Overshadowed as it is by the two World Wars, the 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian War is an unfamiliar topic to many French and German people, even though it was the founding event that set the tone for Franco-German relations, paving the way for Europe’s future path.
The ‘annus horribilis’, as described by Victor Hugo, led to the Paris Commune and the outbreak of civil war. This was no accident but rather the result of pre-existing social tensions and the patriotic fervour triggered by Napoleon’s defeat.
The exhibition aims to approach the 1870–1871 war from a twin perspective, both French and German, either of the time or later. The conflict is placed within a longer chronological context, reaching back to 1864, a year that marked the start of the German unification wars, and 1875, which saw the ‘War in Sight’ (Krieg in Sicht) crisis, then stretching from the 1813 German Wars of Liberation (Befreiungskriege) and the 1815 Congress of Vienna to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
There are many traces left in art, literature and the urban environment by the participants and witnesses of the war, such as La Défense business district in the west of Paris, or the Victory Column (Siegessäule) and the Strasse der Pariser Kommune in Berlin. These will be explored in the exhibition through a wide variety of objects, paintings, sculptures and an exceptional collection of photographs from the time. The important political, diplomatic, military, ideological, social, economic and religious developments will also be emphasized.
For young historians download the games booklet in English.
Programme (in English) of concerts, films and lectures
Cinema: a cycle of films and documentaries most of which are in French, with the exception of “Mademoiselle Fifi” by Robert Wise based on two short stories by Guy de Maupassant which tells the tale of an episode during the Franco-Prussian War (5 June at 7.30pm, in English with French subtitles, black & white, 69 minutes)