The postcards here show views of the border and neighbouring towns between 1871 and 1914 in order to relocate a border landscape which has since disappeared. Classified by publisher (non-exhaustive list), they were mainly produced by local booksellers and printers between the turn of the 20th century and World War One. At the beginning of the 20th century, the production of postcards at the French-German border was part of a real tourism industry. Let’s take the example of Nancy in 1903: this city alone maintained 35 prototypical presses, which produced more than 150 million postcards.
Postcards played an important role in the construction of the French-German border. These documents conveyed familiar images of the border throughout France and the German Empire. No other French or German – and perhaps even European – border was so intensively photographed and reproduced in postcard form over the period examined. Postcards play a central role in popular culture, both as correspondence medium and as a means of preserving memories. They provide enlightening information about the daily practices developed by inhabitants, officials and tourists. As such, these documents are an interesting complement to the appendices.
The documents here have either been photographed in the various archives consulted or come from public collections (archive number in the name) or are free of copyright until proven otherwise.
The cartographic workshop brings together a large selection of old maps of the French-German border published between 1871 and 1918 (or after, but which refered to this period), as well as a historical atlas compiling the maps produced by Benoit Vaillot as part of his thesis (30).
The old maps are accompanied by an information notice from the site where they are extracted and can be consulted in high definition; mainly the David Rumsey Map Collection, Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France), Numistral (Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg) and Landkartenarchiv (site of old maps).
Here you will find music, songs and other chants relating to the French-German border between 1871 and 1914 or which have been appropriated by the inhabitants. Each sound document is studied in the thesis and their lyrics are available in the appendices. It is not surprising to find many songs belonging to the French and German patriotic repertoires.
Wherever possible, period versions are included here which have been made available online by the Phonobase, a database which gathers, describes and makes available a large number of sound fragments and images, reproduced from commercial recordings on discs and cylinders, published mainly in France and Europe, from 1888 to about 1920. Otherwise, these are more contemporary versions that are free of copyright until proven otherwise.
Prof. Pieter M. Judson
For his support and follow-up throughout my research.
Prof. Catherine Maurer
For his support and follow-up throughout my research.
Prof. Jean-François Chanet
For having suggested this research topic to me and for having accompanied the first steps.
Prof. Thomas Hippler
For his support at several critical moments.
Prof. Stephen Sawyer
For inviting me to think about cross-border boars.
For the conversations about the exile of Alsatian-Lorrains and all others.
Prof. Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary
For having led me to attach particular importance to the mountains.
For encouraging me to study border expulsions from a comparative perspective.
Prof. Catherine Gousseff
For introducing me to the historiography of the borders of the Soviet space.
For encouraging me to deepen my knowledge of Central and Eastern European borders.
Prof. Sabine Dullin
Dafür, dass sie mich dazu gebracht hat, die Geschichte des deutschen Föderalismus neu zu betrachten.
For her hospitality in Japan, and for convincing me to think of my research topic in a global perspective.
For his friendship and our endless conversations about nationalism.
For his friendship, his material help and everything else.
For his friendship, his material help and everything else.
Prof. Sylvie Aprile
Laura Di Fiore
Prof. Laurent Dornel
Prof. Jacobo García-Álvarez
Prof. Odile Goerg
Prof. Jules Lepoutre
Matthieu de Oliveira
Prof. Anne Rasmussen
Prof. Lucy Riall
Prof. Stéphane Van Damme
Prof. Alfred Wahl
Prof. Colette Zytnicki
Here you will find Benoit Vaillot’s doctoral thesis, entitled: At the nation’s gates. A history from below of the French-German border (1871-1914), under the supervision of professors Catherine Maurer and Pieter M. Judson (restricted acces). The defence will be held at the European University Institute, on Friday 8 October 2021 at 5 pm:
Villa Salviati (sala del Torrino) Via Bolognese, 156 50139 Firenze
This doctoral research proposes a transnational history from below of the border drawn between France and the German Empire at the end of the War of 1870, which disappeared with the first combats of the First World War. Seldom has a border received so much attention from its contemporaries and illustrated so well its function as a point of balance between two antagonistic powers in the era of nation states.
Beyond the classical political questions generally apprehended at the level of governments, this thesis intends to analyse the construction of sovereignty and national identities as close to the border as possible, starting with local and intermediate actors on both the French and the German side – taking into account the singular evolutions experienced by Alsace-Lorraine under German rule. The aim is to understand the concrete and daily exercise of sovereignty through the experience of control and surveillance of people, animals and goods; poaching, smuggling and espionage; the nationality strategies deployed by the inhabitants; or the new challenges posed by the first world pandemics and the development of the automobile and aeronautics at the turn of the century. This border also served as a framework for national appropriation, an abstract historical phenomenon that is approached here in a tangible way by studying the inhabitants’ sporting, tourist, and memorial activities, which are eminently meaningful on a political level. More unexpectedly, the border was inscribed in the landscape and, given the different environmental policies implemented in France and Germany, the limit of sovereignty was also an ecological border with lasting consequences.
The French-German border was a laboratory for experimenting with social and political arrangements that were later extended to other borders in France and Germany, and then applied to all European borders after the First World War. In many respects, this singular border bore the seeds of the profound transformations that sovereignty and national identity were to undergo throughout the 20th century.
The following sources (in restricted access) are the archives used for the realisation of the database of border incidents, classified by archive centre. This page may take some time to load due to the number of documents to be displayed.
The documents here were photographed in each of the mentioned archive centres between 2017 and 2020. For legal reasons, the online consultation of the sources of the border incidents is only possible with a personal login. However, the complete list of sources consulted for the thesis is in open access.
The appendices listed here contain the documents accompanying the doctoral thesis (consisting of three parts). They are reproduced here for non-commercial purposes and are free of rights until proven otherwise.
Volume 2: appendices to part One (restricted access).
Volume 3: appendices to parts Two and Three (restricted access).
Crossing the Border
The following film presents the only existing video source on the crossing of the French-German border from 1871 and 1914. This document, kept by the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), is a black-and-white silent video clip. This 3-minute film was shot between 1907 and 1914 by a German tourist, most likely coming from Alsace (chapter 5). The video comprises five parts recounting a summer journey from Munster to Gérardmer via the Col de la Schlucht and the peak of the Hohneck – that was major tourist destinations at the Frenc-German border.
In the first part, entitled “Abfahrt von Munster nach der Schlucht“ [From Munster to the Schlucht], the trip starts on the Münsterschluchtbahn – which is the name of the small electrified railway connecting Munster and the Schlucht during the summer. One can see tourists in hiking gear boarding the trolley, walking in the woods or following the road leading to the pass. After the station Alternberg, a cogwheel railway takes over. The video then lays emphasis on “Germany’s highest railway”, as it was advertised at the time. After the Krappenfels tunnel, the film shows the Hartmann chalet, a hotel complex built on the eastern slope of the Vosges after the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to the German empire. Upon arriving at the pass, one can see cars and other vehicles. They transport the numerous tourists coming from France, Germany or other countries who want to climb the Hohneck (chapter 6).
The second part of the film, “Felspartien bei der Schlucht (deutsche Seite)“ [Rock formations at the Schlucht (German side)], shows some images of the mountains as they could be seen from the German side of the border. Next to a bench set up by the Vogesenclub (Club Vosgien), at the foot of the Rocher du Chameau [Camel Rock], a man plays the barrel organ to entertain tourists.
After 1871, the Schlucht became a border pass, and this characteristic is given particular attention in the third part of this short film, “Deutsch-Französische Grenze bei der Schlucht (1139 Meter ü. d. M). Zollämter” [Franco-German border at the Schlucht (1,139 m above sea level). Customs offices]. A shot dwells on the German boundary post standing 1,139 meters above sea level, which, for the French, symbolises the annexation of the “lost provinces”. About three meters high, a disc with the imperial eagle against a white, red-framed background resting on its top, it proclaims German sovereignty: Deutsches Reich. Thousands of other boundary posts were installed by the German authorities from 1889 onwards (chapter 2). A German police officer stops a group of tourists who want to cross the border, while German customs officers complete a few formalities. On the other side, a tourist’s bike is being controlled by two French customs officials. In this respect, this is an exceptional document: it is indeed the only video source showing the control of the French-German border (chapter 4).
Unfortunately, the ascent to the Hohneck is not filmed. However, the landscape of the summit is the highlight of the fourth part, „Auf der Spitze vom Hohneck (1361 Meer ü. d. M.)” [At the top of the Hohneck (1,361 m above sea level)]. Once they have reached the top, tourists choose from a selection of postcards, which they buy at Philippe Bernez’s inn in order to share their hiking experience. They can also use the orientation table that was installed by the Club alpin français, as the Hohneck is, for the most part, located on French territory. From the top, if the weather is fine, one can overlook the whole Alsace plain (chapter 6).
The last part, „Nach Gérardmer (französische Seite). Umsteigen. Der nächste Zug wartet schon“ [On the way to Gérardmer (French side). Changing trains. The next train is already waiting], follows the trolley journey from the Hohneck and Gérardmer. A railway connects these two locations via Retournemer and the Schlucht. Until shortly before World War I, there wasn’t any railway connection across the border, between the two slopes of the Vosges: the terminus of each line stopped at the border. Many tourists who, starting from Munster, climbed the Col de la Schlucht and the Hohneck on the eastern slope walked or drove down, or sometimes took the trolley on the western slope to Gérardmer, a spa and holiday town that had recently opened up for the then-emerging winter sports (chapter 6).
This film is an exceptional document in all respects, and allows to move straight to the issues of sovereignty and national identity constructions through local actors discussed here. It makes it possible to visualize several concrete border-crossing experiences, these experiences being made by individuals who precisely do not work for the French or German administrations.
Albums Valois, C1580. Gérardmer, 16 février 1916. Le bureau du commandant, chef d’E.M. de la 47e division. Au fond le poteau frontière de la Schlucht pris par les alpins en Août 1914. Available online on the Argonnaute database.
This digital history project is presentend by Benoit Vaillot, as part of his doctoral thesis: At the nation's gates. A history of the French-German border from below (1871-1914), under the supervision of Professors Pieter M. Judson (European University Institute) and Catherine Maurer (Université de Strasbourg). This is a non-commercial academic project.