlacht", and was limited to 20 copies only. An effective design, in black and gold, and one that Nazgul is proud to wear periodically.

And what, you might cry, is the Varusschlacht? Well, a good question. A little internet research identified a somewhat tongue-in-cheek answer to this question, which at the risk of causing a minor international incident Nazgul will publish in full from the Young-Germany blog pages as it caused him to smile:

"If you talk to German literature students about a chap called “Hermann”, you’ll realise that Germany has a problem with heroes.

Whenever Great Britain gets into trouble, for example, there’s a sleeping King Arthur hiding out somewhere in Cornwall who will come to the rescue; and when he doesn’t show up, Churchill will fill in for a few years.Or when America isn’t doing so well, everyone remembers how George Washington beat impossible odds – and the British – to found the world’s leading democracy. And when more is needed, they elect Barack Obama.And France, despite the concerns of its neighbours, is still quite happy to honour Napoleon and charge visitors a few Euros to see his final resting place in Les Invalides.

Now Germany, as we all know, has historically had quite a problem with strong male authority figures. Bismarck made quite a good impression at first, but his policies might be considered to have lead directly to the First World War. After that, no further hero candidates cropped up until a chap named Adolf Hitler, and we all know what happened there.So modern Germans are, quite rightly, very sceptical about mixing heroism, mythos and nationality: the football pitch is about the only place where this is tolerated – politicians steer well clear of anything approaching popularity, let alone cult status.

It is interesting to note, however, that Germany never actually had a national hero, mainly because while other European nations were fighting their way through the Middle Ages, it was busy being a bunch of independent, squabbling city-states. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France, for example, produces Joan of Arc for the French, the Black Prince and Henry V for the English. Henry V then becomes the basis of a play by Shakespeare and – badda-bing, badda-boom – an enduring figure of national heroism is born.

German writers of later centuries admired this kind of (historically exceptionally questionable) heroicising literature and wanted their own. After all, if a proper German nation was going to be built, it would need a national mythos. This reasoning led playwrights like Goethe and Schiller in the 1700s to start writing about young, courageous freedom fighters from the bygone chilvaric age, Götz von Berlichingen and Die Räuber being the most successful pieces of this genre.

Yet it was a young admirer of Goethe, Heinrich von Kleist, who realised that these plays – as good as they were – were still essentially about nobodies. His idea was to find a fantastical figure that all Germans could get all enthusiastic about, a sort of King Arthur for Deutschland.

So he set about looking through his history books and realised that Germany was sitting on absolute gold: Roman gold. For in 9 AD, a Germanic tribal chief named Arminius scored a crushing victory over an invading Roman army, wiping out a couple of legions and dealing Rome its first serious blow since the Punic Wars two hundred years earlier. Furthermore, the Romans – being better at writing than the Germans back then – had been kind enough to record the catastrophic defeat in their annals.

So in 1808, the young Kleist took these annals, rewrote them into a superbly dramatic play and made sure to call the Romanised Arminius “Hermann”: a national hero was born. After all, Germany was at this stage being regularly pillaged by the French, so a play about a strong Teutonic fellow lopping the heads off of effeminate Latin types went down a storm.

By 1875, however, Germany had exacted its revenge on the French and, in the course of this, unified itself. This was celebrated in that year with the inauguration near Detmold in Westphalia of a 60-ft-high statue of the plucky mythological hero Hermann – complete with 15-ft-sword. The sword, by the way, was engraved with: “German Unity is my strength, and my strength is Germany’s power”.

This kind of message was, after the Second World War, understandably somewhat unfashionable; especially since the Nazis had not been shy of appropriating both Kleist’s play and the monument itself for their own propaganda purposes. Furthermore, with Germany occupied by foreign armies and split into two opposing nations, it seemed tragi-comically out-of-date.

All of which explains why Hermann is no uncomplicated King-Arthur-figure, no freedom fighter like Churchill or Washington. And why not altogether too many Germans are aware that this year, two thousand years ago, the most crushing defeat the mighty Roman empire ever suffered was dealt out to them in the Teutoburger Wald somewhere between Osnabruck and Bielefeld.
Whatever the historical difficulties that Hermann may have, I must confess to quite liking his statue with its jaunty pose and – I think – rather cheeky smirk."

More concisely, 2009 marks the 2000th anniversary of the Varus Battle, also known as the “Battle in the Teutoburg Forest of AD9, when an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius (also known as "Hermann"), the son of Segimer of the Cherusci ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

The battle began a seven-year war which established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years, until the decline of the Roman influence in the West. The Roman Empire made no further concerted attempts to conquer Germania beyond the Rhine....

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