If I were pressed to come up with a guiding principle for my curiosity about the ungainly beast commonly called ‘History’, it’d be that history has margins and a good amount of the interesting stuff is scribbled there, though hastily erased. Hence, my interest in what could be called ‘ephemeral places,’ that is, geographic entities whose existence was brief, disputed or is often overlooked.
Here’s a softball: a German democratic state that existed for less than four months in the late 1700s. The Republic of Mainz was created by a counterattack of the free French army against the Prussians and Austrians, driving out Mainz’s ruler and leading the way tothe first democratically-elected parliament in Germany.
Like many other statelets allied and/or established by revolutionary France, Mainz soon got trounced by the re-invading forces of the old order, finally being completely snuffed out in July 1793.
So it goes, but what piques my interest in this brief flash of a republic is what it must have been like to be breathing in those heady Jacobin fumes rolling in over the border in the wake of every big man of the Church-Monarch syndicate taking to their heels. What a microculture! Living in an entirely experimental way, figuring out how life works out of the suddenly evaporated old order, first within the borders of the Mainz Republic and then finally just withing the walls of the besieged stronghold of Mainz.
And all this, never mentioned–probably because it was the sort of thing that gave East German intellectuals a hard-on— in my high school tour of the French Revolution, best summed up as “THANK GOD THAT ENDED!!! THEY WERE RUNNING OUT OF PLACES TO PUT THE SEVERED HEADS!!!”
image via wikipedia