Weimar: From Enlightenment to the Present by Michael H Kater - review by Tim Blanning

Tim Blanning

Downhill after Goethe

Weimar: From Enlightenment to the Present


Yale University Press 480pp £25

This is a long book about a small town. In the late 18th century, Weimar’s population was only about six thousand and it was possible to walk from one side to the other in less than half an hour. Many of the inhabitants were, in effect, peasants, spending their days tilling their fields and tending their animals. In this respect it was no different from the great majority of preindustrial communities in Europe. What made Weimar special – though not that special in the German context – was its status as the capital of a principality, in this case the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. It was the result of the incorrigible taste of members of the once-powerful Ernestine branch of the House of Wettin for dividing and subdividing their territories that led to a multiplicity of midget states (and also allowed the more prudent Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg-Prussia to take control of eastern Germany). So the little town boasted a court with all the trimmings, sucking in revenue from the 100,000-odd inhabitants of the rest of the duchy and pumping it out to courtiers, army officers, bureaucrats and all their other servants. In short, it was a Residenzstadt, its economy and society dependent on the residence within its walls of the ruler and his family.

There were plenty of these in the Holy Roman Empire, ranging in size from mighty Vienna, whose population had reached a quarter of a million by 1800, down to such midgets as Coburg, Gotha, Altenburg, Saalfeld, Eisenach and Weimar. What made Weimar stand out from the pack were the lucky

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