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Well, you play a good game now, but that's not why I read your AARs, put it that way. The philosophy is thick but not too thick. After all, if you wanted to report a serious problem, you'd stick it in the general discussions forum.
 
Last edited:

Commandante

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An interesting and plausible description of a large political entity that developed out of a small city state.


Originally posted by Director
Am I saying anything valuable here? I really am trying to talk about some issues with waging war in EU2 rather than issues with the game mechanics per se. Is the philosophy too thick?

As I've said before, it's not too thick. Reading this makes me think of really serious history publishings, although this is much more fun! You retain the dry academic tone without getting the slightest bit boring, on the contrary, this is marvellous! :D
 

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Yes, I will add my voice to the chorus. This AAR is well done, an accurately mimics an academic essay. The non linear style is good too. Anyway, good luck.
 

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The Man Who Sold The Moon



He didn’t, of course. But like D. D. Harriman, Sigurd Groener would have, if only he had been able to travel there – or convince others that he could.



Halle’s discovery of the New World – new, by that time, only to Germany – led directly to the establishment of the first colony in Santee. Funded by a mixture of public money and popular subscriptions, the fine natural harbors of the Santee coast were excellent bases for further exploration. Just as importantly, the many rivers gave easy access into the rich, fertile interior. And cotton, tobacco, rice and indigo were all suitable cash crops of promising value.

Predating the discovery of North America was a steep rise in the population of northern Germany. Minimal improvements in diet, childcare and sanitation caused more children to live to adulthood and more adults to live to an older age. This was not, however, matched by an increase in available land. As small farm holdings were forcibly merged and ancient commons were enclosed by large land-owners, there was great danger that a large, idle and disaffected class would be created, to flock to the cities and become dangerous mobs.

Given the divided political powers of the Archbishop and Proconsuls – and the rights and entitlements of various bishops, electors, princes, counts and barons – no workable solution was found to be politically feasible. Into this widening gap came the bridge-building Sigurd Groener, the literal Father of the Global Customs Union and a most unintentional savior.

The man himself was a shipbuilder whose family had settled in Oslo from Lubeck. His shipyard did a brisk business in coastal cogs and fishing boats, although it declined in production in the early 1600’s because of the general lack of suitable timber. Sigurd invested the yard’s profits in ships, cargoes and banking; his father had prospered, but Sigurd grew rich. In the small pond of Bremen’s Scandinavian territories he became an important and respected fish, and in due course was nominated for a Proconsular term. Unusually for a man of wealth and political power, he seems to have been genuinely well-liked. His first Proconsular term, in Danzig, passed quietly.

The Proconsular Senates of the early decades of the 1600’s were occupied with endless debates on land reform, enclosure and the explosive urbanization of an increasingly jobless and impoverished population. With his heritage of thinly-populated Norway, Sigurd was deeply shocked at conditions he saw in the teeming cities of the mainland. Clearly, Bremen was headed for a plebian explosion the likes of which had not been seen since Imperial Rome.

From the letters and documents that have been preserved, we know that Sigurd was not a particularly philosophical or inventive man. He knew how to do only one thing really well, and that was to build ships. So that was the tool he brought to bear on the great social problems of his day: building ships – and lots of them, in ever increasing size and, of course, in Sigurd’s now-faltering shipyard.

His original modest proposal was for the Senate to charter a corporation with shares of stock to be sold for capital and newly explored land to be transferred to the company as inventory. The entire burden of funding exploration and survey would fall to this new company, as would all authority over the lands it settled. Immense amounts of public land would be offered for sale in homestead-sized lots, and individuals would be allowed to buy land only if they moved there and developed the property.

All these new landowners had to be transported to their new homes, and this is what Sigurd intended to provide – ships for the emigrants, built on exclusive Company contract from Danish and Swedish timber in Norwegian yards. What happened next surely exploded his modest expectations.



Reports of the fertile wealth and vast expanse of the new territories – carefully fostered and in some cases enlarged or even wholly invented by the Colonial Corporation’s agents – helped turn the trickle of settlers into a stream, a river and a deluge. Driven by the insatiable demand of thousands and tens of thousands of would-be landowners, the Corporation launched new expeditions, uncovered new lands in America, Africa and the East Indies, and parceled out enormous numbers of land grants. Land for which the Corporation paid little or nothing, and whose original inhabitants were bought out, overrun or simply killed outright.

Although the Corporation’s prices were cheap when compared to the going rates for European farmland, the eventual sale of millions of acres generated immense amounts of money and the unsold land served as collateral for any size loan that might be needed. Stock in the Colonial Corporation became the ultimate indicator of wealth, the most noble of all blue-chip stocks, the most highly prized of all possible investments. All this prosperity, however, depended at first on the ultimate of pyramid schemes – the discovery, survey and sale of ever-increasing amounts of land.

With this immense wealth – and the promise of many times more – came immense political power. Ever divided, neither the fading power of the Archbishop nor the share-owning Proconsuls proved able to control the Corporation or split it into more manageable chunks. While the Corporation never attempted to contest the ultimate power of the Senate, in practice it simply ignored all authority save its own.

Bremen’s shipbuilders developed larger and larger vessels to carry greater and greater numbers of passengers and their goods to their new homes. Colonial Corporation factors were dispatched deep into the interior of the Americas and the islands of the South Seas to search out raw materials, crops, trade goods – anything that could fill the immense ships on their homeward voyages and be sold for even a minimal profit.

As towns and cities developed, they too came under the purview of the Colonial Corporation. Settlers purchased land from Company surveyors, flour from Company mills and dry goods in Company stores, and sold their crops to Company factors. They were married in Company churches and, at need, buried in Company coffins. So as the settled areas blossomed, the Company’s profit center shifted from the transportation of settlers to the exploitation of settlements.

There is no doubt that the easy availability of land, coupled with the relatively high degree of civilized amenities in colonial cities, encouraged the English and Spanish colonial holdings to transfer their allegiance to Bremen. Within mere decades of its founding, the Colonial Corporation commanded resources no other colonial power could match. Within a century it controlled more territory than any European state save Russia, and more revenue and population than any European state - including Bremen.

The principal task for Bremen, then, was to find a way to ride the tiger and avoid being eaten. Early on, the Corporation was put under intense scrutiny by the offices of the Heart, Hand and Eye, and its profits were heavily taxed. Later, the Senate intended to apply the Proconsular system to the oldest settled regions, with the east coast of North America being the first area removed from Corporation control. The Company’s interlocking network of stores, mills, shops, factories – ownership, indeed, of all aspects of colonial life – would be only slowly overcome, since the Company strenuously discouraged private ownership and competition in any form.

In its heyday, the products of more than half the world flowed through Company ports, were purchased with gold from Company mines and were transported on Company ships. The white flag and blue mermaid’s tail of the Company became easily the most recognized and trusted symbol on Earth.

But as all organizations must, the Company eventually succumbed to the twin paralyzing factors of age and its own success. Having been so powerful for so very long, the Company became complacent, arrogant and inflexible.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Proconsular Senate moved steadily to assert political control over Company dominions and to pry loose the Company’s grip on colonial life. Understandably, the Company fought the loss of its richest and most populous areas – and unhappily, both sides lost.

Although the thinly-settled colonies of the African Cape and East Indies were successfully brought into the Proconsular system, the Americas became first a political and then an actual battlefield. The Company’s increasingly drastic efforts to maintain its monopolies clashed with the inhabitants’ disgust with Corporation inefficiency and high-handed paternalism. The Proconsular Senate was never able to summon the political will to force the Company to disgorge its control of every facet of American life, and the result was disaster. As Doktor Gropius could have told them, “At least half of all consequences are unintended.”

The revolts of 1861 ignited in the oldest settlements, those of Santee and Carolina and Roanoke, and spread to every city in Corporate North America. Ham-handed Corporate exactions and military reprisals pushed even the Loyalist sections into the rebel fold, and the Confederate Provinces of America was the direct result.

Crippled by the financial loss of North America and undermined politically in Europe, the Corporation was broken up and largely dissolved in 1865. Most of the remaining colonial empire was granted varying degrees of independence through the next century, with most remaining in the Global Customs Union. In its remarkable career of only two and a half centuries the Colonial Corporation eclipsed the empires of China, Rome, Alexander and Genghis Khan, created wealth on a scale never seen before or since, and spread German culture and millions of German people across the globe.

All because a Norwegian wanted to build ships.
 

Commandante

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Impressive story of a gargantuan business enterprise! :)

I also find the thought of Germans colonising America deeply fascinating. ;)
 

Syt

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Interesting how you play on the alternative history beyond the point of the game's end. :)
 

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Commandante - The recurring theme through all this is the 'Law of Unintended Consequences', known variously as 'You can't do just one thing' or 'I only changed one line of code!'

I have a lot of fun imagining the Greater Bremen Customs Union as a triumphant blend of weak government, libertarian philosophy and 'muddling through' improvisation.

Wasa - Welcome! The Germans and Scandinavians DID colonize America, you know. In 1860, half the population of Wisconsin was foreign born, and they didn't come from Spain. :)

The Germans, Scandinavians and Poles started emigrating to America later than the English and around the time of the famines in Ireland. They settled in immense numbers from St Louis in central Missouri up into the Old Northwest states, and even cities like Memphis, Tennessee have a 'Gerrmantown' suburb.

Great steamship lines like Hamburg-American (HAPAG) and North German Lloyd were founded on the emigrant business.

All I did was give them a little earlier start. :)

Sytass - I love the 'And then what?' game. Whether you believe that history would attempt to fall into familiar patterns or not, you can see that historic 'trends' go only so far before they provoke a counter-movement.

In this case I just could not believe the enormous, creaky machinery of the Colonial Corporation could continue to function without collapse. Sooner or later, it had to fall. :)
 

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Exactly what Sytass said: interesting to see how you continue your alternative history after the end of the game.

I have a question: are there any historical parallels where a private colonial company gained so much power that the 'controlling' government was more or less unable to do just that, namely to control the company? Perhaps the British India Company?

Oh, and on a story-related note: what a curious coincidence that this American rebellion raged from 1861 to 1865. It seems that sometimes, history DOES repeat itself. Sort of. :)
 

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Stuyvesant - 'What a wonderful world...' Or not, as we shall soon see.

The East India Company is probably the best example from the EU2 period.

From the modern era I could quote numerous examples, from obvious ones like Enron to less-obvious multi-nationals like Coca-Cola.

Who says a government should be able to control a corporation? :p I think the record of abuse of power is consistently bad whether the active party is corporate, governmental or churchly. Down with everybody - except me, of course. I'd make a great World Emperor. :D

As far as the 'Revolution' of 1861, well... anything after 1819 is fair game, right? :)

I found it reasonable that such an enormous colonial empire would, sooner or later, grow away from its parent. The weakness of Bremen's decision-making structure was such that they mostly just didn't deal with big issues. And this issue was too big to go away.

Sooner or later, the HUGE multi-cultural population of North America (French, Spanish, English, German and Native American) would split away. The timing? Well, Bremen held it together a century longer than the English did in our history. :)
 

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An Empire of Slaves



“We went to sleep last night an Empire of Trade and woke up this morning to find ourselves stark staring mad in an Empire of Slaves.” – Friedrich Hochner, 1744, after the Trial of Hans Lindemann.



It is impossible to omit from any history of Bremen the institution that – to foreign eyes - so uniquely characterized her culture, that of penal servitude. The debate has raged for generations as to exactly how closely this institution resembled slavery, and this debate has so far resulted in a great deal of heat generated for a very little light. We can go no further in our examination of this Empire of Trade without taking a good, hard look at the laborers and institutions that built it.

Once the Hanseatic League had been brought to heel and Bremen’s dominance of Baltic markets established, a critical shortage of a heretofore plentiful commodity arose: unskilled labor became scarce. Partly this is because the doubling and redoubling of trade and manufacture wrecked the once-stable labor markets. Men left their rural fields and villages to flock to the cities, giving up an idealized liberty to work for wages but thereby securing prosperity for themselves and their families. And these laborers, instead of remaining mere wage-slaves, then invested their earnings and improved their lot, becoming owners and entrepreneurs. This labor shortage, as with all shortages, had the effect of raising wages in real terms and assisting in the creation of a true ‘middling’ class.

The increasing birthrate, decreasing mortality rate and steady incorporation of new territories were somewhat offset by the overseas emigration fostered by the Colonial Corporation. But the single greatest factor in the establishment of penal servitude was the uncontrolled urbanization of the Baltic provinces.

Within a single lifetime, populations in Bremen, Lubeck, Hamburg and the other great cities doubled and doubled again. Enormous shanty-towns sprang up along the banks of the Weser and the Elbe, converted almost overnight into respectable homes, taverns, churches and shops. But where so many people, strangers to one another, are packed into such a small area, crime is the inevitable result.

This explosive growth in crime can only be inferred; in the absence of any institution such as a police force there are no statistics on crime. Still, the newspapers and correspondence – even the plays – of the period are full of references to the wild and lawless times. Those cities must have been terrifying places to live, but the invisible hand of economics drove men from the fields to the cities in increasing numbers. That same invisible hand impelled the more able of those men into ever-better jobs or into ownership of their own shops and factories. And gently but firmly, that hand rewarded every effort at increasing production, since the cost of machinery and improvements was cheaper than the cost of wages.

Faced with a rising middle class, rampant crime, a labor shortage and a government that was weak and divided, evolutionary pressure caused the chartering of the first private security companies. These were a logical extension of the retinues of armsmen maintained by the nobles and wealthy merchants of the period, made available for a fee to a middle class that could now afford their services and that was rich enough to have become a target.

Popular history attributes the first work-gangs to Franz Drucker of the city of Hamburg, and there is no evidence to disprove this claim. What is a certainty is that by the middle of the sixteenth century private security forces were routinely bringing alleged criminals before magistrates or even private judges. Those convicted were routinely sentenced to pay fines and, if unable to pay immediately and in full, to serve at hard labor and a fixed wage until the fine was paid.

On the plus side, this did have the very real effect of reducing crime and mayhem in the Customs Union to more tolerable levels without requiring any expenditure from the public purse. Fines paid went directly into the treasury and were available as restitution for the victims. As an institution, it was therefore very attractive to the wealthy and most of the middle-class, who had the money to pay any fines and escape servitude. On the other hand, there were numerous and outrageous abuses of the system. Political dissidents were routinely sentenced, as were enemies of the powerful and those unlucky enough to be available when labor was needed. Fines were capriciously set and, especially for the powerful, sometimes not collected at all. Private security ‘gangs’ roamed the streets collecting vagrants, drunks and sometimes just scooping up random passers-by off the streets. A friendly judge could always be found to bend the laws a bit if needed.

At first, wages paid for work done – less an allowance for food, shelter and clothing – were applied to the assessed fines. Unscrupulous manipulators quickly saw the profits in rotten food, ragged clothing and shelter unfit for man or beast. Men who could not work were not paid, and either sank deeper into debt or died of hunger or disease. Interest applied to debts literally converted sentences of a few months into lifetime servitude – however long that life might be. Records were altered, or lost. Men vanished into servitude and were literally never seen or heard from again.

It was the discovery that female servitors were being employed in houses of prostitution that sparked the first great reforms. Archbishop Johann Friedrich (served 1596-1634) was incensed at conditions he found in the poor-houses and stews of Bremen, and he vowed to clean up the appalling horrors he saw there. In a celebrated series of fiery sermons he literally hurled down the gauntlet, beginning with the Biblical roots of slavery and going on to compare Bremen’s lawmen unfavorably with the slavers of Rome.

In the wake of the Archbishop’s crusade, some reforms were instituted. Many municipalities and provinces launched their own police services, and the remaining private firms were brought under the scrutiny of the Eye, Hand and Heart. Prisoners were entitled to a certain sum for their maintenance and allowed a fixed sum per day toward their debt. This led, however, to two great abuses in turn.

Firstly, prisoners who did not work cost money to feed and keep and earned nothing toward those expenses. Despite the first stirrings of public indignation and the sporadic investigations by officials, servitors were callously and routinely worked to death.

Secondly, a booming business opened up in the buying and selling of labor contracts. Convicts were transported across the globe, some as far as the nascent colonies of Australia. And needless to say, whether man or woman, married or unmarried, endowed with children or childless, they went alone.

Archbishop Johann Friedrich’s passing and a tightening labor market led to increasing fines and longer sentences for ever-more minor crimes. With little exaggeration, Ernst Muller could write in 1703 that, “I saw today the most hideous of scenes, a man condemned for spitting on the sidewalk. He was dragged from the courtroom to the square outside, his contract openly bartered while the supervisors inspected him as though he were swine or cattle. Poor fellow! He is sold to a plantation-owner in Java. And there he was, calling to his wife and children as they put the shackles upon him and dragged him away… I am ashamed to live in such a country. I am ashamed of what we have become. I am ashamed I did nothing.”

The growing Reform movement polarized not just Proconsular elections but politics on all levels. The south German provinces, being newer to the Customs Union, were particularly repulsed by the institution, some going so far as to enact legislation preventing servitors from being brought into their territory. These laws were routinely overruled by the Proconsuls and Senate, most of whose members hailed from the older, northern parts of the Customs Union.

All of this was brought to a head by the celebrated escape and trial of Hans Lindemann in 1744.



With the conclusion of the Prussian War* (1742-1743), Austrian troops withdrew to their borders and the jobs of cleanup, repair and harvest could begin. The war had been of short duration but intense activity, and the damage was extensive. Huge numbers of laborers were therefore moved up the Elbe, and among them was Hans Lindemann.

Born in Denmark he emigrated to Bremen as a young man and started on a career as a clerk in a banking firm in Hamburg. Accused of embezzlement – and actually guilty of romancing the daughter of a senior partner – he was tried, convicted, sentenced and shipped off up the Elbe.

He managed to escape north of Dresden, and sympathetic people took him into the city and hid him. Not well enough, as it turns out, for he was discovered and dragged out of the house to the city jail. Before he could be taken away to rejoin his work detail, sympathetic citizens retained an attorney and forced a hearing, on the grounds that since Saxon law did not support servitude for debt, Lindemann became a free man when he crossed the border.

The argument failed; Senatorial statutes were found to apply and Lindemann was condemned. A popular subscription was raised to pay his fines and fees and he returned, quite shaken by his experience, to Denmark.

It is not coincidental that the rising resistance to penal servitude coincided with a great Protestant resurgence. Church attendance rose, missionaries were dispatched across the globe and every aspect of life came under increasing scrutiny. Some issues, like gambling and prostitution, were dispatched in the usual way – licensed, inspected, taxed, regulated – but penal servitude provoked a moral outrage.

The rise of Volhard Mindemann to the Chancellor’s office in 1749 gave the Reformers the political muscle to tackle the institution at its roots. But in typical fashion for Bremen politics, the question of penal servitude was referred to an independent commission and then the institution was so vigorously regulated and reformed that it lost all profitability and faded from view.



Was penal servitude, in fact, slavery? No less a historian than Abraham Lincoln (first Chancellor, Confederate Provinces of America, 1861-1869) had this to say in his landmark ‘History of the German Peoples’: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.”

And in his first inaugural address, he observed: "To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,' and to preach therefrom that, 'In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread,' to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity."


* Prussia broke away from Poland in June of 1742 and then allied with Austria. Courland (allied with Bremen) declared war on Prussia in November of 1742. After fierce battles in Erz, Sudeten, and Silesia, Bremen forces invaded Bohemia and Austria paid 300g for peace in July of 1743.
 

Commandante

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Once again, Director, you keep setting higher and higher standards for this forum! :)

Very good essay!
 

stnylan

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Very good indeed. A pleasure to read.
 

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Mmmm, wonderful writing again.

I just love the way that it penal servitude was "regulated out of existence."
 

Director

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Commandante - Wow. :eek: Even someone with my highly-developed sense of personal worth would have to protest that one.

No reflection on your work (which you know I like, and read) but if MrT, LD, Prufrock, Secret Master, Peter Ebbesen, Sorcerer, Bismarck - well, I could list many more names but you get the point - if these people were as active in the forum as they once were, you'd have a truer appreciation of my minor role here.

But, thank you. :)

stnylan - this is another 'unplanned' essay, but I enjoyed setting up the starting conditions and seeing where they went.

I've been wrapped up in some VBasic programming and haven't been writing or gaming as much lately as usual.

Good to hear from you - glad you enjoyed it.

Owen - with strong local government and weak national government (not to mention powerful competing corporations) Bremen is a sort of libertarian laboratory experiment gone wrong.

Even more than the Victorian English, I see them as struggling with the responsibilities of an empire but not wanting to change what really is an inefficient and almost vestigial government.

Having servitude 'regulated out of existence' was politically cheaper (and more gradual) than trying to fight all the people who profited from it as well as all the people whose taxes would go up to pay for police, courts and prisons.

And in the game I didn't have a civil war event, so what else could I do? :)
 

Owen

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Originally posted by Director
...And in the game I didn't have a civil war event, so what else could I do? :)
Good point. Is there any other game out there which plays out in such detail that you could come to that sort of conclusion?
 

Storey

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Took awhile to catch up but it was well worth the effort. Time constraints have kept me away but I just wanted to say that you're producing an engrossing world. First rate as usual Director.

Joe
 

Director

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For Whom the Bell Tolls



“People are who they are. The wise man, whether general, cleric or merchant, accepts the character of the people with whom he must deal. Their personalities become a part of the landscape across which he must campaign, part of the limitations on his freedom of action that must shape the ebb and flow of resistance or retreat.”

“It does no good to say, ‘If only that mountain were not here.’ Mountains must be accepted; the character traits and flaws of your enemies and allies must be known, mapped and allowed for. Only an army, over a great long time, can move a mountain.”

“People change but little, in the usual course of events, and that little over a long period of time. Rapid or greater change is accompanied by much damage.”

All quotes from the ‘Gedanken auf Kriege’ of Johannes Gropius.



Once upon a time there was a church, and it spread and grew and became a Church. And it did much good, and being run by humans it did also some wrong. As the Church grew richer and more powerful, its message subtly changed. Instead of preaching that the Church must be supported so that it might prosper and do good works, priests began to declaim that it must be supported because it was the Church.

With the boundless ability of humans to turn any instrument, no matter how noble or altruistic, to other purposes – with the limitless human appetite for self-deception and rationalization – the Church became corrupted. Its stewards became less interested in the rewards of the afterlife and more interested in wealth and power in this one.

Being human, they were of course shocked and appalled that other men perceived this. Being human, they knew that they would never have to repent or reform if the doubters could be silenced.

And so there were battle lines drawn and campaigns launched, deadly even though they were fought in councils and hallways rather than battlefields.



The battlefields came later.



In 1512, Martin Luther had been sent from his monastery to serve as a doctor of theology in Wittenberg. He was not, in any sense, a powerful man in the church, yet his years as a monk and teacher – and his deep studies into theology – had given him an insight into the problems that afflicted the church. His early legal studies let him believe that truth would prevail, and his native stubbornness and passion did the rest.

There was, at that time, a great intellectual ferment in Bremen. The growing wealth and power of the mercantile class produced a demand for businessmen, scribes and clerks who were literate and competent with math, and they swelled enrollments in the universities, who themselves multiplied.

Inevitably, the Church insisted that any education must be based on Church precepts and doctrines, and study of the Bible comprised an important part of every curriculum. The Church intended for this rigorous drumming to pound its interpretations into every skull, and most of the students accepted the prevailing dogma at face value. However, the Church would not be the first institution nor the last to discover what happens when you mix bright young minds and authoritarian interpretations of literature. Inviting the intelligent to study a subject while forbidding them to question prevailing beliefs about that subject is inevitably explosive.



The plague which afflicted Wittenberg in 1516 was minor as such diseases go, and features in no chronicles except the most local. One effect of the virtual closure of the university and town was that Luther had, at last, plenty of time to study and correspond, and one of his correspondents was Cristoph I, Archbishop of Bremen. Unlikely as such a relationship may seem to us – the Cardinal of the Baltic and a mere monk and doctor at an undistinguished university – it was very real. Introduced years before in correspondence by their mutual friend Jodocus Trutvetter, former rector of the University of Erfurt, the two men had developed a mutual admiration and respect despite never having met.

It is in letters to the Archbishop during the plague season that Luther first laid out his concerns with Church doctrines. It is in his replies that Cristoph detailed his own misgivings and related his difficulties with the papal administration in Rome. All of this came to a head with the famous posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the Wittenberg castle church door on October 31st of 1517, and with Cristoph’s famous letter: “I am with you.”



The political and economic conditions in northern Germany at this time were complex. The rapid shift of population from the country to the cities had strained the social fabric and crime was rampant. Bremen’s ruthless expansion had seriously frightened her neighbors and embroiled her in lengthy and expensive wars – with England, Poland and Aragon from 1506 to 1509, and the Palatine from 1514 to 1519. The collapse of the Hanse had eliminated all local merchant rivals but the methods employed created a strong prejudice abroad against Bremen’s merchants. The enormous expansion of Bremen’s trade thus brought out a powerful backlash, and a war for market share raged in the trading centers of Europe. Meanwhile, the weak central government allowed the army and navy to slip into a frightful state of decline.

Against this backdrop, the Pope issued the famous Bull of Indulgences in Germany, which was intended to raise funds for the construction of St Peter’s church in Rome. The proposed sale of indulgences on such an immense scale aroused the Archbishop in both his sacred role as Cardinal of the Baltic and secular position as head of government. Not only did he believe the indulgences were theologically wrong, he believed that their sale would drain money from the treasuries of local churches and governments. Therefore, in a proclamation of January 1st of 1521, he ruled the indulgences null and void within the confines of his see and country. The Archbishop had become a Protestant and defied the authority of the Pope; the Reformation had begun.



No attempt shall be made to relate the story of Reformation and Counter-Reformation here; this canvas is too small for such a sweeping story and others have covered the saga in appropriate depth and in detail. It will be sufficient to mention the major events – the great ‘Wars of Religion’ – the internal revolts of 1521, the wars with England, Aragon and Friesland in 1521, with Austria and Lithuania in 1530-1532 and 1538-1542, France and Austria in 1547, and Austria and Scotland from 1557-1560.

During this half-century (1516-1566) of upheaval, religious riots were commonplace and Protestant missionaries made little headway in the Catholic strongholds of western and southern Germany – especially those territories wrested from Austria. Bremen’s merchants were hounded from doing business all across Europe, trade revenues collapsed, corruption was common and peasant uprisings so frequent as to be unexceptional. Through it all, however, Bremen’s revitalized and expanded armies and fleets fought with dogged determination and to ultimate success. Had the Protestant cause not been rooted in a strong state – had Germany remained divided among petty dukedoms, principalities and electorates – that cause must surely have been lost.

Historians may record the burning of Vienna and Salzburg, the naval battles of the Skaggerak and the wresting of Silesia and the Sudeten from Austria as the high points of these wars, but little attention has so far been paid to what seemed the very darkest.



In the spring of 1538, Austria and Lithuania declared war on Bremen again. Overconfident after burning Vienna in 1532, General von Witte led the Eastern Army into Bohemia – Bremen’s traditional opening move against Austria – and saw too late that a trap had been set. Austrian columns poured into Bohemia from three directions, and it scarcely seemed that von Witte could extricate his force before the jaws snapped shut.

Von Witte publicly pledged that, should God grant him a victory, he would dedicate a church in honor of the victory and pledge to melt down some of the army’s cannon for a great bronze bell. His army was inspired to rapid movement and his enemies moved slowly. Twin victories followed, the second a hard-fought battle on October 31st against superior numbers just outside Prague that was marred only by von Witte’s death. The third column sullenly withdrew, and the armies went into winter quarters.

On his deathbed, von Witte vowed that his church would be built and that its martial bell would be rung every year in honor of his victory.

The church was subsequently built in Radeberg, outside Dresden, and von Witte’s body was interred there. Dedicated to “St Michael and the Victory of Prague”, it stood quietly for many years in a remote location east of town, and the annual sundown peal in honor of the Victory of Prague was a local event of no particular interest.

In 1602, while Bremen’s forces were conquering French North America and fighting doggedly in Pfalz, church bells all over Bremen were taken down and melted down for cannon, the bell of St Michaels among them. All attempts to save the bell failed; all attempts to have another bell cast were delayed by the war. Yet at midnight of October 31st of 1602, the bell was faintly heard to ring in the tower of St Michael’s church. And it continued to do so every year, one single ringing peal on that exact day and hour.

At first, frightened villagers and members of the von Witte family attempted to have another bell cast and hung. The bell was delivered in 1612 but never hung – it was inspected and found perfect when delivered, but fatally cracked the following day. A second bell – cast from bronze retrieved from cannon – was hung in 1643 but produced only a dull, flat clang. No other attempt to replace the bell has ever been made; the empty bell tower stands there in reproach to this day.

And since 1602, the bell has sounded – once – every midnight of every October 31st. Over the centuries it has become a great pilgrimage, and hundreds of thousands now gather every fall to march down the frost-covered lanes and through the harvested fields around the nondescript little church, lighting their candles and raising them high, waiting with their hearts in their throats – in utter silence - for that single, soft, triumphant peal.

No scientist has ever been able to explain it, no skeptic debunk it, and for my part I have heard it. And I hope with all my heart that, if there is a logical, ordinary explanation for it – I hope that explanation is never found.

For the legend says that von Witte looks after Bremen even now, and so long as his promise is kept all will be well.

Once a year, every year, the bell speaks - as faint as the whisper of a butterfly's wing - and softly says, ‘All is well.’
 
Last edited:

Owen

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Mmm...

Every post is a perfectly formed story in its own right. It is almost as if every paragraph is a perfectly formed story in its own right.
 

unmerged(11633)

Field Marshal
Nov 11, 2002
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members.lycos.co.uk
Hmm, shouldn't that be Abraham Von Lincoln?

I know that the Bremer colonies are supposed to be multiracial, but still. Anyway, what's next? Will there be a post regarding the relations of Bremen with the Holy Roman Empire?