Sunday, 23 March 2014

Nordrhein-Westfalen - The Map of Germany

Germany never ceases to surprise me!  Although, I've spent a lot of time travelling in other big European countries, like France, Italy, the UK and Spain - Germany remains fairly unknown to me, as I'm sure it does to many tourists and adventurers. Every time I do visit Germany, it reminds me how interesting and beautiful this country is and it always surprises me that I've forgotten this, since my last trip!

I've chosen to start my learning experience of Germany with the most populous state (or Land) - Nordrhein-Westfalen, known as North Rhine-Westphalia in English.  I've chosen the German name for this Land because, well, it seems weird to anglicize the names of German regions in our globalised 21st century. 

In the wake of the Crimean crisis, there has been a video by Frank Reed which has been doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and shows a 'time lapse' map of Europe and how Europe's borders have changed over the last ten centuries.  I've taken the embed from Frank's YouTube account and, if you watch the video below and concentrate on what is modern-day Germany, you'll be dazzled by the historical map of Germany, which looks like someone spilt their coffee all over the central area of the map of Europe!


Germany's history is complicated and the array of kingdoms, principalities, duchies and electorates that populated the pre-1871 map of Germany is simply overwhelming.  It reminds me a bit of 19th-century India, which was a complex collection of princely states and agencies, before India became independent and most of these states were merged into larger Indian ones.

The German Empire in 1871
It was a similar process in Germany in 1871 - when Bismarck united all of the German states except Austria.  Like the Middle Kingdom in China, Prussia had slowly been pulling smaller German states into its sphere of influence and it's no coincidence, perhaps, that the new leader of the German Empire or Reich was Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. 

Although both the Rhineland and Westphalia had been parts of Prussia, before Germany united, it surprised me to learn that Nordrhein-Westfalen was very much an invention of the British, in a curious merger called Operation Marriage.  After World War Two and the defeat of the Nazis, the Allied powers divided Germany into spheres of influence.

The Soviet Union dominated Brandenburg and the Kingdom of Saxony, what was to become The German Democratic Republic (GDR) aka, East Germany.  The United States dominated Bavaria and the strategic industrial Rhineland was divided between Britain and France.  The British administrators merged their northern Rhineland with the historic Westphalia province and North Rhine-Westphalia was born!

Roman province of Germania Inferior
Nordrhein includes many of the famous Rhineland cities most people would have heard of - including Cologne, Dusseldorf and Bonn.  It also contains the industrial cities of the Rhine/Ruhr confluence, such as Duisberg and Essen.  The Rhineland was the frontier of the Roman Empire with Roman outposts like Colonia (Cologne/Koln) protecting Germania Inferior from the savage tribes living in the misty forests of what is now Westphalia and Saxony. 

Westphalia (meaning 'western plain') is much harder to define - whilst it also has a lot of industry in the Ruhr valley centring around Dortmund, Nordrhein-Westfalen's third biggest city, it seems a lot more rural to me and more obscure, than the famous Rhineland area.  There was also once an Eastphalia (Ostfalen) but this seems to have faded into the wider Saxon Länder.   

Modern Westphalia also includes the former principality of Lippe - a small independent state that managed to remain outside the Kingdom of Prussia, but joined the German federation in 1871 and was added to Nordrhein-Westfalen by the British in 1947.  

I'm really looking forward to learning more about Nordrhein-Westfalen and Germany, over the coming weeks.  If you'd like to join me on this learning journey, please like the Facebook page connected to this blog and you'll get regular updates, as I publish the results of my learning!

Image credits:

All images are taken from Wikipedia and have been shared for re-use without copyright.   
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