In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his road trip to Loreleifelsen. He continues to make day trips from Offenbach – this time he’s off to Frankfurt to see a monument similar to one back in Philly…
9 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany
The postcard reads:
Offenbach Sep.9.12 Freund Max und Lary, den mir sehr werthen Brief von 28. Aug habe ich erhalten und freude mich sehr, und sehe darauß daß es Euch Gut geth. mir geht es auch ganz Gut nur haben wir so schlechtes Wetter immer Regen wir hatten so weit kaum 6 Tage SonnenSchein mein Kopfweh ist auch besser. Sch…. hatte mir von Konstan geschrieben, Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand
Offenbach Sep.9.12 Friend Max and Lary, I have received the precious letter from August 28 with much joy and see that you are doing well. I am also well but we only have bad weather, always rain. So far, we have barely had six days of sunshine. My headache is also better. Sch???… wrote to me about Konstan. My best wishes to you all, Ferdinand
A few comments on the message before discussing the monument on the postcard. First, this is the first time we hear that the communication is two-way – he’s receiving letters from his friends! Second, the weather sounds a lot like my last trip to Germany…I think it’s a universal trait of human nature to whine about unpleasant weather while on vacation. Only six days of sunshine? Poor Ferdinand, he’s been there for a month! Finally, a cryptic reference to a friend whose name begins with the letters “Sch” who wrote about “Konstan” – now I want to know about Konstan, too, but I have no information to go on.
My research on the image on the card has given me a lot of information though! The card features a photo of the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt, a massive monument built in honor of Otto von Bismarck. The monument was created by German sculptor Rudolf Siemering who made quite a few monuments throughout Germany. It appears that this particular one, however, no longer exists – it was melted down during World War 2. But at the time of Ferdinand’s visit, it was relatively new. Wikipedia claims it was erected in 1908; however, Siemering died in 1905 so I’m not sure if that is correct or if it didn’t get put in place until years after he created it.
In reading about Rudolf Siemering’s life, I found a very interesting parallel. Ferdinand didn’t have to travel back to Germany to view one of his monuments to a great man – because there was one in his new home in Philadelphia. In 1879-1880, an international competition was held for a Philadelphia monument to George Washington. Siemering submitted the winning design, and he completed it in 1897. President William McKinley presided at the dedication ceremony. The original location of the monument, which is where it stood at the time of Ferdinand’s arrival in Philadelphia as well as his trip back home, was in Fairmount Park. But it was moved in 1928 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and it still sits there today. Last summer I actually used it as a “meet me” point for some friends, and as I waited I admired the sculpture without knowing any of its history. I’d love to know how it was moved in 1928 – it is massive. At the top is the statue of Washington on his horse. The pedestal shows an allegorical America and two German-Americans from history, Peter Muhlenberg and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The bottom area has figures of native Americans, large animals native to America, and four famous American rivers – the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac, and Mississippi.
Was Ferdinand familiar with the Washington monument in Philadelphia? And did he know that the sculptor was the same as the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt? Both equestrian monuments are dedicated to great leaders. Bismarck unified Germany into one nation in 1871 from thirty different kingdoms, city-states, and principalities and during his 19-year reign as chancellor he kept Germany out of military conflict. Washington unified the thirteen colonies against Great Britain and became the father of America (and also kept America out of the conflict between France and Britain). Both leaders are so respected in their own countries that there are monuments dedicated to these two men all over their home countries. Oddly enough, I found statues of them in other countries as well, but I couldn’t find a Washington monument in Germany or a Bismarck monument in the United States.
Part 7 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand