Germany, a Companion to German Studies

By Jethro Bithell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I

THE COUNTRY: ITS PEOPLES AND ITS
LANGUAGE

THE COUNTRY

GERMANY today occupies pretty much the territory ascribed to it by Tacitus, between Rhine and Vistula, and by later Roman writers between the Alps and the North Sea. A glance at the map shows that Germany is in the very centre of Europe. 'O heilig Herz der Völker, O Vaterland!' sang Hölderlin. It is 'das Reich der Mitte'; in the First World War we were fighting 'the Central Powers'. This central position means inevitably, through all history, concentric pressure; and the Germans, it is obvious, can only subsist in measure as they resist this pressure; 'by the place we occupy, crushed in between our neighbours,' Bismarck told the Reichstag in 1888, 'God has made it impossible for us to sink into degenerate sloth.' The German tribes have repeatedly broken through their present frontiers; to west and south, however, they have always been assimilated with the races they have overrun. There are golden-haired1 Spanish nobles, descendants of the Goths, who took possession of Spain as well as of Aquitaine; there are blond Italians in the Lombard plain, where once Langobardi had a Germanic kingdom. The very name of the hereditary foe, the French, recalls the kingdom of the West Franks; that is, of Germany west of the Rhine. In one region only have the German tribes absorbed subjected races: in 'Ostelbien', the lands east of the Elbe. The process of extinction can be followed: as at Berlin, which as a village of Frisian and Low Saxon colonists existed side by side with the original Wendish population at Kölln till the German settlement, spreading over broad fields, by sheer weight of wealth and numbers hemmed in and effaced the once more favoured village on the dumpy hill. But the Germans who in the Middle Ages colonized East Prussia were only recovering territory which was Germanic at the dawn of history; there is plenty of evidence that Germanic tribes migrated south from the region round the Vistula. In modern times, however, German

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1
'Caerulei oculi, rutilae comae.' Tacitus, Germania, IV.

-1-

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