During the process of the emergence of the French and German nations, marked conflicts arose over the defining of borders. Border regions such as the Saarland, Alsace and Lorraine assumed symbolic significance in the context of nationalist discourses. Concepts such as "natural borders", the sovereignty of peoples and linguistic borders were drawn into these discourses and subsequently influenced and directed the emergence of collective ideas among the French and German populations about what space belonged to their respective nations. The "mental maps"1 which these ideas gave rise to were not compatible with each other. In the context of the emerging nationalist discourses, these mental maps gave rise to a forceful dynamic and formed the basis for demands by both sides for a redrawing of the border. The numerous border revisions which occurred during successive wars were also influenced by these concepts of national space. This had lasting consequences in the Region involved. On the one hand, there emerged a mixture of institutions, which were based on German and French traditions, as well as forms of cultural exchange and cultural interconnections. On the other hand, the border regions were also at all times sites of the clash of cultures. The shifting border frequently resulted in new tensions and in the local population rejecting its neighbours.
This combination of cultural interconnections and clash of cultures2 in the French-German borderlands is examined below. First of all, as a background to the subsequent discussion, the concepts of borders which prevailed in France and Germany and the territorial changes which occurred from the late 18th to the 20th century are described. The main body of the article then deals with the forms of cultural interconnection which emerged in the border regions as a result of the shifting border. It attempts to answer the question: To what extent did the population in the border regions resist the attempts of the nation-states to integrate and assimilate them and did this reaction lead to particularly strong forms of identification in the border regions?
Border Concepts in France and Germany
The drawing and redrawing of the French-German border in the 19th and 20th centuries was part of the general process of the formation of nation-states, which resulted in borders being interpreted and conceptualized as national borders in Europe generally.3 This shift is particularly conspicuous in the case of France and Germany because the Revolutionary Wars and the wars of liberation (Befreiungskriege) gave rise to nationalist sentiments which proved enduring. Thus, German travellers after 1815 increasingly thought of the French-German border as a linear national border, whereas they had perceived it as a zone with successive cultural transitions before.4
During the political upheavals of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries of 1789 adopted the idea of "natural borders", which in the case of France's eastern border was primarily defined as the Rhine river. From the Renaissance, this concept had been repeatedly discussed by French scholars, who cited antique sources. There was no better way to highlight this golden age and the ideal geometric form of France, it was argued. However, this aim was also pursued by French rulers and politicians for pragmatic reasons. Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585–1642) and Louis XIV of France (1638–1715) had already used such arguments to provide "historical" justification for the territorial expansion of France when it suited their purposes.
During the French Revolution, the idea also emerged that the residents of a region should decide themselves which nation they belonged to. This principle of self-determination, which was a revolutionary innovation in international relations, was first applied during the réunion of the papal enclave of Avignon with France in 1791. In late 1792 and early 1793, numerous communities east of the Rhine also made requests to the French National Assembly to be "reunited" with the French Republic.
However, the principle of self-determination was neglected again around New Year in 1793 in view of the negative reaction among sections of the population which had been "liberated" by the revolutionary armies. French interests began to play an increasingly important role, and the Revolutionary Wars turned into campaigns of conquest,5 leading to comparisons with the expansionary policies of Louis XIV.6 The principle of self-determination gained renewed importance after 1814 in the context of French efforts to re-establish its territorial integrity.
In the 19th century, the Germans countered the French concept of the self-determination of residents with the concept of the linguistic and cultural unity, which was also utilized for expansionist aims.7 In the context of the numerous border revisions which occurred as a result of wars between France and Prussia/Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries, these contradictory concepts gave rise to nationalist discourses on both sides of the Rhine and resulted in certain border territories receiving a heightened symbolic significance in both countries. These were the Saarland and the German-speaking regions of Alsace and Lorraine west of the Rhine.
The Rhine Crisis of 1840, which was triggered by French attempts to claim the territory west of the Rhine as compensation for a diplomatic defeat in the Middle East, resulted in the first great wave of nationalist sentiment in both states, which had a long-lasting effect across large sections of society in both Prussia and France. On the French side, the historian and writer Edgar Quinet (1803–1875) and the novelist Victor Hugo (1802–1885), among others, stoked revanchist feelings. In Germany, a spontaneous protest movement emerged in response to the French claims. In September 1840, Nikolaus Becker (1809–1845) published his Rheinlied (Rhine Song), which was greeted with great enthusiasm. August Heinrich Hofmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874) composed his Deutschlandlied (Germany Song) and Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769–1860) revived his propaganda from the wars of liberation.8 The Rhine Crisis can therefore be viewed as triggering the emergence of modern German nationalism.9
Rising academic disciplines such as geography and history encouraged nationalist sentiment in both states. In Germany, the concept of the natural borders of the country played a significant role in the 19th century and well into the 20th century. By promoting this concept, geographers sought to promote the emancipation of their discipline from history in particular. The way in which German geographers defined the natural borders of Germany varied considerably with the changing political climate, and was also intended to justify claims to particular territories.10
The nationalist sentiments which increasingly coloured the debate about the French-German border also manifested themselves in French historiography in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which depicted the border between France and the German states at the end of the 18th century as relatively poorly-defined, thereby providing further justification for the demand that the French-German border be moved to the Rhine. However, this account ignored the fact that there had been comprehensive settlements regarding the border in the 18th century, through which the French crown and the German principalities had largely reached agreement on their respective legal and economic entitlements, and had thus created relative clarity with regard to property rights in Alsace and Lorraine.11
Conversely, German historiography sought to justify Germany's claims to regions in the borderlands. After defeat in the First World War, a "historiographical rearguard action" began, which sought to use historical sources to prove the Germanness of the border regions which had been ceded in the west. The Volksforschung (research into the nation) which emerged from these efforts quickly developed into a network. It received financial support from the German government and, after 1933, a portion of this network actively placed itself at the service of National Socialist annexation policies.12
Border Revisions and the Emergence of the Nation-State
From the Thirty Years' War onward, France expanded toward the Rhine by acquiring the bishoprics of Toul, Metz and Verdun after 1648, by annexing Strasbourg in 1681 and by acquiring Lorraine during the course of the 18th century. Alsace, which had been fragmented confessionally and territorially, became increasingly unified in the process of its integration into the French territory. This development was completed during the French Revolution by the creation of the départements of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin and by the concordat concluded with Pope Pius VII (1742–1823) in 1801. The people of Alsace proclaimed their allegiance to France, even after the radicalization of the French Revolution had given rise to new cultural oppositions.13 The total integration of Alsace into the French Republic raised diplomatic tensions further because it meant that the German princes lost their remaining claims to title and dues with regard to properties which they had owned in Alsace. The question of the possessions of German princes in Alsace repeatedly played an important role in the negotiations of French diplomatic representatives with Prussia from 1790 to 1792.14
During the Revolutionary Wars, France extended its borders to the Rhine. In late 1797, the entire territory west of the Rhine was incorporated into France, and four new départements were created: Sarre, Mont-Tonnere, Rhin-et-Moselle and Roer.15 In the Treaty of Lunéville of 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) succeeded in having these acquisitions recognized in international law. Up to that point, the French had stressed the "provisional" nature of the réunion.16
At the Congress of Vienna (18 September 1814 to 9 June 1815) after the defeat of Napoleon, the French borders of 1792 were restored, though Saarbrücken, the fortresses of Saarlouis and Landau, and a further 44 villages remained in French possession in 1814. It was only after the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 that these were ceded to the Rhine Province of Prussia and Bavaria.17
The border settlements which occurred in 1814/1815 met with rejection on both sides of the Rhine. On the one hand, the residents of Saarbrücken complained bitterly about their remaining a part of France under the First Treaty of Paris in 1814.18 On the other hand, many French people viewed the new border as a mutilation of France. Additionally, disputes about the exact location of the border continued into the 1820s, and were only resolved by the concluding agreement between Prussia and France on 23 October 1829. The border itself was to be made secure by border fortifications which were located a few kilometres from the actual border. However, fully-fledged border controls remained a rarity. Long stretches of the border were not visible in any way, as border stakes were not erected everywhere.19
As a result of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, Alsace and the eastern part of Lorraine were ceded by France and were united in the new German imperial state of Alsace-Lorraine, which was presented as a protective belt for the German Empire against France.20 This harked back to the nationalist delirium of 1840, during which there had been efforts to depict the land of Alsace-Lorraine as an ancient German territory which must be reclaimed. Prussia was also keen to create an integrated economic region by bringing together the coal of the Saarland and the iron ore in Lorraine.21 Besides, the new border did not coincide with the linguistic border everywhere. For example, the city of Metz was included in the territory ceded by France for symbolic and strategic reasons, as a symbol of the German victory and because it was a fortified city.22
It was subsequently recognized that the unification of the geographically, culturally, linguistically and historically different territories of Alsace and Lorraine was a big mistake. Alsace-Lorraine received a special status within the German Empire, and it was intended that it should be culturally integrated into Germany as quickly as possible. In France, however, Alsace was depicted as the heart of France after 1871. The annexation gave new fuel to French nationalism and promoted Germanophobia in France.23
After the First World War, Lorraine and Alsace were returned to France. The entire territory west of the Rhine was immediately occupied by French troops after the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918.24 In the Versailles Treaty of 28 June 1919, the Saarland was placed under the administration of the League of Nations.25 In accordance with the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, a referendum was held in the Saarland in 1935, in which the population voted in favour of reunification with Germany. French forces had already been withdrawn from the other occupied German territories west of the Rhine in successive stages.26 The final attempt to permanently strengthen French influence in the Rhineland had failed in the autumn of 1923. During that crisis, Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967) had conducted confidential negotiations with France with a view to creating a westward-looking partial state in the Rhineland, though this was prevented by Berlin's successful management of the crisis.27
After the occupation of France by the National Socialist regime in June 1940, Alsace and Lorraine were again incorporated into Germany, though the territory was subdivided in the process. Alsace was assigned to Gau Oberrhein. The département of Moselle, the Saarland and the Palatinate (Pfalz) made up Gau Westmark. This was intended to prevent any particularism in the region from the start.28
At the end of the Second World War on 8 May 1945, the scenario of 1918 was initially repeated. France aimed to annex the entire territory west of the Rhine into its own territory. General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) made his position absolutely clear in early 1945:
"The Rhine means French security [...] because France has been attacked again and was almost destroyed in the process. France therefore demands that all territory on this side of that natural border becomes its guaranteed property."29
This aim undoubtedly corresponded to a widespread demand among the French population,30 but it was not likely to meet with much support among the other Allies. Even among French government circles, this demand was controversial from the start, as it contradicted their own principles, and de Gaulle spoke much more cautiously on the topic thereafter.31 Thus, French ambitions were gradually reduced to the Saar region. This had been occupied by American troops in March 1945, who were relieved by French occupation forces on 10 June 1945. The Saar region was declared an independent constitutional and administrative unit, and it was placed under the supervision of a high commissioner – a clear step towards separating it from the rest of Germany.32 De Gaulle's resignation in January 1946 did make it easier for France to relinquish its maximum demands, but the creation of an economic union of the Saar region with France with a guarantee of political autonomy for the region signalled that France continued to hold ambitions with regard to the region. Ultimately, the Saarland was incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany after the Saar statute was rejected in a referendum in the region in 1955.
Border Regions as Spaces of Interconnection and Confrontation
The changing territorial border between France and Germany promoted the existence of a specific border society and also left its mark on that society. There was a clear tension between the often propagandistic border rhetoric, which sought to assert a particular linear border, and the daily life of a border region. The French-German borderlands long remained a zone with similar living conditions throughout and with economic and cultural interconnections, which political and administrative measures on the part of the nation-states were slow to sever.
Therefore, the act of defining the border by means of agreements between the states does not say anything about the perception of the border, the identifications which formed along the border, or the "nationalization" of the border regions generally. Imposing a single official language, and new laws and administrative structures took time, and there was inevitably a considerable lag between the establishment of a new border in law and the strengthening of that border by means of commerce, administration and culture.
The Revolution of 1789 as a Source of Cultural and Institutional Transfer
The territorial expansion of France in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1789 was a central cause of the special status of the border regions in the 19th and 20th centuries. This expansion bound Alsace to France permanently, but also fundamentally transformed the former territories of the Holy Roman Empire west of the Rhine. From the time they were incorporated into France in 1797, French institutions were gradually introduced there. The lifting of guild restrictions, the revocation of feudal rights, freedom of religion, equality for all before the law and in tax matters, and civil marriage – all these brought about a more profound transformation of the society than the Rhenish supporters of the Mainz Republic of 1792/1793 had managed.
In order to accelerate the integration of the new départements, two of the five members of the central administrations of the départements were at all times natives of inner France. Conversely, Rhineland natives were appointed to elevated posts in the old départements in order to draw the Rhineland elites closer to France. French was also strongly promoted as the official language in order to accelerate integration. From the turn of the century, French "linguistic imperialism" was repeatedly criticized.33 The authorities sought to increase knowledge of the French language among the population through the schools and through theatre performances. The General Government Commissioner of the occupied Rhine territories, François Joseph Rudler (1757–1837), was also prompted to promote the Republican spirit by means of patriotic festivals and the press. The universities in Cologne, Mainz, Trier and Bonn were structurally converted into French central schools, without their independent traditions being undermined. Considerable financial resources were devoted to establishing the central schools in the Rhineland and, in particular, to their natural sciences research facilities.34
The Treaty of Lunéville (1801) paved the way for the complete integration of the territories west of the Rhine into the French Republic, which proceeded from 1802. The French authorities then stepped up their efforts to quickly assimilate these territories into France culturally and linguistically and to promote French national consciousness among the Rhineland population. For example, the Rhineland prefects founded patriotic economic societies to promote the sciences and agriculture, established museums, exhibition collections, and libraries in larger urban centres, and encouraged the local authorities to hold trade exhibitions. Official publications increasingly appeared in French. The school system was transformed in line with Napoleon's Schools Law of 1802 and was integrated more closely into the centralized French school system. The central schools were converted into lycées and more directly subordinated to the centralized French system. From then on, higher education would occur primarily in the special schools and grandes écoles in central France. French became the language of instruction in most secondary schools and was increasingly enforced as the official language at the lower levels of administration. From 1810, French street names were introduced.35 The sale of biens nationaux ("national goods") resulted in a further series of structural changes, and the infrastructure in the Rhineland départements was expanded. The integration of the Rhineland départements into the French state was also made easier by Napoleon's church policy and the abolition of the revolutionary calendar in 1806 (which had been introduced by the National Convention in 1793).
An academic consensus has yet to emerge regarding the degree to which this policy of assimilation was successful. It was long asserted that the policy had little effect beyond the higher social strata.36 It was claimed that French did not come close to replacing Rhenish German in the territories occupied by France in the Rhineland, even though French was taught in the schools.37 However, other historians point out that a more deliberate linguistic policy was initiated in the annexed Rhineland départements through the administrative apparatus, and its success was undeniable. French prevailed as the language of administration and the public sphere (for example, in street names, public announcements and schools) over time and a French-speaking public came into being, which was dominated by members of the administrative apparatus and which would have expanded to include the whole population if French rule had lasted longer.38 This hypothesis seems plausible when one considers the development in Alsace, where the elite increasingly came under the influence of French culture in the 18th century. During the Revolution and the Empire, this reached even broader circles of society, particularly in the urban centres.39
The introduction and effects of the revolutionary calendar and the decade festivals (each month was divided into three decades, the last day of each serving as a substitute for the Christian Sunday) in the annexed territories west of the Rhine have also been researched and were not found to have had any great effect on the broader public, though no evidence of a determined resistance movement was found either. Instead, the speeches of German intellectuals and administrative officials at decade festivals point to the political and philosophical adoption of the ideas of the Revolution and to support for the French Republic, with the ideas of the French Revolution being combined with German Enlightenment thought regarding the state.40
Large parts of the structural reforms, having initially been rejected by parts of the population, were very soon accepted. After the wars of liberation, the inhabitants of the Rhineland fought for the retention of these institutions, which were described as "Rhenish institutions" and continued to exist. In particular, the French legal system remained in force. Thus, institutions which had initially been imposed came to be seen by the Rhineland natives as a part of their identity. This development was made easier by the fact that, due to the integration of the Rhineland territories into the French state, the political and economic changes were not as serious for a large portion of the traditional Rhenish elites and particularly for the Rhenish nobility as was the case in inner France. These groups displayed a large capacity to adapt and were even able to expand their properties through the acquisition of "national goods", particularly the former properties of the church.41
It was also significant for the further development in the 19th century that French expansion as far as the Rhine had made the space more uniform. Having previously been very fragmented, the territories west of the Rhine underwent administrative reorganization and were made more uniform, which stimulated trade with Alsace and Lorraine in particular. This trend continued despite the new borders after 1815. The customs border which was created did not prevent the trade of goods between France and Prussia, and it did not act as a barrier to the population living along the border. The border was not an obstacle to local trade, and farmers who had land either side of the border crossed the border without any problems. For those living close to the border, crossing it was part of their daily lives. During industrialization, foundries in Lorraine used coal from the mines in the Saar region, and the migration of workers in both directions increased. Thus, the border was very permeable, and it constituted little or no obstacle to economic and familial ties and contact.42
The Annexation of Alsace-Lorraine and German Assimilation Efforts
Close economic ties, particularly between the metal industries of the two countries, were a strong motivating factor in Germany's annexation of the Lorraine territories after its victory over France in 1871. It can be assumed that an autochthonous Saar-Lor-Lux economic region existed in the decades before the First World War.43 Economic contacts across the French-German border also continued, even though direct economic cooperation became more difficult after 1871. For the local population, the new French-German border was not a barrier because it was an open border. Passports were only required during the years of the diplomatic crisis (1887–1889) caused by General Georges Ernest Boulanger (1837–1891).44
However, the hostility of the local population towards the annexation was considerably greater than in 1814/1815. A majority of the population rejected the incorporation of the territory into the German Empire. In spite of this general tendency, there were nonetheless considerable differences between Lorraine, Upper Alsace and Lower Alsace, between the towns and the countryside, and between Catholic and Protestant sections of the population. The protest against the annexation was strongest in Lorraine, and weakest among the Protestant rural population of Lower Alsace.45 There was considerable emigration in Lorraine, particularly among the commercial and propertied middle classes.46 There was also a divide at the local level between natives and newly-arrived Germans, who were particularly prevalent in administration and the military. In Metz, the proportion of Germans rose by 15 per cent between 1875 and 1890, in which year they constituted nearly half of the civilian population of the city.47 Two separate Jewish religious communities also came into being in the city.48
The fundamental opposition of broad sections of the population to incorporation into the German Empire only began to decline significantly from the 1890s onward. After the temporary escalation of French-German tensions due to the policies and ambitions of the French General Boulanger, which had one last time raised hopes of the territory being returned to France, a sober acceptance of the status quo emerged. From this point, there was an increasing tendency to adapt to developments in the German Empire, which was demonstrated, among other things, by the Reichstag elections, in which German-friendly candidates were able to prevail in Alsace-Lorraine for the first time. Besides the disillusionment caused by the outcome of the Boulanger Crisis, the measures of the German imperial government in Alsace-Lorraine also played a role in this development. Exceptional regulations and special laws which had been in force up to then, which were designed to compensate for the loss of the traditional link with France, were revoked. Maintaining ties with France became more difficult because, among other things, foreign citizens now needed a visa to enter France. German laws and regulations, such as the German trade regulations and the laws on workers' insurance, which manufacturers and other prominent people in Alsace-Lorraine had campaigned against for a long time, were introduced. Finally the Kulturkampf, which had strongly alienated the Catholic clergy in Alsace-Lorraine from the German Empire, ended, and the German government now engaged with the Catholic population to a far greater degree. Additionally, the Dreyfus Affair and the laicization laws in France alienated Catholics from France. The entry into adulthood of a new generation also promoted integration. The Reichstag election in 1890 was the first in which a cohort of people were entitled to vote who had passed through the German school system and who were largely unaffected by the French past of the older generation.49 This development was also supported by the cautiously integrative and modern educational policy in Alsace-Lorraine from 1871 onward, which was now paying discernible dividends. This resulted in a pronounced reduction in the hostility towards the German higher schools. The primary school teachers, most of whom were natives of the imperial state (Reichsland) of Alsace-Lorraine, also gradually changed their mind-set from pro-French to German liberal.50
Furthermore, the government sought to reconcile the population to Germany by investing extra resources in the annexed territory. While the degree of autonomy in Alsace-Lorraine was less than in all other states of the empire,51 large improvements were made in this regard – particularly with regard to the right of self-administration of the cities – at the end of the century.52 Strasbourg in particular benefitted from this. As the capital of the state of Alsace-Lorraine, it had become a political, administrative and economic centre.53
In order to promote German culture, Strasbourg University, which had existed since 1621, was re-founded on 1 May 1872, now named Kaiser-Wilhelm-Universität. It was intended that the university would support the process of integration and spread the influence of German culture into France. Gustav Schmoller (1838–1917), who was rector of the university from 1872 to 1882, clearly described this aim during the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the university in 1897. He pointed out Strasbourg University as a prime example of Prussia's tried and tested university policies, which were intended "in neu gewonnenen Provinzen durch Neugründung oder verbesserte Pflege von Universitäten zugleich auf die Assimilierung der Landschaft mit dem Staatsganzen und auf eine Hebung des wissenschaftlichen Geistes, auf bessere Ausbildung der geistlichen Lehrer, Ärzte, Beamten hinzuwirken."54
For this reason, the university was provided with extra material and personnel resources, which far exceeded those available to the other German universities. In this way, "das Beste an Gelehrten und Lehrern, was die damalige Generation in allen deutschredenden Ländern aufzuweisen hatte"55 were brought to Strasbourg. These were talented, hard-working young professors, who identified strongly with the German national cause. However, not all professorships were filled with new men. Of the native-Alsatian lecturers of the academy which had been dissolved, 12 were employed in the new faculties, including the first rector of the new university, the Germanophile Protestant theologian Johann Friedrich Bruch (1792–1874). It was hoped that he would symbolize the connection between the old and the new.56 Strasbourg then became a real Reformuniversität, which soon also received the title of "working university" (Arbeitsuniversität). Seminar courses gained in importance relative to lectures, which made the university very attractive to students. The other German universities quickly sought to emulate this new model. In order to gain acceptance among the native population and to promote the assimilation of that population into the broader German public, the study of Alsatian history and literature, and the Alsatian dialect were promoted at the new university.57
Without feeling German themselves, the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine nonetheless increasingly accepted the fact that they belonged to the German Empire. They also developed a strong regional identity and campaigned for more autonomy.58 The emergence of a spectrum of political parties in Alsace-Lorraine which had not previously existed was an indication of the continuing convergence between that state and developments in the rest of Germany.59 Thus, the cautious integration policies pursued in Alsace-Lorraine, which were characterized by the national respect for the annexed population, yielded clear positive results. However, this progress was destroyed by the uncompromising policy of Germanization adopted by the German administration during the First World War.60
The Special Status of the French-German Border Region from the End of the First World War
After 1918/1919, France aimed to extend its territory eastward toward the Rhine, but it was not able to enforce its claims to territories other than Alsace-Lorraine during the peace negotiations.61 Instead, an only temporary occupation of the Rhineland followed, during which the French authorities nevertheless pursued an intensive pro-French propaganda campaign with a view to obviating the negative consequences which the Versailles Treaty had for Paris.62 The prospects for the success of French ambitions were highest in the Saarland, as the referendum on nationality scheduled for 1935 could potentially pan out in France's favour there.63 However, the presence of French troops in the Saarland was rejected by a broad section of the population and by all German parties. In December 1922, the Liberal People's Party, the Communist Party, the United Social Democratic Party, the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party sent a joint memorandum to the League of Nations protesting against the French occupation.64
During its advance into the Saarland in 1918, the French army had made it clear that it considered itself to be in enemy territory. However, from the very beginning of negotiations in Versailles, France sought to secure ownership of the Saarland. French Minister President Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) spread the myth that there had been a petition signed by 150,000 French natives of the Saarland requesting the incorporation of their region into French national territory.65 The occupying troops were therefore instructed to differentiate between Saarland natives and Prussians and to launch a pénétration pacifique among the population of the Saarland. However, this did not elicit a favourable reaction from the population. Instead, the anti-Prussian campaign of the French strengthened the identification of the population with Germany.66 Several waves of strikes directed against the French occupiers followed: first in late 1920, as the living conditions of the population of the Saarland deteriorated as a result of the blockade of Germany, then again when the mines of the region were placed under French authority, and finally the miners' strike of 1923.67 The border between Lorraine and the Saarland, which was open from 1920 and which the French endeavoured to make invisible, remained in the consciousness of the Saarland natives, as evidenced by numerous conflicts between Saarland natives and Frenchmen.68 Economic ties between Lorraine and the Saarland continued to exist, but businesses in the Saarland were now at a considerable disadvantage. As most industrial production in Lorraine was dependent on coal, even connections to German mines in the Rhineland and Ruhr region were not severed during the interwar period. However, German steel producers had to import the ore they required from Sweden and Spain.69
In the Saarland referendum held on 13 January 1935, 90.8 per cent voted in favour of the Saarland being re-incorporated into a Hitler-led Germany. The NSDAP (Nazi party) had built up a comprehensive organizational network there from 1933 onward in the form of the German Front (Deutsche Front).70 After its incorporation into Germany, the Saarland became largely cut off from France. The border between Alsace/Lorraine and the Saarland was also militarily fortified and secured by the construction of the Maginot Line (consisting of a series of bunkers) from 1930, which was intended to give protection to France, and the construction of the Siegfried Line (Westwall) from 1938.71
The ambitions of the French were not only frustrated in the Saarland. In Lorraine and, in particular, in Alsace, the initial enthusiasm regarding re-incorporation into France was quickly replaced by disappointment. The almost-50-year separation had resulted in a divergence in political, cultural and ideological development. After 1918, the city of Metz, for example, suffered as a result of the dominant role which Nancy now played in the economic and political landscape of Lorraine. Political initiatives, which intended to accelerate the integration of the former-German territory by bringing laws there into line with those in the rest of France, met with resistance in Alsace and the département of Moselle. This was illustrated by the fight for the retention of municipal self-administration and the local authority system of 1895.72 The attempts of the left-wing French government under Edouard Herriot (1872–1957) in 1924 to revoke the special church and school statute in the re-incorporated regions also resulted in a fervent protest. Though France abandoned this plan relatively quickly, the episode nonetheless resulted in a movement calling for autonomy in the former German territory. On 8 June 1926, a manifesto of the Heimatbund demanded utmost autonomy in order to protect the rights of the population of Alsace-Lorraine. The autonomy movement in Alsace included a small Germanophile group which viewed autonomy as just a first step towards a full return to Germany. This group gained supporters primarily in the Protestant milieu in northern Alsace, and it was later receptive to the "blood and land" propaganda of the National Socialists.73
However, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) thwarted the efforts of the population of Alsace/Lorraine to gain autonomy after the annexation and de facto integration of the territory into Germany.74 Hitler wanted to root out all particularism, and he viewed the Alsace autonomy movement as an obstacle to be crushed.75 As during the First World War, National Socialist repression had the effect of extinguishing all pro-German tendencies in the population of Alsace and Lorraine, and resulted in an increasingly strong antipathy.76 In fact, the National Socialists attempted to remove all remnants of French culture.77 There were plans to make Strasbourg, the capital of Gau Oberrhein, a centre of German culture again. The German authorities spared no efforts to highlight the superiority of German culture, in the hope of winning the native population over for Germany.
As in the decades after 1871, there were plans to make Strasbourg University a model university and a "stronghold of German thought against the Romance west",78 this time under the aegis of the NSDAP and the SS. The founding rector was Ernst Anrich (1906–2001), who was a native of Strasbourg and the son of the last rector of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Universität during the First World War. Anrich was both a National Socialist and engaged in the field of Westforschung (western research) which was conducted at Germany universities between 1918 and 1945. In various publications, he had criticised French efforts to establish hegemony. However, the project of creating a "National Socialist fighting university" (nationalsozialistische Kampfuniversität) was not successful and the university attracted very low number of students.79 The cultural policies of the National Socialists in Strasbourg were more successful. These policies were directly supervised by the Gau authorities, specifically the cultural advisor of the Department of Education and Propaganda, and they promoted music and theatre in particular. There were plans to place the theatre in Strasbourg on a par with Berlin and Vienna. In 1941, it was converted into a state theatre and underwent substantial modernization. Ingolf Kuntze (1890–1952) was brought from Berlin to be general director. Hans Rosbaud (1895–1962) was hired as general musical director of the reorganized and augmented orchestra. The salaries of the artistic staff at Strasbourg theatre were considerably higher than those at most German theatres, and were comparable with those in Berlin and Vienna. French citizens were dismissed from the theatre company, which consisted primarily of Germans, with some Alsace natives. Initially, the theatre attracted a German audience, but the interest of native Alsatians in the theatre quickly rose. The repertoire of the theatre was re-Germanized, with preference being given to classical German plays and German operas.80
In this way, the Strasbourg theatre quickly gained a very high standing in the German theatre world. But this did not distract from the deportation of numerous Jewish residents or the political and social impositions which resulted from the annexation of the territory by the Hitler dictatorship.81 For example, the National Socialists expelled so-called "non-assimilable" (nichtassimilierbare) sections of the population from Alsace and Lorraine to southwestern France and Poland, and they settled ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) in Lorraine.82 Large agricultural enterprises were also created there under German control.83
Intermittent or intensive cooperation between leaders of the Alsace-Lorraine autonomy movement and the National Socialists resulted in the idea of autonomy appearing compromised after 1945. Only an apolitical regionalism remained.84 This made the integration of Alsace and the formerly German Lorraine into the French state easier. Positive economic development and integration into French political development further promoted this integration. The Catholic party in Alsace, the Union populaire républicaine (UPR), joined with the MRP (Mouvement républicain populaire), and Gaullism also played an important role in this process in the former German territory of Alsace-Lorraine. In 1947, Charles de Gaulle proclaimed the foundation of his Rassemblement du peuple français (RPF) from the balcony of Strasbourg City Hall, and Alsace and Lorraine remained a bastion of the Gaullists for many years in the Fifth Republic.85
After 1945, French plans for the Saar region were supported by a group of Saarland exiles, who had founded the Mouvement pour la Liberation de la Sarre (MLS) in Paris in early 1945 and who returned to the Saar region very soon after its liberation. In 1946, this movement, which was not aligned to any individual party, was renamed the Mouvement pour le Rattachement de la Sarre à la France (MRS). However, the French government primarily took the route of economic integration. The mines of the Saar region were placed under French administration; the customs border was moved to the eastern border of the Saar region; and the French currency was introduced. By relinquishing reparations or the dismantling of industrial equipment, the French authorities were able to persuade Saarland politicians to cooperate with the French occupiers. However, the MRS saw economic integration as only a first step on the path to total incorporation into France. The French military governor had to repeatedly reprimand the MRS, though he also used the organization for his own aims. Members of the MRS became active in the newly-formed parties, particularly in the Christliche Volkspartei (CVP). However, the new parties did not pursue the aim of complete incorporation into France. Instead, the Saarland followed a path to political autonomy with retention of the economic union with France. The government of the Saarland which was established in 1947 consisted mainly of former exiled Saarland natives. In 1950, the Saarland became an associate member of the Council of Europe. In 1951, it joined the Coal and Steel Pact. However, the other Allies refused to agree to a definitive Saar statute granting autonomy to the region before a peace treaty had been concluded. On 2 July 1953, the German Bundestag in return declared the Saar region to be part of Germany and demanded that the population of the region be given the right to decide on the matter.86 A rapprochement between Germany and France on the issue only emerged in the context of the efforts of West Germany to normalize international relations, which were pursued initially in the context of the founding of the European Defence Community, and subsequently through the Western European Union. A Saar statute was stipulated on 23 October 1954, which provided for the Europeanization of the Saar region in the context of the WEU. However, the Saar statute agreed by France and the Federal Republic of Germany was rejected in a referendum held in the region on 23 October 1955. This proved the failure of French policy regarding the Saar region and ended attempts to definitively separate the region from Germany. A number of politicians who had senior positions in the government of the Saarland up to that point now left the Saarland for France. France's attitude towards the Federal Republic of Germany, which had supported the Saar statute, was not damaged by the result of the referendum. One year later, a treaty was concluded which provided for the incorporation of the Saarland into the Federal Republic of Germany.87
The French-German Borderlands as a Model Region of Franco-German and European Reconciliation
In the second half of the 20th century, the French-German borderlands of the Rhineland, Lorraine and Alsace developed into a link between France, Germany and Europe. From 1956 onward, the University of Saarbrücken adopted a European orientation, which yielded success. French institutions were retained and developed further, such as the European Institute founded in 1951. Collaboration with French partners in Paris, Nancy, Strasbourg and Metz was developed further and expanded.88
The French chambers of commerce in Alsace and in the département of Moselle had already successfully campaigned for the re-establishment and intensification of economic ties in the immediate post-war period. The long tradition of cross-border contact undoubtedly played a role here. However, international exchange was hampered somewhat in the 1950s by the improving competitiveness of German companies.89
In view of the crisis in the steel industry from the early-1960s, regional business leaders campaigned for closer economic cooperation between the Saarland, Lorraine and also Luxembourg. The intention was to build a better infrastructure together to increase competitiveness in the regions. This initiative led to the foundation of the Saarland–Lorraine–Luxembourg–Rheinland/Pfalz regional commission in 1971, which was placed under the supervision of the German-French-Luxembourgish government commission founded in 1970.90 This was the inception of the greater region of the same name, which subsequently proposed numerous joint initiatives and gave rise to further institutions and organizations. In 1995, the communal association for this greater region, with the title "EuRegio SaarLorLuxRhein", was founded as a non-profit association. As its goal it had – and still has – the fostering and development of political, cultural, economic and social contacts.91 This economically inspired and politically encouraged cooperation led to increasing ties between the regions. The number of Lorraine natives working in the Saarland grew. Conversely, subsidiaries of German companies were established in Lorraine. Cross-border tourism increased, particularly to Lorraine, and many Saarland natives settled in Lorraine.92
It must be pointed out, however, that the new status of the region, which had once more been negotiated at the level of the economic and political elites, only gradually came to be accepted and viewed as a possible identification among the regional population. In the crisis years of the 1970s and 1980s in particular, the perception of a creeping German expansion was dominant on the French side, and anti-German resentment was revived.93 Most connections between the Saarland and Lorraine are economically-based. There is little sign of the emergence of shared values, lifestyles or patterns of behaviour, which can be attributed among other things to declining linguistic knowledge on both sides, the decline of French as the first foreign language in the Saarland and of the Lorraine dialect of German among the French school children.94
Alsace also participated in the development of a cross-border region in the second half of the 20th century, the Upper Rhine region, which also includes the states of Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and numerous Swiss cantons. The chronology was similar to the Saar-Lor-Lux-Rhein greater region. From the 1960s, contacts between associations began to develop. In 1975, a government commission and a German-French-Swiss regional committee were formed.95 Subsequently, much closer ties were established across the borders, resulting in a system of mutual reliance. Different regional identities continued to exist, which have been given further support by the increasingly sharp linguistic border (due to the decline in the use of the Alsatian German dialect).96 Nonetheless, the interconnections in the border region are unmistakable.
The large cities are central poles of these cross-border interconnections. In France, Strasbourg is the most prominent example. It has also been the seat of the European Parliament since 1952 and since 2005 the centre of the first eurodistrict of Strasbourg-Ortenau,97 which was founded with the intention of creating "a transnational regional identity at the heart of a Europe that is close to its citizens".98 In Germany, Saarbrücken and (in the Upper Rhine region) Karlsruhe play similar roles.
Thus, the French-German border regions utilized the different traditions of economic, cultural and social ties to bolster and drive the process of French-German reconciliation in the context of European reconciliation. The regions also had a selfish interest in this process because it enabled them to overcome their peripheral position within their respective nations and to promote their economic prosperity.
The French-German borderlands are a zone of contact. This creates economic and cultural opportunities for the population living there, though in the past it has also held dangers in the event of conflicts. In the 19th and 20th centuries, during which nationalism played a central role, the population was also subject to repression as a result of the efforts of the nation-states of France and Germany to integrate and assimilate these regions. Additionally, the parts of the borderlands which were successively annexed, liberated, re-incorporated and reconquered were subject to a special status at various times. They belonged de facto to France or Germany, but special laws remained in existence which separated the regions from the rest of the country – economically, in particular. These special statuses reflected a degree of mistrust of the newly acquired population, and they were also intended to protect the domestic economy of the country. Border regions were also invariably viewed by political actors as buffer zones. In the aftermath of each of the world wars, this buffer zone function was perfected under supranational supervision. It is consequently no coincidence that regionalist forms of identification, which at time even gave rise to movements for autonomy, emerged in the disputed border regions, and that these regions retained a special status within the nation-state for a long time.99
The process of European unification once again stimulated the positive potential of the French-German borderlands by strengthening the role of the border regions as zones of contact, exchange and openness. The economy and infrastructure of the French-German borderlands have been the primary beneficiaries of this process, while the dissipation of resentments and the emergence of an identification with a cross-border region, or even a united Europe, have proceeded more slowly. A border defined in terms of the territory of the nation-state, which increasingly solidified from the early-19th century, became deeply rooted in the consciousness of the residents of the border regions in the second half of the 20th century. Even though the French-German borderlands are today a place of exchange and interaction, the inhabitants of those borderlands have nonetheless strongly internalized the concept of nations, in spite of all talk of the end of the nation-state.