The Hessian State Archives in Marburg

Yesterday was my first time back at the Marburg archives since my visit last year. A little about the institution: the present building is located at the Friedrichsplatz in Marburg, a small park with a fountain.

The Friedrichsplatz in Marburg. Note the soccer ball in midair.
The Friedrichsplatz in Marburg. Note the soccer ball in midair.

Its holdings include roughly 131,000 linear feet of files from the 15th to the 20th century, 120,000 certificates from the 8th to the 19th century, over 220,000 maps and much more. Its current home was built from 1935-8 while Hessen was under Prussian administration. It was designed in the typical style of the period: neo-classical elements with a large dose of Nazi idolatry. Most of the latter has been removed over the years (with Minerva replacing a bust of Hitler in the main hall, for example), but some evidence of the building’s origins remains.

For example, this suspicious tiled mosaic on the ceiling of the main hall.
For example, this suspicious tiled mosaic on the ceiling of the main hall.

Shortly before I left last Fall, I attended the unveiling of a new exhibit in the main hall, a combination of original manuscript material held by the archives and large, informative printed screens. The subject is the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, during which the Landgraviate of Hessen played a critical role. The Landgrave of Hessen, Philipp I “the Magnanimous” (also the founder and namesake of the University of Marburg), was an early supporter of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. He invited both to Marburg in an ultimately failed attempt to resolve their theological differences. He also caused them a great deal of trouble and embarrassment when he decided to marry his 17-year-old mistress while remaining married to his wife of 16 years (at a time when bigamy was punishable by death).

Some of the original manuscripts on display, including a letter of complaint against Martin Luther authored by Ulrich Zwingli.
Some of the original manuscripts on display, including a letter of complaint against Martin Luther authored by Ulrich Zwingli.

As the anniversary date of the Reformation approaches, the exhibition in Marburg, including the many manuscript sources from the Hessian State Archives, will travel across Germany.

Some more manuscripts on display.
Some more manuscripts on display.

As a side note, the archives and most stores are closed today because it is Fronleichnam. So rather than digging through old letters today, I will be attending my first German barbecue in years.

Traveling in Germany

Unless you get all the right matching traincars, you won’t be going anywhere. (Ticket to Ride boardgame, Europe edition)
Unless you get all the right matching traincars, you won’t be going anywhere. (Ticket to Ride boardgame, Europe edition)

After a relaxing weekend in Marburg, I spent a good amount of time these past two days arranging my schedule (and tickets) for some upcoming planned trips. While the train network in Europe is comprehensive and (relatively) reliable, finding the most affordable tickets can become something of an artform. In fact, with enough planning, you can complete a very detailed tour of Germany without ever having to rent a car! Here are some quick pointers for booking travel in Germany.

The Deutsche Bahn is responsible for most railways in Germany and any German trains that venture beyond the border. Their website isn’t the handiest, but does feature “Sparpreise,” reduced rates, when booking far enough in advance. So long as you are able to plan ahead, you can get from just about any German city to another major one for 30 Euros or less. An important downside to these reduced tickets is that you are bound to a specific itinerary – if you miss your train, you cannot simply hop on the next one.

If you’re planning on staying in Germany longer, you can even try their BahnCard, a membership card bought with a fee (careful: it’s a subscription, so remember to cancel it when you return) which pays for itself fairly quickly by offering a 25% discount off the already reduced rates offered on the site. Be sure to check for a “Probe” (trial) card if you’re in Germany for less than a year. The current offering is for three months – and can even feature your favorite team in the Europa Meisterschaft! Incidentally, if you pick the winning team, you get some free rail time from Deutsche Bahn.

Since you might be flexible with your exact travel plans, something the DB site does not accommodate well, you should consider trying the popular Busliniensuche. Here you can sort results by departure, arrival, length of trip, or price. Not only does it include railway options, but also advertises rates by various bus companies and ride-sharing services. I haven’t used the latter two, but my housemates assure me that they’re often very reasonable options. In fact, long-distance buses have a better reputation than the trains for comfort, price, and the availability of WIFI. Since learning of this website, it has always been my first stop in trip planning.

For larger German cities (and sometimes even smaller regions!), you’ll want to search for specific local transportation rates. If you’re visiting for a weekend, there will often be an option to purchase a one-, two-, or three-day ticket that allows you to use all forms of transportation as needed (bus, tram, S-Bahn, U-Bahn – as applicable). In cities like Berlin or Munich, this is easily the most convenient way to get around, allowing you to skip the ticket counters each time you want to use public transit (and will certainly pay for itself over the course of the weekend). Both of these cities also feature options to purchase more expensive regional tickets, which expand your zone of travel into the surrounding region for a quick trip to Sanssouci or the Bavarian countryside. If you’re traveling with others, there is often an option to add travelers to a regional ticket at a handsomely reduced rate.

Unfortunately for me, the trip I spent hours planning today was not confined to Germany, rendering many of these sites and prior knowledge completely useless. I’m sure my colleagues in the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution have grown adept at booking French transit, but I still have a long way to go to familiarize myself. I hope this quick introduction to long-distance travel in Germany might help someone avoid some of these same frustrations!

Germany, 2016

Two days ago I left New York for Germany. Somehow it had never occurred to me before, but flying out of Canada is actually a very good option for Upstaters – you get to avoid the nightmare that is any of the NY/NJ airports, Canadian airports are often closer, and, in this case, the flight was cheapest out of Montreal. Lufthansa flies Montreal > Frankfurt nonstop in brand-new Airbuses. The flight took just under 7 hours and, characteristic of Frankfurt, you can get through customs, get your checked luggage, and be at the airport train station in less than an hour.

The Airbus from Montreal with the Frankfurt landing strip in the background.
The Airbus from Montreal with the Frankfurt landing strip in the background.

From there, a train to Marburg (change in Frankfurt HBf), which takes about two hours. A note for travelers in Germany: when taking regional trains (route number is preceded by “RE”), be careful to pay attention to multiple final destinations. At various stops, the train will split and send cars in different directions.

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The Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. S-Bahn in the foreground, with an ICE high-speed train behind.

So after 3 hours in the car, 7 hours in the plane, 2 hours in the train, and a bunch of hours waiting around in between, I finally arrived in Marburg, a middling university town that was once home to the Grimm Brothers, has an impressive church that was built by the Teutonic Knights (and is the final resting place of Paul von Hindenburg and his wife), and a great little museum in an old hilltop castle. Most importantly for my purposes, however, it is the home of the Hessian State Archives – documents from the Middle Ages to the Second World War that contain the history of the various Hessian states. When Hessen-Kassel lost its independence in 1866, it came under Prussian administration which oversaw the maintenance of the region’s archives until 1945. In 1938, the present building was built with all the era’s typical fascist design elements (most of which have since been removed).

I look forward to spending the next eight weeks in this great town, living with friends I made on the last trip. As I come across them, I will post interesting excerpts from the sources I find at the archives.

Erster Versuch

With the practice of History (and pedagogy in general) moving more and more into the various corners of the digital world, many historians are engaging their audiences online. So far, I have only bored my Facebook friends with pictures of research trips, snippets from sources, and thoughts about the discipline in general. I will give this blog a try as a new medium for this old practice (and give those poor souls a break!) by posting research outtakes, trip notes, and the like. Whether I can remember to update it is another issue entirely.