Cultural Industries along the Rhine: Nationalism versus Internationalism

Cultural Industries along the Rhine: Nationalism versus Internationalism

Organising Committee Network RHIN(e)
Winkel; Eltville
Vom - Bis
19.05.2022 - 21.05.2022
Ronja Kieffer, Historisches Seminar, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

The 8th Transnational Rhine Conference took place in a venue that is in many ways shaped by the Rhine River: The Rheingau in the upper middle Rhine Valley is world-renowned for its wine since the Middle Ages and has been a tourist magnet for centuries. Therefore, it was a suitable site for discussing central questions regarding the cultural (and creative) industries along the Rhine. As Ralf Banken (Frankfurt am Main) and Ben Wubs (Rotterdam) stated in their introductory remarks, to answer these and further questions, it is first of all crucial to take a long-term perspective as unique events had little impact on the development of the Rhine region. Secondly, an interregional, transnational approach is necessary, for a national perspective disguises the view on transboundary developments and phenomena. The cultural or, more accurately, creative industries are a relatively new concept that, despite of being suspected to be a neoliberal invention, can be helpful to identify and analyse economic developments. For the conference, wine, fashion and tourism had been selected as cases of important cultural/creative industries along the Rhine and were supplemented by security cultures and internationalism.

The first section revolved around wine. ROD PHILLIPS (Carleton) elaborated on the reception of Rheingau white wines in England and the US in the 19th century. In England, German white wines were regarded as not only high in quality but also favourable for the health. They were believed to “keep the doctor away” – an assumption spread by physicians and early “wine influencers” such as British journalist Cyrus Redding. Phillips also pointed out that, especially in the US, there was a perceived relationship between price and quality. By evaluating wine menus of fine New York restaurants from the second half of the 19th to the early 20th century, he showed that, on average, German white wines sold at the same price as French red wines, which also then were regarded as the best wines in the world.

HENNING TÜRK (Potsdam) chose a microhistorical approach for his analysis of wine marketing in the German Palatinate. He showed how representatives of the Wassermann-Jordan winery developed a marketing strategy for their wines that evolved over the generations and included the elaboration of transregional networks, stabilising political and economic influence, and making their wines known through regional and international exhibitions. In the early 20th century, Ludwig Wassermann-Jordan invented the name “Rhine Palatinate” to highlight the equality of the region and its wines to the “Rheingau”. Thus, it was a systematic marketing campaign that helped to create a regional Rhine Palatinate identity.

The dinner lecture was held by KNUT BERGMANN (Cologne) and revolved around the interrelation between wine and politics. Bergmann showed that culinary is an important part of “making state”. The food and beverages served at state banquets – including, of course, the wines – are chosen carefully and deliver political messages which either directly address the guest or rather regard the self-representation of the host. The entertaining lecture contained many examples of when and how this applied in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. Bergmann illustrated how the handling of culinary by German chancellors and presidents mirrored their respective political style and how there was potential for conflict.

In the second section, STEFANIE VAN DE KERKHOF (Mannheim) talked about the connections and interactions between the Vereinigte Seidenwebereien AG (Verseidag) and avant-garde representatives since the early 20th century. The pioneers of the Rhenish silk industry began their collaboration with the Bauhaus right after its founding and thereby initiated an extensive design and knowledge transfer to Krefeld. The famous Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed various silk facilities and even built Verseidag headquarters, creating a modern style of industrial architecture that attracted visitors from all over the world. Van de Kerkhof showed that this was the start of a “Rhenish path dependency”: After the Second World War, Verseidag continued to successfully cooperate with internationally renowned architects, engineers and artists and found a profitable niche-market in high-tech textile-architecture.

BEN WUBS (Rotterdam) started his presentation with an image of Karl Lagerfeld, pointing out that even though the fashion icon was born and raised in Germany, he is often considered to be French – a misconception that shows how little Germany is associated with fashion and the fashion industry. Nevertheless, in fact, the (West) German fashion industry played a tremendous role at least since the second half of the 20th century with Frankfurt am Main and Düsseldorf hosting the most important fashion fairs worldwide until the 1990s. Wubs emphasised that “fashion” has to be understood as a container concept that also includes clothing and textiles. He characterised the German fashion industry as highly dynamic, adapting rapidly to changing economic and political conditions in the “manufacturing” period (1945–1970s), but in the end missing out on gaining symbolic value in the phases of “branding” (1980s–90s) and “fashionalisation” (since the 2000s).

The comment on this section was given by Christian Kleinschmidt (Marburg) who referred to the concept of the varieties of capitalism.

Opening the third section, WERNER SCHELTJENS (Bamberg) informed about a pilot study on the Schenkenschanz Customs Registers, a set of custom registers from the 17th to the 19th century. The goal of the project being the deliverance of a digital scholarly edition of named historical sources, Scheltjens emphasised its potential for historical research as it enables the study of local and regional practices of transportation in long term – a not yet well-researched topic – and of preindustrial logistic patterns. Further, he explained the methodological, technological and conceptual challenges that have emerged so far.

GUIDO THIEMEYER (Düsseldorf) talked about border-crossing Rhine traffic and focused on the Second World War. He argued that, though from a military and political perspective, the Second World War was a major caesura in Rhine history, in administrative and economic turns continuity prevailed. While in 1936, Hitler Germany decided to leave the transnational Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) the political rupture, the cooperation with Dutch and Belgian inland-navigation continued through transnational cartels organised by the state authorities.

The French system, however, was not integrated in Germany, which, as Margrit Schulte-Beerbühl (Düsseldorf) commented, might have been due to the long-lasting fight for political and economic access to and dominance over the Rhine between Germany and France. After all, the Rhine region was always a contested region.

NICOLAI HANNIG (Darmstadt) affirmed this in the fourth section on security cultures. He took a double perspective on the straightening of the Rhine carried out by Baden engineer Johann Gottfried Tulla since 1809, firstly conceptualising it as a means of safety culture and secondly deconstructing the myth surrounding it and Tulla himself, thereby showing that both aspects are deeply connected. Hydraulic engineers became agents of political change and, in the case of Tulla, national legends. Hannig showed that it was Tulla’s entourage itself that brought the myth into being right after his death and kept it alive. Today, the Tulla myth has arrived in the age of ecology where nature protection has become similar to protection from nature.

To take a comparative perspective JOEP SCHENK (Utrecht) moved to the Congo basin and reflected on an escalating conflict that he views as a verbal battleground for the conflict of European interests in the 19th century. The political negotiations were accompanied and influenced by intellectual deliberation on the (legal) concept of neutrality, which included the freedom of commerce and of navigation. The latter was very much in the interest of Germany, which is why in 1884, Otto von Bismarck aimed to “solve the matter” by initiating a conference attended by 14 states. Schenk emphasised that the conference went further in the act of freedom of navigation than any other before.

The idea that rivers could be targets of politics had emerged almost a century before, as Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht) stated in her comment. She noted that while the “taming” of rivers for means of security was considered a project of modernity by contemporaries, from a critical-historical perspective the question whose interests were being secured is crucial.

The final section revolved around tourism, starting with a paper by WERNER PLUMPE (Frankfurt am Main) on the history of Rhine tourism since the 19th century. The phenomenon came to full bloom around the 1830s but even before there had been a vast amount of travel reports and literature: the Rhine romanticists, for example, had aesthetically exultated the Rhine valley while British tourists had repeatedly reported on poor accommodation and mediocre food. Plumpe contrasted this with enlightenment travel writers such as Georg Forster. On his “journey on the lower Rhine” on the eve of the French revolution, Forster depicted the Rhine as a panorama of progress and backwardness.

JEROEN EUWE (Rotterdam) took a quantitative approach in his analysis of developments on the German and Dutch art market in the Second World War. He emphasised that existing literature often focuses on NS art-policies and tends to disregard the economic context. By evaluating two datasets covering the time from 1930 to 1945 and containing price records as well as auction selling records, Euwe identified three clusters in the decentralised German art market (the fourth being Austria after the “Anschluss”): an Eastern cluster (Berlin), a Southern cluster (Munich) and a Rhine cluster, the latter differing from the other ones in having a less strong centre but including more smaller cities. The Rhine cluster was relatively more stable in numbers of auctions and had a much more consistent price level.

In her comment, Gabriele Clemens (Saarbrücken) referred to the complexity of the subject and advised the expansion of the time and data sample for more extensive insight. Regarding the section’s first paper, Clemens draw the conclusion that from the travel reports of Rhine tourists, we can learn more about the writers than about the objects of their writing as they projected their own images into their reports.

The papers presented in the conference approached the Rhine from various perspectives identifying it as a cultural symbol as well as a projected surface, as an object of politics as well as a provider of political and economic framework, as a border, a highway and as a kind of a benchmark for the analysis of other river regions. Yet, despite the interesting research results and promising theses discussed in the Rheingau conference – and in the previous Rhine conferences since 2009 – there are still topics that have to be evaluated, as Joep Schenk (Utrecht) and Eva-Maria Roelevink (Mainz) stated in their concluding remarks. The general discussion brought up interesting suggestions as well as the request for more interdisciplinary exchange and for an attempt to carry on the panel discussions on a more theoretical level.

Conference overview:

Introductory Remarks

Ralf Banken (Universität Frankfurt am Main) and Ben Wubs (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Session 1: Wine
Moderation: Ben Wubs

Rod Phillips (Carleton University): The Reception and Importance of Rhine Wines on European and International Markets – Especially in the 19th Century

Henning Türk (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam): Romanticism, Regional Identity and Business Interests: The Marketing of Palatinate High Quality Wine in the Second Half of the 19th Century

Comment: Anne Sophie Overkamp (Universität Tübingen)

Dinner Lecture

Knut Bergmann (Cologne): Mit Wein Staat machen (Making State with Wine)

Session 2: Textiles
Moderation: Joep Schenk

Stefanie van de Kerkhof (Universität Mannheim): The Rhenish Silk Industry, the Bauhaus and International Style – From Avantgarde Culture to High-Tech-Architecture (1920–1990)

Ben Wubs (Erasmus University Rotterdam): Fashion, Clothing and Textiles in the Rhine Economy after World War II

Comment: Christian Kleinschmidt (Universität Marburg)

Session 3: Crossing Borders
Moderation: Ernst Homburg

Werner Scheltjens (Universität Bamberg): From Automatic Handwritten Text Recognition to Online Database: Results of a Pilot Study on the Schenkenschanz Customs Registers (1630–1810)

Guido Thiemeyer (Universität Düsseldorf): Inland Navigation in the Rhine Region during World War II

Comment: Margrit Schulte-Beerbühl (Universität Düsseldorf)

Session 4: Security Cultures
Moderation: Guillaume Garner

Nicolai Hanning (Universität Darmstadt): The Rhine Correction. Hydraulic Politics and the Myth of the Tulla since the 19th Century

Joep Schenk (Utrecht University): Berlin 1885: Where European Entrepreneurial Interests and ‘Universal’ Legal Principles Meet in Shaping the Colonial River

Comment: Beatrice De Graaf (Utrecht University)

Session 5: Tourism
Moderation: Neil Forbes

Werner Plumpe (Universität Frankfurt am Main): Wine, Romance and Masses. The Long History of Rhine Tourism since the Early 19th Century

Jeroen Euwe (Rotterdam University): The Art Trade along the Rhine

Comment: Gabriele Clemens (Universität Saarbrücken)

Concluding Remarks

Joep Schenk (Utrecht University), Eva-Maria Roelevink (Universität Mainz)

General and Project Discussion

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Englisch, Deutsch
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