Well, this time around it was but a day in the park, whereas at the time of war, this was one of the worst calamities to hit Leipzig – this Battle of Leipzig (October 1813: “Völkerschlacht”). It was not the first one of great proportions to befall this industrious city in Saxony. During the thirty-years-war another was fought (1631: “Battle of Breitenfeld” and another in 1642) between the opposing confessions: Catholics versus Protestants even if that might be a serious misnomer according to Golo Mann with his masterly account on Wallenstein. Visiting one of the biggest European monuments, we however, were not reminded of that war, but rather of the even larger conflict between Russians, Prussians, Swedes and Austrians on the one side against the seemingly invincible emperor of the French grand nation, who had the little Saxons on their side too – for starters at least and before they then deserted Napoleon and finally joined the winning side.
Napoleon had passed his zenith, when he had got lost in the Russian expanse and in Leipzig his luck didn´t return either. He made serious errors of judgement, some due to misinformation and others because of the sheer size of this confrontation. That the Saxons deserted him, was more of a sign of changing times and result of his failing star, than the cause for his demise as the French would have liked to believe. Still, Napoleon got away with damages to fight another day, yet he was no longer invincible. That was obvious – and probably part of the beginning of the end.
In Germany this battle was used extensively in Prussian propaganda. The Saxons were not shunned for their initial opposition, but rather taken up into the German fold with great exuberance. The story told, was that Germany had withstood their archenemy from across the Rhein, but it really was a united effort with huge help from Russians, Austrians and even the small number of Scandinavians must have counted for something.
The victory was commemorated with one of the largest monuments in Europe for this “Battle of the nations” “Völkerschlachtdenkmal” finished a hundred years later paid for mainly by citizens of Leipzig, who had borne the brunt of the battle in the first place. It was inspiration for the “Voortrekker monument” in Pretoria (1949). Ernst Moritz Arndt initially suggested this monument. It was his idea and part of his nationalistic ideals for a united Germany as formulated in his poem: “What is the German fatherland?” way back in 1813.
I was totally amazed when we visited the monument last year –literally the largest monument I’ve ever seen.