Paris in the 19th century: the work of modernity – Culture

Paris, which has ennobled Walter Benjamin in the "capital of the nineteenth century", remains an indestructible subject of writing. Almost six months have passed since the publication of Volker Hagedorn's music history "The Sound of Paris: A Journey into the Music Metropolis of the 19th Century" passed, like Romanistik's teacher Walburga Hülk with the similar ambitious book "The drunkenness of the years As Paris Modernisme invented" another example of the indestructible kind of Paris before (Hoffmann and Campe, 415 p., 26 €.). One could think that the path taken by "modernity" in the metropolis of the Seine, especially during the Second Empire from 1852 to 1870, was enough. But so much literature, music, art, theater, urbanism and architecture have been created over the past few decades that the reservoir of ever new and varied compilations should probably never to dry up.

Walburga Hülk, a Romanist at Siegen University, has a thorough knowledge of French literature. From the beginning, she refers to the 20 volumes of "The Story of Rougon-Macquart", the cycle of the romance of Émile Zola, whose subtitle "The natural and social history of A family under the Second Empire "illustrates the claim of the poet, an era in its totality. to seize.


Paris celebrated, the earth groaned

However, Zola's romance cycle only appeared in the two decades that followed the end of Napoleon. Only from the retrospective, not in their cooperation opens the present. Hülk now, thanks to the testimony of his protagonists, at the time of the "little" Napoleon, as revolted Victor Hugo, but naturally in the knowledge of its outcome. She had begun auspiciously. But Hülk wrote that Napoleon's "most outrageous project was Paris": during a single act of urban violence, he and the prefect Georges-Eugène Haussmann had the old city demolished and brought down a new one. This has become the laboratory of modernity. "

But Hülk prefers to stick to the shiny surface. Of course, she repeatedly mentioned the influential brothers Pereire, Emile and Isaac, calling them "passionate about progress and mega-investors from the international community." But they remain in the background. The highlight is the Universal Exhibition of 1867, the second in Paris after the example of London in 1851. "The fucking Babylon was up and the new Rome languishing in his arms," ​​then let something reign: "Paris celebrated, The earth groaned." Hülk is visibly concerned about the effect of letting Paris's false splendor shine, in a state of intoxication, against the bitter misery: "In the far north from the country, miners pounded day and night, day and night on Sunday (…). "And:" When the miners entered the hot pit, it was like they were disappearing into the mouth of a treacherous and voracious monster … "These sentences refer to Zola's novel," Germinal "," The most famous volume of the cycle on the Second Empire ", Judge Hülk. He appeared 15 years after his disappearance.

The project to recast Paris loses sight of it

The story revolves around Hülk, why not, great literary figures of the imperial era "Hugo, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Sand, the Goncourt brothers and Zola", as they are listed in the preface. The letters which they sent to each other, the journals which led above all to Goncourt, the lightning which Hugo threw from his exile on the Anglo-Norman island of Guernsey; visits, performances, receptions and walks, she records Hülk in every detail. These are the passages that make the charm of the book.

In addition, Hülk is losing sight of the Paris redevelopment project mentioned earlier. "Haussmann's work was almost done, everyone recognized the great architectural vision, even though the prestigious object, the opera Garnier, was still a construction site," he says abruptly in the devoted chapter at the World Fair of 1867. However, the work of Haussmann was only completed by many years later.

And there were others next to him. The architect Jakob Ignaz Hittorf, after all the builder of the North Station, calls Hülk "gardener", a bad sculptor. Victor Baltard, architect of the cast iron halls – after all the "belly of Paris" of Zola – mentions Hülk once, but it misses the line of striking according to which his first project did not show simply "twelve light and transparent pavilions", but only because of an intervention Napoleon found at. Henri Labrouste, the architect of the National Library, is totally absent and the construction of his main work extends throughout the Second Empire. The inauguration of the famous reading room in 1868 marked a milestone.

Barely an era was more contradictory

Instead, Hülk has no view, she rather looks fascinated by "the ruthless and theatrical Second Empire, which was still called the" new Babylon. "As appropriate to a drama, the empire ends with a disaster with the war against Prussia Napoleon III, taken to Kassel as a prisoner – "In Kassel!", Hülk could have quoted the word winged – leaves the story, and the epilogue of the Commune – "The silly and nasty commune", as reported by Hülk railed on Hugo – has ended in a terrible bloodbath.

"Barely an era was as contradictory as the Second Empire, this strange and strident world of Napoleon III", concludes Walburga Hülk: "The last Emperor of France invested in Bonapartist retro kitsch and the spectacle of progress, in the past and the future (…) ". to be like that. Paris, however, was under Napoleon III. indeed to the laboratory of modernity, and this is still surprising.