In Rüdesheim am Rhein, at a magnificent vantage point, stands a “Prussian Madonna”. The nickname originated in the Rheingau for the “Germania”, the colossal statue on the Niederwald Monument. Indeed, a trip to see her takes you back to a time that was largely under Prussian control. Picturesquely situated at the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the monument commemorates the founding of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, when 25 individual states were united into one nation and Germania embodies it: Her crown raised and her sword peacefully lowered, she looks towards the new state, keeping “watch on the Rhine”.

An Engineering Marvel, 38 Metres High

The political Rhine Romanticism and the national spirit of the times had tipped the scales in favour of the location of the over 38-metre-high architectural marvel. It was built in a good six years between 1877 and 1883 according to the plans of the sculptor Johannes Schilling (1828-1910) and the architect Karl Weißbach (1841-1905).

The relief "The Farewell"

The relief “The Farewell”

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2018

The content messages of the then State Order no. 1 underline Prussia’s leadership and connect the new with the old. The bronze statue, its throne, all attributes, allegorical sculptures, reliefs, inscriptions and coats of arms tell of war and peace, the formation of a state and imperial dignity that was supposedly renewed.

Pictorial Imperial Propaganda

In the spirit of propaganda, a nationalist legend was vaulted over the monument: A pedestal inscription with the words “Wiederaufrichtung des Deutschen Reiches” (“Re-establishment of the German Empire”) inaccurately places the young constitutional monarchy in the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which had ceased to exist in 1806 as a result of the Napoleonic Wars.

Niederwald Monument, main relief

In the centre of the main relief is the Prussian King and later Emperor William I

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2018

Niederwald Monument, imperial eagle

An imperial eagle on the monument

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019

Niederwald Monument, peace figure

The peace figure

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2019